It seems that Nashville continues to be the place to discover new music artists. On my radar this week is an incredible young woman who possesses a hard hitting drive to succeed.
Mia Morris (17) has been described a “drum protege” by many in her profession, who first came to our attention posting hard rock drum covers on You Tube as a 13 year old. Since then, the singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalists has carved out a place for herself in Nashville’s competitive music scene, where she performs behind her standup drum kit. Her talents seemingly know no bounds as she writes, produces and plays all the instruments herself. Interestingly, when she’s not writing her own songs as a solo artist, she collaborates and plays with other musicians as a hired gun.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Mia Morris to chat about her life in Nashville, her songwriting, artistry and musical influences. Here is some of what we talked about.
Mia, I think you’re an incredibly versatile talent. I understand you love playing drums. When/where did you start playing?
Thank you! I started playing drums after my neighbor told me he didn’t want his drum set anymore. I’m sure he was skeptical that I would go through with borrowing it until I was knocking on his front door asking for it. We hauled most of a drum kit into the house and the rest is history. I was nine 🙂
When/why did you pick up playing guitar as a second instrument?
So I’ve been posting drum covers on YouTube since I was ten, and by the time I turned twelve, I wanted to take the cover songs a step further. I didn’t want to just play the drum parts, I wanted to play everything. Guitar, bass, keys..really anything the songs called for. The next level of creativity and excitement was to be able to turn these cover songs into anything I wanted since I was the one playing all the parts. One of my favorite early cover songs I did was a reggae version of Wagon Wheel.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
My all time favorite band is the Beatles. They didn’t just shape my understanding of incredible music, but literally formed the foundation of possibilities and influence for many of the bands that came after them. They taught me what a simple melody over beautiful chords can do, and the power of an abstract lyric that has endless meanings. For my drumming however, John Bonham and Stewart Copeland were huge influences as they showed me how a drummer can shape the sound & feel of a band in two very different ways.
Mia, I understand you weren’t originally from Nashville. How did that move come about? And why?
That’s right, my family moved from Indianapolis around five years ago, and there are many reasons why Nashville was perfect for us. My family always wanted to go on an adventure whether that was moving to a new state or traveling the country in a trailer. My mom likes hot weather, and my brother would get to play a longer baseball season in a warmer climate. Nashville was a good fit for those things and it being the, “music city” sure sounded good to me. I am so incredibly thankful for the support my family has given me and my musical pursuit and I understand how lucky I am to be doing it in a world-class music town like Nashville.
I guess it’s safe to say you call Nashville home for now. What is it about Nashville aka Music City that you love the most?
My answer is easily the music community here because it’s very collaborative, supportive, highly active and the musicians here can really play. There are certainly other music hot spots around the world that I may get to discover but I sure haven’t found much not to love about the city and the people I’ve met. Nashville seems like a pretty good balance between a place where you can work in the music business and still be in a friendly & cool place to grow up.
Do you think Nashville has changed how you approach music?
Nashville has altered my perspective on all aspects of the music industry. The amount of things I’ve learned in just the past four years, both good and bad, has been life changing. Many of the people I know make their living in the music business which sounds a little ridiculous if you say it in almost any other place in the world. That’s not to say getting to Nashville is all you need to do. I’ve learned that this town ends way more careers than it launches and I think your location matters less now than it ever has. This is an excellent town to learn how the saying, “big fish in a small pond” applies to musicians because a lot of people arrive here from a small pond to find out having a ton of musical talent is really just the base starting point in Nashville. There’s a decent chance that the waiters, bar tenders, & uber drivers working every night, are every bit as talented as the people on stages that night.
I understand you play with other professional musicians across Nashville. It must be nice to be sought-after as an artist?
So far, I have gotten a lot of chances to play, which goes a long way to finding more opportunities as I continue to network, but this is a very unpredictable line of work. I’m lucky because of my age, to not yet have to worry about some of that but I certainly see and understand it. I think I’m sought-after as a sideman because I can solve more than just one problem if someone wants noise-making solutions. I’m happy to try to play just about any instrument and sing along too if they’d like. As an artist, I’m in the same boat with everyone else just trying to find out if I can make art that people are drawn to. The real difference between me and some artists is that my day job just happens to be as a musician helping other artists try to do the same thing.
What are some of your favourite memories of shows you played in Nashville?
The coolest venue I got to perform at was the Ryman. The energy, the sound, and everything about the Ryman is so magical. With that, the small clubs I’ve gotten to play as an artist brought me to a level of happiness I didn’t know existed. My first artist show was at Third and Lindsley and although there were only about twenty people there, it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing a show. There’s nothing like being able to share your music in front of a live audience.
As an unsigned musician how important is that for your development to create your own space as an artist?
Creating my own space as an artist has been crucial for my growth and career because I don’t have anyone else trying to do that for me. Every artist needs their own space, and it gets tricky when they rely on a label or “team” to do that for them. Labels aren’t innovators. They’re more focused on following trends instead of letting their artists be true to themselves. They’ll find what they think is the most marketable part of an artist and promote the hell out of it. It’s easy for artists to get lost or stuck in these situations as everyone’s trying to tell them how they should shape their own space. I’ve been fortunate to get to play for a lot of artists in very different places along their career arcs and with different labels and team structures. I get to see the pros and cons on display and I use those two words with all of their definitions.
Mia, you seem like a very prolific songwriter. I spent the afternoon listening to your back catalogue of singles. That said, I noticed you have stayed clear of making an album. Is that something that you hope to produce yourself one of these days?
At the moment, an album isn’t my goal or focus. I love releasing singles, and it’s easier as a small/unknown artist to ask someone to listen to a single rather than a full blown album. I think general music consumption moved away from albums a long time ago and also continues to move away from being genre specific. Releasing singles really allows me to explore that open space and I find that inspiring.
Tell me the inspiration behind your latest single Melodramatic?
As I was writing this song, (and as you probably concluded from this song), it sounds as if it’s directed towards someone. Upon revisiting this song after being away from it for a while, I realized it’s a note-to-self. This song is basically calling myself out for the dramatic and over-the-top side of my personality that shows itself too often. It happens a lot actually, as I look back on songs I realize they have a different or deeper meaning than I appreciated during the writing process and more often than not, it’s something I needed to hear.
You definitely have an affinity for catchy hooks and lyrics. I’d love to know a little more about one of my favourite tracks called Stacey’s Song?
Ha, yesss! Stacy’s Song is based upon the woman everyone loves, Stacy’s Mom. Stacy’s Mom is a song that was written by Fountains of Wayne (which has been a big influence on my songwriting), and I thought it would be funny to write a sequel to it. Instead of being focused on Stacy’s Mom, I wanted to write a story for Stacy as she’s been shadowed by her mother’s glory her whole life. Throughout the song there are nods and lyrical references to the song Stacy’s Mom, and it was an absolute blast writing this story. I looked closely at the FOW lyrics and tried to imagine how Stacy might end up next.
I cannot let you escape without asking you about your vlog series. What was its initial inspiration and how has it evolved?
I actually got the opportunity to visit a YouTube pop-up space where I talked with a YouTube rep. She had seen my videos and thought that vlogging would help show more of my personality. I had several vloggers that I enjoyed watching and I certainly welcomed people getting to know me further than “the drummer girl on YouTube.” Vlogging has also given me an opportunity to educate and show people a little of what the Nashville music scene looks like. If you follow me closely, you’ll figure out there are things I don’t like about the business side of music but it’s really easy to be passionate about and I honestly find the subject fascinating.
Finally, on a basic level what inspires you in life?
I’m inspired most days and not surprisingly, often by music. Hearing a song that moves me in any way, witnessing a performance creating a special moment or just seeing music bring people together feels really meaningful to me. I hope to be part of creating some music that inspires others in those ways eventually. Ultimately, I think connecting with people is inspiring and since I love music, that tends to be a good place for me to find those connections.