Morgan James to perform Memphis album at FTC show
For Morgan James, it’s all about the voice. The critically acclaimed singer and recording artist has developed her vocal skills into a fine-tuned instrument while building a formidable fan base along the way. James’ many YouTube videos demonstrate the full range of her soulful vocal prowess, and several have gone viral, receiving millions of views.
The singer, who was a classical voice major at The Juilliard School, has also appeared on Broadway in “Motown: the Musical,” “The Addams Family,” the revival of “Godspell,” and others. She’s got over half dozen albums out, including full covers of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album, the Beatles’ “White Album,” and a live jazz tribute to the music of Nina Simone. James’ brand-new record “Memphis Magnetic” features songs that she and her husband, the producer and arranger Doug Wamble, wrote, plus co-writes with Ryan Shaw and Jesse Flecher, and a poem put to their music by Spin Doctors’ Chris Barron. It was recorded entirely in Memphis, Tenn., using Memphis-based musicians.
The singer will be appearing at the Fairfield Theatre Company on Feb. 28 in support of the new album with a band that includes Wamble on guitar, George Sluppick on drums, Ben Paterson on keyboard and Andy Hess on bass. She recently talked about the album, her music and her voice.
Mike Horyczun: How do you keep your voice in such pitch perfect shape?
Morgan James: I go to my voice lesson every single week, study, and check in with my teacher all the time, and practice, if not every day, certainly most days. I warm up, and before every show I drink a lot of water. I get a lot of rest. You have to really treat your whole body as your instrument, when you’re a singer.
MH: Your new album “Memphis Magnetic” was recorded entirely in Memphis, Tenn., with Memphis-based musicians. What is special about this album and the city?
MJ: I’ve made all my records in New York, and I’ve always wanted to go somewhere like Memphis, some place with real history. My husband is from Memphis. My drummer is from Memphis. And we thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to go there and just immerse ourselves in another place and record there? It was probably one of the most stress free, creative processes I’ve ever gone through, incredibly organic and very joyful. There’s something that really, really slows down when you’re in the South, and it forces you to slow down. It forces you to be a different version of yourself. And it was very interesting to be with those musicians, and we just had a blast.
MH: Do you prefer live performance as opposed to being in a recording studio?
MJ: I live to perform live. I think that’s what I was put on this earth to do. I’m so honored that that’s what I get to do with my life, and I get to sing so many different kinds of music and so many different kinds of venues and settings. I love being in the studio, but it’s a different kind of brainpower that is used, and there’s something so freeing and so exhilarating about singing live on stage.
MH: You were in several shows on Broadway. Is that something that you want to continue pursuing?
MJ: I miss the Broadway theater world sometimes. But you can’t be two places at once. When I started making albums, and I left my last Broadway show, I had to commit to touring and making albums and developing that side of me. I would love to do theater again. But it would have to be a special project.
MH: What advice would you give to those trying to succeed in music?
MJ: It’s not a very glamorous answer, but it’s the truth in terms of what I’ve experienced. Just play the long game. It’s like the tortoise and the hare. A lot of time, people want the quick way, the low hanging fruit that’s going to give them their 15 minutes. If that’s what you want, that’s definitely one path. For me, I really wanted a long career, and I’ve wanted to be somebody that had substance and quality. It takes a long time. I think that if you want to really reach people, you have to have something real to give them. If you become the truest version of yourself, it’s going to resonate with people.