“Man, I think this is something special!”: Maroon 5’s PJ Morton on his soulful new album

R&B star PJ Morton's new album is an expression of positivity and hope. Photo: Laiken Joy/supplied.

Music editor Danny Waterson sits down with four-time Grammy winner – and Maroon 5 keyboardist – PJ Morton to discuss the latest record of his epic career and working with Stevie Wonder.

“I think hope was needed,” says PJ Morton of his new album Watch The Sun. “I didn’t set out to do it, but I think it’s what was needed at the time. I wrote a majority of this while we were locked down in the pandemic, processing what was going on.”

PJ Morton may not be too familiar to Australian audiences as yet but his new album Watch The Sun shines a spotlight on this versatile, phenomenally talented artist.

This multi Grammy-winning R&B and soul singer counts the likes of Stevie Wonder as a collaborator and has been a member of Maroon 5 since 2012.

In town for two showcase performances last month, the warm and friendly Morton sat down with The Sentinel for a chat.

PJ Morton with The Sentinel‘s Danny Waterson. Image: Danny Waterson.

Watch The Sun, which he wrote and produced himself, combines different musical styles: soul, R&B, reggae and gospel – and although many themes are covered lyrically, themes of hope and relationships are at the core.

Morton describes the new album as: “Soul music, just because there’s so much influence that can go in soul, like country soul songs, you know, and reggae. I think all this is an extension of love meeting the spiritual, lyrically.”

“If you got bad energy, I’m done,” sings Morton on the groove-orientated R&B track ‘My Peace’ which features JoJo and Mr. TalkBox, an American Christian hip-hop R&B musician.

Of his collaboration with pop music’s JoJo, he adds, “We won best R&B song (‘Say So’) together at The Grammys a couple of years ago. It’s one of my biggest songs, we got history together. JoJo is very much in the pop world but her core and foundation is very much R&B. She’s a true singer.”

Being a prolific performer and musician, Morton put out three separate albums in the period immediately prior to, and at the beginning of, Covid-19: Christmas With PJ Morton (2018), Paul (2019) and Gospel According to PJ: From the Songbook of PJ Morton (2020).

When we suggest that he really loves to work, Morton laughs, “Part of it was the gospel songs that I had written before that I wanted to re-do with different artists in a different way. I love seeing different expressions of my own music, seeing them come to life in different ways.”

“Stevie Wonder’s the reason … he’s the blueprint.”

– PJ Morton

Morton decided to pack up and took the band away to make the album in Louisiana – Bogalusa, to be precise – at the recording studio Studio in the Country, made famous by Stevie Wonder.

“I was working on some pre-versions of songs for the album, but being home in New Orleans wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to get even further away where I could just truly focus on the songs,” he says.

Official music video for ‘Be Like Water’ by PJ Morton feat. Stevie Wonder & Nas. Video: PJ Morton/YouTube.

“So I took myself and the band to Bogalusa where this guy built this studio in the seventies, where Stevie Wonder did Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” (1979). Some amazing albums were made there. It’s kind of like this oasis in a place that doesn’t have much going on.”

Stevie Wonder was an inspiration to a young PJ Morton. “Oh man, yes. He’s the reason, I was a young kid who wanted to play keys and write songs and sing, you know. He’s the blueprint.”

A soul-infused track on the album, ’Be Like Water’, features Wonder and superstar rapper Nas.

It’s not the first time he’s worked with Wonder. The lead single from Morton’s debut studio album New Orleans (2013), ‘Only One’, featured the music icon playing harmonica – and was duly nominated for the Best R&B Song at the Grammy Awards in 2014.

As for Nas: “He really fell in love with one of my albums, Gumbo (Morton’s acclaimed, Grammy-nominated 2017 release), and I was working with him on his album. And I’m like, ‘I’ve got a song too man, I’d love you to be on it.’ He was gracious enough to be on it, it’s like a full circle moment.”

Official music video for ‘Only One’ by PJ Morton ft. Stevie Wonder. Video: PJ Morton/YouTube.

On Watch The Sun, the lyrics speak of another significant relationship – that with his wife Kortni Morton. “Even before the album was done I would send a song for her approval; that’s why she is amazing, this is why she’s my wife,” Morton says, smiling.

“If I knew a song was kinda personal I would send it to her and let her hear it before it was even fully done to make sure I had her approval. She’s always been gracious with me with the art.”

One of the album’s highlights is the old-skool, ’90s-inspired R&B song, ‘Please Don’t Walk Away’, showcasing Morton’s unique silky vocal.

“We had the drums first with that song, before I had anything else. I just worked on that drum pattern, it was special then, just the drums,” he says.

“I had to sing it twice, I sing it normally and then I had to come back to it and be gentler, it was just calling for a very vulnerable vocal. But as soon as we finished it, we were all like, ’Man I think this is something special!’”

PJ Morton’s new album Watch The Sun is out now through EMPIRE/Morton Records.

Danny Waterson is the music editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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