Kendra Morris grew up listening to soul records and harmonizing with her mother, also a singer. She debuted her long player of original songs, Banshee, in summer 2012 on Wax Poetics Records. “Although she could be compared to Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Joss Stone,” says Interview magazine, “the best analogy for Morris might be a modern-day Janis Joplin.” Led by the single “Concrete Waves” and its film noir music video, the album is currently gaining traction in Europe and Japan. The first single of her covers album, Mockingbird (dropped July 30 on Wax Poetics Records), the Pink Floyd classic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” can be heard on the trailer for the Colin Farrell film Dead Man Down.
Wax Poetics Records Discography
“Pow” b/w “Pow (Doc Delay Remix)” (WPR022) · iTunes
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” b/w “Evil” (WPR027) · iTunes
“I have always loved doing covers, because it is a way to breathe a new life into something that I respect,” says Kendra Morris, a singer based in New York City who grew up listening to soul records and harmonizing with her mother in the car. “I think it is important to pay respect to the creator; however, it is so important to bring your own vision to it as well. Everybody hears a song differently. The great thing about a cover is you can take the thing that drew you in originally and build on that or put your own spin on it. Or bring it out so others can more easily hear what you were hearing.”
Morris debuted her long player of original songs, Banshee, in the summer of 2012 on Wax Poetics Records. “Although she could be compared to Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Joss Stone,” says Interview magazine, “the best analogy for Morris might be a modern-day Janis Joplin.” Packed with singles like “Concrete Waves,” “If You Didn’t Go,” and “Pow,” the album is currently gaining traction overseas with a recent Japanese domestic release and European release due in the fall of 2013. To follow up Banshee, Wax Poetics is readying the release of Mockingbird, which is comprised of covers of popular rock and soul songs.
The first single off the forthcoming LP is the Pink Floyd classic “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which brought Morris to the fore due to its inclusion in the trailer for the 2013 Colin Farrell film, Dead Man Down. In addition to Pink Floyd, Mockingbird finds Morris and her prolific band—headed by guitarist/producer Jeremy Page—infusing their distinct soul into songs by Radiohead, David Bowie, Bettye Lavette, Lou Reed, Soundgarden, the Proclaimers, the Beach Boys, Metallica, and more. The second single, “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, will feature a music video by acclaimed photographer Marc McAndrews.
“I think doing covers is great, because it turns people onto an artist that maybe they would have never taken the time to listen to,” says Morris. “whether it is the artist covering or the one being covered. It is a great way to open the mind up to new things. It’s kind of like taking a potato and mashing it on Monday night for dinner and then reworking the leftovers into a Shepherd’s pie on Tuesday night. Delicious!”
While growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, an eight-year-old Kendra received for Christmas a karaoke machine, which she discovered could also double as a makeshift studio. “It became a huge tool in training my ear to find all the voices in my head that want a place in a song,” Morris recalls. It is these multiple voices—her strong harmonies—that has become her signature sound.
Morris grew up imbued with a sense of music—her parents played in bands together, and she often broke into their cabinets full of vinyl to listen to their favorite records. As Marvin Gaye, the Spinners, War, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, and the Temptations washed over her, they soon became hers too. She sang along to her favorite albums with a voice she discovered soon after she learned how to talk. “I had all these songs in me,” Morris remembers, “and I didn’t know where they were coming from.” Today, it is second nature to tackle an Isaac Hayes/David Porter–penned classic like the Charmels’ “As Long as I’ve Got You,” originally released on the Southern soul giant Stax Records.
After moving to New York in 2003 (with a short-lived all-girl rock band), Morris began making solo demos and gigging around town with a Sharp GF-777—the Holy Grail of boom boxes made famous by ’80s hip-hop (and, namely, Run-DMC)—lugging the gallant silver stallion that she used as an amp, in addition to her loop pedals and guitars, all over the Lower East Side. Soon after releasing a handful of bedroom recordings, she met and began collaborating with producer Jeremy Page.
They instantly found common ground and released a self-titled EP in 2010. “I think Jeremy Page and I have worked very well together because he is an extremely visual person as well,” Morris says. “When he creates the sounds in a track, they often have a very cinematic feel. I can close my eyes, and every instrument he’s added reminds me of a time and a place. It almost guides my voice and lyrics to where they wanted to go all along.”
With Page as a cowriter, Kendra Morris has blossomed into an impressive songwriter, which was acknowledged by ASCAP and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The institutions awarded Morris the 2011 Holly Prize, which recognizes new singer-songwriters whose talents honor the legacy of Buddy Holly by way of excellence in songwriting, performing, and musicianship.
The hallmark of a true songwriter when covering another artist’s song comes with sampling and reimagining certain parts. Something that Morris relates to another one of her artistic expressions. “The more I dive into this career, the more I have been learning about myself, both as a writer, a vocalist, and a performer,” she says. “I think as a creative person, all areas of art take hold of me. I find it so helpful to work on a collage for an afternoon and then go back and write a song, as the layering of a collage and creating this fantasy world out of found photographs is a lot like building the vocals on a track: adding an influence here or there, hearing a part that reminds me of a scene from a movie I just watched, or the way the air felt and smelled at the fair. I constantly write music with a visual in my head.”
Friday, August 16: NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge