As a songwriter and musician, PJ Morton has done just about everything. Over the past half-decade, Morton has garnered Grammy nominations (and wins) every calendar year (including most recently this year for his work on Jon Batiste’s landmark record, We are, which won album of the year). Morton, who grew up in New Orleans, played multiple instruments, sang in church, and collaborated with some of the biggest names in the history of the art form. But while it has all created incredible memories and earned many accolades, it can exhaust someone. And that’s exactly what happened to Morton.
In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he felt it acutely. When the pandemic hit, Morton thought he might take a break for a few weeks, not knowing the crisis would continue for a few years. But the free time helped me a lot. When it first came out, Morton returned to his native New Orleans and began working on music on his computer. But when his computer then crashed, he had to take a deep breath.
“I took it as a sign,” Morton told the American songwriter with a laugh. “Afterwards, I went crazy for a second. I took it as a sign to stop and somehow be present, to live and do things that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do with my children and my family. It rejuvenated me as a songwriter. It refreshed me. I was starting to wear myself out and I didn’t realize it. I was going so fast.
The result of her breakup was time to reflect. But, of course, this quickly led to the process of creating his next album: Watch The Sunwhich is expected to fall on Friday (April 29).
“For me,” Morton says, “it was about processing all of that. It led me to write this new record and dig a little deeper than before. I didn’t know what the future was. So I reset. And I think I’ve written some of the best music I’ve ever written.
On Morton’s new album there are some great songs and some great cameos. Perhaps most notable is her recent single, “Be Like Water,” which features both Stevie Wonder and Nas. Also on the record are Jill Scott, Wale, JoJo, and more. And to create the LP, Morton says, he went deeper into his subject matter and became more vulnerable in his songs.
“It was necessary for me to be more intentional,” he says, “and make it more than just good music. That wasn’t going to be enough for me on this record. I feel like I needed to share and connect in a deeper way. It was refreshing for me. I want to keep growing. »
Morton’s growth as an artist began, however, when he was a child. Morton grew up in a family of musicians in one of America’s music hubs: New Orleans. His father was a singer and his uncle was a skilled keyboardist. At Christmas, her father had his children play in impromptu family shows. Morton played drums at age three, guitar later, and started playing piano at age eight. It was at this time that the music really started to take hold.
“I felt like certain melodies made me emotional,” he says. “I felt them. I could understand that certain chords did certain things to me, made me feel a certain way.
Yet even then, Morton found himself on the shy side of things. It was only at the age of 14 that he began to sing in public, thanks, once again, to his father. He then begins to fall in love with Stevie Wonder, the Beatles and even James Taylor. He started writing his own songs, covering the sequences, chord changes, etc. in the works of other artists. Before that, the song structure and artistic choices hadn’t been on his mind. Now they were. Fast forward to Morton’s adult life and all that hard work and showmanship has paid off. First as a freelance artist then as an artist signed to a major label, and now (hopefully) back as a freelancer.
“When I was coming in,” he says, “unless you were a jazz player or signed to Cash Money or No Limit and were a rapper, you couldn’t get your songs out. It was quite limited. »
In the early modern history of New Orleans, there were many music stars (see: Fats Domino). But these artists were often taken advantage of, which may have led to the city being coy about working with big outlets or letting big companies into Crescent City. But Morton found a way for himself. He first worked as a freelance artist, then later in the early 2000s he began working full-time with popular rock band Maroon 5. This led to a deal with Young Money, which he appreciated. Now, however, he’s back to working for himself. While he was once rejected by every major label, he is now a multiple Grammy Award nominee and winner.
“All of that was necessary for my trip,” Morton says. “It’s amazing that we’re here now.”
In New Orleans, surrounded by top talent, Morton was able to make music “freely,” he says. He grabbed the spirit of the city and let it flow through him. Not only has he worked with Batiste on his multi-award winning new LP, but he’s also created an outstanding record of his own. Top tracks on the new Watch The Sun The album includes the hypnotic “The Better Benediction” and the poetic “Still Believe”, which features sweet Jill Scott. It’s another achievement in the line of many accomplishments that include his work with Batiste.
“The winning album of the year [for We Are] is crazy,” Morton says. ” I did not expect that. But I’m just part of it. All thanks to Jon. He brought the town for this one. It’s a beautiful thing.
With enough momentum to propel the International Space Station, Morton is now ready for an upcoming tour. Although making his new album “took a lot out of him,” he says, he’s now ready, focused and excited to play the new songs live and see what they’re made of in front of the audience. With such an amount of downtime for live performances behind him, he’s ready to get back on the road and showcase his wares on stage.
“That’s when they really start to find their way,” Morton says of the songs.
And when it comes to his love of music, he says it’s always been a dependable pal.
“He’s still a constant friend,” Morton says. “Whether I write it, listen to it, or produce it, the music is always there for me.”
Photo by Patrick Melon/ Courtesy Shore Fire Media