.Soulful Kendra Morris

Genre-defying Brooklyn singer plays Moe’s Alley

With vulnerability in her writing, humor and creative vocal textures, Kendra Morris deserves a listen. The rock ‘n’ roll persona she emanates – tattooed sleeves, vintage 1970s style glasses, and her modern take on soul and indie-rock– stays true to her rebellious vibes in “I Am What I’m Waiting For”, her latest LP release.

 “Don’t ever draw boundaries on your life; it’s your life, it’s a gift,says Morris about being in music and rolling with her creativity amidst all the challenges in making one’s path and trusting your gut.

The busy rock star and mom showed me around her Brooklyn apartment by Zoom and tried calming Roger, the French/Irish bulldog who wouldn’t stop pestering her for attention. Two weeks out from her West Coast tour, she has a lot on her plate; readying special record orders with personalized autographs and requests, tour technicalities, interviews, picking up her 9-year-old daughter, Opal, from school, and all the while connecting on social media to promote her release and connect with fans.

Her latest release comes more than a decade after her critically acclaimed debut album, Banshee (2012, Wax Poetics/Naive). In 10 tracks, Morris captures the nuances of adulthood with producer Torbitt Schwartz, who has worked with Killer Mike and Run the Jewels.

Morris blends powerful and moody neo-soul vocals with late ‘60s and early ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll into a medley of soul, pop, garage rock, doo-wop and exotica.

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During the pandemic she started a karaoke happy hour night on her insta page.

“I like everything big and bold,says Morris, often wearing her signature oversized 1970s-style glasses. When she found out she really needed them for her eyesight, she took it as an opportunity to create another visual element for her fans to recognize her. With her big hair, big glasses, and tattooed sleeves, she invites us on a journey into her New York world and lifestyle. Her soulful timbre and vocal power brings to mind Janis Joplin or Amy Winehouse, with hints of Liz Phair.

KICKIN IT This Florida native has come into her own in Brooklyn. PHOTO: Rosie Cohe

 “I was always listening to so much different stuff,” she says,”I started with my parents’ record collection, which was a lot of old Motown, Jackson 5 stuff,  and lots of old reggae records that they’d bring back when they would go to Jamaica.

it’s so funny, something popped up on my feed the other day; and Sheryl Crow played “Strong Enough”… I remember that that used to be one of my favorites…and listening to that song on repeat in my bedroom. The song would end, and I think I had it on cassette even. I would just play it over and over, the song would end, and I’d have to get out of bed to rewind it.  Even that first Lisa Loeb record, I loved that too.”

Originally from Florida, she was looking to step out of her comfort zone with this new album and challenge herself to explore different themes besides love. After over a decade of collaboration with producer and musician Jeremy Page, she was ready to shake things up.

She teamed up with producer Torbitt Schwartz to co-write her latest album. He brings psychedelic-laced keys and spacey sounds, and a collagist approach.

In this fifth release, Morris aimed to showcase her grit and evoke emotion rather than perfection. She delivers soul-drenched melodies over a medley of rock and roll ingredients.

As light, fluffy layers of harmonies caress your ears on the introductory track, “When I Go To Space,” you are drawn into “Anywhere” by its bass line and classic 60s drumbeat, while Kendra soars majestically into energetic vocal highs on the chorus of the following track, “Still Spinning.” Believing in the magic of the artistic process and wanting to maintain that “realness” in her albums, Morris welcomes imperfections and one-takes.

 “As you grow up, hopefully you’re really digging your feet into the Earth and experiencing different things and the more you learn and remain open-minded, the more your influences will change, so your records should always feel a little different.”

Her creativity isn’t limited to music.

“I do animation, I do collage work, I mean I do anything, I just love tapping into different things, the more I have noticed that they all blend together. And there’s not really a rule to it, that’s the way I look at my fashion too, it’s another way to express yourself.”

Her visual style caught the eye of fellow New-Yorkers Czarface and MF Doom, with whom Morris had done vocal features. They inquired about who did her music videos, which led to her creating the video for their track, “Bomb Thrown”.

“I think my style has just evolved with me. No one’s going to come up to someone making art and tell them, ‘you’re doing art wrong.’ There’s no such thing as expressing yourself wrong, so the same goes for your fashion and your style. You know I’m no millionaire, not even close, but I do what I love.”

Living in New York City has been a game changer. “I wanted everything at my fingertips, to be able to go to the studio or run into someone on the corner. Lou Reed walked into the dive bar I was working at one day. For the whole world, it’s a hub.”

 Kendra Morris with guests the SIlvertone and DJ Archive 65  8pm Sunday at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $15 in advance, and $20 day of.

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