Kendra Morris talks Guavaween, cover songs, sexy Halloween costumes and more

23

October

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When organizers of this year’s Guavaween Music Festival asked Kendra Morris to participate, they didn’t have to ask twice.

“I remember going to Guavaween when I used to go to USF, and I remember the insanity,” she said. “I was like, 'Yes! Totally!’”

Morris grew up in St. Petersburg (her father, Don, is a graphic artist for the Tampa Bay Times), and played in bands around town before moving to New York. These days, she’s building a career for herself as a slinky neo-soul artist in the vein of Amy Winehouse or Sharon Jones on the label Wax Poetics. Her breaks are coming more and more frequently — Amazon.com’s MP3 store recently offered her single Pow, from new album Banshee, as a free download, and this week, NPR is scheduled to air an interview with Morris on All Things Considered.

Still, she couldn’t be more excited about Guavaween. Saturday’s gig will be her first in Tampa Bay since moving to New York. We chatted with Morris about Guavaween, Halloween and making it in the big city. Here are excerpts.

Is this your first time back performing in Tampa Bay since you moved away? How are you feeling about it?

I’m so excited. There’s so many people that I haven’t been able to perform for in so long. St. Pete and Tampa was my stomping grounds for so long. It’s my roots. As long as I’ve been in New York, I’ve always had a foot in St. Pete and Tampa. I go back all the time.

Did you go to Guavaween when you were young, or was it just during your USF years?

I was college-aged when I started going. And proceeded to not remember much of the night. (laughs)

Yeah, your bio proudly says that you “halfheartedly went to college in Tampa.”

(laughs) Yeah, I didn’t graduate. I remember dropping out, and then I needed good ol’ Don Morris and my mom to help me move my stuff out of my apartment. I lived just off of campus, and I threw this insane party, because I was like, “Well, I’m leaving college!” My parents came and helped me pack up, and there were empty kegs all over the place, and garbage, and everything from the party. They were like, “So, this is what you’ve been doing?” “Yeah... I don’t think college is right for me.”

When you played in St. Pete, were you in bands? Did you play solo?

I did it all. I would always do the open mics at Limey’s. Then I was in this reggae band. I was in this girl band that played around St. Pete called Pinktricity for a while. And I would do all the coffeehouses around and places on the beach. Wherever I could find an open mic.

You’ve been playing a variety of different styles — pop, reggae — and it’s all come to a head with this jazzy, old-school-soul vibe on Banshee.

For sure. Well, I have always been into soul music. The way I’ve sang has always been influenced by that, hugely. I think it’s important as an artist to dabble in a little bit of everything. It becomes like a melting pot of things that influence you. When I did the girl band in St. Pete right before I moved to New York, that’s something completely different from what I’m doing now, but in some ways, there’s still some elements of that. That was my first time really writing, and I remember being like, “I want to take charge of something.”

What are your shows like now? Do you go on the road? Do you play private gigs?

We’re still in the middle of locking in a booking agency, and as soon as that gets locked in, I’ll probably start touring a lot. Usually we play a lot of places around New York. Sometimes we’ll do Boston or other cities nearby. But a lot of my friends are in bands around here that are starting to do really well too, so we’ll join up on bills. We don’t fit into a lot of the smaller places anymore, so that’s been kind of exciting. I remember there was a time when I was begging people to come to our shows: “Please come see me!” The shows have been pretty packed lately, and I’ve been learning about all of these fans that I didn’t know that I had. I was walking down the street one day a couple of weeks ago, and this guy yelled, “Concrete Waves!” That was the first time that happened. I was skipping down the street the rest of the night.

 At your live shows, do you play a mix of covers and originals?

I did a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. We used to play that. But we haven’t really played any covers for our live show lately. I actually feel like maybe we should do one. It would be fun. I think enough people are familiar with what I’m doing now that it would be fun to do a cover.

At some point, you probably had to make a decision: “Do I want to learn a bunch of covers, play a bunch of parties and market myself that way; or do I want to focus strictly on my own material?”

You know what, I did. That has come up before. Even in Florida, I used to do shows at the Rare Olive in Tampa, singing in a cover band. I just remember being, “I don’t want to sing other people’s music. I feel like I have something to say.” Then I went and picked up my guitar and started learning guitar. I think I must have been 18. I know people who make so much money playing in weddings or playing covers in bars, and you can definitely make a living doing that, but I wanted to go the road less traveled. I decided I would rather play the lottery.

Did you have a favorite Halloween costume growing up?

About three or four years ago, I was poop. I was hot s---, with one of my best friends. We were lumpy and brown, and we wore these brown bikinis, and had brown beehives and glued pieces of corn and flies to our faces, and even created pantyhose logs around our stomachs. We drank out of plungers and had toilet seats around our necks, and we even had chocolate laxative and Nutella in our fanny packs that we would pass out. People didn’t know whether to be disgusted or attracted to us.

Do you have a stance on “sexy” costumes — sexy nurse, sexy kittycat, sexy undertaker?

I love B-horror movies. I’m a huge fan of scary stuff. But Halloween is a chance to just be whatever you want out of the norm. And a lot of girls want to feel sexy. I do know from Guavaween, one year I was there, I saw some really bad things happen. I remember there was a girl that was so drunk, and she was surrounded by all these guys, and they were pulling her clothes off. She was on the ground, lost, crying and wasted, and everyone’s cheering it on. I just remember being, “That’s not right. Where’s this girl’s friends?” That left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Do you have a favorite candy?

We would fill pillowcases, and I was a hoarder. I have a candy problem, to this day. I like getting boxes of Nerds. I like getting the big candies, or the Twizzlers. I’d always get mad when you get raisins from a little old lady, or a penny roll, or an apple. You’d be like, “You’re ruining my Halloween!”

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo: Janette Beckman.

[Last modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 1:21pm]

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