Monday, September 16, 2013

PJ Morton makes gospel a pop success

Posted By on Mon, Sep 16, 2013 at 2:09 PM

PJ Morton has somewhat of a genre identity crisis. He's a contemporary gospel singer, an R&B artist, and has even delved into the hip-hop world, especially after being signed with Lil Wayne-founded Young Money. The previously Atlanta-based artist is currently part of Maroon 5, touring with the pop juggernauts both as an opening solo act and as the band's keyboardist and backing vocalist. Morton's recent solo major label debut New Orleans features big names like Busta Rhymes, bandmate Adam Levine, and soul legend Stevie Wonder and yet still echoes the gospel spirit of his father, renowned singer and Baptist pastor Paul S. Morton.

Before his Sept. 16 show with Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson at Aaron's Amphitheatre, Morton talks genre-bending, his father's legacy, and working with his childhood hero.

You grew up in New Orleans, but how did your time in Atlanta shape your career?
I moved to Atlanta in the fall of '99. New Orleans is what bred me and what gave me my foundation, but Atlanta is where I started, where I chose to be an artist. It kind of gave me my home as an artist. I consider Atlanta the start of my career.

What genre or genres do you feel like you fit into?
I think it's a mix of different things. At the very core, I call it soulful pop music. I'm definitely soulful. R&B is the foundation, but there are a lot of pop sensibilities to the music as well.

Your newest album crosses a lot of different genres - hip-hop, R&B, pop, gospel. How do you juggle those disparate influences, and where do they come from?
I think it's not really juggling - it's more natural. It's not something that I think about. I think it comes from the way I was raised and the way I was influenced by the community. My father was a pastor in New Orleans, and gospel was the main style there initially. When I moved to Atlanta, I became an R&B producer, mainly. I was raised in the hip-hop generation, so hip-hop is just something that's always in the culture itself. Then, I was very influenced by things like the Beatles and James Taylor. Now, being in Maroon 5 ... it's all been kind of comfortably in my world. I think when it comes to me expressing myself, it's all mushed together.

How has your father's gospel legacy affected the kind of music you make?
It's been a standard to my music. Most of all, gospel and church is not much different from soul. The only difference is lyrical; one of them's talking about God's love, and one's talking about the love of people. A lot of the foundational things are the same, you know. You're trying to touch people. You're trying to say things that people will feel and relate to.
Growing up with a famous dad - it sucked a lot of the time because a lot of people had these unfair expectations of you because of what your father was and what he represents, and you had a magnifying glass on you all the time. But there were perks too - I got to be around some amazing musicians and some amazing music as a kid, so it's the good with the bad.

What has the transition from being an underground artist to part of a major label like Young Money been like?
It's been a cool transition. What I like most about Young Money is that there's this indie sensibility there. I don't know if Young Money ever meant to be this huge. I think it really fits with someone like me. They let you do what you want to do, express yourself how you want, and it's really just steroids on what I've been doing through the years. Now, I just have a much better team that can help get my vision across.

How did the Maroon 5 gig happen?
We had a mutual friend who was a music director for them a few years ago, and they were looking for somebody to help fatten up the sound for the live experience. So, he reached out to me, flew me out to L.A., and we just clicked really easily. It was such a natural fit. Then the [Maroon 5] keyboard player Jesse took a hiatus, and my responsibilities upped in the band. Those are my brothers, and it's been a crazy ride. In the years I've been in the band, we've grown into the biggest we've ever been.

Now we're touring in sheds, with an outside vibe. I prefer the outside vibe because it feels more festival, more summer. I grew up around festivals in New Orleans, and it's really my favorite thing.

What was it like working with Stevie Wonder for your track "Only One?"
Stevie's my hero. He's the reason I wanted to be an artist in the first place. It was a dream come true, my dream collaboration. I feel like I'm still in shock for him to be on my record. I don't know even what to say. I'm amazed still. For him to be on my first major label made me feel like I'm going in the right direction.

Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, and PJ Morton play Aaron's Amphitheatre at Lakewood on Mon., Sept. 16. $33.75. 7 p.m.

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