Here and there you meet a special, charmed, zen kind of folk who make life in this world feel a little more magical.
They wear their spirit on the outside. They look folks straight in the eye, not in polite concentration but in empathetic openness and understanding.
These folks are not in a hurry to talk but when they do it’s in a soft voice to say something earnest and warm. They don’t seem to strive or reach or rush but rather seem to passively manipulate time, gracefully bending it to their pace and mystically getting vast amounts of creative work done without a fuss. They seem fully at home, present, anywhere. They have an eye on the future yet live in the eternal now. They seem completely open and wildly mysterious simultaneously. They seem like old souls, wise beyond their years.
Daje Morris is one of those people.
The Bloom Project EP, released by Morris and a group of collaborators earlier this year, may be one of Knoxville’s 2016 sleeper hits, a dark horse candidate for album of the year. It’s soulful, ethereal, okay with being quiet. It has a really natural, contemplative vibe; acoustic guitars, pianos.
Morris vocally has a light touch, mixing indie-folk and R&B and soul stylings. She uses a soft delivery, sometimes almost dipping into spoken-word; in fact, she’s also a poet who performs her poems live around the area solo and as part of the 5th Woman collective.
“5th Woman is a group of poets seeking to radicalize the stories and souls of women through the spoken artform of poetry,” she says. “I’m excited about it.”
“Bloom,” a spoken-word poem put to music halfway through the EP, balances a whispered breathy vocal adeptly atop an exquisite tension of jazzy drums and minor-key piano melodies.
In fact, tension is an important aspect of Morris’ music. Many of the songs play jazz chords against each other, play with time signatures. They create a sense of brooding before breaking into more melodic fare. Producer and multi-instrumentalist David Platillero, percussionist Alonzo Lewis and trumpeter Tim Hughes all contribute to this effect, as well as “Bloom” co-writer Vincent Charlow and “Ballad of a Frightened Heart” co-writer Lauren Wolford.
“I believe that good music, or the music that I’m drawn to, is written by people who aren’t afraid to create tension,” she says. “That tension can be described as the hope that something might break and still be beautiful.”
Morris seems to do all with purpose; the poetry, the music, and her bare.thred pop-up re-purposed clothing store.
“The idea of bare.thred is to a secondhand shop that turns people’s excess into outlets of creativity and style,” she says. “For instance, there are some pieces that we receive that may not be marketable at the quality that we aim for, so we’ll redesign those in-house and restore value back into those pieces. The heart of bare.thred is to not only pour value stylishness back to into the pieces that we receive but also into the lives and communities that we’d like to share our products with.”
Daje Morris seems to embrace and value small enclaves of warm community, choosing to play open room sets whenever possible at small venues like Awaken Coffee and intimate house concerts. She’s appeared at events organized by fellow songwriter Adeem the Artist at Central Collective, From the Living Room house concerts and Bar Marley.
“I make music because I, too, need reminders that I can sustain in this world and in our culture as both a person of color and a woman,” she says. “My heart is that those who also long for that hope might be able to hear it my music and latch onto it.”