Jessica Lee Morgan
Photography by Paul and Jacs
Some things just need to time to grow and develop at a pace that suits the individual artist. With Jessica Lee Morgan the journey to her first album has taken her from song writing, promoting live music to running a recording studio before she finally felt it was the right time to release her own album. It is now finally here. 'I Am Not' was released in May and contains a huge variety of songs and styles, but with the common thread of excellent song writing and a pure and natural pop voice. Jessica is one of the artists we selected to appear at our showcase event in Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on Sunday 30th May and we thought it would be timely to find out more about her life and work.
Tell us what it was like growing up in such a musical household with Mary Hopkin and Tony Visconti as parents.
My first exposure to music was apparently at the recording of thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous' album when my mum was pregnant with me. So I had an early start! I think I was about four when I wrote my first song and yes it was recorded by my dad. I'm surprised I'm not deaf considering the volume of the things that were played in the studio. Music was all we knew in my family so there wasn't really any other career path, although I have tried others! Apparently my brother was baby sat by Marc Bolan and I was baby sat by the likes of Danny Thompson and Ralph McTell who are still great family friends to this day.
What sort of music did you grow up listening to?
I listened to bands like Sky and Duran Duran and people like Mike Oldfield and Nik Kershaw. They are all really good song writers in their own way. As an artist the ones that influenced my style are the obvious ones such as Joni Mitchell, but I like rock with bands such as Thin Lizzy. I also like electronica as well. As a rule music needs to have a strong melody for me to like it.
What are the pros and cons of having famous parents?
I guess the pros are that I had a very musical upbringing, but it was also full of amazing characters. There were people like Pete Burns wafting around at my dad's studio with his patchouli oil and giant hair! But seriously, it's nice to see the love and respect people have for my parents. The emails I get from people about how my mother's music has affected their lives are very inspiring.
The cons can include being judged in the shadows of your parents. You are expected to live up to their levels of brilliance. People can also assume you are loaded - which I definitely am not! But on the whole there are more pros than cons.
How did your own involvement in music develop?
When I was about ten I wanted to borrow my mum's valuable custom guitar for the school eisteddfod but she said no I'll ask a friend for some advice about getting you one. That was Joe Brown and he recommended a guitar he was endorsing. I still have it now. Before college I spent some time song writing with Benny Gallagher's son Julian which was great fun. When I came to Wales to study I spent most of my time on the live music circuit putting on gigs with bands like McClusky. I even joined a covers band doing Police covers - the Rozzers!
You have spent a great deal of time and effort working on releasing the Mary Hopkin back catalogue. How has that experience been?
After college I set up Mary Hopkin Music to help distribute my mum's back catalogue. We had a lot of post Apple archive material, that she recorded with my dad, hanging around, literally in the attic. It was small scale, but there is still a lot of interest in her music. The Apple material is due for re-releasing this year. Having cleared out the attic she can concentrate on new material which I'll continue to help her release.
Your album 'I Am Not' is finally finished and out there. How was the process?
We worked with my dad and my brother via Skype and email. They would be in the States and we would be in the studio in Cardiff. Some of the songs have been around for a while so it was good to have new life breathed into them with their production and studio wizardry. In general the acoustic songs come from my heart led by the guitar and voice. The more upbeat songs came from working in the studio messing about and exploring different sounds. Some of the songs such as 'Your Girl' had been around for a while and felt a bit tired so I gave them a dance make over and then my brother Morgan and my dad made them sound really modern and polished. My dad added a mellotron to the acoustic version of that particular song which really added something lovely to the track. People do seem to like different songs on the album. It was originally going to be 2 EPs of different styles so I wasn't sure how it would gel as one entity. Being a Gemini I am all over the place. I couldn't stick to one style which is probably a good thing.
Some of the songs on the album are very personal. How have they gone down with those involved?
I am kind of private, but not intensely so. I think once a song is written it's as if you can detach it from the original emotion. If it's been about people I've been close to they don't seem to mind - if it's not too literal and there are no names mentioned!
What are your plans for the year ahead?
I think that we will be looking after the album ourselves in terms of distribution. The thought of being hooked into a deal is very restrictive. We'll be using iTunes, and other contacts, such as those I've built up with Mary Hopkin Music. I hope to do some gigs solo and acoustic as well as some gigs with a fuller band. Being able to change and try different things is really important for me. I enjoy performing my songs and acting as the host for the time people are at the gig. I am hoping to do more gigs in Wales, but also throughout the UK. I also like the idea of doing shared gigs with other singers building relationships in a collaborative way.
Jessica Lee Morgan's album 'I Am Not' is out now and you can see Jessica live at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on Sunday 30th May.
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