PJ Morton may not be a household name, but if you’ve been listening to pop or R&B music in the last 10 years, you’ve definitely heard his expert craft at some point. A pureblooded musician to the core, Morton has played a crucial role in creating some truly massive songs, and his talent as a producer, musician and songwriter has garnered him acclaim from both peers and critics alike. While you still might need to Google his name to discover his credentials, Morton is forging his own path as a solo artist, band member, producer, songwriter and author, name recognition be damned. At the end of the day, though, it all comes back to the music for Morton. That doesn’t mean you should remain blissfully ignorant of the name and man that is PJ Morton. You’ve been rocking out to his music for more than a decade now, and it’s past time you were able to put a face and name to the tunes.
Growing up as a child in New Orleans and the son of gospel singer Paul S. Morton, PJ Morton was almost predestined to pursue music. “My family was very musical, so it surrounded everything we did,” Morton recalls. With music so ingratiated in his blood and the Morton family dynamic, the rich culture of New Orleans was like musical lightning striking Morton twice. “New Orleans teaches you that musicians and music are important as soon as you’re born. It’s what keeps the city alive.” Morton notes that NOLA massively influenced his sound and music, bestowing him with a profound respect and integrity for musicianship, not to mention a deep-rooted love of brass: “Regardless of what I’m working on, I always try to sneak in some horns.”
If New Orleans was the spark that incited a raging, burning passion for music within PJ Morton, then experimentation is what helped him refine his sound, style and interest within music itself. Morton took up drums at an early age due to their ease and accessibility, but he’s quick to point out that being a great drummer is a totally different beast. When he realized that the beat of his drum would not come from percussion, he moved on to the keyboard due to the instrument’s array of possibilities and its more tacit connection to songwriting. With the keyboard, he was able to experiment with a host of sounds and genres, incorporating different elements into his musical styling over the years. “That gumbo of things keeps my sound changing all the time,” Morton notes.
Still, his musical journey of discovery didn’t lead to overnight success. Morton decided to pursue a marketing degree at Morehouse College rather than one in music because he wanted his education and interest with music to come naturally. Lo and behold, a couple years after graduating, Morton released his first studio album Emotions, which he credits as his most influential and transformative project. “It just showed me all of the possibilities when you put your mind to something. I haven’t stopped pushing forward ever since.” Indeed he hasn’t – Morton went on to win a Grammy award for his production and songwriting with India.Arie, and worked with numerous other artists including LL Cool J, Monica and Jermaine Dupre.
In 2010, though, Morton got the opportunity of a lifetime. Close friend and musical director for Maroon 5, Adam Blackstone, got him to audition for a keyboardist/backing vocalist spot with the band. Morton was the first to audition for this spot and left quite an impression on the band, joining them on tour and for live performances shortly thereafter. In 2012, Morton became a permanent member of Maroon 5, replacing keyboardist Jesse Carmichael when he decided to take a break from the band, and providing keyboards, synthesizers and backing vocals for the band’s last two albums: Overexposed and V. Morton has played an irreplaceable role in some of Maroon 5’s biggest hits of the past few years, including “Payphone,” “One More Night,” “Moves Like Jagger,” “Animals” and “Sugar.”
Touring and performing with a massive band like Maroon 5 has undeniably changed and shaped Morton’s life in ways every musician dreams. As a key member of the band, Morton finds himself on the road normally six or seven months out of the year, a gig that offers glamor, thrills and some sacrifices. “We get to live our dream job traveling around the world playing music to people. You get to see all of these amazing places and people, [but] you kind of lose touch sometimes with what’s going on outside of your world.” There’s a loss of the semblance of normal life when you’re a member of one of the world’s biggest bands, and staying in touch with family can prove difficult. Luckily, Morton notes that FaceTime and similar technology have helped alleviate this obstacle, allowing him to see his wife as he tours the globe.
Technology hasn’t only helped Morton stay connected to his family and loved ones while touring, but has proven monumental in changing the landscape of music production, particularly for a keyboardist. When discussing the sheer impact advancements in technology have produced, Morton pulls no punches. “It’s changed the way we consume, create and distribute music. I’m able to work on a whole album in a hotel room if I want, where before you had to be in the studio [and] you needed specific equipment. Now tools are much more accessible. It’s at your fingertips.” Despite this, Morton notes that technology can be hollow, and can never replace the genuine sound and unbridled emotion of traditional instruments. “I still find myself going back to the older instruments just because of the soul they possess.”
Morton’s time with Maroon 5 has bolstered, rather than deterred, his pursuit for a career as a solo artist. Prior to becoming a full-time band member with Maroon 5, Morton’s solo music won the attention and adoration of Mack Maine, who signed Morton to Young Money Entertainment in 2011. As part of Lil Wayne’s label YMCMB, Morton released an EP with collaborations featuring Weezy himself and band mate Adam Levine in 2012. His first solo album with the label, New Orleans, was released in 2013. The lead single of that set, “Only One,” was a duet with Stevie Wonder and earned Morton another Grammy nomination. Currently, he’s hard at work on a new mixtape called Bounce and Soul, which he describes as “New Orleans bounce music mixed with soul.”
Throughout all his collaborative work with other artists and musicians, his award-winning songwriting and production skills and a firm, integral role as a musician crafting earworm hooks for Maroon 5, PJ Morton is still charging headfirst into being the maestro of his own sound and style. He isn’t just Maroon 5’s keyboardist – he’s a bonafide musician in his own right, proving that one can be both an ancillary member of a multi-platinum, chart-topping band and a solo artist dedicated and driven to polishing his craft and putting out his own music. It’s that ambition that makes Morton a true musician, one who plays, writes and sings for the love it. “It’s cliché, but [music] is the universal language. You can speak to the whole world with this tool. All the things I want to say I can always say better in a song.” Now that you know his name, and know that you’ve been listening to his work for all these years, it’s about time PJ Morton received your undivided attention.