PJ Morton One-Ups Himself With New Album And Upcoming Tour
The acclaimed musician spent the top of the COVID-19 pandemic enjoying his family then he started writing his new album.
April 25, 2022 at 5:12 pm
Singer-songwriter PJ Morton was overseas on tour with Maroon 5 when the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020 took place. After scrambling to get back to the U.S., he decided to spend the top of the pandemic being the at-home family man he said he doesn’t often have loads of time to be. He did things like teaching his children to ride their bikes and handling projects around the house. Then, he spent the other side of that time penning what would become Watch the Sun, his forthcoming album, and the title of his tour that is set to kick off on May 25 in Sydney, Australia.
"Watch the Sun" has some incomparable featured artists
From Jill Scott opening a song with spoken word to Stevie Wonder crooning on a hit-in-the-making to Nas and Wale lacing tracks with bars, among other musicians, Morton pulled together a dream team of featured artists for the project. While everyone fits so perfectly on each song, the song mastermind said he doesn’t write with featured artists in mind.
“Unless I’m writing for another artist, I have a big rule to not be thinking of features while I’m creating,” Morton told Blavity. “I just wanted to make great songs and then I started to think of features. After a song is done, like ‘On My Way,’ I was like, ‘If I can’t get El DeBarge on this, it’s not gonna go on the album.’ It was that serious for me. It was the same thing with Nas. I was like, ‘I want this to be a rap, but I can only hear Nas doing it.'”
Even though he’s worked with a lot of people, Morton still has a bit of an unfulfilled wish list. And, it’s mostly elusive artists who rarely grace projects with their presence.
“All of the people who are really hard to get are on my wish list,” Morton said. “D’Angelo would be my dream, but he doesn’t come outside much. Kendrick Lamar, who is really selective; Andre 3000 is somebody I love as well. All of the people who are just minding their business right now are who I wish I could work with, so we’ll see if the stars align and I get to them one day.”
He's letting fans all the way in this time
The multi-talented artist said this new album is the product of challenging himself to go deeper, including divulging the lows of romantic partnership.
“This time around I felt like I’ve made so much music at this point,” he said. “People were dying — we were in a crazy time in life, and I felt like I would be doing a disservice if I wasn’t totally authentic and totally open to helping somebody else. Cause I talk about the great things in a relationship and love, but how do you deal with it when you’re 13 years in and you’re dealing with things in your relationship? How does that sound, how does a man being vulnerable sound? All of these things I never really quite delved into. I was more honest and more open than I’ve ever been on this new record.”
Voice note king
Morton is an admittedly drop everything and gotta write kind of guy, so his thoughts truly show up on wax.
“It can hit me literally anywhere. I’m a voice note king, and if I let it past, I’m going to forget it,” he said.
And if he wasn’t “voice note king,” the world may have never gotten “First Began,” a monumental tune from his Gumbo album.
“As soon as I heard [‘First Began’] in my head, I was like, ‘OK, this is something special, I need to sit down and write this.'”
He even started work on Watch the Sun using voice notes back in March 2020.
Studio in the Country was like an adult summer camp
Known as the birthplace of timeless music created by Stevie Wonder, funk legend Betty Davis, influential musician Allen Toussaint and feel-good hitmaker Frankie Beverly, Studio in the Country is a state-of-the-art facility smack dab in the middle of nowhere, located 75 miles north of New Orleans in the rural city of Bogalusa, La. Morton said he happened upon the studio while looking for a setting that would allow him to fully remain focused on creating.
“I feel like Studio in the Country was like a band member,” Morton said. “It’s like as soon as we got on the grounds, it was like literally magic. It was almost like adult summer camp. I brought my engineers and some of my musicians out with me and we stayed in the house on the grounds and worked in the studio on the grounds. It was all just trees surrounding us and ponds. I was immediately inspired to start writing and start creating. I think it is, in no question, a huge part of this new album and how it developed and how it evolved.”
Authenticity and balance
Morton struck the perfect note of authenticity and balance in his work when he moved back to New Orleans from California. The result has been years of music that has moved his fans beyond belief.
“Moving back home allowed me to refocus on what was important and what made me want to do music in the first place, so I really locked into that and I was able to see the industry with different eyes because I was one foot in, one foot out,” he said. “I know that’s when my success started. That’s where Gumbo happened and the first of these Grammys happened. I think it’s totally tied to me being home and being able to focus in a different way.”
Having grown up around several influential spiritual leaders and gospel musicians, including his father, Bishop Paul Morton, fans can certainly hear his upbringing in his work. The storied artist is excited to carry on the legacy.
“There was always a line I was never willing to cross — I was never gonna talk a certain way on record — I’m not gonna talk about certain things in a certain way,” he said. “There was always a standard and I think that was my upbringing and making sure I could make my family proud. I want them to be able to show their friends my records without being embarrassed.”
Of course, there could be challenges with balancing spiritual and industry growth, but honesty, Morton said, is the key to balance.
“The important thing is the living part — it’s not the music part, so it’s like the art just imitates life, so I just felt like if I always just kept it real with myself and I was honest in the music then it would come out the way I really am,” Morton said. “I never wanted to be living a certain way and then on record I become a different person. It was always that balance for me — just be honest. And that’s why I can write a song like ‘Let Go, Let God’ and then write ‘Go Thru Your Phone’ — it’s all just honest.”
There's a musical renaissance and New Orleans is here
Morton has referred to the present time as a musical renaissance.
“I think for artists, we had to go inward a bunch because we never had this much time to be in our thoughts,” Morton said. “Some of the best music comes out of tragedy and that much time to ourselves. I just know that I wasn’t the only one working on my best work, but I bet a bunch of other artists had been locking in and taking intentional time to make their best work.”
Among these artists is New Orleanian Jon Batiste, who recently swept the Grammy Awards snatching all the most coveted categories of the evening. As a featured artist on Batiste’s We Are, Morton cashed in on a Grammy as well. As an artist from New Orleans, Morton is full of pride for Batiste and the current wave of area native musicians who are receiving high accolades and national recognition, like Lucky Daye, Tank and the Bangas and Trombone Shorty, among others.
“I love it — it’s a dream come true. There’s so much talent in this city, and I’m happy it’s getting a light shined on all genres, not just what we’re maybe known for,” Morton said. “I moved back home going on seven years now, and that was a part of my mission moving home. I was one of the kids who had to leave New Orleans because I wasn’t a jazz artist or a rapper. To be able to be home, living at home and making my records in New Orleans and seeing things outside of jazz and bounce, our normal things, getting shine is just a beautiful thing.”
The album drops on a very special day in New Orleans
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a staple of Crescent City culture. Chock full of talent, New Orleans-born artists, among other internationally renowned talents, wait on pins and needles to see if they’ll have the opportunity to perform at the heavily attended major attraction. While Morton has been a part of the festival lineup before, this time is extra special as his set falls on the day Watch the Sun will be released.
“It’s like I almost couldn’t write it better than this, especially after we had to miss Jazz Fest for a couple of years,” he said. “I know what that energy is like normally, but the fact that people haven’t been able to be out there and go to Jazz Fest, I think it’s going to be electric and it’s on a very special day for me for what I think is gonna be an important album for me. I just couldn’t have written it better, man, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
It's a huge sing-a-long and you're invited
Morton’s shows are the ultimate fan experience. Audience members are encouraged to participate and during certain parts of the show are assigned parts to sing along. It’s something he’s missed during his time away from the stage.
“We were doing virtual shows, but you can’t really replace the feeling of somebody reacting and you get to react to their reaction,” he said. “That’s one of my favorite parts of what I do — I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of performing. I just can’t wait to get on the road and do this summer tour and hopefully vibe with y’all and we be outside together.”
Tickets for the Watch the Sun tour are on sale now, with dates running through Oct. 1. Morton will also perform his annual Black Friday show in New Orleans on Nov. 25.