Discovery: PJ Morton

By
Photography Christopher Gabello

Published May 7, 2012

ABOVE: PJ MORTON. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO.

Discovery is perhaps the wrong word to describe PJ Morton. As a songwriter and producer, PJ’s won a Grammy for his work with India.Arie. As a musician for Maroon 5 (he joined the group in 2010), he’s played all over the globe. Now, however, it is time to discover PJ Morton the soul-pop solo artist. Freshly signed to Young Money records, Morton recently released his first solo EP. Needless to say, his famous friends make an appearance—Lil Wayne lends a rap verse to “Lover,” our track of the week;  Adam Levine sings with Morton on his single “Heavy.” While the latter association arguably hinders more than helps PJ Morton establish credibility, everyone, even Justin Bieber, wants to work with Lil Wayne. Impressed by Morton’s live shows (he really does have a lovely voice), Interview caught up with the multi-hyphenate to talk about riding solo.

AGE: 31

HOMETOWN: New Orleans, LA

PJ STANDS FOR: Paul Jr.

COLLEGE MAJOR: Marketing. I didn’t want to major in music, because I didn’t want to learn how to do music. I wanted to let it be a natural thing.

CURRENT OCCUPATIONS: Solo artist, producer, song-writer, keyboardist for Maroon 5.

DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF MUSIC TO A FIVE-YEAR-OLD… I’d say it’s soulful pop music. Old school and new school put together… if a five-year-old could understand that. [laughs] I’d probably let him hear some Stevie Wonder, then some Beatles, then some Kanye West. It’s a little mixture of all of those things put together. Which Kanye song would I play? I’d probably play something off of Graduation, that’s the song that I’m on right now. Maybe “Touch the Sky.”

FIRST SHOW: My first ever show was with a band, before I ever went solo, called Freestyle Nation. It was fun, my family was there, people kind of knew who I was because we used to play the open mics in Atlanta when I was in college. I felt like it was the place I was supposed to be at, that’s why I continued on with it.

MUSICAL INFLUENCES: I’m a preacher’s kid, so I grew up in church and with a musical family, that’s where I was inspired to want to do music and be a singer. [The first song that resonated with me] is probably a gospel song, I’m not sure which one of those. [laughs] There’s a song called “I’m Still Holding On,” it’s probably that song. I used to feel like I wanted to cry as a kid when I heard that song.

IMPRESSING MACK MAINE: I am a new artist in the [sense] that this is my first major-label deal, but I think what impressed Mack Maine and the label, was when they came to see my show. Touring when you’re independent is your radio, you can’t afford radio, you can’t focus on radio, but you can focus on going out there and playing. But I’d been blessed to build up a following of people who were already coming to see me perform, and I think that when people saw I had it built in already, it was kind of impressive. That was our hustle. Because I was a producer and a writer, I was able to be self-contained in recording music, so we record music, I put it out and we get on that road and try to get it to the people, make sure people are paying attention. But that was the cycle over and over.

FROM CHOIR BOY TO YOUNG MONEY ARTIST: The president [Mack Maine] and I knew each other from high school. We were cool associates, he was a year ahead of me, so it’s not cool to be real cool with underclassmen. [laughs] We would see each other after we graduated high school and remained cool. Then he went on to do his thing with Wayne, I went on to do my thing with writing and production, being an independent artist. When we saw each other, it seemed like the right time to do some business together, and that was the start of it. Mack Maine, he’s been behind me signing [to Young Money]. How do my parents feel about Young Money? Whatever label, that matters less to them than knowing who I am, and that I’m going to be me regardless of what label I’m on. They’re 100 percent behind me.

THE YOUNG MONEY GLAMOUR—TRUE OR FALSE? It is exciting. It’s very successful now, so it’s a great place to be. It’s fun to be on top. I guess what’s been for me at this point is releasing my EP and having Lil Wayne on a song. As a first Young Money experience, that’s been the most exciting. Although he’s an associate and my boss, he’s also Lil Wayne!

MOST TOLERABLE VICE IN OTHERS: I don’t mind when people tweet a lot. I know people who are like,  “You’re flooding my timeline!” I don’t care what people do, that doesn’t bother me. That’s a New Age answer. [laughs] I keep it current.

RUNNING THE SHOW: It’s less responsibility when I’m with Maroon 5. I’m singing background and I’m playing the keyboard, but I don’t have to control the show like Adam [Levine] does as the lead singer. When I’m on my own, I have to run the show and make sure I keep people’s attention. It’s a different mindset in terms of responsibility. As a band, we’re a little more poppy than I am as a solo artist; my music is a little more soulful and R&B-driven than Maroon 5. It’s a different creative expression, but not much different, to be honest. I feel the same way. I feel like there are two types of music: good and bad.  There’s not a bad genre, just bad music in every genre. I won’t give any examples, no. There are good and bad apples in every batch.

WHAT IS GETTING “HEAVY?”: I wrote [my song] “Heavy” prior to [joining] Maroon 5. I’d been doing music independently for a long time and it was at a point where I was just kind of frustrated with career stuff and where I was. I wanted to do something different and I didn’t know what my next step was going to be. That’s what it’s about more than anything.

FUTURE PLANS: I’m a simple man, as long as I’m moving forward, I’m cool. As long as [my music] is doing better, it’s touching more people and people are being affected by the music, that’s really all I want.

YOU CAN DOWNLOAD MORTON’S EP VIA HIS WEBSITE. MAROON 5’S FOURTH ALBUM, OVEREXPOSED, COMES OUT JUNE 26TH.