PJ Morton On “Watch The Sun”

PJ Morton has released his biggest and best album to date Watch The Sun. Out now on his own Morton Records, all eleven songs were written and produced by the multi Grammy-winning, New Orleans born and bred soul artist, marking the next chapter in a remarkable career that continues to bridge styles, traditions and generations. Alongside special appearances from Stevie Wonder & Nas, Alex Isley & Jill Scott, JoJo & Mr. Talkbox, Chronixx, El DeBarge, Wale and other friends, collaborators and idols, PJ Morton dives deeper inward to confront the true challenges and changes he never thought he would sing about. PJ speaks to Hi Fi Way about making the album.

Things must be going really awesome for you at the moment with the new album out?
Oh yeah, it is going awesome man! I’m excited about this new release, the response has been amazing so far. I’m over the moon!

Was this one of the most satisfying albums for you to make?
Very satisfying in the sense that I was able to have this much time since my album Gumbo five years ago. Having had that time made it really satisfying for me because I got to dot every I and dot every T. That made it an amazing process for me.

If you didn’t have this time particularly with your schedule do you think this album would have still been possible?
It seemed like I was very much on that roller coaster of work and for me to go as deep as what I did, and get as vulnerable as I did I needed this time just to process what was going on in my life. I was moving so fast I was a little more distracted and wasn’t able to lock in, in the same way. I was grateful for the time in that sense.

Did you have a clear vision in mind for the album you wanted to make or did you need to stop to contemplate what you wanted to do once your mind was clear?
It wasn’t my intention to make a new album at that point. I wasn’t focused on that, right before the pandemic I was about to go make my gospel album. That was on my mind already, so a solo studio album wasn’t really on the cards for me but it was coming to me. I love not having to force music but it was making its way to me and coming through me. That’s what happened, I felt a want not a need to express myself and be a voice to all these things we have been going through, what the whole world has been going through. I felt like I wanted to lend my voice to it.

Were you surprised with how quickly these ideas were coming to you?
To be honest this was the longest it has ever taken me to write songs. Purposely I wanted to be intentional about every word, every note so I took my time more than I ever have. I’ll write a song in a day or in hours but my hardest song has probably taken me a week. I literally took months on certain songs where I lived with just the drum s and got those perfected for a month before I added any music to it. It took me even more months to start to write lyrics because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. I wanted to listen to what the music was wanting me to say. In that sense nothing came quick this time which I loved. It was a process of really growing and giving it time to grow.

Did you know when to stop and go do something else non-music when it wasn’t working and then come back to it?
I think that made it more of an organic thing. I did realise that I didn’t have to do anything, you can just wait, no one is in a rush right now, everyone’s stopped ad you don’t have to feel that someone is getting one up on you or ahead of you. You can really stop! Once I felt that and took that in and focused on family and stuff it made me grow as a person and in turn growing as a song writer and producer which made the songs better because I really had something to talk about as I was living and being present. I was actually allowing myself to process everything that had gone on in my life the last few years.

Were you starting to get excited in the studio as these songs were starting to take shape?
Oh man yeah! I can remember it vividly. I had ideas at home in New Orleans but when we got to Bogalusa Studio in the Country these songs really started to take form and shape. It was exciting in real time and I had my band with me to experience it to. We were experiencing the same thing, it was like magic was happening. We knew it right then and sometimes when you are with your friends you would think we love it like this, that doesn’t guarantee everyone else will so the response when we release this was wow everyone feels like we did when we were in the studio watching it all happen.

Did you feel that positive energy shining through these songs as they were taking shape?
Yeah, it felt like being away at summer camp when we were all out there together in the country. It was really joy even though in the outside world it was so dark, people were shut down and locked down, we were out in the country with trees and ponds, nothing but space and this beautiful studio. There was a theme of joy, you hear some talking and laughing throughout the album, that was our experience out there and that’s what we were feeling capturing all the conversations and things. That was the kind of like the background to the album, maybe you feel that throughout because even the sad songs there is joy and type of hype in there still.

How was it working with Stevie Wonder? Was it hard not to be in awe and a bit star struck?
Stevie is my number one influence, he is my hero and thankfully he made me feel comfortable. We had worked together some years ago but we weren’t in the studio together. He recorded harmonica on song Only One and we happened to be in the studio around this time when I wrote Be Like Water working on some music for him. I asked him and let him listen to Be Like Water and he loved it. When I was there recording him, I was shy and didn’t want to push him to hard, I was just happy that he is on it, he sensed me being a little reluctant and he pushed me saying “if you want me to do it over again, you just got to tell, I want it right”. The big lesson learnt is that the big legends are open to learning and growing, it might be a big lesson. It was a big honour to work with someone like Stevie. It is beyond words and I can’t put it in to words, it was like a full circle moment as he is the reason I am doing music.

Even with all the other collaborators such as Nas, Chronixx and JoJo, were you drawn them, did you find them or did they find you?
I wrote the songs and once I was done I wanted to make sure the strong songs were strong before I thought of anyone being on them to guide the songs. So I made the songs purely but when I heard that drum beat open like that I knew I wanted Jill Scott to be on there. When I first heard her I wanted to hear that and get that feeling on here. Same with Stevie, same with Nas so I reached out to them, some had relationships with already and some I had no relationships with which speaks to the respect which is amazing to me where they see me in the light where my music is worthy of them hoping on it. Stevie hardly sings on other peoples records so I understand the honour of it but it humbles me, it is crazy that I reached out and nobody said no. It was all support and here we are.

Interview By Rob Lyon

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