If you’re thinking about pigeon-holing YMCMB’s latest recruit, singer PJ Morton, think again. Though his game reflects remnants of Soul, Pop and R&B – which may seem to be a far cry from Young Money’s stronghold on Hip-Hop – Morton is right at home on Wayne’s starting team. After all, he is from New Orleans.
PJ Morton is no stranger to the music scene. Growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana – a city where Jazz, Soul, and musicianship are as much a part of its genetic makeup as The Saints – along with the influence of being raised within a gospel family have no doubt laid the brick and mortar for PJ Morton’s rise to success in his own solo career. His latest project New Orleans is garnering the attention of many with hit singles “Work It Out” and “Only One,” featuring Stevie Wonder. While many may recognize Morton as the keyboardist from Pop/Rock group Maroon 5, he has a most impressive repertoire, including collaborations with artists like Jermaine Dupri, LL Cool J, Monica, Musiq Soulchild, and India Arie (their song “Interested” won a Grammy in 2002). PJ sits down with us to discuss touring, love, and how Young Money embraces the diversity of style that he brings to the table.
Bleu: So you grew up in New Orleans, right?
PJ Morton: Right.
Bleu: Yeah, so tell me a little about your childhood and growing up in a city that has such a rich history of music.
PJM: Yeah, I think it’s just kind of one of those things that is a part of your childhood, growing up in New Orleans. Music and food are probably two of the things you’re more familiar with than most people you know in other places just because it’s just such a big part of the thread which makes New Orleans. So I was aware of music between my family and just living in New Orleans. I was very aware of music early on.
Bleu: It’s no secret that you’re the son of gospel singer, Paul S. Morton. How much of growing up in a gospel family do you feel influenced your music and artistry?
PJM: I think it affected it a lot because it’s all that I knew. I don’t think that there’s much difference between gospel and soul music. I think it’s very similar, besides what you’re talking about lyrically. I took a lot of that emotion and passion from growing up in the church, and learning that there. And that stuff still sticks with me today.
Bleu: You’re a Renaissance man. You wrote a book, called Why Can’t I Sing About Love? In there, you talk about how church and secular music really aren’t all that different, with the main message being love behind both of them. How did you come to understand this?
PJM: I think it was an argument that had been had for years and years. I think people addressed it with their opinions and it would be passionate arguments, but nobody – no Christian – thought to go to the Bible and try to get the answers there. You know, it was all opinion and what had been passed down through the ages. Nobody really sat down and tried to find where they said that secular music is wrong in the Bible. So I just had the bright idea to look and try and find my answer there. And also, I was at a cross-road in my own career, trying to figure out exactly what I was doing and what I felt I should be doing and I was looking for answers. So I looked there and that’s where the book comes from.
Bleu: Do you feel that coming into that understanding impacted the authenticity of your music?
PJM: I think it was always authentic. I think it just freed me totally because I knew what I came to find. I kind of knew it, internally, but I just wanted the physical representation, and like actual, something tangible to show me that what I was feeling was on the right track. It confirmed things for me once I did that, and it let me know that I was on the right path.
Bleu: When I listen to your music, the first thing that comes to mind is the range. It’s not just soulful; it’s not just Pop, or R&B. It’s all of those things. And you’ve written for so many artists like India Arie and Heather Headley, to name a few. I just wonder: How did you reach this happy medium in your style?
PJM: I don’t know. There’s definitely not an equation. I think it’s just a matter of I listen to a lot of music and I was influenced by lots of different types of music. I think it was just a natural thing that happened from being such a fan of music, and not just a fan of music, but of all different types of genres of music.
Bleu: So you’re touring with Maroon 5 right now?
Bleu: How did you guys link up?
PJM: Well, a great director friend of mine was coming in to help out with the Maroon 5 tour that was happening. This is like three years ago from now. And they were looking for somebody to come in as a keyboardist and vocalist to add to the sound live. They flew me out to Los Angeles and to the audition. It was my first audition ever. We just connected very easily. And yeah, here we are three years later, still making music together. And it’s been an amazing ride too.
Bleu: Wow, that’s really cool. So how did you come into becoming signed by your current label, YMCMB?
PJM: The seed was planted many years ago in high school. Mack Maine, who’s the President of Young Money, and I went to high school together. That’s where we met. Our lives did what they did, I went on to do my thing, and he went on to do his thing with Young Money and Cash Money, and all the stuff with [Lil’ Wayne]. We linked back up and it kind of felt like it made sense for us to do business together, and that’s what we did. And that’s what we’re doing! (Laughs) I like when things happen natty. I wasn’t looking for it to happen. It was just kind of we linked up and it made sense at that point. I was ready to go to another level, career-wise, with my solo music. It just worked out perfectly.
Bleu: The timing couldn’t have been better. It seems that you give this sort of grown and sexy vibe to the Young Money line-up.
PJM: (Laughs) I hate “grown and sexy.” I think that was part of the misconception that I was grown and sexy. I think that genres are so limited at times that [artists] just get grouped into these groups together. But yeah, “grown and sexy” was something that I never attached myself to. I was more “young and fly” than “grown and sexy.” (Laughs) But I understand why that happens. Like if you do soul music and you play instruments, then you’re automatically “grown and sexy.” I think I’m actually closer to what Young Money represents, you know, I grew up in the Hip-Hop generation. I just happen to be a musician, who loves music. But as far as my personality, and the way I live my life, I think that it’s less grown and sexy. It’s an energy thing! And if you’ve ever been to my live shows, it’s energy, it’s not sexy. It’s laid-back, it’s fun, and we’re having a good time. So I think from the outside, looking in, it looked a little more awkward than it actually was. I fit right into that community. I don’t deny that I’m something different from the label, or that I’m definitely doing something different from what they’ve done. But I think that that’s the point to find something different, to take over another play of music. While I’m different, there are similarities too. So I’m proud to be a part of that Cash Money, Young Money legacy.
Bleu: Absolutely. Your debut album New Orleans is doing really well. How do you feel about the response to that album?
PJM: I think the love has been great! I think that my fans that have always been there, once they figured out that I hadn’t changed; I’m still doing what I always do. Now, I’m just at the point of getting a lot of the world that wasn’t as familiar, you know, educating them, and getting them to know the music. Now, I have different eyes on me since Maroon 5 and since Young Money. So it’s kind of like bringing all of those worlds together – the underground scene that’s been with me, the Young Money side of things, and the Maroon 5 side of things. So I’m having a ball bringing these worlds together to get the word out, get the music out.
Bleu: How have you changed from Emotions (2005), to Walk Alone (2010), to now?
PJM: Just clearer. You know, I’ve gotten clearer and clearer through time… I just think the music reflects that. And I think as a producer I’ve grown. It’s just forward motion really. I don’t think that I’ve just changed a huge deal. I think it’s just natural progression that’s happened. But at the core, I feel that I’m still the same way I’ve been since the beginning.
Bleu: Of course the fall is coming. Is there any style advice that you would like to offer our Bleu readers for the fall?
PJM: (Laughs) Besides keep warm. I enjoy the fall because you can layer up. That’s one reason I love the fall is the clothes, for sure. And it’s also cuffin’ season so make sure you find someone that you can be close to keep you warm.
Bleu: (Laughs) And hopefully, they’ll be playing your album, right?
PJM: Yes! Absolutely! Get that album, New Orleans. And it will definitely help you out with that season.
Bleu: So what’s next for you?
PJM: Just this road. I’ll just be on the road, continuously promoting New Orleans. Next, will be opening up Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson on this tour. Then, we’ll be doing the European tour, opening up for Robin Thicke and Maroon 5. We’ll just be on the road. I feel like the best way to get my music out is to play it in front of people. That’s where I’m most comfortable – on stage.
Photo: Steven Taylor | Words: Kiara Gillette