If first impressions are everything, Jarrod Morris took every step possible to make sure his was a big one, so he did what may seem impossible for an artist preparing to release their debut album to do.
He waited until all the chips fell correctly, and is now reaping his reward with the superb album “West of East”.
Read along as Morris describes his journey to releasing “West of East,” including his beginnings of playing for his family, his songwriting style that promotes deeper meanings, having big names involved with the album, and so much more.
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Jarrod Morris: I grew up listening to a lot of different types of music. A lot of southern rock and Americana like Bob Seger, The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker Band, and the Eagles. As I got older, living out here in Texas, I really got into 90s country. That was subconsciously one of the biggest influences on me. As I got a little bit older, I started listening to a lot of singer-songwriter music, like Robert Earl Keen and Ryan Bingham. I try to sing about things that are meaningful to me, but at the same time, trying to keep it relevant and upbeat. If you can get that confluence, you can get a pretty good song. That’s what I’m always chasing.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
JM: I went to college in South Florida, so I was living out there for a bit. It was one of those deals where you sort of resent where you grow up until you move away, then you grow to appreciate it a little bit more. I went to school down there, and I was working at a job that really wasn’t for me. I always had music nagging at me, because I always wrote songs and played guitar. I didn’t want to be that guy that was 50 years old and resents everybody because he didn’t chase his dream. I packed up and moved back home to Texas, and fortunately, I learned the trait to shoe horses. I was able to build a pretty good business that is flexible enough that I can work Monday through Wednesday, and play music on the weekends.
PC: Were you feeling any type of pressure, internally or externally, as you were preparing to release music for the first time with the “Red Bandana” single or collectively for the first time with “West of East”?
JM: I guess there’s always an element of not knowing if people are going to like your stuff. For the longest time, it was just me sending music to family members and my buddies. I’ve got pretty honest friends and family, so if it wasn’t any good, they were going to tell me about it. My uncle and I have a running joke where I would play him a song, and when I got done playing it, he’d say that he couldn’t tell me enough how much he wanted to tell me that I suck, but he couldn’t. He said it would make him happier to tell me that I suck (laughs). That’s kind of the people that I grew up around, so it gives you thick skin, and a little bit of honesty too, which I think is helpful.
PC: Why did you decide to release “Red Bandana” as the lead single from “West of East”?
JM: It’s upbeat, and it’s got a lot of different musical influences. It’s got bluegrass, but it still drives and has a bit of an edge to it, so I thought it would be a good fit. I’m releasing my next single next week called “Coyote.” It’s a little bit darker, a little bit cryptic and harder to understand. I like singer-songwriter type of music that tells stories, but I also love stuff that is upbeat and fun, so I try to do both.
PC: Did the success of “Red Bandana” give you a certain level of validation as you were preparing to release “West of East”?
JM: It did. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been playing out here in Texas for 6 years. I’ve been through three different recording scenarios, lost a lot of money, had projects that didn’t go well, so I pretty much just scraped the whole deal. It’s been validating to know that the patience might be paying off a little bit. I think there’s a lot of guys that might not necessarily like their music or the way it turned out, and they put it out anyway because they just want to get something out there. I chose not to do that, and I lost a lot of money because of it, but I finally found some people that understand how I want to make music, and I think we got pretty close to achieving that on the record. I’m happy that we waited. Any of the success is definitely validating because it’s been a long time coming.
PC: “Coyote” has gotten off to a good start since the album’s release. Can you talk about the meaning of that song?
JM: It’s pretty out there. It’s about promiscuous women that are bad news, wrapped up in a hunting metaphor. The way I tried to write it is that you can almost take every phrase of the verses, and even spots of the chorus, and draw a direct line between women that are up to no good and coyote hunting. The song starts out and says “The sun goes down, then they come around, a couple of shots and they look a little better now.” It’s a double entendre, and that’s how I tried to write every verse. I was hoping that the drunk guy in the back of the bar could scream “Yippie-ky-ay-oh,” and the sober guy might be trying to listen to it on a deeper level.
PC: Was the double entendre aspect of the lyrics why you chose it to be the next single?
JM: I try to use some classic literary tools in a lot of my songs, because that’s what sparks a lot of the energy in the tunes. I think some of that might be lost in music today. Kacey Musgraves is a big songwriting influence of mine, and that’s kind of the way she tries to write stuff. It just seemed like a good fit for a lot of different types of people. The music scene out here in Texas is pretty eclectic; you’ve got people that are trying to get drunk in a bar and have a good time, which is fine, and then you have people who are really listening, so to be able to serve both of those crowds is hard, and I thought that song would be the best fit. Also, after we released the album, that’s the one that’s doing the best, so that helps too (laughs).
PC: “Top Shelf” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?
JM: A lot of us might have something in our lives that has a bad influence on us, but at the same time, we can’t quite get rid of them, because we want to hold on to them. It’s also one of those songs that has two meanings. You have the liquor and you have the girl; both of them are sort of detrimental to your health, but you still can’t get rid of them. You want to be able to look at them, but you can’t afford to ever try them again, so you just keep them up there on the top shelf.
PC: You had some pretty powerful musicians on the album, including Deryl Dodd and producer Lloyd Maines. What did it mean to you to have musicians of that caliber on the album?
JM: I’m kind of coming out of relative obscurity, so it was badass! Deryl Dodd is a cool cat, and he sang harmonies on a bunch of the songs. Lloyd Maines produced it, and if you know the Dixie Chicks, you know who Lloyd Maines is. I signed a management deal with Larry Joe Taylor about 6 months ago, and he helped me orchestrate a lot of that stuff. It’s been a huge blessing being able to pull all of it together. There were some big time players on it too. David Grissom played guitar on it, and he played guitar for Bruce Springsteen and The Allman Brothers. It was really Larry Joe Taylor and Lloyd Maines getting all of those guys on the record, and it was a huge godsend.
PC: “West of East” showcases a variety of different sounds, ranging from the traditional/red dirt sound, bluegrass, an outlaw sound, among others. Was it important for you to showcase that level of artistic versatility on your debut release?
JM: 100%. I think the way people listen to music nowadays is that they may like a specific genre, but if you scroll through their music, they have a lot of different stuff going on. I thought it was important to have a flavor for everybody, especially on a first album. Sometimes you can pigeonhole yourself with one sound, and if people don’t like it, where do you go from there?
That’s just the way I write. I don’t really get all that caught up on if something is going to fit a certain genre. Granted, at the same time, instrument-wise in production-wise, I like to keep things sonically making sense and not too off the wall, but in terms of just songs and rhythms, I like to have a pretty broad brush stroke.
PC: What do you hope people take away from “West of East” after listening all the way through?
JM: I hope that it makes them want to watch me play live (laughs).
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
JM: I’m going to Nashville soon, and I’m going to be signing a booking deal. That’ll be the main thing, and other than that, I’ll just be playing shows. In 6 months to a year, I’ll release three more songs, but it’s just going to be a lot of traveling and playing in the meantime.
*All images courtesy of Jarrod Morris Facebook Page*