Heather Morgan Is Ready To Share Her 'Borrowed Heart'

Oct 6, 2018
Originally published on October 6, 2018 8:50 am

Heather Morgan has written songs for some of the biggest names in country music — Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Brett Eldredge just to name a few. She's the writer behind Eldredge's "Beat of the Music," which won BMI song of the year in 2015. Now, Morgan is ready to move into her own spotlight. Her debut album, Borrowed Heart, out now, tells her story and what it's like to lend your words and experiences to somebody else.

Making a record of her own has always been a dream for Morgan, but that aspiration has often taken a backseat to songwriting for others. However, while working with producer and engineer Paul Moak, Morgan began to form artistic connections to what they were writing. One song in particular, "We Were a Fire," stuck out, and instead of searching for an artist to match the music to, Morgan decided to take it on herself.

"I felt connected to the story," Morgan says. "It was definitely from a personal experience. I just had so much ownership in it that it felt like the right thing to do would be to put it on a record, and be the one that put it out in the world."

Though she admits she had a bit of apprehension, the songwriter seamlessly transitioned into a performer role, fully baring her soul in songs as opposed to collaborating with others to tell a shared story. "I think there's a bit of fear and vulnerability that comes into play, but also I felt this strength that I've never felt before," Morgan says. "It felt really good to go into a place that's really raw with emotion and telling my own story and not sugarcoating it."

Morgan's solo debut is a testament to the vulnerability that writing songs for other demands. Even the album's title, Borrowed Heart, mirrors what must be loaned during the collaborative process. Morgan sees the process of writing hit songs for others as mutual borrowing, of both the heart and voice. "Maybe it's a mutual borrowing," she says.

Hear the full interview at the audio link.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Heather Morgan has written songs for some of the biggest names in country music...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE'S POSTER CHILD")

KEITH URBAN: (Singing) You shake me up like Coke in a bottle. You're a pedal to the floor, full throttle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOME TOWN SOMEWHERE")

KENNY CHESNEY: (Singing) Train tracks, clapboard bar, green grass...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAT OF THE MUSIC")

BRETT ELDREDGE: (Singing) You got the soul, and you know how to use it.

SIMON: ...Artists like Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Brett Eldredge. She recorded "Beat Of The Music." That won BMI's song of the year in 2015. Now Heather Morgan is ready to move into her own spotlight. Her debut album, "Borrowed Heart," tells her story and what it's like to lend your words and experiences to somebody else. She joins us now from Nashville.

Thanks so much for being with us.

HEATHER MORGAN: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: What made you say to yourself - well, I think I'm ready to sing these songs?

MORGAN: (Laughter) It was always a dream in the back of my mind. I've always been able to sing. And it was just a matter of having something come along that told me it was time. And I started writing with a producer named Paul Moak. And the stuff we were creating - the music just felt really connected to who I am as an artist. And so that was kind of the catalyst for this whole project.

SIMON: What thing came along that told you?

MORGAN: There was actually a song that came along called "We Were A Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WERE A FIRE")

MORGAN: (Singing) You looked at me from across the room. Your smile shot an arrow through my heart with the aim of a bull's-eye. You got me on the first try.

And when I heard this song, it just felt like - my first thought usually when I write is, which artist might like this? Which artist might fit this song? - and trying to find a match for it. And whenever we wrote "We Were A Fire," I was like, this is - I think this one's mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WERE A FIRE")

MORGAN: (Singing) 'Cause we were a fire. And we touched in the flames. We were a fire, the kind you can't contain.

I felt connected to the story. It was definitely from a personal experience. And you know, I just had so much ownership in it that it felt like the right thing to do would be to put it on a record and be the one that put it out in the world. And it just kind of felt like, OK, this is my stuff that I'm ready to share.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WERE A FIRE")

MORGAN: (Singing) I'm never going to be the same.

SIMON: Kindergarten included, what's the first song you wrote for yourself?

MORGAN: (Laughter) It's called "Walk Away." It goes - you want me to sing it?

SIMON: Yes, of course.

MORGAN: I still remember it. My mom used to play these really cool, like, '60s and '50s soundtracks whenever I was growing up. And so it kind of has a flair of that. But it's (singing) Walk away, walk right out that door. Just don't ever put your feet on this floor. Walk away into the moonlight. Just remember. You better think it's right.

And it goes on and on (laughter).

SIMON: That's really nice.

MORGAN: (Laughter) Thanks. I sang it...

SIMON: How old were you?

MORGAN: I was about 5 or 6 (laughter).

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. That's terrific, then.

MORGAN: Thanks.

SIMON: What do you learn about yourself, do you think, when you write a song for yourself as opposed to giving it to someone else?

MORGAN: I think there's a bit of fear and vulnerability that comes into play.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ARMS OF A LION")

MORGAN: (Singing) Shouldn't love be easy? Why's it seem so hard? I wish something would keep me from being torn apart.

Also, I felt this strength that I've never felt before. And it's felt really good to go into a place that's really raw with, like, emotion and telling my own story and not sugarcoating it - like, really telling it how it happened.

SIMON: Some of the biggest names in country music are women.

MORGAN: Yes.

SIMON: But is a lot of the country music world in Nashville still a boys' club?

MORGAN: I definitely have experienced that. I feel like there's a lack of opportunity, still, in Nashville for women. And I hope that keeps changing. That's part of the reason I made the record, too, is just, I did it on my own to, you know, show my fellow, like, girls that are coming up after me that you can do it on your own. But that's been my biggest, I guess, fight is just for opportunity. It's not lack of talent, and it's not lack of willingness to work. It's just being thought of when an opportunity comes up. And sometimes that's just being called to write with a male artist or for production even.

SIMON: I've heard about this rule on the tour bus that sometimes keeps women off.

MORGAN: Yeah. For some tour buses, like, if it's a male artist, there's just no-girl rule on the bus, which I can respect, being a woman.

SIMON: They don't want their marital vows to be questioned. Right?

MORGAN: Right, of course. And so I've gone in to my publisher and said, is there any way we can figure this out? Like, maybe I could rent my own tour bus for the weekend, and I'll just follow the tour. And I'll invest in that part of it. And then...

SIMON: Because a lot of creative work occurs on tour buses, doesn't it?

MORGAN: Yeah. And there's - just because time is limited for artists to be, when they're out on the road, they have these three- and four-hour patches of time in between. So I'm hoping more of that can happen - even though I'm a girl - get out there and still be able to work in that environment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORROWED HEART")

MORGAN: (Singing) If I had a borrowed heart, I could just give it back.

SIMON: I'm struck by the title "Borrowed Heart"...

MORGAN: Yes.

SIMON: ...Because it suggests that in many of the hit songs you've written over the years for others...

MORGAN: Uh-huh.

SIMON: ...They're borrowing your heart, or you're borrowing the heart with which they give voice.

MORGAN: Yeah. So maybe it's a mutual borrowing.

But yeah, after writing for a bunch of people - you sit in a room, and you're listening to somebody's story. But also, you're digging into your own so you can relate to where they're coming from or where a song idea is going. And so you are digging into your life experience. And you're offering that up. And so part of your job is to, like, loan pieces of your heart out every day in the world of songwriting so you can be real and raw and vulnerable and dig from stuff that you've experienced so you can meet that other person in a song and find which feels the most authentic and the most genuine to the song. And so when I heard the title, it was not only what the actual "Borrowed Heart" song means but this other, just bigger meaning after all of these years of writing for other people. It was like, wow, this is a perfect title for this - this project right now, especially.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORROWED HEART")

MORGAN: (Singing) It's the only one I've got. It's the only one I'll own.

SIMON: Heather Morgan - her new album, "Borrowed Heart."

Thanks so much for being with us.

MORGAN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORROWED HEART")

MORGAN: (Singing) I'd feel no pain. Make sure it's never sober, just barely hung over so it stays that way. And when the morning comes, would it remember your name? If I had a drunken heart... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.