Matthew Morrison Talks About His Debut Solo Album And His Success With Hit TV Show, Glee
As Will Schuester, the compassionate yet oft-beleaguered director of the McKinley High School glee club on Fox comedy-musical hit show Glee, Matthew Morrison has endeared himself to millions of viewers (and digital downloaders) with both solo vocal performances and duets with guests Gwyneth Paltrow, Neil Patrick Harris and Kristin Chenoweth. With the release of his highly anticipated debut album Matthew Morrison, and its playful and provocative lead single “Summer Rain,” Morrison is starting to make joyful noise outside the classroom.
The track, produced by the New York-based, Swedish production team Espionage (whose credits include Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson) and co-written by Morrison, Espionage and Claude Kelly, has cracked the Top 20 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Morrison recently premiered “Summer Rain” on Ryan Seacrest’s nationally syndicated morning radio show on KIIS-FM in Los Angeles, followed by live performances of the song on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Morrison became a pop culture icon with his breakout role in 2009, which has earned him Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and a share of a Screen Actors Guild ensemble award. Long before the term “Gleek” entered our vernacular, the multi-talented performer was already an acclaimed Broadway veteran with roles in Footloose, a revival of The Rocky Horror Show and Hairspray. In 2005, he won a Tony Award as the Best Featured Actor in a Musical for The Light In The Piazza, which he followed several years later with a Drama Desk Awards nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for 10 Million Miles. Morrison also paid his film and TV dues with guest spots on shows like Ghost Whisperer, CSI: Miami and Hack, the ABC-TV movie Once Upon A Mattress and features like Music and Lyrics. In December 2009, he performed at the 32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors, broadcast on CBS.
Considering his popularity via Glee, perhaps the safest way to have approached his solo recording on Mercury Records would have been doing a collection of well known songs from different genres the way the show does every week. Instead, the set is centered around seven originals (four co-penned by Morrison, including “Summer Rain”) and features only three covers. These re-workings include “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” (recorded as a duet with the song’s original artist, Sting), “Over The Rainbow” (with Paltrow, Morrison’s off-and-on romantic interest on Glee) and a unique medley of Elton John’s classic '70s songs “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and “Rocket Man,” performed with Elton himself.
The tracks Morrison co-penned feature collaborations with many of today’s top writers and producers. He wrote “Hey” with the song’s producers Kristian Lundin and Carl Falk, along with JC Chasez and Dylan Patrick. He wrote the Rob Mathes-produced “My Name” with Eg White, who has worked with everyone from Adele and Duffy to James Morrison (no relation). The dramatic closer “It’s Over” is a co-write by Morrison and Marc Shaiman, who wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics to “Hairspray.” Other tracks include “Still Got Tonight” (written by Andrew Frampton, Steve Kipner & 2009 American Idol Kris Allen); “Don’t Stop Dancing” (by Chasez, Matt Squire & Lindy Robbins); and “It Don’t Matter To The Sun” (by Gordon Kennedy, Tommy Sims & Wayne Kirkpatrick).
The cover of Matthew Morrison's self-titled album.
“When I started thinking about making this album, I knew it would be important that I write a lot of songs myself, because recording just a bunch of covers would make it like just another Glee album,” Morrison says. “This whole songwriting concept is unique to me. Over the years I had written a lot of songs without any intent of releasing them because I never thought I would have the opportunity. Having the chance to team up with such great writers and producers at the top of their game has given me great respect for the songwriting process. I really just wanted to evoke a lot of emotions that I was going through.
“Conceptually, things changed course a little bit as well,” he adds. “When I started I was thinking about making it about my time in New York in my 20s, with kind of a Michael Buble-Justin Timberlake feel. But when I went into the process, something different started to emerge, something very organic, very me. There is still a shout out to New York though, in ‘Summer Rain.’ It’s a true story. In my early 20s I was living in N.Y.C. and was with my girlfriend on the roof of my building at 51st and 9th Avenue. It was a beautiful summer day and it started to rain and we tried to go inside but never made it. If my 16-year-old self had known I would have a moment like that in his life, he would have been stoked. For me, it’s a beautiful moment about being in love in New York City. I made sure my ex girlfriend liked the song before I put it on the album!”
Morrison has a diverse array of upcoming live performance dates, including six dates in the U.K. in early June, followed by solo dates in Toronto and at the Beacon Theatre in New York before more than 20 dates across the U.S. in July and August as part of the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys tour. “The thought of singing these songs in public is kind of scary to me, because I will be performing a lot more than the three per night I used to do on Broadway,” he says. “But the voice is a muscle just like any other. You just keep working it out and it will get stronger. I’m excited about the new challenges ahead. Part of the fun is wondering, when I do my own shows, just who my fan base will be. Will it be Glee fans, screaming teenagers with moms that like me a lot, or college educated older men? I’m really interested to see who my shows will attract.”
Jonathan Widran is a free-lance music/entertainment journalist who contributes regularly to Music Connection, Jazziz and All Music Guide. He can be reached at Few522@aol.com.