Some artists labor for years preparing and producing the record that captures the spirit of their music. For Denver native Matt Morris, the process of recording his new five-song EP, Backstage at Bonnaroo and Other Acoustic Performances, was a lot less complicated.
Morris was playing two days at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee when he and his collaborator, former Bob Dylan guitarist Charlie Sexton, were «pulled into a trailer.» Morris had an acoustic guitar, Sexton an electric. They hit «record.»
«It was a humble setting, but all we needed to record,» says Morris, 29, who still lives in Denver. «We didn’t focus on arrangement too much, just sat down and played. Just recording the event, not making a big record.»
The session resulted in Backstage, which comes out on Tuesday. On Saturday, Morris debuts the material with a performance at the Walnut Room in Denver, then he’s heading out on a nationwide tour supporting Joan Osborne.
Spanning the genres of country, folk and pop, Backstage features three songs recorded at Bonnaroo and two other tracks that will appear on Morris’ upcoming full-length, The Un-American LP, due out in 2009.
«They’re a sneak preview for what’s going to come next year,» Morris says.
Though it wasn’t recorded in a backstage trailer, The Un-American LP will have a similar stripped-down aesthetic.
«There’s nothing about the record that screams overproduction,» Morris says. «It’s sort of folk in the way that it’s a person getting up and singing a song that’s in their soul.»
Both the EP and the full-length are being released on pop star Justin Timberlake’s Tennman Records, a subsidiary of Interscope Records founded in 2007. Though the label is less than two years old, Morris and Timberlake’s friendship predates their current working relationship by more than a decade. From 1991 to ’94, Morris starred on Disney’s «Mickey Mouse Club,» where he worked alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Timberlake.
«He’s been a big ally,» Morris says. «It really started out with a personal relationship and a musical kinship. Our relationship has led toward me making this record.»
The two have worked together between their time with Disney and Tennman. Morris penned «(Another Song) All Over Again,» which Timberlake recorded for his 2006 album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. The duo co-wrote «The Only Promise That Remains,» which Timberlake recorded with Reba McEntire for her 2007 Duets album.
Morris has also written songs for Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson, including the former’s Top 40 collaboration with Lil’ Kim, «Can’t Hold Us Down.»
The Un-American LP, and the music on Backstage,enters into the political realm, especially with the song «The Un-American,» which appears on both records. The tune looks at how people on various sides of political debates point at each other and describe the other as Un-American.
«It’s a tongue-in-cheek song that shifts perspective a few times, first in a position of somebody who’s judging an individual and suggesting what that person — the Un-American — needs to do to become a better person,» Morris says. «It’s intended to make us laugh a little at how we point our fingers at people.
«It’s a little bit of political commentary, but I’m not hitting anybody over the head,» he adds.
Morris will play selections from both records at Saturday’s show. Then he’s heading east to join Osborne on the road. He’ll return to Denver to close his fall tour with another Walnut Room performance on Nov. 22.
The local performer starred in several seasons of Disney’s «Mickey Mouse Club» — along with future superstars Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
Morris went on to write hit songs for Aguilera’s multi-platinum Stripped, and now he’s the debut artist on Timberlake’s Tennman Records.
«I was born and raised in Denver,» Morris said. «I went to the Denver auditions of the ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ when I was 11 and I got on the show. It was the ultimate arts camp, being surrounded by all these talented kids.»
Morris became a lifelong friend of Timberlake after the «Mickey Mouse Club.»
«I was aware of the caliber of all this talent and I wasn’t surprised to see everyone’s career take off,» Morris said. «Of all the people on the show, Justin and I stayed friends.»
While some of the Mouseketeers became household names, Morris returned to Colorado. The performer attended high school in Denver and lived a «normal» life.
«It was an extreme learning experience being on the show, but I wanted to remove myself from the industry,» Morris said. «I did some volunteer work in South America, and that time away from the music business let me develop as a songwriter.»
Morris went on to co-wrote five songs for Aguilera’s Stripped. He also co-wrote Kelly Clarkson’s mega-hit «Miss Independent.»
Now, Morris is fueling his own music career — with a little help from Timberlake.
The local musician’s putting the finishing touches on his urban-sounding The UnAmerican. The record will come out on Timberlake’s label and it was produced by music pro Charlie Sexton.
And, on Tuesday, Morris will release his indie EP Backstage at Bonnaroo and Other Acoustic Performances.
«Justin and I have been talking about doing a record for the past five years,» Morris said. «He wanted to create a label that would cultivate artists in various genres. He really let me focus on the songs.»
Locals get to check out Morris’ acoustic side at the Walnut Room in Denver on Saturday.
Pattern is Movement
The CU Program Council brings Pattern is Movement to Club 156 on Tuesday.
Pattern is Movement is a two-piece outfit that relies on the power of drums and techno toys to produce avant-garde, «light math» (polyrhythmic) sounds.
«The band’s instrumentation is made up of me on drums and Andrew (Thiboldeaux) playing three keyboards,» drummer Chris Ward said. «We use all these polyrhythmic elements, but the music has this indie, cabaret sound.
«It’s very emotional and passionate.»
Railroad Earth returns to the Fox Theatre to play Friday and Saturday shows.
The band may lean towards rootsy and bluegrass sounds, but the group is now heading into the digital age with aid of bassist Johnny Grubb.
The group just set up an online mixing program for its CD Amen Corner. The program will allow fans to create their own personal Railroad Earth mixes.
«We now have an online mixing program that breaks down the whole album,» Grubb said. «It gives people the chance to get a little deeper into the tracks.»
Grubb says Railroad Earth is psyched to come back to the Fox.
«We’re going to play two different shows at the Fox,» Grubb said. «People should come out to see these shows, because we won’t be back to Colorado until next year.»
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