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Joe Morris: Singularity, Part 2-2

By Published: August 25, 2005

AAJ: I'm intrigued by the role of record producers in this whole thing, because the people who run Soul Note, and Hat Art, and ECM have a lot of power over what happens.

JM: I guess. Most of the artists who record for most of those people... Out of those three, those are three very different labels. I've had interactions with all three of them.

AAJ: What's it like to be inside?

JM: Some of those people insist on having things their own way, and others don't. Like ECM has a very formal plan. They let you do what you want, but they know what they want. So you do what you do, and they're gonna pick what they want. They'll ask you if you like it, but ultimately once you sign the contract, they'll make the final decision.

I'd say Hat Hut is pretty much the same way. I haven't done a record of my own music produced by them, but he has a thing that he wants to do, but even if you give him a tape that you produced (which is what I prefer for everything), he'll want to modify it to fit what he thinks is right. Bonandrini [of Soul Note] takes a tape. If he likes a tape, he'll take it, no questions asked. He's very easy to deal with. The big difference there is if you're exactly what ECM wants, they'll market you and you can get rich.

AAJ: Oh yeah. Look at Keith Jarrett.

JM: He's sold millions of copies. But even guys in the middle have sold tens of thousands of records. If they think that you're creative, but they can't figure out how to market you, then you just sell the same number of records you would with any other label, and basically that's that. With Hat Hut, they can't sell that many records, but they have a credibility factor that's very high. As does ECM too, but it's a different sort of zone. Bonandrini's credibility factor is different, because most of his music swings. I love that label. I like all those labels. The folk music/world music thing of ECM is really good. But there are other things about the label that I'm not so interested in.

AAJ: What ECM music doesn't do it for you?

JM: Well I don't know specifically, but I never liked their guitar sounds.

AAJ: Towner? Abercrombie?

JM: Every one of those guys has something that they do, but I just never liked the way the guitar sounded on them. It's not in your face enough. It's too distant and softened up.

I just set up a deal with Knitting Factory to make a record that I produced. I've been dealing with them for years. They've been totally cool. So I have a rapport with them. Matthew has a rapport with Hat Hut. Joe Maneri has a rapport with ECM.

But I prefer to be the producer. I want to be the producer. I know my music better than anybody. And I'm good at it. I've produced about 12 records. I think I have about 17 or 18 records, and I produced over 10 of them. And those are the ones I feel most comfortable with. The records I made with Matthew Shipp and the Maneris, I have some problems with those.

I like Matthew. His music is difficult stuff. His music is like: "Here, jump over this building with your guitar." And you know, Matt's a tremendous improviser, so I'd do anything with him. And the Maneris are the same way. Playing with the Maneris is a trip.

[Giovanni] Bonandrini has been great. You can't make a living off of Bonandrini, so you gotta do a lot of other things. He pays his bills, he keeps his records in print, he stays out of your hair. He says to you, "Mr. Morris, you can do whatever you want to do. You can record whatever you want." I gotta pay my bills. I gotta sell some tapes. I gotta be creative here.

AAJ: What about the stuff on your label? Is that still available?

JM: Yeah, it's available through Cadence. Some day, if I can get enough money, I'm going to reactivate the label, and, you know, I'd like to make it a label. At least make records on my own label and sell them. I think it's a good thing to do, and it's really the only way to make any money on this... if it's even possible. [Note: Riti Records is up and running as of 2005, with six new releases since this interview was originally published.]

Yeah, they're still in print. A couple of them are still on LP. And when those run out I'll reissue them on CD in a few years. And I have a lot of other stuff in the can that I don't think I would sell, or I could sell, but I could definitely put it out on Riti. I'm trying to get into situations where I license tapes to people instead of selling them, so I can get them back. People are getting more receptive to doing that. Yeah, all that stuff is very tricky.

Fred Hopkins told me one time: you'll know things are going well when people tell you what you said a long time ago.

I've always gotten attitude around here. I'm something less than what other people think they are. I write out scores. I don't write out big scores, because I improvise. As if that's not good. But if I spent a whole lot of time thinking about what the Boston scene thought about me, I would have perished long ago. It's very specialized.

People say, "What do you think of Wynton Marsalis?" I say, "Who cares. That has nothing to do with me." And that's true of a lot of different things. I've always been really specific about what I'm trying to do, and I think it's fertile turf.

I also never was so into showing my interest in world music, with using other notes. I always figured I was part of it. I used to have that argument with people around here a lot. People would tell me how much they were into African drumming, and I would say, "Yeah, me too." I play my music, and then maybe Africans will hear me and go, "Hey, man, he's like into world music." I'm American, you know, I live here, I'm of this time. My music is the same as that.

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