KENDRA MORRIS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC MCANDREWS
Kendra Morris has an obsession with birds, evidenced by the tattoos on her right arm and her self-described “enchanted forest” apartment, filled with bird taxidermy. And like her favorite animal, she has a voice all her own. Although she could be compared to Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Joss Stone, the best analogy for Morris might be a modern-day Janis Joplin. The New Yorker (by way of Florida) has been on her journey to discovery since college and has finally found herself as an artist after ten years. Morris started off in a band called Pinktricity (named after a box of neon Nerds), and she’s come a long way since then.
Morris has been thrilled to hear her music with a live band, rather than on an 8-track, after working with producer Jeremy Page on her upcoming album. She is slated to release her debut record on Wax-Poetics Records in Spring 2012, but her first single, “Concrete Waves,” will be released on November 22.
Morris sat down with us at a café near Tompkins Square Park, where she spoke about playing shows through a boom box, singing in metaphors, and the importance of not being selfish with talent.
HOMETOWN: St. Petersburg, FL
THE LONG JOURNEY: It’s crazy. I never thought I’d get to 30. I’ve been at this for a long time. When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Everyone was like, “you have to go to college. You have to go to college.” I knew I wanted to do music, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I wanted to be a recording artist or a songwriter or a performer. So, I went to college and I ended up flunking out of everything and playing in one of my first bands, singing just the hooks on songs. I dropped out of college and moved back home with my parents. My mom and dad are both musicians. I picked up a guitar and was like, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this my way. I picked up a guitar and started writing over 10 years ago.OLD-SCHOOL RECORDING SESSIONS: I took some time to have my experiences and experience as much as I could. I started writing and started focusing on myself as a solo artist. I was recording by myself on this 8-track recorder in my closet for 3 years. It was right around when MySpace music was happening. I was releasing these shitty demos. There are two different kinds of artists: there are the ones that are perfectionists and don’t ever release anything, and then there are the ones that put everything out there because they’re making it. So, I just put out shitty demos on MySpace. I was playing a lot of shows by myself through a boom box. I have this ’69 Fender Mustang guitar that I would play through a boom box. All the while, I’ve always been highly influenced by soul music. My mom is a singer. My dad grew up in Stockton, CA. He turned me on to Tower of Power and The Spinners, just loads of soul music. I’ve always had a big heart for that.
THE NEED TO MAKE MISTAKES: I think it really takes ten years to really marinate as an artist. I appreciate Justin Bieber. I think he’s a talented kid, but you couldn’t say that a 15-year-old really knows who he is. You have to go through a certain amount of heartbreaks. You have to go through a certain amount of “almost theres.” You have to fall on your face. I’ve fallen on my face and splattered a number of times. Maybe I’m just going to fall on my face again.
ON MAKING HER OWN SOULFUL SOUND: The influences I want to have are the timeless ones. I have respect for the women that are out there right now. I like to consider when I write I’m really obsessed with harmonies. I’m really influenced by Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. In this new album, there are tons of hidden melodies and tons of harmonies that get stuck in your head: things that you don’t hear at first. I think there can be a number of songs in a song. You can have ten songs in one song. Why not? There are really no rules in music. I think that is something that sets this album apart from the Adeles and the Amys.
TATTOOS AND TAXIDERMY: The first bird I got was a long time ago. I wanted something simple. Birds retain their voices when they sing. They are all so individual. There’s no one bird that’s the same as another bird. It’s just been an attachment. Then I got nine birds on my chest. I have this crazy apartment that’s like an enchanted forest. I have taxidermy everywhere. I didn’t do it, though! I found it on Craigslist.
STORYBOOK SONGWRITING: I just finished a book by Bill Hicks, the comedian. He died in 1992. He had cancer. He was this inspiring comedian who was very aware of everything. He never really got huge. He wanted to take his talent and throw it out there. He wanted to use his comedy to wake people up. I finished the book and was like, “I want to write a song about him.” I wrote a song about him. I really find inspiration from anything. Sometimes it will be some man on the street. Sometimes it will be a story. Sometimes I’ll use an exact experience that I had. I went through a really painful breakup in January. I think it was the hardest, because it was my most mature breakup. Nobody did anything shitty to the other person. It’s hard to just make that mature decision: we’re not meant to be together. It just destroyed me. It’s just coming to the realization that we shouldn’t be together and finding a way to explain it to the other person. There are a couple of songs on the album where I wrote about that. It’s a song called “Just One More” or “One More Night.” We haven’t decided on the title yet.
MUSIC IN METAPHORS: My dad always spoke in metaphors to me. I think it rubbed off on me because I write in metaphors a lot. There’s a song called “The Plunge” in which I compare jumping off of buildings to falling in love; taking the chance. I use a lot of imagery. They say when you jump off of a building, you pass out before you hit the ground: it’s the shock factor. The first line of the song is talking about falling into a slumber while a part of you is jumping off of a building. I’ll take anything. I love writing. It’s a challenge. Music has been scientifically proven to intrigue the mind.
ON DOING THINGS RIGHT: I can tell I’ve grown up a lot. Being on the stage singing, you get this energy. I don’t ever want to jump out of a plane. I don’t ever want to parachute. When I go on stage, that’s the thrill for me. It’s proof that there is God, because there are chills that go up your spine in that room. I don’t want to be selfish with it. I hate bringing her into this, but… Amy Winehouse. When everyone’s like, “She died at 27, and she was such a legend.” And it’s like, no. She was selfish. She died at 27 because she didn’t want help. She had so many chances to help herself. She didn’t. Of course you’re going to die if you don’t take charge. She shared her gift to a certain point, and then she was gone. And now all that anybody is going to have are the one to two albums that she put out. She had so much potential. I just want to give and give and give. If I’m meant to die young, I’ll die in a plane crash or in a car accident. I want to do it right. I never thought I’d say it, but the responsible way.
THE FIRST SINGLE FROM KENDRA MORRIS’ UPCOMING ALBUM, “CONCRETE WAVES,” HAS BEEN REMIXED BY DJ PREMIER. SHE WILL BE PERFORMING WITH DJ PREMIER AT THE WAX POETICS RECORDS AND SKULLCANDY SHOW AT LE POISSON ROUGE TONIGHT. FOR MORE ON MORRIS, VISIT HER WEBSITE.