PJ Morton is the keyboardist for the band Maroon 5. Growing up the son of a preacher in New Orleans, Morton had early and formative experiences with music. He has now released a solo album, collaborated with music idol Stevie Wonder and been nominated for a Grammy Award. This is his brief but spectacular take on finding inspiration in honesty and songwriting "selfishly."
John Yang: PJ Morton is the keyboardist for the band Maroon 5. He released the solo album "Gumbo" last year. And his album "Christmas with PJ Morton" is streaming now.
In tonight's Brief But Spectacular episode, he talks about growing up the son of a preacher in New Orleans and the effect of a message in music.
PJ Morton: Somebody gave me a cassette tape of Stevie Wonder when I was a kid, probably about 12. A light switch clicked on, and I knew that I wanted to say things the way he was saying them.
I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. My father's a preacher, so I grew up a preacher's kid. There was a battle between me not necessarily wanting to be a gospel singer or be a preacher.
Black Christian churches is, I still think, one of the most amazing experiences. It was my first introduction into performing, in a way, because you have an audience that is there, the congregation. And I would watch my dad stand up there and command the audience.
I'm not a preacher, but I like to think that I carry a message with the music.
Stevie Wonder, to me, even before I met him or anything, indirectly taught me how to write songs. Getting to work with him, carrying that song, and then that song being nominated for a Grammy, it still is today, to me, the top thing.
The song I wanted to Stevie to be on was a song called "Only One." That year I was nominated for "Only One," my dad was nominated for gospel song of the year. I think it was the first father and son nomination since like Bob Dylan and Jakob like 15 years before that.
It was cool for us because we got to spend father and son time at the Grammys. My mom was taking five million pictures.
I try to write selfishly. I try to have as little mental processing as possible, if I can, because you start thinking about the fans, and the fans change. Or you start thinking about some person you're writing for, and your relationship changes.
I think the only thing you can truly do is come from an honest place, and just expect that people are going to be able to connect to the honesty.
"Gumbo" is my favorite album that I have done. And it's the first album that I was able to make at home in New Orleans. And New Orleans, you know, is laissez le bon temps rouler, which is, let the good times roll.
It's the Big Easy. So nobody was on my back as if I was in L.A., like, hey, man, you got to meet this. You got to — no, it was just like, oh, man, that sounds good, P.
It's just whatever feels good in New Orleans. I owe a lot to the city too for giving me that spirit of freedom.
My name is PJ Morton, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on making music for me.
John Yang: You can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.