PJ Morton on ‘Live Show Killer,’ Praising His Church Roots and What We Can Expect from His New Album
Steven Taylor

PJ Morton may be music’s best-kept secret. The singer and musician has quietly racked up accolades over the past decade including Grammy Awards, collaborating with the likes of Stevie Wonder, India Arie and Lil Wayne and playing keyboard with Maroon 5.

He’s just come off the road his latest solo tour but there’s no time for rest. He’s on Daddy duty. “I’m straight back in family mode with the kiddies. I don’t really see too much downtime,” he told ESSENCE via phone. He’s busy wrangling his three kids—ages 10, four and two—back in his hometown of New Orleans. “I’d like to chill. I wish I could do that!”

The 34-year-old (born Paul Morton Jr.) recently completed his Live Show Killer tour in promotion of the album and DVD of the same name. “It feels good. It’s always bittersweet when you end a tour. We were having a good time out there,” he says, intermittently muting himself to handle those aforementioned family responsibilities. “It was amazing. Amazing audiences. Amazing responses. I’m happy. We did good work.”

Live Show Killer was independently released earlier this summer. The 18-track offering came about rather serendipitously when PJ was recording a studio album. “When I was trying to work on a studio album, this idea came into my head. A vision. People experiencing me live,” he explains. “I feel like people don’t truly know who I am as an artist until they experience me live.” A live album was born. PJ specifically wanted to put together “fan favorites” and covers when curating the tracklist—tracks he already knew his audience was digging. He cites “How We Were (Part 1 and 2)” and “Mountains and Molehills” as some of the most popular from his tour.

Live Show Killer was recorded at famed Henson’s Studio A, where “We Are the World” was tracked. “It was a special room where my heroes—that’s Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones—all of them one room. It already had a special vibe to it.”

PJ brought in an intimate audience to recreate a true live vibe along with longtime band The Crusade. Many of its members have been with the singer since way back in the day—dating back to PJ’s musical beginnings in his father, Bishop Paul S. Morton’s, church. “My drummer. We had a band when I was 12 years old,” says PJ. “It’s a very natural thing for me and The Crusade. These are my friends I grew up with.”

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For those wondering, PJ’s first band had the delightfully alliteration-filled name Christian Combine (“I always like the CC”) and they played oh-so-glamorous gigs like banquets. “When I look back at that name, it hurts my heart,” he laughs.

Being the only son of a preacher, PJ’s family initially did not support his foray into secular music (“There was a little pushback. They thought I was going to be a preacher, a pastor, at the very least, a gospel artist”) but it was his time at Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church that helped hone his musicianship and stage presence. “I have to credit my awareness and sensitivity and my range [to] playing in church. We played all different types of music, so you had to be prepared for any type of music. Also, there’s nothing like the call and response of a church. I watched my Dad preach to the people and then respond. They tell him, ‘Preach on!’ It’s just that give and take. I do that a lot with my audience. It’s really about how we interact with each other.”

With Live Show Killer behind him, PJ is focusing on the future. He’s prepping his next solo album for 2016 and is hitting the road with Maroon 5.

Thematically, he wants his next album to cover love as well as topical issues surrounding social unrest. “I definitely believe I’ll touch on the racial tension happening in our world right now. Find a way to say it my way. It’s a thin line trying not to become preachy or even corny. Trying to force it. I don’t like to force anything.” The singer continues to add to his bucket list but he wants to do it his way—as a solo artist. “I never knew it would come the way that it came. I was able to get those things on my list. Now I really want to double back. I want to do these things solo,” he says. “I could just be happy for all these amazing things that have happened in my life. When you don’t have anything to shoot for that’s when you become complacent.”

The Live Show Killer album and DVD is out now.