Kendra Morris: “I Was Born to Sing”

The enigmatic return of the singer-songwriter may be well on its way with the upcoming debut LP release of blue-eyed soul chanteuse Kendra Morris, who’s based in New York but hails from St. Petersburg, Florida.  In contrast to the overloaded (now simmering) pop-dance/dub-step musings still flooding mainstream music, Morris’ LP The Banshee (out August 28th) is all about recalling love, lust, despair, and redemption in an emotive tone that is both strong and welcoming. She’s a little blue-sy, kind of sassy, vintage-inspired, and definitely quirky, as all was showcased in the quasi-baleful, black-and-white video for her single "Spitting Teeth.” During a casual lunch at Cafe Pick Me Up in Alphabet City, Morris talks about how she got where she is, her aspirations, and what she thinks of music today.

What are some of your earliest memories of singing?
I was kind of a loner kid, so I would collect stuffed animals and lay them all over my bed and perform for them. Also, my parents would have parties and force them to listen to me sing! I remember differentiating the voices that I had – this little voice and a big voice – and there are videos of us, and I’m like four, five years old, with me asking, "Do you want my little voice or my big voice!"  They say that we know who we are by the time we are seven, at the core, and since then, I always knew I wanted to be a singer.

Back then, I was even into musical theatre; I went to a performing arts school, and I could feel I was developing an ear for music. After high school, there was that, "So what are you going to do?  Are you going to go to college…".  and I didn’t get accepted into a lot of the schools I wanted to get into and a lot of my grades weren’t that good, but I knew I wanted to get involved with singing.  I didn’t know how to go about it, I didn’t know how to do it, I just knew somehow I had to.

So did you end up going to college?
Yes. I got into University of Southern Florida last-minute. While there, I partied through all my classes but still made an effort to be active in music. I became a part of my ex-boyfriend’s rap/rock band (laughs) and started writing hooks for them; they would invite me on stage – sometimes pry me on stage – and get me to sing all the stuff I wrote. I had a job and a contract at Busch Gardens as a singer and dancer, and I’m not a dancer; needless to say they did not renew the contract. Eventually I left school, but I still knew I wanted to be in music, so I moved backed in with my parents and started working at Johnny Rockets (which was awful). I then moved to Orlando and just did whatever I could that involved singing, and finally taught myself the guitar. And then I decided to start a band, it was an all-girl band. Did the all-girl band pick-up? We created some music and really tried to get the ball rolling on things, starting in Florida, and by the time we got to New York after a tiresome tour, everything was crazy after having spent so much time together, and all the girls were mad at each other. I took a break for two months to get my New York experience, but eventually we broke-up and two of the girls didn’t want to break-up, so they were really bitter about it. While I was living in this loft in Bushwick, depressed about what happened, I had this 8-track and I would just spend hours making demos, working on my voice, singing and practicing, and getting into layers, harmonies, and melodies and then putting them online, on MySpace, for whomever would listen.  Through that, I ended up meeting a guy named Jeremy Page, and I started singing at venues across the city; just me and my guitar.

Page is now my musical partner, my producer; he co-writes a lot of songs with me. At the time, he was living in Boston, and we’d get together to work on music. So, I’ve kind of been all over place.

What are some of your favorite songs you’ve written? 
Thesongs that have been released so far. They really set the tone for what will be on the album. The music that’s been out really draws you in, and it’s  great because the songs don’t give every emotion up. You shouldn’t put all your feelings in one place. The songs should show your range, and you want to keep them wondering for the next song. I remember exactly where I was sitting in my apartment when I was writing the lyrics for "Concrete Waves.” I remember exactly where I was sitting in my apartment, writing these lyrics. It’s this strange song with odd chords.

It does have an eerie feeling, an odd construction to it…
Yeah, and like with most pop stars or music today, there is no melody structure. They have a chorus but there is no real chorus structure provided; you don’t know when the chorus is coming. You don’t hear a lot of songs in a minor key, especially in pop music.

That answer leads into my next question: what do you think of pop music today?
Today’s pop music has no real choruses, no change in melody or vocal structureanything from Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj. There are choruses but they’re more like hooks. The biggest songs you hear are very hook-based, like Minaj’s song "Super Bass" with that "boom, ba doom doom, boom ba doom doom.”  It builds, but you don’t hear the chorus.

How did you end up meeting DJ Premier who remixed "Concrete Waves?”
It’s funny how that happened.  I played a show and there was an after-party down the street. This kid who was at the show who’s friends with the bass player knows Premier. Jeremy was like, "Don’t look now, but there’s my hero.” Jeremy is this big guy, and here he was freaking out over Premier. It was really funny, and somehow he, well we both, got the courage to talk to him through that kid, and he is the nicest guy ever, super humble. He actually offered to remix the track [for Wax Poetics]. It was a dream to have him do it.

What are you looking forward to the most for the rest of the year?
I want to get my name and my album out there, for people to not just hear my music, but also connect with it. I feel really happy doing what I’m doing. I was born to sing.

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