When I called to interview PJ Morton, he was working on a theme song for a comedy show in his studio in Atlanta.
Go figure. That’s expected of a seasoned artist, songwriter and producer who has worked with platinum artists such as India.Arie, Monica and L.L. Cool J. From fans to gospel artists to television networks, it seems that everyone wants a piece of PJ. He took a pause for the cause to discuss his music, style and to give aspiring artists the secret to success.
The son of a preacher man and a self-proclaimed “Son of Stevie (Wonder),” PJ, 27, inevitably fell in love with music growing up in his father’s, Bishop Paul Morton, Sr., church in New Orleans.
“In church is where I got my start,” he says. “I was able to hone my craft as a musician, playing and singing in church.”
By his teens, he was booking gigs with gospel artists (his dad is an award-winning singer), but writing took the forefront of his talents. “My mom let me listen to the Beatles. I started to appreciate songs and what songs say (to the listener).”
His biggest influence though, is Stevie Wonder. Morton cites Music of My Mind as his favorite Stevie Wonder album. As a teen, he would use his allowance to buy Wonder’s albums chronologically to “grow with him” as a writer.
Taking pieces from his influences, he has come into his own. Also the lead man in the PJ Morton Band, he has released several albums, including Emotions, Perfect Song and Luap Notrom. He fuses soul with pop, rock and live instruments to make his signature sound, but he doesn’t call it neosoul. “It’s just soul music,” he says. “We’re no different from Marvin Gaye or others. They’d be creating music the same way we are now.”
In the creative process, Morton admits that he is selfish. “I make music selfishly. I don’t think about anyone else when I’m creating. When you see people singing (your songs), it makes you want to continue to do what you do.”
When PJ sits at a keyboard for a live show, you’re in for an “experience,” rather than a concert. The songs flow from one to the next, an idea he picked up from his other influences, Prince and James Brown. His fans connect with him on a personal level, singing every word in his songs. “It’s the greatest feeling. I couldn’t ask for more,” he says.
Paired with his refreshing music is his sense of style. Also known as the Fly Nerd, this oxymoron couldn’t be truer. A skateboard-preppy style, you can catch him wearing his signature Wayfarer eyeglasses—which are for sight, not fashion—skinny jeans, a graphic tee and a fresh pair of sneakers. (That day he was rocking black and green Nikes with green shoestrings and a hanging tongue.) “Always gotta be nice by the feet,” he says.
Fly? Check. But is he really a nerd?
“I do consider myself to be a nerd,” he says. “They’re defined by their intelligence and willingness to learn and be ahead of the game. I’ve always liked to be different.”
His next album, due out in the fall, Son of a Preacher Man promises to be different, too, from his other projects. “It’s a lot more beats and tracks, but it’s still the live instrumentation. Think Kanye West meets Stevie Wonder.” He plans to do a live recording of the album in August in New Orleans. A tribute to the women of his hometown, “New Orleans Girl,” was released last month on MySpace.
Don’t let the title of his album confuse you. Being the son of a famous minister and artist doesn’t define him. He has created a place for himself in the industry. “I didn’t work to be ‘Bishop Morton’s son’,” he says. “But I identify with it and embrace that. He’s who taught me how to be a man. I don’t feel the need to separate.”
Choosing to be a secular artist, instead of a gospel artist, like his father, has taken PJ down a different path, yet has not shaken his beliefs. “I was compelled to do music other than gospel at a young age,” he says. “I’m not sure that even Jesus approves of only doing one type of thing.”
If God created me to be a songwriter, then there are other things (I can write about). I think everyone should follow their hearts. Because of my personal relationship with God, I let that check me.”
Recently, he added the Stellar Awards “Song of the Year” award for DeWayne Woods’ “Let Go” to the shelf alongside his Grammy for India.Arie’s “Best R&B Album.” He just finished working on gospel duo, Mary Mary’s new project, as well as developing his new artist. So how does an aspiring or independent artist get to the top?
“It has a lot to do with relationships,” Morton says. “Eighty percent has to do with being in the right place at the right time (He lived in the same apartment complex as India.Arie.). Location, accessibility and talent—it’s got to be there!”
PJ currently has spot performance dates in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Nashville and Atlanta, but look for a full tour after the live album drops in the fall. For more information on the Fly Nerd, visit www.pjmortononline.com or check out his Myspace page at www.myspace.com/pjmorton.