Interview

Terrell Morris Reminds Us of Better Times

By Hershal Pandya on October 19, 2020

Terrell Morris’ music is packed with cadence-related riches. The 29-year-old Toronto native knows exactly how long to sit in a particular groove, melody, or affect before changing course. The experience of listening to his music is like continuously having a reference point on the tip of your tongue—Isaiah Rashad, GoldLink, Anderson .Paak, etc.—and then immediately thinking, “Nope, that’s not quite right” in the next breath. Musically, he draws inspiration from genres as divergent as hip-hop, neo-soul, reggae, and folk, and yet Terrell situates them all under his own stylistic banner.

For as effortless as his music feels, Morris’ origin story underscores how much work he’s put into honing his gifts. Growing up as part of a musically inclined family—with a father figure who was part of pioneering Toronto hip-hop group, Ghetto Concept—Morris began making music at a young age. Intimidated by all the talent around him, however, he kept this hobby a secret until he felt his output was good enough to justify people’s attention. Similarly, Morris has been recording music formally since he was 14, but he’s waited until this year to release Lavender, his first solo album (his previous release, 2018’s Molasses, was a collaboration with producers Free n Losh).

Fortunately, all this premeditation has paid off in the form of a special album. Lavender is a self-assured debut, lush with breezy instrumentation and accessible hooks, that grapples with issues like love, self-improvement, ambition, and overall late-20s existentialism. Terrell Morris made an album about the times, in spite of the times, and our world is better for it.

You bring together so many different styles on this album. Tell me a little bit about who your influences are.

Growing up, my mom listened to a lot of Erykah Badu. That’s one of my most immediate influences. JAY-Z is my favorite rapper of all time. Contemporary? I’ve been listening to a lot of Cosmo Pyke.

You can sort of hear it on a song like “Renaissance,” but I love people like Bob Marley and Sizzla. And then all the people I work with. They’ve all got their individual influences, right? So, they’ve all got hands in it. That’s what molds it into this strange fucking stew that has every fucking spice.

Considering you’ve been working on this album for two years, how does it feel to release it now, at this surreal moment in history, when the entire global context has shifted?

I think it’s valuable. We kind of need that. It’s lost on us a little bit. So, to have something referencing better times? That’s necessary, as far as I can tell. Not to say it’s not necessary to have some words spoken on right now, but I don’t think it was too weird. As far into it as we are when we released, everybody’s kind of ready for something new. I hope this gets them geared up for when we’re allowed to live life normally again.

Your writing has this quality where it seems specific to your experience, but you leave enough space for listeners to see their own experiences, too. Is that something you do intentionally?

I like to write that way because I started writing as a poet. My mother writes poetry, and I started writing when I was five or so. So I like to leave space. Just a little bit of space for thought, for everybody to interpret it their own way. And if you don’t understand me fully, sometimes I like that, too.

You never seem to get stagnant in any particular cadence. What does that look like from a writing standpoint?

I don’t freestyle as much as I write really fast. I’ll go in, do four bars, and think, “That was enough of that.” And then I’ll write something different right away. Sometimes I might freestyle a new flow off of the last one, but I try not to stay stagnant in my writing. That helps with jumping to new ideas. Because you’re still in the moment, you can understand what’s supposed to happen. You can still capture what the feeling is right then. If you take your time, and you sit back on a song for too long, you sort of forget what it felt like to be there.

You’ve been working on music for over 10 years. How has your approach changed in that time?

I started recording when I was 14. And it’s just the last four years that have been different because I’ve been treating myself like a professional. Before that, I put out mixtapes and stuff. But the last two projects are just different. Like, it’s my job now.

What was the moment when you knew you had to make that transition?

I saw people I worked with, my peers, make that transition for themselves, and what it did for them. So, seeing it happen around me, I was like, “I’m not gonna get left behind in this. I better act right and buckle down.”

Also, having the team I have, too. Once you have a core team, it makes it a lot easier to realize that there’s people who are backing me on this journey, and I can’t just slack. I have to do this shit.

On the song “Lavender Dreams,” you talk about feeling like you need to leave Toronto to reach your potential. Why do you think that’s a necessary step?

I love this place. I just don’t believe that the place I was born is going to be my favorite place in the world. The planet is huge. From an artistic standpoint, too, I love this place, and I may not have sat still here until I got to the top of the city, but the top of the city isn’t high enough for me anyway.

Photos by Quinn Ellis.

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