As Glee’s very own Mr. Schuester, it’s fair to say that Matthew Morrison knows his way around a tune or two. And now, harking back to his beginnings on Broadway, new album Where It All Began sees him covering a number of pop standards whilst adding his own distinctive twist.
Recorded in the legendary Capitol Studies, a frequent haunt of Sinatra himself, the album also stands as an ode to classic crooners and features guest vocals from Smokey Robinson on standout song Ease on Down the Road.
We recently caught up with Matthew Morrison to get the low down on the various inspirations and sounds that went into the record – get the full picture with our interview below, plus, listen in to him introducing a selection of his favourite songs in his ‘hosted by’ station here.
In terms of Glee, what was your favourite song to perform on the show? Is there one particular that you remember most?
One of my favourite songs to perform was the Umbrella/Singin’ in the Rain mash-up. That was just amazing. I love how they used a very popular song with a classic show tune. I remember everyone was just wet that day, we had umbrellas and we were dancing in about five inches of water all day. We had wool trousers on, and so we were all kind of stinky at the end of the day, but it was one of my best memories of being on the show.
There are obviously a lot of guest stars on the show, for instance Gwyneth Paltrow… Which guest star was your favourite to work with?
I can’t say who my favourite guest star was; they’re all friends, they’ll kill me! We had a lot of great, great guest stars. Gwyneth was just kind of amazing. Especially having someone like that who’s such a movie star. And she was surprising in the fact that I didn’t know she could sing. And she really just kind of blew everyone away.
Had you met her before she was on the show?
No, that was my first time meeting her. So, you know, I was really excited to work with her. But Neil Patrick-Harris was also another favourite. We had a lot of fun doing Dream On by Aerosmith.
So, your new album is very much on the musical side of things. What is your all time favourite song from a musical?
My favourite musical would be a show called Assassins. It was kind of a flop, but it was a musical by Stephen Sondheim. It’s a really dark musical about assassins, who assassinate American Presidents. But I think my favourite song from a musical would probably be On the Street Where you Live from My Fair Lady. I love that song. It’s about a guy who’s in love with a woman but that woman doesn’t know or care that he’s alive. And it’s about a guy who’s suffering, and he’s suffering so beautifully that you almost don’t want it to end. He might, but then again he might not.
And is there a song in particular that you’re really proud of from the new album?
I think that my favourite song on the album kind of changes every day. But today it would be the West-Side Story medley. I love performing that one. That’s just such an iconic show, and one I couldn’t take just one song from, so I had to just pick five. I was kind of inspired by Sammy Davis Junior. He did this version of it, with just a bongo, back in the day, back in the 60’s. I was blown away by it so, I kind of took that, started a bongo drum track, and then added a sixty-piece orchestra.
You worked with Phil Ramone who’s produced material for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett in the past. Is there a favourite song from either of them that you have?
You know, Phil Ramone, the great thing about him – he was the first person I went to with this album. He was the top of my list to produce it, just because he had worked with Frank and Tony Bennett and Billy Joel – just all the amazing singers. And, you know the experience I had with him was interesting because I thought he was going to come in and be like, ‘Okay I know what I’m doing, let me lead this thing’. But it was so collaborative. I think that’s why we became such good friends. In terms of a favourite, I’ve Got You Under My Skin. It’s a great, classic Frank Sinatra song.
And also you had Smokey Robinson on the album, which is just amazing. Is there a song of his in particular that you love?
Crusin’ is like the classic Smokey Robinson song. I mean, his voice is like butter. It’s so smooth and so silky, and he’s just the coolest guy and I had a great time. When someone like that – who was on the ground floor of creating a genre of music with Motown – comes and wants to be on your album… it’s pretty surreal. We had a really good time in the studio and it was such an honour to work with him.
Are you going to stay friends with him? Are they people that you can stay in contact with?
Yeah, absolutely. Last time I got to duet with Elton John and Sting, and I wanted someone of the same ilk to be on the record. And yeah, he actually came to a concert of mine last week, and I think he’s headlining Hyde Park here in September, so we’re talking about possibly doing something there.
So, you released the album on Adam Levine’s label; 222. What made you decide to go down that route?
Well, my last album was on a major label. This one, this was like my passion project I wanted to be really special and close to my heart. And so, for this one I just wanted it to be kind of coddled a little bit more. He and I are friends. We were talking about music one day, and he’s such a big fan of the standards, he loves this music. So, we were talking and I said this is the kind of music I want to do, and he said, I’m going to make the album for you.
I kind of laughed it off like, ‘Oh yeah, sure’, but sure enough he did and he was absolutely behind it 100%. He’s just a really great guy and a great person to work for because he’s an artist himself and he knows how an artist should be treated. We had a great time. He was pretty hands off – he’s a busy guy and he’s doing a lot of things. He came in the studio probably three times and absolutely loved everything he was hearing.
It must be good that people can see it from your side of things and completely understand what you need.
Absolutely, because there’s a lot of times you get these big-wig guys that really don’t know – I guess they know the business of music, but they don’t really know music. So they’re trying to tell you how to make your music, and there’s always fights.
If we go back to your early days, performing Footloose and the Rocky Horror show is their a particular favourite that stands out?
One of the best parts about doing Rocky Horror is that the audience experience is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My first show, I kind of didn’t know what to expect. The audience started cussing at me, and I was like, ‘Oh F*** you too!’ But it was great, I actually loved doing the show. I think my favourite song from that is Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me, which we got to do on Glee – that was wonderful.
Finally, is there a favourite album you have or a song that you’re listening to constantly at the moment?
You know what, honestly, I love everything that Bruno Mars puts out. He’s kind of the coolest cat on the scene right now. He’s got such great vocals, such great musicality and I just love his vibe and how each song is different from the next but at the same time they all kind of make this great genre of pop. But it’s his own pop.
I think he was very influenced by Michael Jackson, so I absolutely love what he’s doing. Every time you hear a song of Bruno Mars, you can’t help but know its Bruno Mars. He has such a distinct voice. And I guess my favourite song of his right now is When I Was Your Man. Every time I hear it on the radio it makes you want to squeeze your girlfriend’s hand a little tighter, it’s beautiful.
Matthew Morrison’s new album Where It All Began is out now.