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KENDRA MORRIS: Banshee Soul

Singer Kendra Morris oozes soulful vibes that gently melt against nostalgic production reminiscent of ’70s R&B. But are her ambient vocals enough to cast a spell over you? Check it.

Words & Interview: Zoy Britton
Image: Courtesy of Janette Beckman

Ambient Soul music has just started to hit mainstream airwaves on a more significant level thanks to the contemporary influence of artists like The Weeknd (aka Drake’s muse). Yet the earlier, one could say, “purer” versions of Ambient Soul had long been perfected by bands like Morcheeba and Thievery Corporation by the mid ’90s. Gentle subterranean harmonies float alongside eerily buoyant melodies, sending cool vibes down your spine. In effect, casting a near-magic spell over the listener, or as Wax Poetics’ (the label not the mag) newest addition Kendra Morris describes, “[Like], banshees [casting] spells with their voices…and I just think some of the greatest singers do the same thing.”

Morris’ sound has always felt a bit Rock-n-Roll soul, even in the earlier stages of her career when she played with her now disbanded girl group Pinktricity back in 2003. The Morris of Pinktricity rocked stages in black, graphic tees and a shaggy haircut. Today, Morris has evolved into an ethereal, red-haired dynamo. Having spent nearly nearly a decade in NYC now, Morris has been building her musical name as a singer, from her humble beginnings recording on a karaoke cassette player as a child to collaborations with some of today’s biggest musical names including DJ Premier, who remixed her popular track “Concrete Waves.”

Your single “Concrete Waves” has really gained you a lot of popularity but I find myself connecting much more to “If You Didn’t Go,” which seems to be about a romantic journey coinciding with a journey of the self. Tell me a little more about the background of that song.

I wrote “If You Didn’t Go” this past summer. One day in the studio my partner Jeremy Page started playing these chords he had thrown together and I immediately connected with them. The first thing that popped into my head was the melody for the chorus, it was almost instantaneous. I remember yelling, “Hold it! I’ve got something!” Then I ran into the vocal booth and started humming the melody I was hearing and forming fragments of the sentence, “If you didn’t go away….” I knew right away that I wanted this song to be as close to me as possible, so I then tried to daydream back into the nostalgic experiences of my first love. I tried digging up memories of being back in Florida with this guy, really the innocence and hope of it all and then found myself wondering what he’s up to now. It’s a strange thing how you can share so much with a person, talk to them everyday, have these moments with someone and then they’re just gone. Poof. Just a coffee stain left.

Sonically, I wanted to take my vocals to that 1970s AM radio feel. I’ve always loved the way that kids sound when they sing in unison. There is something so pure to their sweet, high-pitched voices and the way they give almost an urgency to a phrase, so we did a lot of layering on my vocals in the chorus to give it same sort of that feel. I think of it as my special place song because that’s really where I had to go to in order to dig it up.

Your sound in Pinktricity is much more Joan Jett, more of a rocker sound than your current tracks, what was the reason for that evolution? Did you find that the Ambient sound jived much better with you?

Pinktricity was the first project I had ever started on my own. In a lot of ways I was still discovering myself both as a singer and a writer. I just remember being fed up with always being in other people’s projects and wanting to be the leader of my own for the first time. I could barely play a guitar, but knew that if I just picked one up and started somewhere it would lead me in the right direction. All of us could barely play our instruments when we first started out but everyone in the band was so determined to succeed, that I think the fact that we were just trying to write songs and each of us brought such separate influences that it ended up with the sound that it did. I have always been hugely influenced by Soul music and you can hear that even in these early recordings, as my voice was developing.

As I evolved more as an artist, especially after the band that really pushed me in my crucial beginning stages disbanded, I discovered more about how much I loved the way a voice could smoothly glide across a palette of notes or how emotion can be found in the way a harmony embraces a melody. I bought an 8-track and this time instead of relying on other band members to help me carry an idea out, I decided to rely only on my own inner workings. I started to tinker around more and more with ideas ingrained in me about singing and songwriting since early childhood while incorporating my strongest influence, Soul music.

You said that “all good singers can cast a spell like a banshee.” In your song “Banshee” it definitely sounds like you’re talking about the spell of love or lust. Have you conceptualized a video for it? I would love to see how you could intertwine those two ideas visually….

Banshees have been seen in Irish folklore as these wailing demons or fairy-esque creatures who would use their voices to perceive the death of someone nearby. I have always been curious about the legend of the banshee thanks to discovering the movie Darby O’Gil and the Little People as a child. And so when I sat down and penned the song, I wanted to describe how I envision a banshee and what they translate to me in the form of a narrative. It metaphorically compares the story of a banshee coming for your soul to the spell lust can cast upon a person and steal your soul in the same sort of way. On the other side of the spectrum, I imagine singers to be spell-casters in the way they will use their voices [to] captivate you as listener and transport you to another mood, time, feeling.

…Doing a video for “Banshee” I think could be pretty epic. I would love to incorporate my love for B horror films as inspiration into a treatment at some point.

Follow Morris on Twitter, @KendraMorris

To hear Morris’ latest tunes visit her website, HERE.

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