RISING STAR: Gentry Morris

The Georgia-born singer/songwriter sets up shop in Bangor. Click Play Audio to listen to 'The Box'

Who is Gentry Morris?
I grew up in south Georgia, in a place called Dublin. I moved to Nashville when I was 20 to play music and be a songwriter, as you tend to do if you’re an aspiring songwriter in that part of the world! I spent about four or five years there in Nashville, trucking along and learning. Now I live in Bangor. I’ve been in Bangor for the last year. 

Why Bangor?
Previously, I had visited Northern Ireland during the summer to work at a youth camp in Newcastle, County Down - a summer youth camp in Tollymore Forest Park. I did that for about three years and met various people, some of whom were from Bangor. Moving to a different country can be a little intimidating if you don’t know anyone. So I was lucky in that I knew some people in Bangor already who could help me with the basics, like where to buy food. So that’s how I ended up in Bangor. I moved here with my wife.

Can you describe the Gentry Morris sound?
Gentry MorrisGerry Anderson just told me that it didn’t sound like anything else, so I guess that’s a good thing! There have been so many albums that I’ve bought, the songs sound so similar that you can’t really tell when the album ends and starts repeating again. And so I like to keep each song sounding a little bit different. 

Are you a guitar player exclusively, or do you write and play on other instruments?
I do play piano a little bit. Hopefully, I’m going to be recording my new album in a few months, and there will be some piano in there. The song that I’m thinking about using for the first single is primarily piano. But I’ll probably get somebody else to play it. I can bang around on the keys, but I’m not an accomplished player by any means.

Who or what are your primary influences?
I like to listen to a lot of independent artists. I’m a really big fan of putting the music business back in the artist’s hands. I listen to a lot of Ryan Adams. There’s a guy from Nashville called David Mead, and Josh Rouse. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Josh Ritter. His new album seems to be striking a chord with me.

Mostly singer/songwriters then?
Yeah, a lot of singer/songwriters, but I like bands too. A lot of the bands that I grew up listening to were from Europe. I like Travis a lot. I’ve found that that’s not quite as acceptable over here as it is in the States! It’s funny because in the States, all the kids 'in the know’ and into indie music, they all love Travis. They’re a cool, underground band in the States. Then I came over here and I asked people if they were into Travis, and they were like, 'yeah, I don’t really like Travis all that much, they’re a little too mainstream'. It’s funny.

There’s definitely a Travis tone to your sound.
I’m glad. I think they write really catchy songs, and that’s one thing that I try to do. I try to write songs that people can get stuck in their head, but not in an annoying way. I want people to have my songs in their heads, but for the right reasons. I think Travis do a great job with that. Some of their stuff, you might think it’s watered down or whatever. But I like their hooks, and they have some really great lines in there. Actually, one of my favourite lines in music is: ‘Life is both a major and a minor key, so open up the chord.’ I think that’s a great line.

You seem to have come from nowhere. What have you been doing since you arrived in Northern Ireland? 
For the first six months I was here I didn’t really do much, but the past six Gentry Morris' 'Bare Bones and Bad Ideas EP'months have been a whirlwind for me. I was back home in the States in May on holiday and got an email from Juliet Turner. I had sent an email to her just asking her to check out my music, kind of half way expecting her to do it. She actually did and said she really enjoyed it, and asked me to go on tour with her. 

As an unknown, how did you find touring with an established artist?
The shows that we did on that tour were absolutely amazing. We played all over Ireland and Northern Ireland, and every show that we played, the crowds were just ideal. I was kind of surprised, because as a support act you’re thinking that the audience are not really there to see you, and a lot of times they don’t even expect there to be a support act. But when I opened, everybody would sit there and listen, they were very attentive and the banter back and forth between me and the crowd, well, we had a really good time with them. Since then it’s kind of skyrocketed. I don’t know where I’m at in the whole grand scheme of things just yet, but I’ve seen a definite improvement - people picking up on the music and enjoying what I’m doing.

Have you gigged in Belfast?
I played the Empire back in June, but that was the last time I played in Belfast. I don’t have as many connections as I would like to right now. I’m a one-man operation at the moment. I don’t have management yet. I have a few friends who play with me, a bass player, a drummer, a glockenspiel player and another guy who plays clarinet and guitar for me. But we’ve only just started playing together. So at the minute I’m touring as a solo act.

Hopefully within the next few months things will start picking up a little bit more and I’ll be able to play more shows in Belfast. I’m kind of picky about the venues that I play because I think, in order to really appreciate what I’m doing, you have to be able to listen to the music. Sometimes when you’re playing in a crowded club where there are a few people interested and a bunch of people there to drink, it’s really difficult to get what I’m trying to do across to people. I want to try and focus on playing shows where people can sit and listen. If that means playing to a crowd of other artists, then I’m fine with that. 

Tell us what your song 'The Box' is all about.
Gentry Morris'The Box' is about my lack of organisation! I’ve always been sentimental about holding on to things that reminded me of other times or other places. Basically, I had an old camera box that I just threw everything into. Souvenirs from road trips or tours or relationships, things that were very sentimental to me and reminded me of better times. So that’s what 'The Box' is about. I don’t really purposely try to tell stories in my songs, but I guess that’s what tends to happen.

What’s next on the Gentry Morris itinerary? 
We’re planning to record an album for release next spring. I’m looking for producers right now, trying to find somebody who hears things in the same way that I would like them to sound. If everything falls into place as it should, then hopefully next spring we’ll have a full-length album out. 

I’ve looked into recording in Dublin, but I don’t have anything set in stone at the moment. I really like the idea of recording in a cottage in the country for a month or two and just spending all the time there recording. But I think that might be a little ambitious - get up in the morning, have some breakfast and record music all day. I guess I have high hopes. 

Lee Henry

Gentry Morris’ The Bare Bones and Bad Ideas EP is available via iTunes now.