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PJ Morton on new album 'Watch the Sun'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, singer-songwriter PJ Morton has a new album out. It's called "Watch The Sun."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATCH THE SUN")

PJ MORTON: (Singing) Just wait till the morning. I know it's been so...

MARTIN: It's his first solo album in more than two years. And he says the journey to this moment began with the start of the COVID pandemic. In his other life, PJ Morton is a keyboardist for Maroon 5, and he was on tour at the time.

MORTON: I had been pretty busy prior to the shutdown. I was with the band over in South America, and, you know, things started getting shut down in real time. We had to fly back to the U.S. We weren't sure how long it would be - felt like maybe a month at the latest. And so I was still kind of in my mode of being overly creative and like, overly busy and just, you know, doing all of that.

MARTIN: So he didn't slow down. He continued to work on new songs, trying to make the most of the unexpected downtime.

MORTON: My laptop crashed right in the middle of it, and all the new songs that I had started to work on I completely lost, and it was devastating. It started to seep in for me that, yo, we're going to be sitting down for a little while. And so maybe you don't have to just jump into work. Maybe process everything that's happened. Like, just be present. That was the big takeaway, and it kind of started me on my path to "Watch The Sun."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATCH THE SUN")

MORTON: (Singing) Watch the sun come out, come shining...

(SOUNDBITE OF PJ MORTON SONG, "BE LIKE WATER")

MORTON: I kind of felt like I needed a break from the break, even though I did start ideas in New Orleans, you know, in my house and then at Gumbo Studios. And me and my engineer became familiar with this historic studio that wasn't that far from us but far enough to be far, you know, about two hours from New Orleans. And, man, it was exactly what I needed. I mean, the magic was almost immediate.

MARTIN: One of the tracks on the new album is called "Be Like Water."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE LIKE WATER, FEAT. NAS AND STEVIE WONDER")

MORTON: (Singing) Be like water. Let it flow.

MARTIN: ...Featuring the rapper Nas and one of PJ Martin's musical heroes, Stevie Wonder. And when Morton describes what inspired him to write the song, it speaks to the kind of soul-searching many people have gone through during the pandemic.

MORTON: I was listening to a podcast on happiness, and they were talking about Taoism, where that concept of be like water came from. And of course, I had heard it from Bruce Lee, but I don't know that it connected with me until we were shut down and forced to be like water, you know, and pivot and not know exactly which way we're going.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE LIKE WATER")

MORTON: (Singing) Just let go. Be like water. Where we'll end up we don't know. Water. Just let it flow.

MORTON: I don't feel like any rapper could have just rapped on it, you know? And I kept hearing Nas's voice in my head. And I just happened to be working with Stevie on his record, and I was in the studio with him. So we were communicating often, and I let him hear it really just because I felt like it was very Stevie. I'm like - so I was like, Steve, check this out, man, you know? And he was like, if you want me to be on it, I'm down to do it. I'm like, oh, my God. You know? So Stevie actually - I actually ended up recording Stevie on it first, even though I asked Nas first.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE LIKE WATER, FEAT. NAS AND STEVIE WONDER")

MORTON: (Singing) Be like water. Yeah, let it flow. Water...

I mean, Stevie was the biggest thing I ever, you know, shot for. And so to get Stevie to sing on a song these days is pretty, pretty rare, you know? And so that's how it came together. And I just - I couldn't believe it, really. And it just - you know, it's a full-circle moment, and it's a literal dream come true. I mean, there - I don't really have words for it. Not to mention I'm an independent artist, you know? I mean, you know, to be able to accomplish this at this level is just really special and says a lot for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BETTER BENEDICTION")

MORTON: Everybody on your feet. You know, just wanted to take this with you.

MARTIN: That was Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and keyboardist PJ Morton. His new solo album, "Watch The Sun," is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BETTER BENEDICTION")

MORTON: ...Going to get better. (Singing) Don't worry about it. Leave it alone because it will get better, better. Hope you believe it by the end of this song. It will get better, better. Oh, you've been fighting for way too long. Better, better. You got to keep going, keep going on. It gets better, better. Oh, it ain't no need to worry. It will. Better, better. You're just adding more to your story. It will. Better, better. Oh, hang on in there. Just hang on in there. Better, better. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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