Interview: MORRI$

Identity in music can be a tricky thing. Where some artists opt to build extensively rich and quixotic imagery around their craft, others dodge the concept of image entirely or alternatively hide behind a rigid veil of mystery. Regardless of what end of the spectrum a musician chooses to place himself in, it’s certain that the approaches that surround the music are superfluous if the music itself ultimately lacks substance and quality. MORRI$ is an artist who has paved a route for himself that significantly deviates from the norm and has allowed his talent speak for itself. Chances are that you’ve heard of MORRI$ and his sounds over the past year repeatedly, with a distinctly anchored sound to recognize as his own and a substantial amount of avid followers to his name. Upon further investigation, you’ll find that he’s peculiarly achieved this without a single individual release to his name, as the handful of tracks that he’s carefully and gradually granted us through the waves of his SoundCloud and the dispersed remixes that he’s put out quantitatively offer us a relatively limited amount of music, especially when comparing his output to those of a lot of his musical contemporaries. But numbers are hardly an issue when a producer has managed to find such a comfortable position for himself, where his musical substance does all the talking for him, rather than concocting arbitrary imagery or churning out release after release to stir up a buzz.

When he’s not busy sharpening his own production crafts, Kansas-native Phil Canty is probably making his moves as curator for Team Bear Club, a multi-faceted collective created by him and a group of friends to put forward music and events in the Lawrence, Kansas area. Even before his output as MORRI$, music has always played a prevalent role in Canty’s life. While he’s grown up witnessing a variety of musical environments and stimuli, his home base and present location Kansas provide him the type of panoramic surroundings that are most responsible for shaping his current musical character. This is something that can evidently be traced back in his sounds, with organic elements tying in perfectly with his firm hip-hop foundations to manifest an unequivocal sound that he and his Bear Club colleagues have self-branded as goombawave. It’s a sound that is universally apprehensible, so it’s no surprise that it’s made its way onto the Night Slugs roster, with the debut “White Hood” imminent on the UK label in the near future. To us, MORRI$ signifies a type of artist that is most valuable and increasingly rare these days; a purely talented producer that makes music with longevity and, most importantly, sincerity. We caught up with him a little while back on his background and general musical perspective and you can find the extensive results of it below as we patiently anticipate this burgeoning artist’s future maneuvers.

Stream: MORRI$ – Faded Off

Hi Phil! How are you doing and what have you been up to? “I’m doing very, very good! I’ve done a few gigs lately in Austin and played with the Fade to Mind crew in Los Angeles. It’s been a lot of family vibes!” How have the shows been so far? “They’ve defied my expectations in many ways. Los Angeles in particular, for the first time ever I was convinced that there were people there to see me as a performer and that’s not necessarily something I’m familiar or comfortable with yet. It was sort of interesting, seeing people dance but to also have a cluster of people who are standing there watching you, trying to hear a certain song that they came over to hear. I wasn’t ready for that. It seems like it’s super easy to get swallowed up in a large place like that. Los Angeles is an important place for a lot of huge artists, so being able to make an impression there makes you feel good.”

From what I gather, you come from quite a musical family. Your dad was a DJ and you’ve always had music surrounding you. Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background? “My dad brought a lot of music into the house, a lot of dancehall and jazz. He also had tons of old Chicago house records that he first came in contact with through his Chicago native college dorm mates. They brought him all of these tapes with music that they’d recorded off the radio from the likes of Todd Terry, Blackbox and Ten City. I heard a lot of that growing up. On the other hand, my mom has always really been into R&B. Not modern R&B, but more in the vein of New Edition or Ralph Tresvant, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince and those types of artists. Both my parents still continue to be invested in music as my mom is now a professor in history of music in Kansas and my dad is a radio personality.”

Did you grow up playing an instrument yourself? If so, has it had any influence on your current creative process? “My parents exposed me to a variety of sounds and since my dad was a DJ, he was always showing me how to get into records a little bit more. I had a tiny turntable growing up, so I picked up on that early. I also took piano lessons, played the guitar and the drums. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s akin to anything I do now but it gave me a firm foundation of musical understanding. It’s helped me hear textures in music and that’s how I’ve become accustomed to listening to music in general. I suppose I also emulate that in my own creative process now.”

It sounds like you’ve always been involved in music one way or another from the start, what was the reason for you to only start pursuing your production career only in the recent few years? “Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time rejecting music. When I was growing up, I didn’t want to play the piano or any other instrument until I got to high school and joined a punk band with my friends. It wasn’t until around 2005 that I started producing chiptune music on Fruityloops, whereafter I moved to D.C. for a year. After returning to Kansas, my influences and tastes had changed and I got more focused on using Ableton which is how MORRI$ came to be what it is now.”

“Fade to Mind and I cross roads in terms of the mysticism they’re also into. Night Slugs is diverse in what they’ve got going on and that’s kind of working towards my advantage in that realm.”

Have you always seen music as a full-time option? What would you be doing if it weren’t for music? “I’m in school for film and I always wanted to be an animator growing up. I wouldn’t necessarily be animating now but I’d probably do something along those lines, maybe making commercials or films of some sorts.” How does your interest in film tie back in with your musical pursuits? Do they ever intertwine? “I hope that as I get more comfortable with making music that I can gap that a little bit better in terms of how audiences see it. I’ve explored very little of that angle and while I would like to do so in the future, right now it’s biting off more than I can chew. I definitely want to play with it though, I’d like to create something that encompasses all angles of video and audio. What I think is most exciting in these terms is collaboration between different types of artists. Everyone is trying to venture off to do little projects themselves, but I know few people who are actually driven to make and edit videos properly. I know a lot of dedicated producers and DJs, but I know very few dedicated videographers and cinematographers. If I can meet people like that then that would be good for me.”

Is this particular interest a reason why you’ve gravitated towards Night Slugs, as they’ve always seemed to pay a lot of attention to all aspects of their aesthetics and have also worked with the idea of collaborative efforts between fields? “Absolutely. They have a genuine viewpoint regarding audiovisual collaboration. They’re trying to explore their possibilities with collaborations and that speaks to me a lot. Alex [Bok Bok] comes from this background of graphic design, and seeing what Night Slugs does slotted in with the visual elements that I like to see in music and how I see the world in general. I love how straight-forward their covers are in terms of being able to figure out the artist, its belonging series and the tracklisting. I love the rigidity of it.” Does the visual identity you have in your mind for MORRI$ fit in with the general Night Slugs aesthetic, then? “I’d say that I didn’t go far enough in my graphic design career to make immediately pertinent signifiers of my work, so I’m not sure whether there’s something clear I’m going for as it is. In terms of MORRI$, I’ve done little exploring my own character and people don’t know that much about me so there’s a lot of territory to explore. As for Slugs, I think they have a very deliberate aesthetic and I slot into it in certain ways, but we’re trying to figure out a way that it works for MORRI$ as well. In terms of aesthetic, Fade to Mind and I cross roads well too in terms of the mysticism they’re also into. I think Night Slugs is super diverse in what they’ve got going on and that’s kind of working towards my advantage in that realm.”

Stream: MORRI$ – Affairs (demo)

With regards to your output as a musician, would you say that you’re sensitive to your physical surroundings at all? I ask because you’ve lived in a couple of places over the years and wanted to know whether you’re visibly able to trace it back in your work. “I live in Kansas and I was also born here but I’ve moved around quite a bit. In 1999 I moved to Texas for some time, after which I lived in Philadelphia for a little while. And then I moved to Chicago, back to Kansas and I now split my time between here and Washington D.C. In all those places, the music I was getting exposed to was very, very different. When I lived in Texas I heard a lot of Southern music, a ton of early rap music. Most vividly, I remember a lot of specific tunes that were really big on a local level. There was this one tune called “Triggaman” by The Showboys. It’s kind of a seminal tune in the canon of New Orleans bounce music, and pretty much all of the songs used to sample this tune. It was extremely popular in Dallas. Many of the tracks that were floating around there at the time were also about local dances. I remember one called the Scheek Fool that was this disco dance, but the song goes hard. When I moved to Philadelphia, with my dad being in the music industry I came in contact with a lot of shit that was going on in Philly. Like, I went to see The Roots CD release party of “Illadelph Halflife” right when it came out. It was at this place called The Lizard Lounge in Philly so I definitely recall becoming acquainted with that whole sound of East Coast band-rap. I also remember at that particular time that the tootsie roll was poppin’ off when I lived in Philadelphia, and the butterfly. As for Chicago, I definitely got into a lot of house music through my dad. But still, even then I think it’s important to say that I was hearing a ton of hip-hop throughout that period. That’s really what it was about in the end.”

“I’m keen to the type of vibes that big cities exude but what Kansas has taught me exclusively is patience. I think that’s an attribute that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up on in other places.”

What location could be pinned down as most important for your own music now and why? “I’d definitely say that’s one hundred percent Kansas. I got a lot of ideas from those other places but the music I make now is Kansas music. There’s elements of nature and, without sounding too frilly, simplistic cinematic beauty to it. We have something in our area that people pick on, there’s almost a certain element of electronic moodiness in our music which can for example also be heard back in Kansas native Norrit’s work. A really important factor about Kansas’ importance to my music is its isolation. Since there are much fewer distractions and life here is a lot simpler, it’s easier for me to work on my music and honing my craft. It’s not hard for me to say no to a night out or whatever, because there’s not much happening here so I’m not missing out on a lot on an average night out in my town. That way I can spend much more time on my music and I know I totally owe that to the fact that I live in Lawrence, because if I lived in like New York or Austin then I’d be going out all the time and hanging out with my friends. It would be a great time but I probably wouldn’t be very productive.”

Do you think that bigger cities such as those still possess added value as an environment for an artist? “Absolutely, I feel value in all of those places so it’s not to discredit any of the other bigger locations like Chicago or New York. I’ve spent a lot of time in New York as my dad is from there, and what has stayed with me from that time is that I was always very attuned to being around this whirlwind of energy that kind of propelled you forward creatively. But what’s important to note is that growing up there’s always this pressure to go to those big places, meet people there and do all these things automatically, just by proxy of going there. Suddenly you’re caught up doing all kinds of activities that are simply expected from you, catering to needs of what you feel is necessary and you end up not doing what you actually came there to do and you lose your focus. That’s never been my end-game and maybe that’s why I gravitate towards where I am now. I’m keen to the type of vibes that Chicago, New York and other big cities exude but what Kansas has taught me exclusively is patience. I think that’s an attribute that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up on in all those other places.”

Is there a dream location you still want to visit? “Japan! I would flip out if I could go to Tokyo tomorrow. It’s the centre of everything that I’m into. Of course I love the food, fashion and I also have quite a number of friends there at this point. But I also love it for the music there and the impact it’s had on me over the years. I heard all of those different elements growing up and I was talking earlier about moving around from Chicago to Philly and all, but when it came time for tracking my own music down, at the end of the nineties when Napster and that sort of technology was emerging, I was tracking down a lot of Japanese music. I was looking for a lot of Shibuya-kei music, it was a phenomenon that happened more or less in the second half of the nineties and it’s named after a district in Tokyo. I think the biggest star that came out of that was Cornelius. It reminds me of hip-hop just because it’s so sample driven but the elements that they brought together in Shibuya-kei hit my ear in a very special way. When I was able to track down my own music and really get after it, that’s the next shit that I was super into.”

Stream: MORRI$ & Sinjin Hawke – One Kiss

What are some other subjects you like to spend time on in your free time? “Food is definitely a huge part of my life. Other than that I used to read a lot, especially short stories. I don’t get as much time to read as I used to but I used to be into like HP Lovecraft, dark horror stories and mystical shit like that because it definitely kept me on my toes. Between that and manga, those were probably the last two things I was really into before I got into music. I love to play video games and I watch a lot of movies too, both those things seep into a lot of what I do.” With regards to the fact that you study film yourself too, what type of films are you into particularly? “I’m really into documentaries but I could never imagine myself making them. I’m really fascinated by the idea of tracking down a subject matter and the relationship that’s established between the people who make those films and their subject. That’s why they’re sort of this strange sort of fascination of mine, just because I’ll always be troubled by this notion of how the camera man or the director may or may not have influenced what the hell was going on. I think that’s also what’s fascinating about reality television, to what extent the setting has been created or whether the subject might have been prompted is very interesting. You don’t know where the subject matter starts or ends and I find that fascinating. Other than that, I really like animation, especially the experimental stuff in that area. Anything that’s around the weird corners of animation.”

Let’s talk about Team Bear Club – you run the night with a couple of friends in Kansas and you guys seem to have a very vast culture and presence surrounding the event, whereas for MORRI$ you’ve left it far more in the open and remain more anonymous. Has this been a conscious decision? Do you see being the curator of TBC and being MORRI$ as very separate roles or do they sometimes bleed into each other? “Bear Club is an interesting thing. It came together as a circle of friends who were all kind of united because we had a specific goal of accomplishing something, and it symbolizes something else for everyone. For me, I was trying to see a musical unity with some of the visual elements, because me and my friend Jamaal were working on some videos and the musical element very closely followed it so we tried to pair the music he was making with that. My buddy Tom Richman was taking up Ableton and learning more interesting techniques so his goal was trying to move ahead with music, like with some of my other friends. For them, Bear Club was a way to enable all kinds of different projects in a variety of different ways, whether it was a rap record or a video, it enabled a lot of different things. As time has gone on, the musical element has kind of dragged the whole phenomenon forward. I feel like we have an identity crisis in figuring out how to let people know that we’re multifaceted, let them know that we’re a work in progress and that we’re just very different people trying to see something different in a vision. It’s a challenge not to come across as this machine that has all kinds of arms just flailing around in complete madness.”

“I imagine the world being comprised of all of these voices muttering simultaneously and it’s impossible to distinguish what anyone is saying anymore.”

What do you see in the future for the event, do you see it having a prolonged future or is it more like a stepping stone for you and your friends to reach other goals? “As far as Bear Club is concerned, Tom has put it in a certain way and I identify with it wholly. He said that the realness will be apparent. In the long run, the project that I foresee as the most solid entity is my good friend Tom himself. We made the goombawave sound that’s distinctly prevalent in both of our music together, I feel really confident about what he’s doing. His influence and presence will always be apparent in what I’m doing. We’re definitely thinking of how to project that in the same sort of way that we did with MORRI$ earlier, as you mentioned. It’s a lot more open and mysterious with me and Tom right now especially, and we’ve kept it that way on purpose.” Why have you both distinctly chosen for that element of mystery? “I like to keep a certain distance from it. There’s so much nonsense out there these days. People are making all of these statements that I don’t feel are necessarily impactful. I’m only trying to holler when I have something to say. I would hope that people will always lock on to whatever they feel is good. Tom said the realness will be apparent and that doesn’t even have to be me, but in terms of myself I only want to bring things to the table when I feel that they’re of a certain quality, a level of quality that people are now expecting for both Bear Club and MORRI$. That’s the reason why I’d rather keep the mystique and take my time for that instead of rushing things.” Is that also why you have been relatively held back regarding releasing your own music? “I imagine the world being comprised of all of these voices muttering simultaneously and it’s impossible to distinguish what anyone is saying anymore. But you can be that siren who has a very dedicated and focused voice and with that you’ll be able to cut through all the bullshit. Ultimately, that’s why there are so few details about MORRI$ and what I’m trying to do because I want to make sure that every time I make a step that it’s just as impactful as it can be. I’m not trying to put my own music on a pedestal by any means, I’m just trying to treat it with the appropriate gravity. You have all of these people trying to get their music out on any given label, but that’s not my goal at this point.”

Stream: MORRI$ – Rashida Jones

As for Goombawave, tell us a little bit about its origins. Did you and Tom consciously bring it into this world and come up with a term for it? Does The World Need More Goomba? “The world definitely needs more Goomba! Tom and I went to the same highschool together and it was around the time that I moved back to Kansas from D.C. that we started growing closer. We introduced each other to a bunch of different types of music, sharing our mutual love for the likes of Flying Lotus, Samiyam and Hudson Mohawke. I had introduced him to Ableton and Serato  and we’d both get together and practice a lot. As time went on, we were headed in the same direction and as we were experimenting, using rave samples and at that point we didn’t really have a name for it. We listened to a lot of artists overseas that brought the hip-hop elements back into music in a way that it made sense. In the end, we wound up creating a new type of sound by infusing all those influences into our music. It didn’t have a name, but our friend Jamaal who is also an integral part of Bear Club at this point branded the music with the term goombawave. He said a goomba is just a nigga in nature. I completely feel that, I’m just out here in these woods, I am surrounded by trees and I feel connected to that situation. It’s true though, I drive ten minutes in any direction and I’m surrounded by nature, blue sky, fields and all of it.” What do you think is a pivotal factor that contributes to the goomba sound and its growth? “I think the goomba sound works like a lot of midwest music, which in general has always been kind of slow and taking its double time for things and I also see goomba’s growth as such. On my end of things, that also came about because I really fuck with the Minneapolis sound. It’s all kinds of sounds that came forth by Prince, but I identify it with the production of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Their apex productions would probably be what they did for Janet Jackson. They were these stage instrumentalists who worked with Prince but they were fired by him, and everything that they created after their union is really what I heard a lot while I was growing up. That is probably my largest touchstone musically, where I’m coming from currently, aside from a lot of the Japanese sounds. That’s also midwest music, so that type of sound definitely has a large influence on goombawave now.”

What have been some of the most rewarding experiences in doing TBC? “Bear Club has given me a very interesting perspective on things because I’m out now as an artist, learning about performance as an artist. However, through the capacity of Bear Club I’m working a lot more on it as a booker looking out for talent and doing local shows. I’ve been bringing more of headlining acts like Helix, Clicks & Whistles, Riff Raff etcetera. I’ve been learning more about live performance in both the role of a performer as well as the promoter, so it’s given me a really interesting viewpoint. I feel like there’s this weird culture around music and live performance, and there’s a lot of people who look at it from the outside-in and have no clue regarding what it takes to actually make it happen. I’m very happy to be able to figure out the right method to put something on that can connect with the people who live here and that they might not necessarily be exposed to. That is totally what Bear Club has been to me so far. It’s also helped me explore the idea of a party from top to bottom so working behind the scenes and learning how to work with artists has been really rewarding.” What are some of the most important things that you’ve learnt from curating these events? “Vibe is everything. Figuring out how to get inside peoples’ heads without doing the most stereotypical shit is impossible because the market is flooded and it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with people on a different level. That’s one thing that we have going on at Bear Club too, we’re not always trying to appeal to the same feeling. We have a trap party but we’ve also had slow jam parties, trying to do that in a creative way is what we’re trying to do.”

“Young Jeezy’s music in particular – that sound is trap to me.”

Moving on to DJing, you’ve had quite a few gigs in the recent past and a lot more lined up for the summer, what have your experiences on the road been like? “I’m struggling with that a little bit, just in terms of what the live show is. I’m not one hundred percent comfortable with playing only my own music and I’m learning now that a certain expectation is placed on artists that came about in the way that I did. I personally come from DJ and record culture and that’s what I identify with, so I enjoy playing other people’s music and recontextualizing it into ideas that I’m also presenting with my own music. The people I am reaching out to that have come to see me, I’m not sure whether I’m connecting with them yet so I’m still trying to get in tune with what my audience might want from me. I think as an artist it might be my job to also reject some of those expectations, but in order to do that I first need to identify what it is they want from me. For me, it’s my first chance to reach out to so many people and see so many faces. This is really my first lap, so hopefully I can identify and in the end adopt and reject some of those expectations.” What are some of the expectations you’ve identified so far? “Honestly? Trap! That’s what people have been placing on me as a performer, haha. It’s very bizarre. I struggled with it because at first I didn’t even know what the hell people were really referring to when they expected me to play trap. I don’t struggle with that at all though, I just reject that sound that they refer to. I hear it, that’s not where I’m coming from at all and that’s not what interests me as trap music as I define it as something wholly different. Being in Texas, I definitely came in contact with a lot of screw music, and after that still my cousin would come up from Texas every summer and he’d bring these tapes with him and I’d hear a ton of music that way. That’s the first I heard of trap and its lineage, but when I first started to identify trap as a sound it was probably around 2004, that was when I was hearing Young Jeezy’s music in particular. That sound is trap to me. There are a lot of people around me who are also into crunk music and some of that Atlanta crunk sound I’m also into because it’s interesting how it melts with pop, for example with artists like Ciara and Jazze Pha, or Soulja Boy even. But really I was always most interested in trap, the aggressive sounding sounds from the likes of Young Jeezy, Shawty Redd and Gucci Mane.”

Stream: MORRI$ – Go In (feat. LE1F)

What are your general thoughts on how trap music came about originally and what it’s seen as now? “Trap is cool because unlike a lot of things these days, it came from a real place. People who don’t know about the internet, they will forever fuck with that sound. Real niggas who are riding around listening to the realest shit ever, that will never change, regardless of what is going on on Soundcloud and that’s a comforting thought. To track back on what you said before, this is also a conversation that I’ve had with Alex [Bok Bok]; back in like the ‘40s and ‘50s, American musicians had this weird fascination with what they thought was African and Caribbean music. It was music coming from these cultures that they were never able to reach out and touch because of the geographical differences. American songwriters then felt incredibly entitled to make music termed as those things, as for example calypso or African rhythms, but really they were just impressions, almost sketches of the notion or summations of the part that you’re trying to portray. It was what their imagination was leading them to believe about these people. I think retroactively we call this music exotica, and I like this music a lot. I’m not hating on it at all, but I have the same feeling as to what’s going on with trap music right now. All of these very average people leading average lives who know nothing about crack, know nothing about the impact of crack or the influence of drugs in general but they are the ones who are pushing the music vigorously. That said, there’s also this dimension of authenticity that I can’t refuse. Hip-hop, as long as it’s been commercial, has always had their buying market comprised of an extremely large group of people that isn’t restrained to social barriers. Seeing all these types of guys into mixtape trap-shit, they’ll be the first to know about that obscure 2Chainz mixtape as they follow this shit super closely, so it leads me to ask what the hell is even going on? I’m mad at these producers who have the nerve to sketch the idea scarcely and label it as such, but the actual fans of the music themselves are on another level. For the first time ever, I feel like all types of audiences from different backgrounds are caught on the same thing, they’ve managed to catch up with one another and the tastes are aligning. The overlap is stronger than ever so it’s a very interesting time we live in.”

Do you think that these developments have any viable impact on your music?  “In terms of my own music, I don’t struggle with it. Increasingly, rhythms are a different way to speak to different audiences but when it comes to what really matters to me, I’m much more of a melody guy. So a trade of mine will probably always be on how I get a melody across, and when it comes to my main preoccupation, it will definitely be the melodic elements. I mean I love those shots at trap and they’re very applicable to what I’m doing but I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years I’d be making music that would still be somewhat akin to what I’m doing now in terms of melody, but the rhythm will be completely different and set to focus on a different kind of audience entirely.”

Going back to on subject to your own gigs, how do you usually go into a set? Have you thought out a lot of it beforehand or are you very reactive to audience reception? “It depends. I’ve had some gigs in the recent past that were already pre-determined playlist-wise but it also is determined by how the feeling of the town or the gig once I get there. I like it when I have a lot more room to be reactive. I haven’t had the chance to explore it fully and experiment with it yet, but I like the idea of being able to play a broad range of sounds, from The Isley Brothers to video game music, from Night Slugs to Janet Jackson and Prince. I think there’s a way to contextualize everything in a way that it makes sense, I’m not sure whether I’m capable of doing that yet right now but I’m trying to work towards the edges as much as I can and I’m hoping to cultivate an audience that is ready to take that excursion with me. I’m not sure if I’ve made enough of a statement with MORRI$ yet for them to take that journey with me but primarily I’m just trying to give people what they want now, what they’re familiar with, Tom’s music, my music, but as time goes on you’ll probably see me branch out a lot more.” What has been the most impressive gig you’ve ever attended yourself, electronic or not? “That’s a really hard question! I don’t want to come off as super cliche, but a couple of years ago at the Fader Fort they did the G.O.O.D. Music takeover there, and that just blew my mind. I saw Kanye West up close and personal, and he had this stripped down form of his orchestral tunes playing out and it just completely blew my mind.”

“The tension of being inactive for a little bit creates a lot of pressure and that’s an optimal condition for me to create more music.”

Can you give us an idea of what your creative process looks like? Is there a clear-cut pattern you follow each time or a particular mood you tend to make better music in? “I think a unifying theme with a lot of my older stuff was that I would just experiment heavily and pick up on some loose threads and let it flow from there. The material I have on Soundcloud is really varied, just because it’s indicative of that exact feeling that I’d pick up and play with. I’d take a melody, a drumline or whatever and try and form it into something that makes sense. Now though, I’ve kind of built up more of a process. Nowadays, on any given day I wake up and I play the piano a lot. A synth is great and I love it, but the thing about synths are that you can’t just pick up and play them. You either have to be prepared to jog through a lot of presets or you have to be able to work the sound how you want it. With a piano, it feels much more natural. Your ears are almost attuned to hearing music that way and it’s some of the most basic music we all identify with a lot of the time, so it’s a very solid touchstone to play with. From there I try to build up a melody the furthest I can go without laying any drums on it. I try to build up the melody as much as I can, almost to a fault, to a point where I can’t add any more melodic elements and then I’ll start to work with the drums. Sometimes I try the reverse, but that isn’t really my motive anymore, I just start with the piano and the melody. It’s not even that the piano sound necessarily comes into the song at the end, it’s just a sound that I’m comfortable with in the compositional stage and then as it starts to grow further I start to branch those sounds into timbres that sound comfortable to me like accordions and whatever.” Do you produce tracks in high quantity or do you take a while to finish one off? “I take forever to finish a song, but I start a lot of songs. I don’t necessarily finish all of them as some of them are meant more as an exercise. I definitely get up every day to confront myself with Ableton and working with it regularly to make as much music as possible.” In what setting would you say that you create your best work? “What I’ve noticed is that I’m most productive and at my best is always when I’m really anxious. The number one source of anxiety for me at this point is traveling, going from one point to another. The idea that I won’t be here anymore at some point, subconsciously knowing that I have to do other things and the tension of being inactive for a little bit creates a lot of pressure and that’s an optimal condition for me to create more music.”

Is the process of working on a remix much different than working on your own standalone track? For instance, you did a remix for the latest Darq E Freaker and Danny Brown collaboration EP, how did that come about? “It’s hard to say! For the Darq E Freaker remix, the guys from Southern Hospitality just hit me up as they found out about me through Sinjin Hawke. When I first heard the track, it sounded really hard to me. The beat was great, super grimey, mid-range and the way Danny Brown was spitting felt super aggressive, flamboyant, hella raw and most of all, very arresting. I really wanted to put it on something that sounded almost stereotypical. It would’ve been really easy for me to put him on something ethereal and “MORRI$”-sounding, but I wanted to put him on top of a trap joint because I thought he was sounding so aggressive on the track. That was really my motivator on that remix. I think maybe when I’m making a song of my own I don’t necessarily chase a feeling from the start, whereas with that remix I heard the original and its function versus what he was saying. I heard what I could do for the track and almost rearrange those pieces and recontextualize it into something that not only makes sense to me, but also that would make sense relating to what he was saying and how he was saying it. With remixes I haven’t had that many opportunities yet though. What I have done a lot more of is collaborating with others, and taking these elements from completely different settings of other artists and warp it and twist it into a form that makes a little bit more sense to me and that I can leave my own stamp on it. If you look at it that way, it really works the same way with remixes.”

Stream: Darq E Freaker – Blueberry (feat. Danny Brown) (MORRI$ Remix) (Southern Hospitality)

In another interview you mentioned that adding in vocal samples into your work makes it a little more emotional and importantly, relatable to your audience. To what extent do you find relatability important when creating your music, do you constantly keep your audience and their respective contexts in the back of your mind when composing music? “For MORRI$, I definitely aim to create music that people can relate to and that has a certain sense of directness to it. The challenging part of music is to be aware of what is enjoyable and what isn’t, as that’s what defines whether people can relate to it or not. There are certain sounds that are just very palatable, for instance there are certain chord progressions that are simpley harmonious to the ear and we subconsciously know those as pop progressions. The spirit of that is what creates accessibility as we know it and I definitely adopt parts of that.” Does constantly keeping your audience in mind ever offer its limitations? “I don’t think it’s very limiting, but it’s definitely important to know that people are interacting with your music in a different set of circumstances. Maybe even in different ways than I’m prepared to deal with, but I’m trying not to be too predisposed with that. As long as people are trying to mess with the territory that I’m coming from, it’s fine. Accessibility in itself is also something that’s really subjective, so I just try to play around with it. I think the vocal element is just the most immediate medium that speaks to you. It’s literate, it’s actually saying something to you and communicating with you in the way that you communicate in all day, by talking. I think putting together all these bits and pieces of what speaks to you personally as a musician, and reconfiguring these popular elements is what makes your music universal, whether it be that R&B vocal that came from a crunk song that you loved or whether it be those drums that you heard on a Lex Luger tune. In this day and age it’s almost impossible to make something new and everyone says that because all the great things now are putting together old things and making something new of it. That’s also my predisposition, because the feelings that I’m evoking are very familiar even though they haven’t come forward in the same arrangement before. They’re bound to something that’s very natural. I love hearing these classic elements that make music sound good in a familiar way.”

“As an artist it’d be much more interesting to work with someone who’s on the furthest edge away of what I do. The thought of myself contributing to larger wholes that aren’t necessarily my own project also excites me.”

What direction would you say you’re working towards musically? You’ve mentioned before that you’ve never pegged yourself down to stay an underground artist but you don’t explicitly make music looking to work with vocalists either. How would you illustrate your future music success scenario? “I think it’s interesting that people’s natural inclination and the way that they interact with my music is that they automatically assume the necessary contribution to my music is some sort of vocal. What I’m after is almost an oldschool feeling where producers have different types of musicians, instrumentalists come in to reach a whole. I think I would love to see like a string quartet or a delta blues guitar player collaborate with my music. I know a lot of my peers would love to collaborate with someone like Juicy J but I know I could reach out and touch Juicy J with my music because that’s the easiest, closest cultural touchstone they have. For me as an artist it’d be much more interesting to work with someone who’s on the furthest edge away of what I do, for instance working with a composer of some sorts. Likewise, the thought of myself contributing to larger wholes that aren’t necessarily my own project also excites me. I think that’s kind of the territory that’s most fascinating to me, being able to collaborate and seeing my own ideas grow alongside those of others. That being said, I’m not devaluing the more predictable collaborations that take place. I’d love to do a song with Rick Ross and I’d love to do a song with Frank Ocean tomorrow. But I’m also really aware of the fact that there are a ton of people that try to assimilate their way into recording industries by basically being someone’s bitch and selling your soul. Then here’s also this other concept of doing your own thing and being so good at what you do that a particular sound is universally branded as yours so people will want to step up to you to collaborate. To me, that’s the future route that’s most interesting. Being able to come at someone as a collaborator, as an equal and not somebody who’s just available to be pilfered.”

You’ve remained rather quiet as far as releases are concerned, up until now with your debut release imminent on Night Slugs. Has it been a conscious decision to not get into any official releases for a while, as I’m sure the opportunity must have presented itself to you? “It would have been very easy for me to go a lot of different routes, but when it came down to it the first people who pushed me into the realm where I exist now are Night Slugs. We’ve been collaborating for quite a while now. When I first started making music that I thought was good enough for people to hear, the first people I reached out to were Bok Bok and Girl Unit. Bok Bok gave me a lot of pointers on how to refine the quality of my sound a little bit more, he didn’t give me a ton of tutelage on how to make a beat or anything but he helped me out with the quality of my sound. I think the collaboration works well because on a musical level I really feel what they’re doing and what I bring to the table also slots in well with that. As for why I went for Night Slugs for the long haul, to me what separates them from their contemporaries are the right decisions. I always respect artists the most for good decisions and great timing because I’m aware that that’s often what makes or breaks artists, and I believe Night Slugs is also fully aware of that and are indisputably doing it well. By messing with Night Slugs I also was helped to realize that I wasn’t quite ready yet and that my music needed a little bit more time. It would have been really easy for me to capitalize on whatever hype or momentum that was building six or eight months ago, but I’m definitely seeing the power of just letting it chill a little bit. Gradually I’ve learned a lot about music just through hanging out with them because I could help explore music and how I approach it through opportunities like working on remixes with Bok Bok or working on tunes together with Girl Unit and L-Vis 1990 just for fun. Those tunes might never come out but it’s just very helpful to me to explore different musical territories.”

You speak a lot about your approach to music having changed by working with people overseas, do you think that it has shaped your own distinct sound in any way? “Truthfully, the ability to work with a lot of people overseas has allowed me to step out on a limb with what I do. American audiences tend to be a little more rigid, and thinking of what is appropriate and inappropriate on the dancefloor. I think the weirdness stops here at like Timbaland. If I kept making weird music and it didn’t sound like Timbo, I’d be in a completely different territory with what people are used to and I’d turn them off. Seeing people outside my vicinity and their approach to music has helped me to also try more things musically and feel more confident to which extent I try new things. Maybe it’s just a stereotype that people are more open-minded with what’s going on overseas, but generally in my own experience, people outside my vicinity have been more encouraging and receptive of what I send them when it’s a bit more experimental. Then again, maybe European audiences could be perceived as more rigid as they’re so majorly into everything surrounding the record culture that they have these expectations, from collecting and cataloguing and whatnot. I’m not sure what angle to approach it from, but in America the problem is that if anything feels unknown, it’s just labelled as “weird.” There’s nothing beyond “weird,” and people here don’t seem to encourage the “weird” either. My coming in contact with people beyond my borders has definitely helped me to try out new stuff and become more confident in it.”

Stream: MORRI$ – White Hood (Night Slugs)

You have a release coming up on Night Slugs, what can you tell us about it? It’s a bit of an old tune that has been rapped over as well, correct? “Yeah! It’s been quite a while since I made it and I feel like people don’t even know that. I made it for a friend of mine who is a local rapper called Stik Figa and that song somehow never got the full steam. The dub had been floating around for a minute and Bok Bok heard the dub long before Stik Figa rapped on it so he’d been sitting on it for quite a while. As far as how the release itself is going to materialize, I’m not too sure about it myself. The goal of this first release is that I have this wealth of material that I’ve been sitting on for a while and we’re just figuring out the right way to present it to people. I will say that during the process of this release, Kingdom got a bit more involved with the selection process and he sifted through a lot of the material that came into consideration for the Night Slugs release. Through that I ended up exploring the possibility a release on Fade To Mind as well, so shortly after all of the Night Slugs stuff starts shaking out, I’m certain you’ll see a little bit more MORRI$ activity with the Fade To Mind side as well.” Is the Night Slugs release going to be a white label release? “Not at all, actually! I think a lot of people got that idea because of the image that I uploaded with it, but as soon as that thought started floating around I deleted the picture immediately.”

“There’s a lot of ideas I won’t buy in this day and age but there’s also a lot of ideas that I do want to buy because I want to believe there’s something more than the silly facade that keeps being thrown in our faces.”

We spoke about your connection to visual identity and what you want to express with it earlier, is there something special we can expect for the visual aspect of your Night Slugs release? “Haha, that’s a tough one! Bok Bok is the one calling the shots so I don’t want to say too much about the release in particular. For MORRI$, I‘ll say that the one thing that people don’t know about me at all is that I’m super into mysticism, like cults and magick. It’s always been interesting to me growing up and it’s somehow found a way to reinsert itself into my life recently. That element of mysticism is something that I’d like to insert into people’s minds as well. Musically speaking I’d like to explore some more darker tunes that I’ve written in the past and a collaborative project along those lines is that a friend of mine from Chicago and I are working on a campaign of some sorts. She does these incredible illustrations and draws weird comparisons between pop stars like Kanye West and Rick Ross and parallels them with Greek Gods and other huge sweeping imagery. She also really works on injecting mysticism in this mundane pop plot, so that’s a bit down the line too.” It almost seems like the mysticism is a more common element among American musicians of your kind. “It sounds super nihilistic and awful but culturally America can be such an empty place in how people are, so people are looking for something different to believe in. There’s a lot of ideas I won’t buy in this day and age but there’s also a lot of ideas that I do want to buy really badly, because I want to believe there’s something more than the silly facade that keeps being thrown in our faces. The mysticism, aside from the fact that it inspires me to make great music sometimes, also gives me the opportunity to step outside the normality and mundanity of it all and experience something different. I think Americans are more attuned to that because in many ways this can be such a dead place, we want to buy into something else. Even the Illuminati theories, it’s silly but I want to buy it because it’s a lot more fun that way.”

You do like a lot of the mainstream pop out there though, right? What are some of your favourite artists among them? “I love Rihanna more now than I ever have. I’m not going to lie to you, I fucking love Katy Perry. I don’t know why, but I was really into her last four singles. Usher is alsokilling it. I don’t even like the vocal trance that everyone’s on to these days but he is elevating songs to higher levels and ultimately that’s also why I like Rihanna. All these weird vocalists with trance producers crossovers by like Rihanna and Usher are so good. When I first heard “We Found Love” with Calvin Harris in the club, I lost my shit. That song is transcendently good. I just enjoy it and I refuse to justify it by any means.”

What about R&B right now? “R&B right now is just weird. Hearing a male R&B artist complain about the world sucks, because there’s plenty of room and opportunities to succeed for them. From R. Kelly, Trey Songz, The-Dream to Bei Maejor, the list goes on. Whereas with female R&B singers, they go so hard at each other, they never help each other out and they will never tour together. For example, Ciara is never going to help Rihanna out and they hate each other. The outcome is that the male R&B singers live in an optimal condition and they run the scene, it’s bizarre. In that way it’s kind of in a sad state but I’m still heavy into it, even more rather than pop, I’m probably more inclined to put on Trey Songz than Rihanna at the end of the day.” Who’s on your radar right now? “Well to be honest I’ve just been listening to old music lately by the likes of Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott, as well as listening to Kelis’ “Wanderland” a lot. I’ve been burning that one out as it’s so fucking good still, The Neptunes just captured that time in a bottle with that album. But as far as ‘modern’ R&B is concerned, I’m not sure. I don’t even really like what people are labelling as ‘modern’ R&B to be honest. For instance, I don’t like The Weeknd at all but I do like Drake though. The-Dream has obviously been killing it for a while but it makes me sad that there used to be a time when he used to have a ton of material that he sat on aside from the mainstream tunes he was putting out. He could put out “Umbrella,” “Purple Kisses” and “Shawty Is The Shit” at the same damn time, but now he’s literally just giving all of his good songs to Rihanna. I heard his Terius Nash record and it was okay, but he should be way tighter than that right now. I also love Frank Ocean, I would love to work with him as he makes great music. He’s very interested in being a songwriter and taking you to a place that’s a little less overt by using the R&B palette to explore the storytelling aspect a bit. His track “Pyramids” features a straight-ahead storytelling vibe that I rarely find on R&B tunes anymore and what I especially like about that tune is that it transforms midway through it. I think that’s probably what I could do best with someone like Frank Ocean.”

To wrap up – what does your dream Dipset comeback look like for the future? “My dream Dipset record would mostly be comprised of beats by Kanye and Heatmakerz. It wouldn’t be a lot of Araabmuzik. He’s tight and he’s got the newer New York energy that sounds great, but that old Heatmakerz sound on those original “Diplomatic Immunity II” joints are the ones that blew my mind. Maybe a bit of Just Blaze. I really like this era that now seems far gone: when Roc-a-fella was fucking with all of these up and coming dudes like Dipset, for me that was the biggest music in the world at the time.”

Sindhuja Shyam
Sindhuja Shyam

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