Interview: PJ Morton – Right Path All Along
With the recent announcement of his signing to Young Money, PJ Morton’s career has suddenly been boosted to the next level. Always an undeniable talent who had managed to fall under the radar while choosing to release his projects independently, the major label backing should help him get the attention he deserves. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with the soul crooner to talk details on his new label situation, how he knew this was the right spot for him, his upcoming EP “Following my First Mind”, working with Maroon 5, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your recent signing to Young Money, how the situation came about, and how it feels.
PJ Morton: Well it feels amazing. It’s good to be on a winning team. How it came about, it started a long time ago. Me and Mack Maine, who is the president of Young Money, went to high school together in New Orleans. So the relationship started there and I guess we kinda went separately and did our careers as we’ve done. A mutual friend of ours that went to school with us became a fan of my music and was working with Mack Maine and kinda reintroduced him to me and my music. Mack Maine became a fan and we started talking from there and here we are.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’ve always heard your name mentioned amongst music fans but more on the underground side of things. Since you’ve got so much talent and you deserve to be heard, do you feel like this signing is validation for you as an artist?
PJ Morton: Yea in a way. I think initially when I started out, I went to every major label like any other artist does and they either didn’t get me at all or felt that I was too different. They felt that it couldn’t sell or something like that, or they wanted to change who I was. I chose the independent route at that point because I wanted to push it as pure as I could. Of course, finding a label as successful as Young Money has been these past few years to say “We believe in you” definitely gives a stamp of validation for sure. It lets me know that I was on the right path all along.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you know this was the right spot for you to sign since they are more known for hip-hop? Do you feel like you can be yourself there?
PJ Morton: Yea, I think that’s kinda the misconception about Young Money overall. It’s kind of an old school concept that they have over there in the sense of back in the day, people signed artists that they believed in and they kinda let them do what they do because they already believe as opposed to trying to change who the artist were. Imagine Berry Gordy trying to tell Stevie [Wonder] how to be Stevie. It wouldn’t have been the same. I think as young in hip-hop as Young Money is, they bring that back to the industry. Drake is as is, him and 40 were unkown guys, 40 was an unknown producer, Young Money didn’t try to come in and change that relationship and try to bring in big name producers. Nikki Minaj the same thing, she does what she wants to do, [Lil’] Wayne does what he wants to do. So I think they’re bringing back that “I don’t care” creative attitude back to the industry. That let me know it was definitely the right place. I have full creative control over the music I do, so I knew it was the right spot for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I just read you were working on a new EP called “Following My First Mind”. What can we expect to find on there?
PJ Morton: It’s going to be a special record, there’s going to be some features, of course some from the YMCMB family. The same things I’ve been doing as far as instrumentation, just growing it, and stretching those creative boundaries. There’s going to be a lot of hard beats on there with the melodic string sections and me still playing piano and doing that type of thing. I’m excited about it though because I think it’s going to be, especially after the Maroon 5 thing, a mix of all of the things that I’ve been involved in. It will definitely be something different for the industry. “Following my First Mind”, that title is kinda my mantra right now. As creative beings I think we often hear something one way and second guess it for whatever reason, people will look at you or finances that will stop you from doing it as big as you want to do it. I think we need to get back to that mantra of doing exactly what we hear because that’s what makes us exactly who we are. That’s definitely how I’m approaching the music this time around, as I always have, but this time being more clear about that. Even in the new situation knowing that I’ll follow my first mind on this music that I hear and do what feels good to me and just pray that other people dig it!
YouKnowIGotSoul: You have the single out “Built for Love” with Jazmine Sullivan. Talk about that collaboration and how the song was created.
PJ Morton: It was an old school song that I had that I felt was a true representation of a lot of relationships that I see going on including stuff I’ve been through in my own relationships in life. It was that old school feeling and I definitely wanted somebody on the song that was the real thing. Jazmine reminds me of Aretha or Gladys, who’s not Neo-Soul, she’s not a new soul type of thing, she’s like a continuation of those old school soul artists. I didn’t want anybody else but her on the song. I reached out to her. We’ve been associates for several years now, so she was down. She wrote her verse and killed it; I love how it came out. I wanted it to have a classic soul feel and it definitely what we accomplished on that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: As a Grammy Award winning writer and producer, talk about your creative process when you go into making a song.
PJ Morton: I never get words alone, it’s always words connected to some type of melody. Usually at the piano is where I like to start. Usually mumbling some type of words with the melody and I’m always focused on the chorus first because I feel like the chorus is the hardest yet the simplest part. I think a chorus should be simple because I think it should be something that people can sing along to and kinda bring all of the ideas of the verses and the bridge and every other part of the song to that one simple statement. I really take a lot of time on the chorus. Then for me, verses usually come pretty natural because now that I know what I’m talking about, it’s like telling a story. The hook is the hardest thing for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Touching more on your writing, I read that a few years back you hooked up with Jermaine Dupri to write with him for artists like Jagged Edge and Monica. What was that opportunity like?
PJ Morton: It was great. I felt like me and JD were different creatively going into it, but then after spending time with him, it’s like he became one of my mentors. I don’t know any producer who works as hard as Jermaine does. His work ethic is just crazy and he grinds like he doesn’t have anything at all, like he’s just starting out. I just really learned a lot from him. Our process was basically Jermaine does most of the drum stuff and I was there doing the melodic stuff, doing keys and lyrics. On the Monica song, I actually did all of the lyrics and music and he did the beats around it. So it was actually more of a fit than I ever thought it would be going into it. To this day, JD is a sounding board for me when I have questions and advice. He’s just always ahead of the game in his thinking with music.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You mentioned Maroon 5 earlier and I know you got a chance to work with them as well. How did that whole situation come about and what’s it been like?
PJ Morton: It came about from a friend of mine Adam Blackstone who’s a big music director in this industry. He was coming in to be the music director for their next tour and they were looking for another keyboardist/vocalist and Adam reached out to me. It kinda just made sense for me to do it. I went out and met those guys, auditioned for them, and we just naturally fit. It was like I had known them for years. Now it has been years, that was like two years ago already that I’ve been in the band. I’m still in the band actually, we’re working on the next Maroon 5 record. It’s incredible. We’ve gotten to tour the world. Coming from the indie side for me was just a total 360 for me in that sense; we’re playing arenas in all of these crazy parts of the world. It gave me a dope perspective just for me as an artist all around. I guess what I like about that is I wasn’t kinda like a work for hire musician, I was in a band, I was still an artist. If I felt like I would have had to give up who I was as an artist, I probably wouldn’t have been as much into it. I think that’s why it works, even still with me now doing a solo deal and still being a part of them, it works because I’m kinda still able to do my thing.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about what it was like growing up with your father who was a gospel legend. What type of impact did he have on you growing up and your career?
PJ Morton: Of course musically, it was the first music that I knew and the first singer that I really looked up to, my father. It was a very musical household. I have to credit him for me wanting to get into it. He never forced me at all, but it just looked like the fun thing to do. It looked like what my family enjoyed doing so of course I wanted to be a part of it. I think it only kinda brought a challenge when I decided that I didn’t want to be a gospel artist. I think that’s when there was kinda of a challenge, but I think once my parents and my father understood that it was just who I was and what I felt like my calling was, they became my number one supporters. It was great growing up with that. It was like a clinic in music, I got to kinda get ahead of the game because they were already in it and successful in it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Give me some background on a personal favorite song of yours, “Fly Away”. Talk about how the song was created.
PJ Morton: That whole album actually, “Emotions”, I was on tour with Erykah Badu and I had writers block for the whole tour and I was with her for about a year or so. I couldn’t write any songs. Then when the tour was done, I went home and I wrote “Emotions” like in two weeks, I was writing three songs a day. I guess because I had been holding all of that stuff and just living so I could write. “Fly Away” was one of those first songs that came to me. Real simple, really Stevie Wonder-esque and it’s always touched me and always been one of my favorites. The singer on there, Anaisha, was one of my best friends and one of my favorite singers. She came and she actually did that in one take. I remember flying her from New York to do the verse and thinking we were going to be in the studio all day, and the length of the song is how long it took her to do what she did. It took us like three minutes and she was done, and we just had all day to chill because I didn’t expect her to be done that quick. That whole experience was just so pure and so new to me doing that first solo record. That’s definitely one of my favorites as well.