If you regularly frequent Ortlieb’s Lounge in Northern Liberties, there’s a decent chance you’ve already seen Kendra Morris, who has made two stops the jazz venue this year. The Florida-born chanteuse has spent the past decade in NYC playing live, releasing EPs, and crafting her brand of soul-fusion that would seem to be just as indebted to 90s alternative and classic arena rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s as it is to Motown and “singer/songwriters.” Last August Morris released her debut LP, Banshee, and she’s already back with a follow-up, set to drop July 30th (both on Wax Poetics Records)… However, there is a catch. Her sophomore LP is a collection of covers that has Ms. Morris and producer/collaborator Jeremy Page putting their collective spins on classics from the likes of Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick, and Metallica… There are also numbers by Radiohead, Soundgarden, and the Proclaimers, thrown in for good measure. However, the collection is far more cohesive than you might imagine and Morris’ passion for each song is obviously sincere. This Friday, June 14th, Kendra Morris will be in-town for her biggest Philthy show yet, supporting The Heavy at the 1,200-capacity TLA.
I recently got a chance to talk to Kendra about what she’s been up to recently and, most significantly, what was it that led to the decision, just one LP in, to put out a full-length of cover tunes. She tells me the notion of making her sophomore LP a collection of covers was actually a bit therapeutic and helped to take some of the pressure off of “the follow-up release:” “I mean, you put out your first album and then rush and you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, I have to write all these songs for my next album,’ and you’re maybe not in as strong of a place for writing.” Morris and Page have been working on what-would-become Mockingbird for some time now and apparently the distillation process what a bit haphazard. Morris admits that she probably threw a little more at her collaborator than he probably wanted to deal with: “There were just lists of songs, like these lists I keep in my phone of songs that I would hear and just remember how great they were. I kind of bombarded him with songs (laughs).” When it comes to the songs that made the final cut, Morris tells me, “I think they’re important songs for the different things that they gave music in a specific place and time. And some of the songs we just thought were classically amazing songs and we wanted to pay respect to them.”
While, despite her “lists,” Mockingbird seems to have come together relatively quickly, the process of adapting and re-crafting other people’s work is certainly nothing new to Morris and co-conspirator, Page.
“I’ve always done covers. I’ve always been really into covers. Like a few years ago I found myself just re-working songs like ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing,’ by Kanye or Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy.’ But then, when I met my producer, Jeremy, and we started collaborating, we started doing covers together. We’d talk about a song we both liked a lot and then a few days later he would just come in with this amazing idea and we’d go from there.”
Morris and Page’s collaborative covers were already in full-swing last year, prior to the release of Morris’ debut LP: “We started doing those [covers] and we had a bunch and they were just sitting there. It didn’t make sense to put them on Banshee, so we actually started to putting them out one-a-week online and we started to get this buzz around them.”
When I get around to inquiring about Morris’ influences, I’m am a bit surprised to hear that they’re not generally musical.
“When it comes to my influences, it’s really been visual art. Visuals are what I’m always geared-toward. I’m very into colors. I also collect a lot of stuff. My apartment has taxidermy everywhere and it’s kind of like walking into an enchanted forest, but I need a living space that can inspire me, where I can create.”
Morris has even parlayed this love of the visual arts into a side project of sorts, in collage making: “I collect old Playboy magazines and old nature magazines and I do these collages, which I’ve turned into fliers that I sell at the shows. The collages actually really relate to the way I write music. Like, I’ll pull from this one place and then from another place and eventually weave it all together.” (They can also be found for purchase online here.)
This summer is looking like it’s going to be a busy one for Kendra Morris. When I ask her about what she has planned and what she’s most excited for, she can barely contain herself.
“I’m gonna start doing stuff in Europe. Banshee’s finally going to be released some places over there… I’m gonna be playing guitar more… I’ve been playing guitar a lot and writing a lot recently. I’m also working on a stop-motion video for an unreleased song. It’s so tedious, but so fun, kind of like bringing my collages to life. I want to be doing more projects like that. I keep telling my friends it’s gonna be a creative summer.”
But as far as what you can expect of Ms. Morris’ new direction, she prefers not to be so forthcoming about that.
“I’m trying to still be kind of mysterious about it. I feel like I’ve been growing a lot. There’s are definitely gonna be some big changes. As an artist, you have to keep stirring the pond up to keep on living… I hope to do some more collaborating. You might even see some side project that seems to come from out of nowhere…”