Morris Hayes, the hugely talented keyboard player who has worked with some of the biggest names in music, will be playing an intimate show at Glam this December. Vantage spoke to him about Prince’s vault and making Obama dance.
Interview by Ashley Greenwood
You’ve spent a large part of you career playing with “The New Power Generation”. Earlier this year Prince confirmed the rumour that there is a huge vault of unreleased music.
Yeah, the vault is amazing, there is an ungodly amount…wait a godly amount of music in there, it doesn’t even fit in the vault itself anymore. Prince used to have a pre-vault room for his awards and plaques, but now the tapes have spilled out into the pre-vault because it’s no longer large enough. And the vault is a pretty good size, it would be big enough for any normal person to fit their collection comfortably, but Prince just has such a massive collection. And the tapes are everywhere, you can’t even really walk in, there are tapes on the floor, there’s enough music in there to be set for the next hundred years!
I assume this includes a lot of your work – are there any pieces you wish he’d put out?
Oh my gosh, yes there is some amazing stuff from the Purple Rain era. But the thing with Prince is that when he writes a record he basically writes four. There is so much music that you have to divide things into a pile of stuff that you keep and stuff that won’t be used because it doesn’t fit to the developing project.
And for someone like him, he’s so prolific that he can crank out a song in a day with full production. We even recorded 8 tracks in one day once [for the album Exodus] he called the changes and we all played it on the spot. That’s just the way he works and if you work like that for a month, you’ve got 4 albums.
One thing that I hope comes out is the first record he asked me to co-produce, ‘Welcome to America’. It was really cool, I had a lot of fun working on it and I got a lot of praise from Prince, which felt great.
Do you find it frustrating at all?
Not really, because I know eventually it will come out…well hopefully! I guess someone just needs to make sure that the tapes don’t oxidize because they’ll deteriorate if they sit for too long.
Apart from Prince, you’ve also worked with a long list of some of the most talented musicians in the world, from George Clinton to Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder to Elton John. What are some of you best memories, and out of all of them, whom would you most like to work with again?
Mostly my work with other artists has been on stage. I’ve performed with other artists like Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock and Elton John. Prince and Elton John performed a version of Paul McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road” on stage and that was so impressive. In that one performance, there is so much music culture: it’s three legends rolled up into one tune!
Another great moment was an after-show we did in Ireland where Bono and The Edge came on stage with Prince and performed a song called ‘The Cross’. And although Bono didn’t know the song, Prince stood behind him and whispered the words and they performed it. It was amazing because here were two professionals at the top of their game, owning it and killing it as though they knew the song forever.
And if the opportunity provided itself I would work with any artist that could use my talent. There are so many people I like in the game and veterans I appreciate. I’ve come to find that a lot of people are great in the studio, but aren’t great live because they need the assistance of all these electronics, but people like Chaka Khan and Prince can do it. Maybe they’re old school, but they can just turn it on and kill it; if you put them in a room they light it up.
As well as producing for other artists, you also compose your own works. What do you differently to the artists you work with, i.e. what defines your sound and style?
In trying to be a good producer it’s important to keep in mind that every artist is different. Rather than impose my sound on the artist, I try to find out what their direction is. The first time I meet with an artist, it’s less about work and more about learning what their vision or direction is. In order to find an artist’s direction, you need to dissect the music, the DNA of it and fully understand it. We don’t want to hit AT the sounds, we want to hit them correctly and be able to compete on the same level as the other artists in that direction.
I come from a background of doing all types of different things and more than anything I like to create, play and listen to rock n’ roll. It’s easier for me than a lot of R&B. Rock n’ roll is timeless, whereas some other stuff gets dated and you can hear that something was a 90s sound or a 2000s sound. Rock n’ roll is rock n’ roll; it’s raw, it still rolls.
Do you prefer time in the studio, or performing live?
50/50. I’m a tinkerer and a gear freak. I love my computers and keyboards; I’m like a kid in a candy store, so I love creating music in a studio. But there’s this feeling that you can’t match of being on the stage, the roar of the crowd, the feeling of performing, being in the moment, and then it’s over. Everything happens in real-time, whether good or bad and you just have to keep going because time doesn’t stop for you to sort it out, you’re in performance mode.
You’ve had the honour of performing at the Super Bowl – while that is certainly one of the biggest places for an artist to perform, what have been your most enjoyable and/or sentimental shows?
There were so many it’s hard to name, but one memorable one was the NAACP Image Awards. Prince received a Vanguard Award and because he’s not a very big talker, instead of making a speech we played a 12-minute show. Sheila E was the music director and Prince actually called me in for the performance (I wasn’t working with him at the time) and asked me to jump in with Sheila’s crew. All he said was ‘Do what you do’ and I just tried to be the glue. When you see the finished product of all of those added elements, it’s really amazing. The sound was so good, the performance was so good and the entire audience was just grooving. Even audience members like Quest Love, Kanye and President Obama (who was senator at the time) were on their feet, just having a good time. And all the actors and actresses simply forgot who they were and were just getting down. It was such a great experience and Sheila E is such a great musical director, I was glad to be a part of it.