Whatever image you conjure up when we say Matt Morris, forget it. It's now as obsolete as a Hollywood Video card. You wouldn't recognize the guy these days. We didn't. When we stopped by Macy Studios just as he was finishing recording songs for his next album (currently untitled and without a definite release date), he was completely clean-shaven and looking all of nineteen years old. The change is rather startling.
The transformation isn't half as startling, however, as his new songs. An impressive leap forward artistically, Morris's new tunes scarcely resemble the material from his Tennman Records debut, When Everything Breaks Open. He's made a dance record. Well, Morris's version of a dance record — electronic-based and very pulse-driven, but there's plenty of organic instrumentation. The vocals are treated to the point that they almost blend into the song like an additional instrument — interesting, considering how formidable Morris is as a vocalist. There's also a distinctive tribal vibe to the proceedings, with some unmistakable spiritual undertones. It's a very dramatic shift, one that Morris says stems from his foray into bass playing last year.
Westword: We talked a little bit about why you went in this direction. Part of it was because you had difficulty playing the older songs live with a full band. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Matt Morris, with Danielle Ate the Sandwich, 9 p.m. Friday, May 6, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $12.50-$15, 303-830-8497.
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Matt Morris: When I wrote the songs for Everything Breaks Open, I wrote them over the course of several years. I wrote them with an acoustic guitar, with lyrics and melody and song structure first, and didn't think much about performing the songs. It was all about crafting the right kind of songs — songs that I thought delivered the right kind of message, or songs that were just good, smart songs. And then we took those songs and produced the record that did right by the songs. Then I was faced with the challenge: How do you tour this material? I hadn't really thought about it.
I made a record that sounds great when you're playing it with thirteen people — three-piece horns, one or two background singers, strings, percussion and drums.
When I took all of the songs from When Everything Breaks Open on tour, I found a good percentage of the time, I found myself wishing I had faster songs. I wished I had something driving, you know, a four-on-the-floor beat. I would even take songs like, "Love," for example, that has kind of a reggae feel, and I'd flip the arrangement around, so that it would be a driving soul record, with driving drums.
And I'd play the bass and push it real hard, so that energy would be present in the show, because I was finding it just wasn't. I had all these songs that were, like, groovy, soulful songs, and when you're playing that to an outdoor crowd, you know, during your four- or five-minute songs, they're often going in different directions. But when I did the shorter, faster songs, I was like, "Oh! They're with me. I'm with them. I'm enjoying myself. I should just write some songs like that in mind."