PJ Morton: Born In New Orleans, Raising Worldwide

“I’m usually in control of lots of my music…” says Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter and musician PJ Morton. Son of Gospel legend Bishop Paul S. Morton, PJ’s third studio album Walk Alone was released earlier this month much to the joy, praise and support of his thousands of followers.

Building his industry links whilst writing for India.Arie [“Interested” earned his Grammy], Musiq Soulchild [“Dear John”], Monica [“Get Away”] and Jagged Edge [“So Amazing”] and touring with the likes of Eryah Badu as a background singer, guitarist and pianist – all the while independently pushing his own material – lack of formal musical training hasn’t remotely been a hindrance to the career of this New Orleans native.

Many of his collaborations came about through natural relationships – college friendships, mutual friends and mentored introductions – which suits PJ Morton’s style to the bone. “The best [songs] I write [for other people] are the ones that are intended for them. I put myself in their shoes,” he says.

“A lot of it has been just right place right time, relationships with me to be honest. I have never gone through a record label to get a song placed, ever. I don’t know that the record company way works any more – they get thousands and thousands of tapes. I think that’s why people say relationships are what really matter.”

Organic collaborations with friends aside, PJ Morton’s songwriting dream would be to pen a classic for Stevie Wonder. Failing that John Mayer (“Definitely goes in there as one of those guys that I think who will be here as long as he wants to be”) or Coldplay’s Chris Martin “would be incredible”. Others that stand out today include Alicia Keys (“Her songwriting has totally stepped all the way up”), Ryan Leslie, Jazmine Sullivan, Chrisette Michele, Jason Mraz and India Arie.

“Music in the last decade hasn’t been that great,” he comments.

Inspired not so much by the current generation of songwriters, Morton again refers to Mr. Wonder and James Taylor as some of the best. Explaining his indifference to the current generation of artists he says, “The demand calls for songs that don’t have to be well written. Songwriting doesn’t necessarily have to be a craft anymore; we just want something we can dance to and that’s it, so it doesn’t necessarily have to say anything. I’m not big on being deep and writing these heavy songs all the time but I wanna say something.”

“I wanna tell a story with quality. I wanna say it in a way that’s interesting and I think we’ve lost that. I think that’s probably why it’s gotten harder.”

His latest album, Walk Alone, is themed predominantly on love, real life issues and “inspirational songs telling listeners to follow their dreams” – such as “Mountains and Molehills” [play above]. Reggae-tinged duet “Love You More” features a missed fellow soulful vocalist from Atlanta by the name of Tweet. Due to return the gesture and write for Tweet’s forthcoming album, Love, Tweet [her follow-up to Southern Hummingbird], PJ Morton tells us how they began working together.

PJ Morton with Tweet: “Love You More”:

“I met Tweet years ago in Atlanta, she was looking for a band and I was supposed to put a band together. it never happened, but that’s how we first met. She now lives in Atlanta and I had the song already [and thought], ‘I want a female on this… Tweet would be perfect’. I just reached out to her and we really connected and vibed on it… She’s been quiet for a while but on this record she’s shown that nothing is going anywhere, no skill of it has gone anywhere.”

Not everyone is what they seem in this industry, and you can learn an invaluable lesson from the most unexpected places.

Jermaine Dupri is someone who, stylistically, we didn’t have much in common,” PJ admits “but once I started to work with him I learned so much in that experience. He signed Kriss Kross when he was 18 so he had success very young and was still able to relate to the culture throughout the years and has been consistent. so just his work ethic, his grind and his ability to stay current – I really took that from him and grew as an artist, a writer, a producer, whatever – I just learned a lot.”

Earning accolades in his own right, we discuss the impact of his 2002 Grammy win. “For you to be able to say, ‘Grammy Award winning songwriter producer’ gets you to the next door. That’s what it’s been for me,” he explains.

“I’m not one to focus on what I’ve done because there’s so much more to do, but it did help me get to my next door. A Grammy says something. So I’m definitely super appreciative for that – I still wanna win a Grammy for a PJ Morton record! The association, you can’t beat that – the greatest award in American music.”

“The thing that makes me most happy is to play my songs in front of people and hear them sing ‘em back or hear my song on the radio, it’s the reaction of the people. I’d like to say it’s just that – but a Grammy, I grew up looking at my idols get that award so it still means something to me. I can’t front like it doesn’t.”

“My supporters are people who believe in me and I am able to do shows and tour all year round. and people sing my songs and buy my records. to me that’s my greatest accomplishment. of course with a team of people, but it’s been my own vision. I’ve done it my way – and you can’t beat that.”

“Working with so many major artists you get to see the bad side of things – the lack of control they have, creatively and otherwise. I used to look at that and I didn’t have to deal with it after I wrote my song or produced my song, I was outta there and they were still tied to that somebody telling them what to do. I was able to walk away and still have my freedom. Being able to do it my way put value to that.”

“I don’t think people are aware of how big the world is. sometimes they’re so set on America that they don’t get – go wherever the people want your music… Even the labels make the artist thing you’ve gotta have the number one single in America before we start to tackle this – and that’s just backwards to me.

“70% is sold outside of the US so why wait or why think you have to be number one? Go and be number 10 everywhere! You know what I mean? I know with my aggressive plan to reach out to everybody lots of people will want to be a part of what I’m doing that way.”

Walk Alone is out now: iTunes / Amazon

PJ Morton online: pjmortononline.com / @ThePJMorton / Facebook / MySpace

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