For artist and Louisiana native PJ Morton, whose music oscillates between soul, gospel and R&B, the remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic still linger. The surreal circumstances of the last two years prompted Morton to make Watch The Sun, his solo album that drops on April 29. Weaving a theme of palpable hope at a time when it remains in short supply, the album is the eighth studio project for the musician, who still maintains his decade-long role as one of two keyboardists for pop-rock band Maroon 5.
Born in New Orleans, Morton grew up in a musical household. Notably, his father is a pastor and gospel singer, which led him to learn to play instruments as a young child—though it was by ear and not formal instruction. “I started on drums, and then I started to mess around with keys,” he says. “I tried guitar for a minute, and then I went back to keys. I realized piano was the thing that came most naturally to me.”
Coming of age in the Big Easy, Morton says he was also influenced by the music of the city, where Super Sunday services were often followed by a Second Line parade after church. But Watch The Sun wasn’t recorded in the place that birthed him. In the midst of the pandemic, Morton longed for calmer pastures and chose to relocate to -Bogalusa, Louisiana, less than two hours away. The small town is home to the historic Studio in the Country, the venue where classic albums such as The Neville Brothers’ Meters and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants were recorded, Morton says.
“When the dots started to connect, I had music, but I didn’t really have lyrics,” he recalls. “Then, when we got to the country, it all came together. I mean, that’s my happy place, you know?”
Wonder is featured on Watch The Sun, as are a host of other artists across different genres, from Nas and Wale to Jill Scott and Chronixx, the last of whom is showcased on the album’s title track. Morton’s smooth, soulful funk amalgamates with every style from reggae to Afrobeats, resulting in a more versatile musical offering than we’ve seen yet from the artist—even as he covers the gamut of life experiences from romance to the everyday keeping on.
“I consider myself a soul artist, you know, and I think that’s when the R&B isn’t just about love. There’s a spiritual aspect to it,” he explains. As we listen to Watch The Sun, Morton encourages us to look to the natural world for the lessons he’s illuminating on the album. “Take notes from nature,” he says. “You know how water doesn’t force things? Even if it meets an obstacle, eventually, if it’s patient enough, it will get through it.”