PJ Morton Talks About Winning A GRAMMY Award In College, “Lover” With Lil Wayne & More

April 20, 2012 by Danny M

Interviews

PJ Morton Talks About Winning A GRAMMY Award In College, Lover With Lil Wayne & More

Jason recently chopped it up with one of Young Money’s latest signings, PJ Morton. They talked about PJ‘s childhood, his father Paul S. Morton, Stevie Wonder, songwriting for other music artists, school, winning a GRAMMY award while still in college, Erykah Badu, becoming part of Maroon 5, his Following My First Mind” EP, how the collaboration with Lil Wayne for “Lover” came about, playing instruments, and plenty more. PJ Morton also said his next official single will be “Lover” featuring his new boss Weezy and they will be shooting a music video for the record. Hit the jump to read the full interview, which I am sure you will all find interesting!

Jason: Hey what’s going on? Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today.
PJ Morton: Oh, no problem.

Cool. So what you been up to today? Just chilling in the studio?
Oh nah. Maroon 5 is taping the voice tonight, so I’ve been running around doing sound checks. Bout to head back to the studio for a little bit, so not chilling at all (laughing). The song also features Wiz Khalifa, he’ll be there too. The song is called “Payphone”. I’m also premiering my own video for “Don’t Break My Heart” on Tuesday (out now). OkayPlayer is premiering the video initially. We filmed that with a director by the name of Jack Wallis. It’s just gonna be a nice simple video.

That’s cool, so where did you grow up?
In New Orleans East.

So how did you begin singing? Your dad is the famous pastor Paul S. Morton, did he have any influence on you?
Yea because music was always big around my family. Everyone sings or plays something. So, yea, my first influence was from in the house. Then I started branching out and listening to Stevie Wonder. That’s when I really started to put my own spin on music.

Was that like your rebel mode, listening to Stevie Wonder?
Haha, yea I mean, I was more rebellious than that, but yea. Stevie is what connected to me as a musician. He made me really want to sing and play songs.

That’s cool. When did you begin playing instruments?
I started playing piano when I was 8. I’m a keyboardist more than anything, but I also started playing guitar and bass when I was 18. I started writing songs though when I was 15.

Were you producing and writing your own music or writing for others?
I was mostly writing gospel songs for gospel artists. At the time I was still living at home with my dad, so gospel was the closest type of music that I was able to do until I went to Moorehouse in Atlanta.

Oh, true. What did you major in?
I was a marketing major.

Oh, that’s cool. Did you go to grad school after that, or directly into music?
I barely made it out of college (laughing) so no, I didn’t go to grad school. I did graduate in 3.5 years though. While I was in college, I began writing for India Arie on her second album “Voyage to India” and wound up winning a Grammy as a junior for the song “Interested”. I kinda wanted to quit school, but I only had one semester left. I just felt like I was kinda done with school. I was fulfilling my dreams, so I never did quite make it grad school. I immediately went on to play with Erykah Badu on tour after graduating.

That’s crazy. What was it like winning a GRAMMY at such a young age? Like you said, you were fulfilling your dreams already.
Oh, it was just incredible. I was fully in it. That was my first big piece of work outside of Gospel, so I was really proud of the success the song had. I felt like I was really getting into what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was incredible.

And Erykah Badu, that’s amazing. That’s one of my favorite female vocalists. How did all of that come about?
Yea, she’s incredible. I got a call for that as I was finishing up for school. All these things were happening, so it was a special time for me. I wound up touring with her, playing keyboard, guitar and doing some background vocals. It was all new to me though, I was fresh out of college and this was my first tour. I was just living the dream. We toured the whole world.

That must have been really exciting. You also had a lot of success with the gospel song “Let Go, Let God” and won a Dove and Stellar Award.
Yea, it wasn’t a song for me though. I actually wrote it for Dewayne Woods. My father and I performed the song quite a bit too. People would always love to hear us sing it when I traveled with my dad. So we wound up laying down a recording of us singing it as well. It was in the top 10 for 70 weeks or something like that.

What was it like when you branched out from the Gospel background? I was watching your CNN interview and I also saw you wrote a book about it.
Well I was never really a gospel artist, so it really wasn’t that. It was more of just me being a Christian and being involved with the Church. When you come up through that environment and start doing other types of music other than Gospel, people look down upon that. But I had been doing other music since I was teenager and plus me being a huge fan of Stevie Wonder, I didn’t really see why it was wrong. A lot of times, the artists that grow up through the Church and start doing other music, kinda rebel against the people that say they shouldn’t be making other types of music. But that’s not the perspective I wanted to give off. I wanted to explain it more and have people try to understand what I was doing, so that’s where the book came from. It was just me trying to get people to see how silly they were being. I wanted them to see it was okay for a Christian with a background in Gospel, to branch off and do other varieties of music. There’s nothing wrong with that. Ya know, it’s okay to talk about other subjects such as love. I think it pushed the envelope and helped a lot of people to see that it was okay to do something different. I got some slack initially, but once people heard what I had to say and saw I was coming from an honest place, it was okay. It was definitely a good thing more than a bad thing.

Yea that makes a lot of sense. So when did you form your first group Freestyle Nations? Can you tell me a little more about that?
I did that while I was in college. That was before the book and everything else. That was just me trying to be an artist. I got some musician friends together and we put together a band. The drummer and guitar player are still with me actually today. It was cool though, we had a nice following. It was short lived, but it gave me the confidence to be an artist. It showed me I could perform in front of people and write my own material. It was definitely a special moment for me. After that I definitely knew music is what I wanted to do.

So where did that go from there?
Well, that was before the Erykah Badu tour, so when that happened we broke up the band. After the tour is when I put out my first solo album “Emotions”. My second record “Perfect Song”, was recorded with The PJ Morton Band. That was with my guitar player Jesse and drummer Ed from Freestyle Nations. Ed actually went to high school with Mack Maine and I, so we go back a little.

Oh aright, I see. How did you come to meet up with Adam Levine and Maroon 5 after that?
Well we had been grinding in the indie scene for a long time and while I was on tour I got a call from one of my friends, Adam Blackstone. He was the musical director for Maroon 5. He called me and told me that Maroon 5 needed a keyboard player who could also sing some background. So they flew me out to LA and after that it was kinda history. We vibed really well together and I’ve been with them two years now. What happened was, the original keyboardist left to do his own thing, so I wound up being the only keyboard player in the band. It’s crazy, I never thought it would turn into this. Now, Maroon 5 is coming out with their new album and I play keyboard on it. I’m excited about it, it’s gonna be a good album. That’s coming out June 26 and I’ll be going on tour with them. We start in South America in July. Last time we toured for a year and a half, so it should be good. Ya know, it’s a good problem to have to be part of their band and Young Money. It’s really cool, I’m happy to be part of both of these teams.

Yea that’s a really great problem to have. So while you’re on tour, you’ll be working on your solo album as well?
Yea, we stay busy. What I would like to do is to add some songs on top of what I already released on my EP. We’ll just record that on the road, that’s how I recorded my EP. I’m getting much more comfortable recording while traveling than I am settled. I just embrace it all.

I’m beginning to see why Weezy signed you. So that kinda leads us to where you are today with Young Money. You mentioned you went to high school with Mack Maine?
Yea we went to the same high school in New Orleans. He was a year ahead of me. We were cool with each other though, we both played basketball and were mutual friends. I remember he was even messing with Wayne back then. Ya know, he was doing his own thing, I was doing mine. We had a mutual respect for each other. We both had that grind. I watched him grow throughout the years and one of our old high school friends linked us back together.

Oh I see, that’s really interesting. So is the deal a joint venture between Mack Maine’s Sooth Your Soul Records and Young Money?
It’s through Young Money, but Mack Maine’s company was instrumental in getting the deal done. Mack’s gonna be the executive producer on my album coming up.

Oh, aright cool. So Wayne found out about you through Mack Maine?
Yea Mack was the quarterback of this whole thing cause Wayne was incarcerated at the time. After Wayne got out though, Mack brought me to Miami to meet him. Wayne had already heard about me from a while back through Mack, he was really helpful with that. Baby and Slim had already heard me, so once I met with Wayne and he heard the new material, we just moved right along.

So you already had all of the material for “Following My First Mind” when you signed?
I had some of it. I let him hear “Heavy” with Adam Levine and some of my older material. Some of them were in demo form. After the deal was official I started finishing up the songs and getting features and everything else.

I read the title of your latest EP has a sentimental meaning to it. What does the title “Following My First Mind” mean for you?
To me it represents creativity. That’s what I feel like we as creative artists should represent. We shouldn’t follow any trends. I think that’s what we do at Young Money, we make trends, we don’t follow anybody. Them even signing me is something a little different than what is currently at the label. I think it’s part of the creative movement which we emphasize at YMCMB. It’s doing what you really feel and “Following Your First Mind”. We’re not letting anybody steer us in their direction. We’re just doing us.

So how did the collaboration with Lil Wayne for “Lover” come around?
Well I had some of the song already. I spoke to Mack and told him I wanted Wayne on the song. So he just kinda made it happen. Wayne heard it and loved it, so it was a rap after that. You know, he’s recording everyday so he got to “Lover” and killed it. I hope to be able to collab with the other artists at Young Money at some point too.

Yea that was a classic Wayne verse. The song had a cool dynamic. It’s got that soulful sound, but also has got that bite to it. You know, Wayne kinda adds that attitude in there.
Yea, I feel like that’s what my sound represents in a way. It’s sweet and sour. It’s hard beats over nice melodies. I think that’s what we accomplished in that song. That’s gonna be the official single off the EP. We are gonna film a video for it. We don’t have an official date on it yet though.

I hear you. The EP definitely has a nice ebb-and-flow to it. You know, each song is different, but they all lead into each other to tell a nice story about love and the different emotions.
Yea, I mean, when creating an album I’m always thinking about the listener. I want you to listen to it straight through without having to skip songs. That’s where my producer also comes into play. I want the album to have a nice story, lyrically and song wise. Each song is a different genre, but is in accordance with my sound. That also kinda plays into the title. I’m kinda all over the place, so it’s following what I feel at the moment.

I got you. I also wanted to ask you about the two female features on your EP. They came out really great, they got a real nice vibe to them.
Yea I had Jazmine Sullivan on the song Built for Love. She had a couple hit such as “Bust Your Windows” and “Need You Bad”. She’s an incredible singer. She kinda represents that new/old sorta type singer. She’s a continuation of the old soul singer. Chantae Cann was the other feature on the last song of the EP “Saying Hello”. She’s a new artist from Atlanta and a great singer as well.

True. How do you go about creating your instrumentals? Do you use live instruments?
I was on the road for a lot of it, so I made most of it on my computer. Once I get in the studio, after I finished the basis of the song, I’ll lay it down with real piano, organs, horns and there are even some strings on there as well. It all goes back to the roots for me. I’m a musician first.

Aright cool man. Thanx a lot for taking the time. Just anything else you’re working on and where can we find you on Twitter?
Yea, I got the video “Don’t Break My Heart“. Be on the lookout or “Lover”. We really want to push that as far as we can take it. I want that to be a smash, so we need everyone to request it. The Maroon 5 record is coming out June 26, so it’s gonna be a busy year. You can find me on Twitter @PJMorton. I’ll be on tour myself until May 6, so come out to one of my shows if you can make it. I’ll be in New York at the Highline Ballroom May 1st. That’s about it man, thanks a lot for everything.

Yea, definitely gonna be at the show. Be good.
Thanx man. Peace

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