Kenn Morr is a singer songwriter with an international fan base and five CD’s worth of his own material in release including “Today,” “New Moon Rising,” Coming Home.” Move On,” and his latest, and most mature work to date, “Higher Ground.” A few years ago on this site the late Dr. Philip Lombard wrote, “On Kenn Morr's first two collections he teamed with talented producers, but on "Coming Home," this multi-talented artist decided to produce the album himself. The result has a lucid honesty that is refreshing and long overdue……..How do you put Kenn Morr's distinct vocal sound into words? Well, think of an American Donovan blended with the soft whispering sound of Don Williams.” Morr recently took a few moments out of his busy touring schedule and talked about his new CD and shared some valuable insights on what it takes to be an independent artist in the 2000’s.
How’d you get into this whole music thing anyway? What was the first music you heard as a kid that got to you?
I grew up listening to Singer/Songwriters….Simon and Garfunkel…Cat Stevens and James Taylor. I’m the youngest of seven children. So most of my siblings were playing music of the time and a lot of it was the melodic, mostly-mellow music with deep lyrics. Songs that said something. Then when I got into junior high and high school I discovered Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg and CSN. When I got to college I was turned onto Gordon Lightfoot, but everything truly changed when my brother Walter made me a tape. One side all Dylan, with a lot of abstract cuts, and the other was Neil Young. And the rest is history. There was nothing else I wanted to do with my life.
How did you go from a guy who played music as a hobby to becoming a professional troubadour?
The first time I picked up a guitar I knew I never felt about anything the way I felt about playing music. Then I wrote my first in long line of horrible songs. But the process of writing became a source of relief for my mind. I was able to express a part of myself through music. And once that connection was made I decided I was going to pursue music.
One day on the way home from a gig my wife turned to me in the car and told me she thought I should quit my day job, sell the house, down-size and cut our expenses so I could be a full-time songwriter/musician. I’ll never forget where we were when she said it. I can point to the spot on the Hutchinson Parkway. It was that much of a powerful moment. I felt like there was somebody else who believed in me enough to completely change her lifestyle. I’ll never forget the feeling. It was a cross between relief and fear. Mostly relief. We placed the house on the market the next day and I quit the job within four months of that day.
Tell us about your new album.
It’s called “Higher Ground.”
Where did you record it?
In my home studio in Colebrook, CT. This is the first album in my career that was recorded with only the musicians in my touring band. It was a conscious decision to capture our vibe without bringing in guests. Fiddler Tom Hagymasi insisted I send the new songs to the band without any arrangements. He wanted to hear the songs in their most naked form. Just me and a guitar or piano. No harmonies, no embellishments. This was foreign to me. Even a bit scary. Because I had always felt it better to present songs the way I heard them in my head. With the harmony, with hooks etc. But looking back it was a great idea on Tom’s part and the record clearly reflects the imprint from Tom and, bassist, Dan Hocott, and percussionist Bob Gaspar.
What’s your favorite tune?
At the risk of choosing one “child” over another I’d have to say “Higher Ground”. That song wrote itself.
The CD came out real fine.
Thanks, the thing I really like about this record is it was written in a very short time and the recording process with these guys was effortless. And I think the music reflects that. Or at least I hope it does.
You are the definition of an independent artist. Of course you write your own material and every artist has their own way of creating the songs, but what happens next?
Once I write a song, I let it sit a while. If when I come back to the song…after having forgotten it… the song goes to the next step. The “demo” step where I work on arrangements, harmonies, instrumentation. This is so I can hear the song “fully-realized” without going through the whole formal process of recording it for a record. If after this process the song still holds up then it goes in the pile to be considered for a CD.
How do you select where or who to record with?
Fortunately these days that’s an easy question. I have a wonderful recording studio in my home. I’ve recorded in studios in Nashville, New York City, Long Island, Queens, Connecticut, Massachusetts upstate NY. Been there, done that. And none of those experiences come close to the comfort of recording in your own space on your own time-line with little overhead and no pressure. And while in the past I’ve worked with professional producers and studio musicians these days I have a band who is so in-tuned with the vision it was almost effortless to record “Higher Ground.”
Where does the financing come from?
The financing comes from us. Fortunately the expense of recording is greatly reduced with a home studio. I’ve mastered my last four releases in Nashville with Benny Quinn who is one of the best in the business. That’s the biggest expense in the recording process, but it’s also totally worth it. In the past when someone financed the project I felt bound to their vision rather than my own. Not a good feeling.
Once you are done how do you publicize your new CD?
That’s the magic question because that goes back to financing. You simply can’t make one of these records without promoting it. So it’s necessary to hire a radio promoter and a publicist. I have a wonderful publicist in Sweden who promotes to radio and press in Europe. He made some headway with my previous release, “Move On,” so we’re looking forward to sending “Higher Ground” through the same contacts and hopefully more channels. We will simultaneously be doing the same in the states.
How do you make it available to the public?
Thanks to the internet the music is available to the world at www.KennMorr.com. The ideal formula is a music fan either hears us on the radio, internet, reads about us or hears about us through word of mouth and goes to the site. There is a link to I-Tunes, CD Baby and several other distributors who help with the transaction.
Let’s talk about live gigs…You’ve opened for some big names; you do the coffee house/club date and you headline your own concerts outdoors…………..How do you get bookings?
I have an agent who helps with the dates. The smaller gigs are fun because they are real up-close and personal. It’s a great way to test material or raps/stories between songs. It’s also a great way to get names and email addresses of new fans and sell CDs.
Which is your favorite type of gig?
Last year I got a bit spoiled. We played Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT, Sandisfield Arts Center in Sandisfield, Mass., Northwest Nature Center in Windsor, CT. so I’d have to say small theatres are my favorite venues. Recently we played the Bitter End in New York City and that was magical as well. The outdoor venues are also great because the audiences are of all ages. I guess the real answer is any venue where people go to seriously listen is my favorite type of venue. And to quote a famous phrase “size doesn’t matter.” (Laughs.)
When you perform live how much new material do you include?
Now that we have this new record available if I play a night where we are playing two sets, about 18 songs or so. I’d guess we’d play about seven of the new songs. It also depends on the older material I choose to play. A set list is like a puzzle. The pieces all have to go together. Pacing is very important. So that comes into play as well.
Got any stories from gigs gone past?
Every gig has a story. And there is the funny and there is the sad. I’ll never forget playing an in-store at Borders somewhere on Long Island. A woman sat in the audience crying the whole time. I couldn’t figure it out. After the show there was a sealed envelope on my amplifier. It was a note from the woman explaining her brother had just died and she was “sure” he would have loved my music. So while the experience itself was a bit bizarre after I read the note the experience suddenly seemed wonderful. That woman was using the music as her therapy.
Another time I can remember playing a tiny coffee house in Canton, CT. A couple was sitting real close to me for the last set. I was solo. It was informal enough for them to say “play us your favorite song that you’ve written.” I hesitated because I hesitate to have a “favorite.” My songs are like my children. So I looked at the husband, who made the request, and jokingly said “do you have any kids?” He said “Yes...two...” So I said “okay, who is your favorite child?” I thought he would say “I can’t choose between my children.” Instead he quickly answered “Timmy”. Well, his wife was horrified. I started a song and could hear her sternly explaining to her husband “he was trying to make a point. You’re not supposed to have a favorite child. And why is Timmy your favorite?” It turned into a tense scene. They left soon thereafter. Evening ruined by Kenn Morr.
Great stories. What’s the best and worst thing about being an independent artist?
The best thing is you create your art for its true purpose and you can listen to advice but don’t “have to” follow it. The bad part of being an Indy is the fact the financing is always an issue and it’s very difficult to get heard when the big machine runs things. And by “big machine” I mean the major labels. Let’s just say it’s not very easy doing this without the kind of financial backing a major label provides.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Still making music. Ideally for more people at more venues in different places and other countries.
Thanks for your time Kenn. Any final thoughts?
Yes. I’d like to say thank you to you for this interview and I’d like to thank all of the wonderful people who have helped me over the years. Believe me, they know who they are. Finally and most-important I’d like to thank those who purchase the CDs, go to the shows etc. Words can never tell....