We recently caught up with producer/songwriter Brian Alexander Morgan for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we touched on his work helping to introduce SWV with their debut album “It’s About Time”, creating their songs “Weak”, Right Here”, and I”m So Into You”, working on the group’s second and third albums as well, his first placement, creating music with Martha Wash, Lalah Hathaway, Usher, Eric Benet, JoJo, Faith Evans, what he’s currently working on, and much more.
Brian Alexander Morgan: Wow! I think it all starts with the foundation of what you hear first. My first things I heard that influenced me was Sly & The Family Stone, my father was playing it in the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was a little kid. That’s the first thing my spirit caught. Then enter the Jackson 5 and it’s a wrap! Young Michael Jackson with that voice and energy. It was magic. It captivated a young me, 5 or 6 years old. It was amazing to a young kid like me from Kansas.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you get in the position to start landing placements as a producer?
Brian Alexander Morgan: When you’re in Wichita, Kansas, you’re already starting out kind of desperate! *Laughs* For me, luckily I think the training ground was church for sure. You start to put into principle what you hear on records. Now you can see people playing music. All of the sudden this was how you make the sounds that were on the records, you make the connection. The next thing I did was get involved. My natural inclination was to play keys, it was seemingly the most fundamental thing to do. I didn’t do that until I was about 10 years old, in 1976. I think the next year in 1977 when all of the sudden it became an epiphany. I think I had that when I went to my first real recording studio, to do a demo with a Gospel group I was in. I was the youngest one out of all of them. They were like 17, 18, 19 years old. But my keyboard skills were developing. I understood the value of learning how to structure and write a song. I remember I got to get on the mic and sing a song. To an 11 year old, to put those headphones on, it was like on TV! My voice hadn’t even changed yet! I did this song called “King of Kings”. The engineer thought I was a girl, and that was devastating! *Laughs* After we got the tape back, we made an 8 track of that joint! We were called The Determinares. From there, of course nothing happened. Then I got a little bit more serious and things stared changing in the culture. In 1979, I’m really listening to things like Jody Watley and Shalamar. Those blends were so immaculate and ridiculous and those productions were punchy and funky. That was a whole nother turning point, because it said you have to be concerned with sonics and how the track and drum and keys sound. I would say when I went back in the studio for another serious demo, it was 1981 and I was 15. I got the money together and paid for those sessions. That was my first real producer energy. Now here’s where the most important thing happened, The Clark Sisters happened! It was a huge tidal wave of just influence over me when it came to style and how I saw myself in the scheme of things. It went from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder, Gap Band, Clark Sisters trajectory. Everything I did was infused with some of that energy. It showed you could do more than just be in the church.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So we knew you from working first with SWV, but how did you originally get a record deal and get in the game?
Brian Alexander Morgan: So after my demo in 1981, I wasn’t quite ready. I was doing exclusively Gospel. By the time I went in for the next demo in 1984, I was in high school and I had a real definite idea of what I want to do and how I want to do it. In that short time, you had the Gospel group Commission who came out and they were fresh and young. They spoke to my spirit and my heart. Tremaine Hawkins had a record in 1985 called “Fall Down”. This whole Gospel thing could do a mainstream thing. So I thought we could get a record deal doing what we do, but alter my lyrics to not be so religious. Turns out that’s the demo that Jay King from Club Nouveau heard when he came into town. Eventually though we had moved to L.A. and came back because we didn’t make it happen. Back in Kansas, Jay King heard the demo tape and called me. Club Nouveau was huge at the time in 1986. Jay King wanted to sign me at Warner Bros., and I thought it was my ticket out of Kansas. I moved to Sacramento and started making a record for Warner Bros. in 1987, and by 1988 we were done with the record and we got dropped. So that is the beginning of the struggle and the realness.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So how did you end up working with SWV?
Brian Alexander Morgan: I first started doing songs for dance legend Martha Wash, and her A&R was also the A&R for SWV at RCA Records. So that’s how that happened. I wrote “Weak” in the downtime when I was depressed when it wasn’t happening for me, in 1989, after we got dropped. I wrote “Right Here” in 1990. I didn’t know anything about SWV at the time, they didn’t even exist yet, but I had just kept writing at the time. But when I had heard them, and their manager Kenny Ortiz sent me a tape of them, man! The sound was all over the place but I heard Coko’s potential, it was so strong. It spoke to me in a deeper way. She had it naturally, it wasn’t forced. I could tell if I got into the room with them I’d be able to direct that, and that’s exactly what happened.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about the song “Weak” at first. That song is such an undeniable classic that makes you feel something. I had read that song was actually written with Charlie Wilson in mind?
Brian Alexander Morgan: Absolutely. When I got dropped from Warner Bros., I knew I had to get some songs on. In my wheelhouse that’s easiest to write from my heart, I’m from the Midwest, Charlie Wilson is from Oklahoma. That’s my heart. So I wrote something true to what I was experiencing at the moment, the Chante Moore energy over there. I was going to channel the energy into the song and I wanted it to be for Charlie. At the time the Gap Band had a song out called “Wednesday Lover”. I absolutely love that record to this day. So whatever I did had to be at least as good as that song. Thank God that it was. It almost went to Bobby Brown by accident! In the timeframe I was struggling, in 1991 I got a television gig doing the American Music Awards with Bobby Brown. I got the call down to L.A., they needed someone who could play and sing. Bobby was huge at the time, “Every Little Step”, “My Prerogative”, all of that stuff. I get the job to play keys and sing on the stage with him at the American Music Awards. We had circulated a mixtape around the hood man. People knew about “Weak” before they ever knew about me. Long story short, I played it for Derek Allen at Bobby Brown’s rehearsal and Bobby heard it. Bobby wanted it and Derek was supposed to get it to him when they got back to Atlanta. Never happened. That’s when all the SWV stuff happened in 1991 and 1992.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How was it like working with SWV as brand new artists and presenting them with your material?
Brian Alexander Morgan: I actually never presented “Weak” to SWV. Honestly, I was holding it back for myself to do a solo thing! How their manager Kenny Ortiz heard it was completely accidental. There was a guy who I had worked with back at Warner, he ended up at RCA, and Kenny just happened to hear him playing the demo of me singing “Weak” at his desk as he walked by. Kenny called me and told me I was holding out on him and he needed the song! I kind of resisted it, but he offers some money for the demo. They recorded that and got their whole record deal after that. Coko did not like the record at first by the way.
YouKnowIGotSoul: So you changed history by giving them that record so they got their deal! You also ended up having “I’m So Into You” and “Right Here” as singles on their debut.
Brian Alexander Morgan: *Laughs* So glad I gave it up! “Right Here” was already written in 1990, which was a song that came out of nowhere. One day I couldn’t sleep and I was driving around, and the whole melody had come to me. It just flowed. I remember going home to visit in Wichita and played it for friends in its original form, everybody reacted like it was a hit record already. It was just me singing the demo. Something told me there was something there, but that was two years before SWV. It made sense to me to do that one with them once they got their deal. “I’m So Into You”, without that record none of us would exist. “Right Here” the original version came out and didn’t do so great. TLC was on fire and so was En Vogue. We thought it might be too hood for the people. But “I’m So Into You”, Kenny Ortiz told me to strip it down, I had done this heavy handed, low down funky version of it. When I got back home, I stripped it down, and just kept the basic elements of it; the claps, the drums, the keys, and the little guitar part. It ended up being not what was popular at the time, it was the opposite of that. The melody was easy, all of that just flowed out of me like a freestyle. I knew when I was writing it, I was thinking about Coko’s voice the whole time. How I start the melody and how I get into it, is how I know Coko can do it. That was written for her, unlike the previous stuff that was written for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Once the SWV album came out and was a big success, you started working with Usher and Lalah Hathaway and other artists. Did you start becoming more in demand?
Brian Alexander Morgan: Absolutely. All of the big guys flew me out. Tommy Mattola and Clive Davis flew me out, they wanted to sign me to a production deal. I ended up doing business with both of them. I figured out something that was different about me than the other producers of that time. I wasn’t cut out to work with everybody. I couldn’t do what Babyface does and write for everybody. I’ve never been that guy, my style is specific. Usher and Lalah’s styles lent itself to my styles. I couldn’t do Toni Braxton to save myself though. I’m a particular way. That’s a gift that Babyface definitely has. I know where my lane is and I stay in it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us to your work on the next SWV album “A New Beginning”. You did some great songs on there but didn’t get one of the singles. As a songwriter and producer, how did that feel?
Brian Alexander Morgan: I was devastated. That was quite a blow. Not just to my ego but to my heart. You come out the gate with 3 million on the first album and they had 7 singles and I had 6 of them. That was pretty hard to swallow. It came out of nowhere, I was blindsided, didn’t understand it. It’s not that I didn’t write songs that couldn’t be singles, like “Find Time” or “What’s It Gonna Be”. At that point, they had management that was questionable and that was probably more of a management move and I understand it. I made it through it. It was a time when I had other stuff to work on.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Luckily you came back on the next SWV album. You had the single “Rain”. What was the process of creating that song?
Brian Alexander Morgan: There is a story there too. Thank God that Lalah, being the genius she is, and a jazz person and all around bad ass, she introduced me to the artist who I sampled that production from. That was 1994 when I was doing Lalah Hathaway’s “Let Me Love You” song. I forgot about it for a few years. Then one day I was taking a shower and the whole hook of “Rain” came to me out of the blue. I heard it in the key it was supposed to be in. I ran down to my studio in my towel, snatched out the song that sample was from, and it was in the exact same key. I took it as a sign. That’s how it all happened right there.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about working with Nicole Wray on her song “I Can’t See”.
Brian Alexander Morgan: When Missy and Timbaland came on the scene, I was the lucky one to be working with Missy! To have a single follow Timbaland, that was crazy. That was the later 90’s and things were changing rapidly. When I heard Nicole’s voice, I had the same feeling I had when I heard Coko. Missy being such a genius herself and also a visionary, she would just call me and ask if I had something. Also Lil’ Mo was blowing up at the time as a writer and singer, so it made sense for me to do something with her. So they flew Lil’ Mo to my house in Sacramento and we wrote that song. My voice is on the backgrounds on that one as well.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about JoJo covering “Weak”.
Brian Alexander Morgan: Vincert Herbert had called me and told me to listen to this girl. I heard the voice and it was crazy. It was a young girl, she was 13, and she was white! He told me to get there right now to work with her on the song “Weak”. Even that early back in 2005, SWV was already coming back around that soon. JoJo absolutely killed that song.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating “Dust in the Wind” for Eric Benet.
Brian Alexander Morgan: That was another amazing blessing. He’s one of the coolest individuals I know. Humble and a crazy good guy. I had done some stuff for Somethin for the People and they were on Warner Bros. I was comfortable in that world. Eric Benet was already doing killer records. I just thought I would submit something and I sent it to Eric and he wanted it. The compliment I think he pays most to me is he really stayed true to the demo, even with the adlibs. I love that record and love him on it. It was a Gold album, “A Day in the Life”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you end up working with Drake on his “Views” album?
Brian Alexander Morgan: What I’ve learned is I’ve always had a following in Canada, through my work with SWV. What I didn’t know is it translated to this younger generation of writers and producers. So people like Drake’s producer 40, they know their hip-hop R&B front to back, they are serious about it. They appreciate it and value it. I love that about them. I had wanted to be on Drake’s very first EP but it didn’t work out. But on “Take Care”, they used my song “Anything” in a sample. How they flipped it was dope. After that, I didn’t want to be just a sample, I wanted to reach out to work with them. 40 told me he had a dream about me working with DVSN. When I reached out they were already thinking about me, and they asked if I had something original for Drake. I had been working on this joint and I was trying to get it on Justin Bieber. That little idea ended up being what they used on the song “Nine” on the “Views” album. So I got production and writer credit. I want to let people know I’m still here. I was able to do the Khalid song “On the Way” due to my relationship with 40.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What made you do a “Right Here” remix even though the original version didn’t take off? Why didn’t you move on?
Brian Alexander Morgan: It wasn’t my idea, it was Kenny Ortiz. It was his idea to do the “Human Nature” flip. He was constantly thinking of ways to flip stuff. Kenny is the same guy who found Pharrell and Chad, the Neptunes. His ear is impeccable. He deserves all of the props in the world. Then finding All-Star and knowing he was the right one to do the beat on that remix. It gave “Right Here” another shot and proved melodically and lyrically it was legit. That joint went to #2 on Pop, Gold single. It was right on the heels of “Weak” going platinum and being a #1 Pop record.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What are you currently working on?
Brian Alexander Morgan: I’ve been able to develop relationships with several producers, DJ Khalil is one of them. I’m all in the mix with young hot producers that are cutting edge. We are cooking up all types of stuff. I do my keys and everything I do, and then I turn the beat over to them, they come from a different perspective. I’m always curious to hear somebody else’s take on my keys. So I try to keep myself circulating among these young dudes with keys they don’t get from other people. It’s not just church chords, I’m quirky with how I think of things.