Hunting Down An Interview With Morgan James

Postmodern Jukebox’s Scott Bradlee – the guy that turns today’s pop hits into other genres on YouTube – recently brought our attention to a singer/songwriter named Morgan James. Pollstar called up James this week after being thoroughly impressed with her rendition of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.”

She’s the first vocalist on board for Postmodern Jukebox’s European tour, which begins in February. Along with “Take Me To Church,” James also did a soulful version of Maroon 5’s “Maps” for Postmodern Jukebox.

But more importantly, she’s in the midst of promoting her Epic Records debut album, Hunter, which was released in November. The expanded edition of the LP includes a cover of Prince’s “Call My Name” – a version that he has heard and probably appreciated.

James, who has appeared in several Broadway shows including “Godspell,” has a big supporter in none other than Berry Gordy Jr., who is well aware of James because of her performance as Teena Marie in “Motown: The Musical.”  

As the quick interview began, we asked her if she was familiar with Pollstar.

“I feel like you’re in Fresno, aren’t you?” she said.

We don’t hear that answer a lot, but James grew up about an hour north of us in Modesto, Calif. That means she’s sort of the Modesto version of Broadway star Audra McDonald, who grew up in our little town before escaping to the big lights.

Yes, we tried to drop that name, but James beat us to it.

So you grew up near the rest of us.

Yeah, I grew up in Modesto. I moved when I was about 12 and lived there through junior high and high school. Actually I think I moved there in fifth grade. My parents just got a job. We were from Idaho so anything in California seemed glamorous, sunny and gorgeous. We moved to the valley and it turned out to be the most incredible place to grow up. I found great music teachers, I found great colleagues and I totally found music. I discovered that was going to be what I would do with my life when I was there. And one of my favorite singers on the planet is from Fresno so I became obsessed with that: “I’m from an area where she’s from so I hopefully will drink some of that water.”

That’s funny. I was going to drop her name and you went there first.

Audra McDonald?  She’s the reason I went to Julliard. And, of course, I took a different path since I left it. When I first graduated I thought to myself, “Why did I go there? I don’t use use it.” But I use my training every day. It’s invaluable, what I learned.

Still seems to be a big leap from our little valley to Julliard.

It’s a big leap to just move to New York by yourself. It was such a longshot that a lot of people probably thought, you know, “[Most] people don’t really get into Julliard.” I kind of was fearless. I just knew I’d get in, even if everybody else thought I was crazy. And when you get that opportunity, when they say yes, you just go..

If I hadn’t gotten an invite to Julliard I probably wouldn’t have moved to New York when I was 18 but thankfully it gave me a launch pad. It’s not a scary place to me anymore but packing up and going there otherwise would have been intimidating.

And now that I’m here, I could never leave.

Speaking of leaving: you have a background in Broadway, but you have an album you need to promote. How much of 2015 is staying in New York versus leaving it?

I want to get the record out to as many people as possible. I’m lucky because I love to tour and to sing. I want to reach people. I want to speak to fans and get the music out there. I think there are some recording artists where live singing is not their forte, but my thing is singing in front of an audience. That is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I hope 2015, frankly, brings a lot of travel. I want to be out there meeting people and singing for them.

So I’ll be in Europe for six weeks. I’m going to be traveling April through June in the States, including some classical projects, flexing my classical muscles again.Thankfully, I get to use so many parts of my instrument and artistry. I’m so lucky to do that; it doesn’t get lost on me that I get to make music for a living. I’m always going to want more gigs; I’m always going to want bigger ones. I’m always going to want to make more records. But it’s not lost on me that I’m able to do this.

Promoting Hunter will be my main objective for the year, and [to] start writing, of course, because you have to get back on the horse.

So you are touring the States this year.

Yes. I have a big New York date. I’ll be in Philadelphia, Chicago, Hartford. Summertime, we haven’t confirmed but obviously we’re talking festivals and some sort of opening slot for me. So late spring, summer will be in the U.S. and I hope to go back to Europe with my band in the fall.

Promoters will come up to me and say, “Hey, do you like” – and they’ll say a town – “Would you like to go there?” and I’ll say, “I love towns!” I will go anywhere where you want to hear music.

People will reach out to me on my fan page and it may take me a while but I try to respond to every single person because the only way I get to make music is because there are people who want to hear it.

Sometimes it’s exhausting. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone like Taylor Swift. My God, I’m dealing with a fraction of the numbers but I really try to hear everybody. I don’t think fans know how much artists appreciate it. Some days it feels like nobody hears you and then a stranger will reach out from across the globe and say, “Hey! I hear you! I appreciate what you’re making.”

Sometimes that really gets you through a day!

I shared a few of your videos with a Facebook friend and she immediately became a fan.

That’s amazing. And it can happen like that. As much as the music industry has changed, and a lot of it makes me sad and there are things that I miss from the old days, there are moments like that where one person can say to another, “Hey, you should listen to this” and they do, and it can still be passed person to person. That’s what I love about music: you get to share it with someone else, and they get to have it as their own.

That’s the beauty of social media. A lot of it can be annoying but, through social media, I can reach people from all over the world.

Have you seen any differences since the “Take Me To Church” video came out earlier this month?

I have actually.  I feel like my career as a whole has been a slow burn but it feels like it’s been bubbling and it’s starting to boil. I feel there’s something under the surface and I just have to keep making the music I’m making.

A lot of people have been saying they saw it and finding me. It came with my announcement a few days later that I’d be doing six weeks in Europe. So I was hearing from a lot of my international fans. It’s been a great response to this video in particular.

Anything else you’d like to tell fans?

I’m happy people are finding the record. I think it’s hard to make a record of original music with no auto-tuning these days. I’m proud of that. I’m happy people are finding new, original soul music that is not auto-tuned, and I hope to be able to bring it to a town near them.

Upcoming dates for Morgan James:

Feb. 6 – Belfast, No. Ireland, The Belfast Empire Music Hall
Feb. 7 – Dublin, Ireland, Vicar Street
Feb. 8 – Manchester, England, Academy 2
Feb. 9 – Gateshead, England, Sage Gateshead
Feb. 10 – Glasgow, Scotland, Old Fruitmarket
Feb. 11 – Edinburgh, Scotland, The Queens Hall
Feb. 13 – Sheffield, England, The Leadmill
Feb. 14 – Birmingham, England, The Institute
Feb. 15 – Bristol, England, Thekla
Feb. 16 – Brighton, England, Concorde 2
Feb. 17 – London, England, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
Feb. 19 – Amsterdam, Netherlands, Paradiso
Feb. 20 – Breda, Netherlands, Mezz
Feb. 21 – Sint Niklaas, Belgium, De Casino
Feb. 22 – Bordeaux, France, Rock School Barbey
Feb. 23 – Madrid, Spain, Caracol
Feb. 24 – Barcelona, Spain, Caprichos De Apolo
March 3 – Oslo, Norway, Parkteatret AS
March 4 – Goteborg, Sweden, Nefertiti
March 5 – Stockholm, Sweden, Fasching
March 6 – Copenhagen, Denmark, DR Concert House
March 7 – Hamburg, Germany, Knust
March 8 – Berlin, Germany, Lido
March 10 – Luxembourg, Luxembourg, Rockhal
March 11 – Villeurbanne, France, Le Transbordeur
March 12 – Paris, France, Alhambra Paris
March 13 – Cologne, Germany, Luxor
March 14 – Frankfurt, Germany, Zoom
March 16 – Zurich, Switzerland, Kaufleutensaal
March 17 – Prague, Czech Republic, Lucerna Music Bar
March 18 – Warsaw, Poland, Stodola Club
March 19 – Ostrava Zabreh, Czech Republic, Rock & Roll Garage
March 20 – Vienna, Austria, Porgy & Bess

James apppears with Postmodern Jukebox on all dates.

Please visit for more information. And click here for our 2014 interview with Scott Bradlee.