Welcome to Mogul's December interview featuring PJ Morton.
PJ is a singer, songwriter and producer who has been nominated for two 2018 Grammy awards: Best R&B Album ("Gumbo") and Best R&B Song ("First Began"). In addition to his work as a solo artist, PJ is a keyboardist and singer in the band Maroon 5.
In this interview, PJ shares his reactions to last week's Grammy nominations, what inspired him to write "Gumbo" and the message behind this album.
If you don't yet know PJ (or even if you've been following him for a while!), our talk provides an in-depth look at his journey to reach this point in life and career. It was awesome getting to know PJ and I hope that you enjoy learning from and about him as much as I did:
-I was born and raised in New Orleans.
-I was a preacher’s kid and grew up in church.
-I didn’t know how to read music and learned by ear.
-I would watch musicians in church and try at home. I would play along to TV show themes like All in the Family, Golden Girls and Cheers.
-I play several instruments but piano is my main instrument.
-At age 15, I got my first music placement. I had written a song that a gospel group wanted. They recorded it and I got a check. I thought: 'I would have done that for free!’ Learning that I could make a living doing music, I knew that that would be my path!
-I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta.
-I would attend class and then go straight to the studio.
-I was a marketing major. I love marketing and branding. You use it with everything. I knew that I would need marketing to promote whatever I wanted to do, whether as a producer, songwriter or artist.
-Even as a producer and writer, how you package and present songs to sell to people is marketing.
-Marketing became valuable early in my career as an independent musician trying to make people pay attention to me and get my music out there.
-Going to college gave me an advantage because I was willing to work hard and learn the business of music. I made certain decisions branding wise-that made me stand out. I attribute that to school.
ON RETURNING TO NEW ORLEANS:
-Following college, I went to New York and then Los Angeles.
-I had been living in LA for about 5 years and wanted to work on a new record but it was hard to get inspired.
-I had found some success with Maroon 5 (Shout out to Maroon 5! I love my band!) but personally felt like I could be doing more.
-It felt like time for a change and I decided out of the blue to move back to New Orleans.
-In LA, I was kind of just existing. I never like to just exist. It’s about growth, being better and asking ourselves, 'how do we get better?' I thought: maybe I’ll go home to New Orleans, create something and inspire people. I ended up getting really inspired by the creative freedom in New Orleans.
ON THE INSPIRATION FOR “GUMBO:"
-When in New Orleans, I realized that I wanted to make a record that’s pure love and creativity.
-As much as my brain thinks about marketing, I decided not to think about the marketing of a new album or radio success.
-All I wanted to do was be myself. It’s so cliche but is hard to do. It’s hard to say: 'I’m not going to do something that I think will please someone. I’m just going to please myself.'
-The way that I worked on "Gumbo" is the way that I worked on my first album, "Emotions." At that time, it was out of ignorance. I thought: I’m going to do whatever I want. This was before I knew certain pitfalls of the industry. I was optimistic and thought that I’d sell 100 million records.
-Then the reality set in and the years in between I tried to edit and cater myself to fit certain things to get to certain places.
-With "Gumbo," not out of ignorance but out of freedom, I created that way and feel like I created my best work. So it’s full circle for me.
-The fact that it’s here as best R&B album is a dream come true. I’m just so grateful.
ON THE TITLE “GUMBO:"
-The title comes from this being the first time that I made a record in New Orleans.
-“Gumbo” is a mixture of not just sounds - because I’ve always been inspired different sounds - but also subject matters.
-I usually focus heavily on love and relationships. In this album, I talk about religion, racial tension, fake friends, love and more. I wanted it to be a mixture. I wanted it to also reflect the times of what is going on in the world.
-I made this dish in New Orleans and that’s “Gumbo" to me.
ON BEING NOMINATED FOR TWO GRAMMYS:
-I couldn’t be happier. I worked really hard this year. I tried to make an album that I’m really proud of. It’s great to be acknowledged by your peers, so it’s special for me.
-It’s time to get to work and let people know that these nominations are out and that we want to win.
-I want to let people know what we put into the record, why the song is special and why it’s nominated. It’s about educating. I’ll be doing lots of press and just grinding.
-Even if we don’t win, I’m so grateful just to be nominated and recognized.
-In life, I tend to not focus on the negative. I mean, I know it’s there. But ultimately, focusing on just that doesn’t accomplish anything.
-Instead, I focus on what the positivity can do to the negativity because the only way that we fight hate is with love.
-Ultimately, know that everything is going to be alright, no matter what comes.
ADVICE FOR ARTISTS:
-Focus on the thing that makes you different, not what makes you the same.
-It might be harder and unpopular in the beginning but ultimately you start to separate from all the people that are the same and then you stick out and have a career.
-So, find what makes you different, weird or whatever and perfect that!
-It's about forward movement and growth. Whenever I feel like I’ve hit the next mark and it’s great, the question is: 'how do I grow?'
-Love above all. If we love more, the world would be such a better place.
-Communication is a form of love because you’re willing to listen and talk. So love, listen and communicate more!
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