Interview: Heather Morgan Lets Her Artist Side Shine on ‘Borrowed Heart’
Longtime Nashville songwriter Heather Morgan always knew she wanted to put out a record of her own one day. But after notching her first No. 1 hit with Brett Eldredge's 2013 single "Beat of the Music," she wondered if embarking upon her own career as a performer might jinx her success writing songs for other artists.
"Songwriting had been going so well that it was one of those things where I almost didn't wanna rock the boat," Morgan recalled to The Boot in a recent interview. "And then finally it was like, 'Just rock the boat!'"
Part of the confidence that Morgan needed to release her own music came from her mentors and fellow songwriters, who pushed her to embrace her dreams of performing and inspired her with albums of their own. "I kind of watched them like I was watching the big kids on the playground," she goes on to say. "It was like, 'Wow, that looks amazing.' [Doing that] made so much sense to me.
"And then, when I met Lori McKenna, she was putting out a record, so I was like, 'Yeah, for sure, I'm doing this," Morgan continues.
Not only is McKenna a contributor on Morgan's debut album, Borrowed Heart (out Oct. 5), but she also inspired Morgan to step into the role of performer, both directly and by example.
"Whether she knows it or not, I think she's done an incredible job of helping me hold onto the confidence of letting my artist side have its moment," Morgan explains. "There was this conversation she and I had last September, after I cut "Borrowed Heart," the album's title track ... She said something to me like, 'You can sing and write circles around me' -- something like that that you would never expect her to say. But I think her whole point was that she was trying to make me realize that she believed in me and push me to actually do it."
As much as it helped to have other people believe in her, though, Morgan had to find her own source of confidence and drive to make her album happen. The singer says the moment she knew that making Borrowed Heart was the right decision came after a songwriting session with Paul Moak, who would go on to produce the album. Knowing that Morgan kept a stash of song ideas on her phone, waiting for a special occasion, Moak asked her to pull out one of the ideas she was most excited about. "He literally said, 'I wanna write one of the best ideas that you're saving, or I don't wanna write today,'" Morgan remembers.
Morgan opened up the idea that would become "We Were a Fire" the kickoff track on Borrowed Heart. They finished the song that day, and cut her vocals right there in the studio.
"A week later, he showed it to me," Morgan goes on to say. "I was boarding a flight when he sent me the demo, and I literally listened to it from the time that plane took off to the time it landed in LA. It was everything I ever dreamed that I would sound like. That song just nailed so many things for me, and I couldn't stop listening to it.
"I remember, after that song, I emailed him and said, 'Would you ever consider making a record together?'" she continues. "He said, 'I've been waiting for this email.'"
Morgan lives with synesthesia, a condition in which the affected person perceives sensory stimuli with more than one sense at once. In her case, it means she sees music as color.
"It's like, if I'm sitting at the Bluebird playing a round, instead of having a setlist, I'll have this moment where I'm like, 'Oh, I should play the pink song,'" Morgan explains. ("The pink song" is Borrowed Heart's "A Hundred Miles.") "It's just the color that associates with [the song] in my head and when I hear it."
To complete her new record, Morgan -- who minored in visual art in college and does oil paintings from time to time -- created paintings to represent the colors of each song on the album, to further allow fans to see her music the way she sees it. "I'm painting the songs and building canvases for them," she says excitedly. "The whole reason I wanted to do that is, if I'm gonna put my music out, I might as well put it all out there and let this painter side of me have a moment, too."
So, what color palettes does Morgan see when she looks at her songs? ""Your Hurricane" is a really deep red -- deep red and burgundy," she shares. "Which, I don't know, maybe it shouldn't be, but that's what it is.
"And "Borrowed Heart,'" she adds, "is a really peaceful yellow."
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