The Singer-Songwriter Discusses his Grammy win, the Super Bowl and Asserting his Independence
PJ Morton is the personification of Soul and R&B music. His musicianship – having grown up playing in his dad’s church- and as a renowned keyboardist and solo artist -in addition to being a member of the Pop supergroup Maroon 5—is highly-regarded. This is certainly on display via Morton’s Gumbo Unplugged, his third live album and fifth overall. Released in 2018, audiences have the option to enjoy both full-length audio and video versions of Gumbo Unplugged, where Morton spares no expense in bringing together some of the finest musicians to New York’s famous Power Station Studio. Gumbo Unplugged features a 22-piece ensemble that includes the Matt Jones orchestra, a horn section, and some remarkable vocalists the likes of Lecrae and BJ the Chicago Kid. The album even garnered the New Orleans-bred Morton his first Grammy win earlier this year, for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Since conducting the following M.I.Q. interview, Morton released another album, simply titled, Paul, with featured guests that include Jazmine Sullivan, Rapsody, Pop singer JoJo, and political commentator/activist Angela Rye.
M.I.Q: Congratulations on the Grammy win for “How Deep is Your Love.” What are your thoughts about tying for the Award?
PJ: Thank you. This is my first official Grammy. It’s like super exciting and it lets me know that I’m on the right path. [As for tying] It didn’t bother me one bit. As long as I am winning the Grammy, I’m happy to tie with Leon Bridges; that’s good company to be in.
Q: Did Barry Gibb ever reach out to you regarding your version of the record?
PJ: I don’t know who runs his Twitter account, but they posted our video of the song, and gave it a thumbs up. I haven’t met Barry in person, but that Twitter shout out was enough for me.
Q: How did you come to meet Yebba, the young lady featured on the song?
PJ: Through Instagram, but I remember her coming to my shows in Tennessee like five years ago. I knew she could sing then. My first version of “How Deep is Your Love” is on the original Gumbo album. A few weeks prior to recording the live album, I asked her if she would be interested in doing the song with me. The rest as they say is history.
Q: Talk about how the song gained momentum due to the popularity of the video.
PJ: I think we just captured a moment, really. There was no tricks or strategic target marketing. It just took on a life of its own, simply based on the clip we posted on my Instagram and Facebook pages, and then it went crazy on YouTube. It just started to move on its own. I can’t really explain it. Catching Up with
Q: You were on the Cash Money label for one album. What prompted your return to becoming an indie artist, and launching Morton Records?
PJ: The major label system just didn’t seem to work for me. I think it played its purpose, and it was a great learning experience. But I began to understand why my independence was so important to me, and I wanted to re-establish my own label. I have signed my first act [R&B group] The Amours and we are working to release their debut EP.
Q: You’re a member of Maroon 5, which is essentially a Pop group. Talk about the balancing act that comes with being a solo R&B artist versus the demands of being in a Pop group. And how far apart do you see the two platforms when it comes to genres?
PJ: It’s all me, that’s what so funny about it. As much as I was influenced by Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, I was also influenced by the Beatles and James Taylor. Maroon’s music leans further to the Pop side with some soulful elements, while I lean heavily on the Soul side with Pop sensibilities. It’s been nine years now, and it’s amazing to be a part of a group that appreciates a variety of genres.
Q: There was so much talk and controversy around the Maroon 5 Super Bowl experience, which traditionally is a celebratory event for an artist. Your thoughts…
PJ: It was celebratory for about 5 minutes [laughs]. And then I thought this could be the wrong year to get this opportunity. There was a range of emotions. Ultimately, it was a dream of ours. ‘Were we going to disrupt the system by not playing?’ Then that meant somebody else was going to play. We decided to touch as many people as we could with the music that we play. That was the extent of it to us. We didn’t feed into the criticism. I’m a [Colin] Kaepernick supporter, and I didn’t even watch football last season. For me, I can support Kap, and play the Super Bowl, which is no different than football players playing on the field and supporting Kap. That’s where we fell on it. I’m happy we did it. When you look at the sheer size and how massive the Super Bowl experience is—there’s nothing I can compare it to. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of on so many levels.
Q: You were recently on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
PJ: I’m a longtime fan of the show, and Trevor was so cool and welcoming. He allowed me to not just play music but to sit down and talk with him. It was an amazing experience.
Q: What equipment do you prefer to create music?
PJ: I have my mobile studio, of course my Apple laptop. I still use the Apogee Duet as my interface. I have an SM7 Schure Mic. It was the same microphone that Michael Jackson used on everything. So, it will do me just fine.
PJ will be touring throughout the summer, including the Essence Festival in his hometown of New Orleans