Nine lives ago you might have known Kendra Morris as a different person. I did. This was before she put out her first LP Banshee, which left the music industry slack-jawed at her incredibly soulful vocal abilities, layered sonic genius, and timeless tunes. Morris had moved to New York the same reason we all did, to make it, to feel the concrete under our feet at 3 am, to be on stage and perform, to find her tribe. Eventually, she did. Eventually, success and clout came her way too. She’s been a musical secret weapon to everyone to Scarlett Johnson, DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, MF Doom, Czarface, Ghostface Killah, Dennis Coffey, and David Sitek to name a few.
A decade in between has taught the musician lots of hard lessons, from birth to death she has experienced the life cycles that humans are all destined to and brought us along for the ride most of the way. Nine Lives is a listened-to cinematic undertaking of her life. It’s an evolution in which the powerhouse peels off layers of love, mourning, faith, and pride in order to find herself again.
Why did you start making music?
I’m not sure I could date back to the exact reason why I started..only the reason why I do it and continue doing it which in part is self-expression; it’s this outlet I’ve always needed as well as I get something from putting it out there and then having someone connect with it in a way that they need it.
I’ve been writing songs all the way back to some of my first memories. As a kid I used it as a way to tell stories, entertain, or just because it made me feel good.. it was like this itch I always needed to scratch and it just has been something that has continued to take a front-row seat. It’s like this buddy I’ve had my whole life and we go everywhere and do everything together.
How do you think your music evolved over time between Nine Lives and your first LP Banshee?
I feel like through experience and time and not ever quitting… I only have gotten more seasoned in the choices I make with my own music.
I’ve had ten years to only grow in my songwriting and the way I use my tools including how I use my voice. I love to take something that I’ve been through or seen and felt inspired by and try to find a way to bring it into a song or I appreciate the challenge of taking a word that doesn’t necessarily fit or even seem to make sense and figure out a different way to fit it in. If I hit a wall with what I’m trying to say. It usually just means that I need to push harder to find a way to say it.. and when I find it, it’s that much more rewarding to me.
What is your favorite song you ever put out? You can do the top 3 since there are so many good ones.
That’s tough! I’m really proud of this album so I’m going to have to say Keep Walking and Penny Pincher for all the layers in the harmonies, the dynamics of the songs and really letting go of myself. Also the song I wrote for my brother when he passed away ‘Ride On’. I started it the day I had to go to his viewing with my family and then worked on it for a month writing one or two lines each night. I just needed a way to always remember him and keep his memory fresh in my mind.
I believe we all have Nine Lives or maybe more. Do you believe in reincarnation?
I like to hope we get a few chances to experience life. One is just not enough! As for my belief in reincarnation… I mean… I’m definitely curious about it. However, I haven’t died yet and what happens next really is the ultimate mystery. I think I’ll just make the most of my time here, now.
There are a few tracks on Nine Lives that sound like the title song for a retro James Bond movie. Who are your favorite albums, artists or singers from the past?
Thank you! What a compliment. I love the old Bond songs. Especially the ones Shirley Bassey tackled. What an iconic sound! A few of my favorite albums and singers from the past, to name a few, would be The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’. I love all those harmonies and layers upon layers of vocals, Darondo is one of my favorite singers from the past… check out the song ‘Didn’t I’ .. to me, that is a perfect song. Also, I love Burt Bacharach.. he is one of my favorite songwriters ever!
Your music sounds so genuine and pure from the heart. How do you stay true to yourself?
I try to always be honest with what I write. Music is a gift.. to make it and to listen to it .. it’s our universal language. It helps navigate us through feelings, situations, put our thumb on something we can’t quite explain. I feel like I have to be honest in music or really what’s the point??
I used to tell on myself all the time as a kid. My brothers hated me for that because usually, I’d tattle on them for everything as well but I just couldn’t sleep at night with something stuck on my chest and I think that really continues to be something I have to do still, only now as a grown-up and in my songs or I can’t sleep.
I know you have gone through a lot in the last ten years. What has kept you sane through it all?
It’s definitely been a ride, to say the least. Lots of ups and downs and unexpected things were thrown my way as that’s just what happens and then all those lulls in between. I guess the sanity for me comes from always pushing ahead. Even when I don’t really know what’s going to happen or I’m feeling particularly down. I just gotta keep moving, creating, and letting go.
Also, a big thing for me has been picking up other mediums to express myself as well. I got into stop motion animation and collage art and being able to switch things up creatively when maybe I feel like I’ve hit a block has been huge.. just taking a break from one and going to another often brings back inspiration on all ends. I think if I wasn’t making music or doing something artistic I might go little nuts. I just always need to be creating.
Is it scary to get vulnerable in your art?
Absolutely terrifying. When I really peel off a layer of myself and expose it through my music, I feel naked. I’ll be in the studio and write something super personal and then I’ll feel kind of embarrassed as soon as I sing it out loud. Like I just told a big secret, maybe even one that I didn’t realize I had. Then when putting out an entire album into the world it’s that feeling all over again but times 100. That’s actually exactly where I’m at right now. I’m feeling very very naked.
You have collaborated with a lot of famous people, I mean the Singles was an A-list band. Who would you dream of collaborating with?
I have a little list. Here are a few but definitely have way more! I’d love to get in a room with Madlib, Beck, Dangermouse…
So many people are excited for you to release a new body of music. What do you appreciate most about your fans and lovers of your music?
I love the people who listen to my music for really digging in to get to know me, my body of work, and just being such great support. When I sign records that I send out, I say a lot ‘Thanks for the support or when I respond to a nice message or compliment, I say that it means a lot because 1000 percent that’s how I feel. Putting out music, getting naked for these last.. what feels like many years or more has not been an easy thing.. so when someone tells me something like that they needed to hear a song or there was something in my song that helped them or that they could relate too.. It reminds me to just keep going!
What does this new body of music mean to you and what are you releasing to the world with it?
This body of work is the nine-plus lives I’ve lived and to me, it represents not giving up on myself. I have been making music for a long time. I met you nearly ten years ago when I was just putting out Banshee! And to think, practically another ten years before that, I was self-releasing songs and EPs on iTunes that I made on my little eight-track. I could keep rewinding and dating back to exact points in my life where something happened or a specific place or moment and the one constant thing that’s always there as well has been making music. It really is the thread stitching together all the lives I have lived.