Catch up with singer-songwriter James Patrick Morgan and listen to his single "Expected" off his upcoming EP, Art + Work = Love, to be released in 2017.
What got you interested in songwriting?
James: I think that I've always enjoyed writing, period. I kind of entered into various essay competitions where my teachers would like what I did and would enter some of those things in and I did well and I think it's always just been a part of my expression, the artistic level. I just love the cadence and how it all flows together, it's almost like a mixture of the mathematical side mixed with the catharsis of all the emotion that's involved. I love songwriting because you get both that emotional aspect plus the satisfaction of seeing how things piece together. I do it in both directions.
Do you remember the first song you wrote that you were happy with?
[Laughs] Truth be told, I don't think I've ever been completely happy because my brain is always trying to turn these songs around and find a new way to re-imagine them. I love all the things that I do, obviously they have some sort of meaning - and especially this project, I've been very, very grateful to have songs that sound like me, like when I perform live - so I would say out of all of my songs, I've enjoyed writing them all and I don't even remember the first one that I did... Probably trying to make some friends in college, trying to show off or something. In the end, I think this has been the first time that I've ever felt really confident in what I'm presenting.
Which musicians would you say you've been influenced by?
Oh goodness. Just being a cover artist for so long and having the original stuff on the side, I have so many sounds that have gone into my head. I always reference the old classics like Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, just the soul of it and the combination of the full voice and the falsetto and then you have just that raw flavor. Guitar-wise, I was learning how to play guitar right in the heyday of John Mayer and at the end cusp of Shawn Mullins and people like that, The Dave Matthews and the Jack Johnson. I would say more recently, in the last 5-10 years, I really enjoyed The Killers and I really enjoyed Justin Timberlake. I don't view them on the same genre side, but I just like how they perform; I like creating energy and seeing how they interact with the audience - and people like Bruno Mars, as well. They've kind of influenced me in the live music aspect.
Is there an album from 2016 you think everyone should listen to?
I don't really know how many complete albums that I've been able to purchase! I do know that I bought a ton of individual singles and I'm enjoying, thoroughly, The Weeknd and some of those collaborative efforts with Daft Punk and enjoying that, as well. Always going to have to give a little bit of acknowledgment to him because I just love the production quality in all that he does there. Even though my music doesn't exactly sound like that, it kind of gives me good aspirations.
What song are you most likely to be listening to during the holidays?
I have a weird love for Harry Connick Jr., honestly. [Laughs] I don't know why, but I think it's that old school mentality and how he incorporates the big band into it; I really do like some of his renditions. And actually, I also own an old Ray Charles Christmas album and it has that song from Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase "The Spirit Of Christmas" and that all kind of brings the nostalgia back to me, so I'd say those two are my favorites.
Which words would you use to describe your own sound?
I think the genre that you'd probably go with is pop soul with a hint of R&B, that's kind of how we've been describing it. It's very eclectic, there's a lot of things like, oh I hear this in there and I hear this in there. This is very much a sound specific to me, at least I feel that way. I'm sure that someone else could probably have a similar element here or there, but at least I finally feel like I've found what I sound like. I always love singing with soul, I always love just being able to rotate between the aggressive full voiced tones and then the high falsettos and showing a full vocal range. So I think that's one of my favorite aspects. But I mean, pop is all-encompassing for so many reasons, so pop is the underlying main one.
What were your inspirations behind your single "Expected"?
I just wanted to do something a little more soulful because a lot of what I do at shows has that R&B element, when I do cover shows. I wrote "Expected" a few years back and it doesn't sound like it sounds today; there's always that refining process and you always have your initial ideas of what you want it to sound like and then everything changes. Probably feeling like that old, classic, soul, Stevie Wonder horn section kind of thing mixed with a funky type of guitar, probably even going back to those first influences on me: the Shawn Mullins, the John Mayer, the Dave Matthews, and whatnot. Just combining all of those elements. What I love about funky acoustic guitar mixed with funk horns.
Could you tell us more about your upcoming EP, Art + Work = Love?
It's a fantastic representation, I think, of what I do live. I gave a sample of one of the tunes that's not even been released yet and I played it live and they were like, wow, that sounded very much like exactly what I just heard. It made me feel really good that we captured that, because that's what I've been wanting to do for so long, to give an accurate representation. I think that the title is very expressive of how I view music and I think people want to do so many awesome things with their art and their creative aspects, but they forget that it's work; it's not just saying, I'm going to make a name for myself and go out there and be an overnight success - which happens so rarely - it really just involves dedication to the max, to the point where sometimes it hurts. So, Art + Work = Love is not just music, it's also all the things in life. You're going to have a relationship, it's going to have to have some sort of creativity, you can't just sit on your ass all day, you've got to put forth the effort and you can't just be yourself and expect to be loved, you have to have a little action to it, as well. All of life I think is summed up in that [laughs] to give my little philosophy. And the songs are all fantastic, I just think they're all at least giving nods to what I sound like.
Is there one song off the EP you would say you're most excited to share with listeners?
Yes. As much as I love "Expected" - I think it's probably going to change a thousand times, even before the release [laughs] - I would say "Alone", which is number 2, is a fantastic song with a really good energy. As far as on the hype level, I think it's going to be one of the songs that somebody's going to want to run to, to workout to, they can listen to it in their car when they're on their way to something and tap the steering wheel to because it's just a fun song. As far as the finesse aspect, I think they'll like "Sign Language", the 3rd one, because it shows a higher vocal range for me and it's a little more delicate, yet it's got a piercing element to it - it's not shrill, it's just very clean and it cuts through and I love that. I think that is probably between those two, at this moment.
How would you sum up Art + Work = Love in one sentence?
I think it's worth listening to because it can compete with much of what's out there on the radio right now and I feel confident behind what's there; there's always someone trying to show you their music and I think there's a lot of great choices our there, a lot of awesome people always giving stuff, but I feel like mine can cut through to the real music listener and people will appreciate it.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I hope that they'll take away, one, a purchase [laughs]. No, I really do hope that they feel something, and I've said this since the get-go of this project, as a musician you people watch all the time and part of your job is you're mainly a social figure and you have to go around and talk to people and you can see how standoffish some people are and you can see how excited other people are. With anything in this life, I hope that somebody will feel something; that they'll feel an honest emotion. Maybe the story will relate to someone and they can actually feel the angst behind one of them or they can feel the happiness or the hope. Maybe they're going through the same thing that I was going through when I came up with this idea and this will give them the words that they need to be able to say to someone and to actually have human interaction. Maybe their heart can be stirred to being alive.
Is there anything you want to add?
Thank you very much for even taking the time to talk to me. I just love that people are even taking the time for this stuff because I've had situations where I've been treated like the radio in the background - when you're playing a cover show - and it's so different now to be approaching a level where you're actually saying, hey, you're going to be noticing me and focusing in on the music for the love of the actual music, not just because I'm playing at a place where they're serving beer and hot wings. This is the best part to me, that these interviews are happening and that people are starting to take notice of something and it's real and it's a goal.