A few years ago Morri$ was a dude throwing ‘Goombaraves’ in Kansas City with his collective Bear Club Music Group, bringing Mykki Blanco, Helix, RiFF RAFF and other wavy music to Kansas college kids. Meanwhile, he was making his own dope, mostly instrumental slow jams, and representing the States on Londoners Bok Bok & L-Vis 1990’s boundary-pushing Night Slugs imprint, as well as Kingdom’s sister label Fade to Mind. In the past year, Morri$ has renamed himself: P.Morris (real name Phil, hence the P). And relocated himself: Los Angeles – where he’s been refining his production chops and making sweet, sweet music with Sinjin Hawke, Sweater Beats, Le1f and of course, THAT sexy Kelela single.
ACCLAIM talks to P.Morris in his first ever Australian interview, mere hours after he stepped on Australian soil (sand) for the very first time: “I just came from the beach!,” says an excited P.Morris. “I got sand between my motherfuckin’ toes – I feel good!”. Shoutouts to P.Morris for being such a nice dude to interview.
At SXSW you played the Warp x LuckyMe showcase with Future Brown, A.G. Cook, Jacques Greene and a bunch of other legends. How did your experience at SXSW measure up this year in comparison to previous years you’ve been?
This is the fifth time I’ve been – it was really cool. I feel like a lot of musicians play more shows every time they go, but I’m doing the exact opposite! The first time I went, I played eight to ten shows; this time I played like, two. Next time, probably one! I’m moving backwards with that shit! I hate running around, the older I get, the less I wanna deal with that shit. I’m a total diva. [Laughs.]
You get to watch anyone really good?
I was determined to not get pulled in a million directions this time. You know, you go to these things and you’re with ten of your mates and they all wanna go to different things, and you get pulled around to all these parties and end up standing in line and not seeing anything. This year, I did what the fuck I wanted to do, I just saw my homies play, kicked back, smoked a bit. My favourite set that I saw was Rabit, this grime producer – he was incredible! Full disclosure – he’s a friend of mine, but I hadn’t seen him play before. He, by far, stole the show.
Congratulations on Debut, it’s a stunning release. Lush, layered… syrupy. So much weirdness – xylophones, French horns, crickets – but still so cohesive. Is it true you write all your tracks on a piano first, then go in with the beats and samples?
One hundred per cent. I’m a melody guy – it’s the only crutch I lean on, whereas I know a lot of people lean on the electronic bit and rely on a lot of digital fuckery. I start out with a Fender Rhodes, or piano – I fiddle around writing on that until I have a strong concept, then I get it onto my computer and start messing with the texture of it.
The beginning of ‘Gemini’ and ‘Go All Night’ both have this beautiful glissy synth crescendo in their intros, do you think of that as a little trademark of yours?
Ahhh! Yeah, I think people identify that sound with me. I can’t take claim for that, that synth uprising thing has been used in Southern raps in a while, but I don’t see a lot of other people in my realm that have caught to it quite yet. So yeah I guess it is sort of a trademark!
You’ve said that Debut’s tracks are more ‘in-between’ music – for driving around, for after the club, or just listening to in your headphones. You used to be quite attached to club music, but that’s not the case so much anymore. Why do you think that is?
That’s a good question. I don’t want to come off snobby or anything like that, but speaking candidly… I love being in the club – a lot of my friends are club DJs – but I think on a macro level, there’s this ‘club bubble’. A lot of people are coming into turntables, coming into CDJs, so it’s become really widespread – anyone can do it. I thought it was important to differentiate myself from that.
But also I felt like it was doing my music a disservice, because I was backing myself into a corner all the time, trying to slim down my ideas, narrow the focus of what I’m doing so it fit into a club mindset. It minimised my potential and I wanted to get out of that. Right now though, that seems crazy, ‘cause there’s so much money to be made in the club! But I think it will give me more longevity – in two, three, five years I can know I’ve made music that’s wasn’t tied down to what was going on in EDM, not tethered to what the fuck people were tuned into for a short amount of time, but be glad it has a timelessness of melody.
Given that you’re not creating with a club mindset now, do you find then that your live gigs accompanying your new material are correspondingly more laid-back?
Honestly, my thing as a performer is still getting people moving, encouraging people to turn up. I do pride myself though on taking the audience in a million different directions in my set, like for better or worse! It depends on how I’m feeling. In future though, I think people will be able to experience a more moody set that will parallel what’s going on in my recordings. At the moment, I’m still one foot in, one foot out. At the end of the line… maybe two years, I’m thinking you’ll see a P.Morris ensemble, like a bunch of us playing in a concert hall. That’s the vision.
Sure, your work has that orchestral quality. You could have actual French horn players playing the French horn bits on Debut!
Exactly! That’s what I want, that’s the end game here!
You worked with Fade to Mind singer Kelela recently on ‘Go All Night’, a total standout track from 2013. What was it like to work with a vocalist, as opposed to using vocal samples? Did it change your process?
During the time I was working with Kelela I was also working with a number of different artists that had different strengths – like I was also doing stuff with Feist – and they all brought really different things to the table. I would still approach it the same way I’d approach a vocal sample, but I was a lot more flexible. I could change the mood by changing a lyric with the vocalist, it just happened naturally because of the vibe – I didn’t have to go and digitally manipulate it so it does what I want it to do.
Speaking specifically about Kelela, she’s an incredible professional who knows exactly what she wants, and she has this unique ability to hone in on a part of the producer’s personality that isn’t necessarily always on the front line. She was really good at teasing things out of me that I wouldn’t normally do, and I think you can hear it in the recording – we forged new ground together. We’re continuing to do that. We’ve been in and out of the studio the past few months… I can’t say much more at the moment! In general, her team is working harder than ever before. The stuff she’s working on is next level – she’s literally going to drag her audience kicking and screaming into the picture.
You were a visual artist for a long time. What kind of art did you make? Did you ever have any shows?
Something about me: P.Morris is a fucking mansion with many rooms in it. In the time we’re going to be in that mansion, we’re going to walk past a lot of doors, and I’m not going to let everyone into all of them. I went to art school, I went to film school. That whole art world thing is something that’s going to play more heavily into what I’m doing in future. That’s something that Kelela and I have in common: she was doing a million different things before she became the Kelela the world knows now. I’m a multi-layered cake, but I’m only serving up the first layer right now. The visual component plays a really big part into how I conceptualise music. It makes its way into my process.
That visual component’s certainly shining in the launch website that you created with OK Agency where you can play each track on Debut while experiencing a different environment powered by Google Street View. Did you work closely with creator Ryder Ripps on that?
Yeah, absolutely. He’s squad. I didn’t micromanage our collaboration – we just discussed our ideas and conceptualised it together, then his team worked on it. He brought a lot of the locations to the table. He was plugged into this website that had a huge amazing list of privatised companies that employed Google to come to their locations and do 360-degree street views of their businesses. You can basically hire someone from Google Street View to walk into your company and film it and put it on Google. So I chose from a lot of those places on Ryder’s list. There were a lot of weird places you’d never stumble into unless you had the exact latitude and longitude.
On the topic of weird places, I have to admit I don’t really don’t know much about Kansas, where you’ve spent a fair amount of time up until your recent move to California. My only cultural reference point is like, The Wizard of Oz. I just think of sunsets over plains… and farms. What does Kansas really look like and how would you describe your experience of living there?
It’s very green – amber skies, rain – all that beautiful shit. Kansas has that. It’s like the quintessential example of the idea a lot of people have of what American heartlands look like. It is that. Tractors, forest, green. I try to inject that into my music, you know, without making bluegrass music! The vibe, I mean. Speaking really specifically about living there, it really made me more patient as a listener, and more aware of what was going on outside of Kansas. If I’d grown up in NY or LA, I’m not gonna say I would have been into the things I’ve been into, or have found out about them. Kansas made me reach out, look out for what was really good, because I was so secluded, you know.
That sounds pretty similar to where I live in Perth: we’re Australia’s most isolated city, and we have to really seek out culture that’s new and different – it’s not happening right in front of us. We have a very strong creative and music scene that people attribute to our isolation. They say being separated works to our advantage, because it forces us to create our own fun, and we’re not influenced by as many things so what we do do ends up being more original.
Was it a similar situation in terms of your time Kansas and the Goombaraves you threw there with the Bear Club Music Gang? How do you think you and Tom throwing those raves changed the cultural landscape of Kansas, in terms of introducing young Kansas people to new sounds and experiences?
I’d really honestly like to say we did a lot to change the landscape there, but, honestly, I don’t know if that’s the case. Lawrence is a great place but it’s a college town, so every four years a new wave of people come through. So I was there off and on for six years, but then I left in time to make that decision – I could stick around for another four years and try and bring these kids into our vibe, or I could go out and try and tackle the world. I opted for the latter. In the time I was there with the Bear Club and the Goomba Raves, we did our bit for enlivening local culture.
You have so many interesting people in your life who have shaped you into P.Morris. Like Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990, the founders of Night Slugs – let’s talk about them. London is a long way from Kansas. Do you recall when you first met them, and the movements that led to your becoming a part of the Night Slugs family?
Just like I am, Alex and James were definitely fuelled by finding out what the hell was going on. Like, you know how I was talking about the mansion with the rooms? They’re interested in finding out what’s going on in those rooms that have the locked doors. They’re constantly online, meeting new people, and they definitely have their finger on the pulse of what the hell’s going on, so that’s how they found someone like me and, like, Helix, out in fuckin’ Georgia. The internet just connects people all over the place! Kansas, Western Australia… there’s space for that. They’re really good at finding stuff.
I started pushing my music at them like four years ago, and letting them know I understood I knew what they had going on. I’m really glad they were willing to accept me, considering I wasn’t necessarily someone they were hanging out with all the time. The period I came to know Alex was the most formative period of my career – I had an open world in terms of what directions I could go in. I had a lot of questions about how to set up my career, how to put out records… all that stuff I was able to learn by being close to the Night Slugs. Outwardly, they’re a record label to the world, but really they’re a collective, a family, a group of people that look after one another. I was really lucky.
So. Your flip of Justin Bieber’s ‘Hold Tight’ is a 100 per cent jam. Super icy. Do you rate Biebs’ recent grown ‘n’ sexy release, Journals?
I fucking loved it. It’s so good. My iPhone is full of stuff, I’m literally a data hoarder, but before I left for Australia, the only thing I had on my phone was Journals. The whole way here, that was in my head. Justin’s starting to mature and become a man and America just don’t want that to happen! I’m glad he’s heading up new roads – I’m right there with him!
P. Morris on tour
Friday March 21 • Get Weird/I.C.S.S.C. • The Bakery, Perth
Saturday March 22 • The Operatives • Liberty Social, Melbourne
Thursday March 27 • Sleigh Ride • Sugar, Adelaide
Friday March 28 • MUM • Cassette Nine, Auckland
Saturday March 29 • GRNFST, Canberra
Saturday March 29 • Chinese Whispers, Brisbane
Sunday March 30 • Marco Polo • Ivy Pool, Sydney