Kendra Morris Songwriting Interview (Part I)

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Kendra Morris (photo by Marc McAndrews)

KENDRA MORRIS

Being flexible and adapting to what happens around you, or what makes things work is a huge part of being a musician.  I like, and am comfortable, sending out questions to the musicians I interview.  This gives me a chance to really plan out the best series of questions for everyone.  It also allows them time to think about the questions and to be sure the wording is right.  Words are very important for people that spend most of their time working on lyrics and telling stories.  But, sometimes you have to be ready for change and do what works.

Kendra let me know that she’d be most comfortable doing a phone interview.  We had a great time and talked for an hour.  She sat out on her front step, so we had trucks and ambulances going by, along with neighbors and the mailman.  I figured out a way to record her side of the conversation and had my sister, who’s a medical transcriptionist, write it out.  It was a lot of fun and lead our talk in some different directions.  Growing up, the phone was the only way to stay in touch with friends and relatives who were not in town.  That or letters, which is a whole other topic.  But, now in 2013 with all of our fancy smart phones that do everything… we spend very little time talking to other people on our phones.  A conversation is so much more personal and intimate that trading texts or liking Facebook statuses.  In fact, sometimes I’ll put on ‘Elizabethtown” just to watch the phone call scene.  I miss talking with friends to catch up and need to get back in that habit. I’d be glad to do more interviews this way.

Hometown/Current City: St. Petersburg, Florida/New York, NY
Record Label: Wax Poetics
Most Recent Release: ‘Mockingbird’ (2013)
mockingbird
Band Affiliation: 
Dennis Coffey

BIO: (from KendraMorris.com )

 “For some reason, a lot of my life has revolved around recording in closets and tiny spaces,” laughs Kendra Morris. It’s been a bit of a recurring theme in the New York–based singer-songwriter’s career thus far, and it can be traced back to one Christmas at Morris’s childhood home in St. Petersburg, Florida. A mini-Kendra, aged eight, discovered that her karaoke machine could also be used as part of a makeshift studio set-up. “I would go into my closet, take these cassette tapes, and I’d start singing, record it, and switch it to the other side and sing over that,” she recalls.

Morris grew up imbued with a sense of music—her parents played in bands together, and she often broke into their cabinets full of vinyl to listen to their favorite records. As Marvin Gaye, the Spinners, War, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, and the Temptations washed over her, they soon became hers too. She sang along to her favorite albums with a voice she discovered soon after she learned how to talk.

Go HERE to read the rest of Kendra’s Bio.

OSW: Hey Kendra, we finally connected. Glad you’ve been busy.
Kendra Morris: Yeah, I don’t usually book so many shows close together, but some of the different bloggers put on shows, and then there were other things that I had previously committed to, and finally we had that release party. One wanted to us to do a thing in an art gallery.  It was a really cool, stripped down event.   It had just wound up being a lot of shows in a course of two weeks.  I’m glad I’m done now. We are working on new recordings right now, and so I’m just excited to not have any shows to be thinking about, because when you’re writing you kind of need to have a clear head and not be worried or thinking of other things.
OSW: That’s one of the things I talk with a lot of the writers about, someone like a Ryan Montbleau who does 200 shows a year I guess gets used to writing on the road.  But I, and a lot of people, have a routine around writing in their office, home or studio.
Kendra Morris: Well, we’re trying some new things with the writing now.  Jeremy Page, who produced both of the records, we wrote Banshee, just the two of us, aside from one song, which was an older one of mine that I brought to the table.  The new record, which are these new recordings, I think the whole band is sort of writing because we’ve all been playing together so long now, and we finally have our keyboardist, because it was kind of like a floating member for awhile, and now we’ve had the same keyboardist for a year, so everybody is kind of wanting to write.  We are going back to the way that writing used to be, with all of us sitting in a room with our instruments,  Jeremy playing different chords on Guitar, me on my notebook with the lyrics.  That is kind of exciting to try this whole other way of writing.
OSW: That’s a lot of fun, rather than sitting in a room by yourself working out parts.  You can get a lot more creative.
Kendra Morris: Yeah, Because everybody’s head is coming from a different place.  I’ll do the lyrics, then the vocal melodies because I love to take the reins on that.  All of the guys hear things differently, and they’ll be like, “Yeah, let’s try this”.  Jeremy comes in more as a producer and makes all of that work into the glue of a song. So it’s cool, and then everybody gets excited.  Even though I am a solo artist, and I go under Kendra Morris, my band is so much involved and a part of the project. It feels like a project rather than a backing band.
OSW: It’s great when you have a group that’s together for that long who collectively have an idea of what your “sound” is. Now do you play Guitar or Keyboards?
Kendra Morris: Yeah , I play guitar.  I’ve been playing guitar for awhile.  I just don’t play it on stage because of how intricate some of the vocal parts have gotten. You know, I think there will come a time where I will pick up a guitar and play a couple of songs with everybody on stage, but I just like to focus on singing.  I use guitar more for my writing tool.  I was doing these solo tours for awhile.  I think I’ll probably do another one.  I’ll play guitar for those where both my friend and I will travel the country and just do solo sets.
OSW: Outside of the new things you’re trying, what is your songwriting process?
Kendra Morris: I start with the melody first.  That’s what I’ve always done.  I keep a notebook with me, so if I’m just like in the city doing stuff, sometimes a lyric will pop up in your head, and all of a sudden you’re like, “Ahh-hh” and write it down.  I’ve had a couple of songs that started with a lyric, or just have the notebook, and a lyric, it’s like a lyric bank, so I’ll go into it when I’m stumped on something, But mostly, I start with a melody line.  Whenever I’m writing, that’s the first thing that comes to my head.  On my phone, the memory is all full from using that little speaker app.  I’m constantly going in and deleting old stuff.
OSW: Yeah, I like to keep my Lyrics in the Notes app so they’re always with me.  Does the group change tempos or feels once you’re together?  Sometimes, slowing down a fast song or speeding up a slow song can change everything, including the meaning
Kendra Morris: Yeah, definitely.  My computer is full of songs that started one way, and there are like four different versions of what those songs went through.  All of a sudden, there will be a different tempo, or a different mood, or the guitar sounds on it will sound completely different and change-up the whole vibe of the song.  So, yeah we’re constantly experimenting.  I think what has worked is, that when you’re writing, you have to put your ego aside and be willing to try different things. Because sometimes, the thing that you’re insistent wouldn’t work, is the thing that completely ended up being the best thing for it.  I think in writing you’ve got to let go of your ego.
OSW: The benefit of having a consistent group is that you can try out songs different ways each time until you find the right setting for that song, rather than working those things out in the studio.
Kendra Morris: Some of this new writing we’re doing is more like that.  For ‘Banshee’, that was just Jeremy and I in the studio going back and forth, kind of ping-ponging ideas.  He would start with some sort of instrumentation, and I would have my notebook in front of me and be singing out some melodies and ideas and come back out and that would start a new idea for him, like, “Oh I hear it going this way,” so then he’ll start tweaking more things instrumentally, and then I’ll say, “Oh and now I hear this,” and I go back in the vocal booth, and we’ll do that for hours and hours at a time, just kind of feeding off each other’s ideas. That is how ‘Banshee’ kind of worked. Then with ‘Mockingbird’, it was kind of the same thing, but more of the vocal arrangement sense than the instrumental sense.  With ‘Mockingbird’, it was the band coming in, and that’s when the band started getting more involved.  The band is all over that record.  You can hear them, just their ideas coming out.  That’s when our keyboardist Colin came in and really locked in too. He brought some stuff to the table that we had never even thought of before.
OSW: That was the nice part on ‘Mockingbird’, you’re taking songs that everyone knows and adapting them to how you want to tell the story.
Kendra Morris: Yeah, that’s a real important thing on a cover tune.  If you’re going to do a cover do an interpretation.  It’s like, make it your own.  I mean, always find a way to respect the originator of the song, but It’s like a coloring book.  Coloring books can be boring if everybody colors them the same.  That’s what was fun about them, the pictures are always different.
OSW: It was interesting, and I messaged you about this, that the guys were playing lines from “I’ll Take You There” on “Walk On The Wild Side”.  It makes sense too, I had never thought about those being the same chords
Kendra Morris: Yeah, you know what, I didn’t even think about that.  I went back and listened and totally heard it in there, which is cool.  I love when a song does that .  There’s a new song I’ve been working on and I took a super old children’s poem and added in a nod to that with one of the rhymes.  It’s fun to kind of do those sort of things, and you hope someone realizes it.
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OK friends, we’ve reached 2000 words on today’s post which is probably plenty for one day.  I’ll make this Part I and come back to Part II as soon as possible.  Hope you’re enjoying this talk with Kendra Morris as much as I am.

Kendra Morris on the Web
Website
Facebook
Twitter @kendramorris
Instagram @kendramorris

Bonus Video.  The bonus materials link is listed after this video.  But, I wanted to also include this new stop motion video for “Winding” that Kendra and her friend Shannon Weidel worked on all Summer

Kendra Morris “Winding”

All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Kendra Morris, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future. PLEASE go check out Kendra’s playlists there!  This time we have 4 videos of Kendra and 4 videos of songs she likes.

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Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words

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2 thoughts on “Kendra Morris Songwriting Interview (Part I)

  1. Pingback: Quincy Mumford Songwriting Interview | our scattered words

  2. Pingback: Kendra Morris Interview Part II | our scattered words

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