After writing songs about love and loss for artists including Brett Eldredge (“Lose My Mind,” “Beat of the Music”), Dierks Bentley (“I’ll Be The Moon”) and Kenny Chesney (“Sometown Somewhere”), singer-songwriter Heather Morgan recently released a collection of self-penned songs–but this time, it was Morgan behind the mic relating her own stories with unmistakable authenticity.
The recently-released project, Borrowed Heart, is the result of a three-year process of discovery and transparency–and as the saying goes, it all starts with a song.
“I write a lot by myself at night, and I’ll save those songs for later,” Morgan tells MusicRow Magazine. “They are just ideas I will get, and sometimes I’m a little bit protective of them, I guess.”
Much of the album found its genesis in The Smoakstack, producer/engineer Paul Moak’s studio in Nashville’s Berry Hill area. Morgan began collaborating with Moak in 2015.
“It feels like you are in London in the ‘70s and Beatles are about to walk in or something,” Morgan says of the studio’s heavily carpeted studio, adorned with chandeliers, shelves of drums and walls lined with guitars.
“Paul had all these amazing guitars and I think there was one that had birds on it—an old vintage guitar. I started playing the beginning of ‘A Hundred Miles’ and he was like, ‘What is that?’ I didn’t know and I just had this chorus from this line: I need you to be far away, 100 miles in every direction. So when we wrote it and he sent me the demo, it felt so raw and so special. There was just something about writing songs in the place where we would end up making the record,” she muses. “It was a bit of a foreshadowing that I didn’t even know was going to happen.”
“A Hundred Miles” would be one of 12 gems included on Borrowed Heart. Another Moak collaboration, “We Were A Fire,” convinced Morgan the timing was right to step into her own as an artist.
“It just felt like I was supposed to sing these songs,” she says. “It was like, ‘Oh, we need to do a record.’ It took me like a month to actually email him because I was intimidated—he’s so cool—but when I did email him, he was like, ‘I’ve been waiting for this email.’”
Hope And Healing In Joshua Tree
While the aforementioned songs were born of collaboration, others including “Your Hurricane” and “Highway Robbery” are solely from Morgan’s own pen. Two years ago, Morgan was still smarting from a broken romantic relationship. She booked a trip to Joshua Tree, rented an AirBNB, and spent time sifting through the emotional remnants in classic songwriter style, using her music as therapy and healing.
“I dated somebody and it just didn’t end beautifully,” she recalls. “Before I ever even had that experience, I had written in a journal that I really wanted a song to sound like my own and that was in 2015, before I ever even knew the person that would be part of the heartbreak, which is so weird looking back. I found the journal when we were making the record and this journal entry that said I’m longing for a song that feels like my story. Then I went through heartbreak and ended up in Joshua Tree having one of the most personal experiences of my life. It was such a full-circle moment.”
The morning she wrote “Your Hurricane,” she woke at 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise.
“It was perfect weather and there was no one around. It was just desolate and quiet and it felt like such a gift to be in the desert and wrestle with this song,” she recalls. “It was really beautiful because I practiced being in that feeling and being repetitive in what I was trying to write. I call it ‘unraveling,’ and I already kind of knew what I wanted the song to be, but I have to get there. I picture a ball of yarn and it’s like straightening it out.”
While some tracks were written specifically for the project, others, such as the Ross Copperman co-write “Fall Like Rain,” were previously pitched to other artists.
“That’s the song that actually never came out, but Trisha Yearwood recorded it, but then she didn’t put an album out,” Morgan recalls. “It kind of bummed me out that I never got to hear it, but it’s a song that always stayed with me and I always loved playing it.”
Emboldened by her work with Moak, and the creative outpouring in Joshua Tree, Morgan returned to Nashville. She still had a few internal hurdles to face before fully committing to her solo album.
Morgan is no stranger to the studio–she’s offered background vocals on albums from Dierks Bentley, Brett Eldredge and Jordan Davis, among others–but she gained strength and courage to put her own voice front and center from watching powerhouse vocalist Adele.
“I went by myself and saw her perform in London in March 2016. I remember thinking that was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen because there was so much emotion in her voice alone. When I got back from Joshua Tree and went into the studio, I was just like, ‘I need to get this heartbreak out of my heart. It needs to go somewhere.’ I remembered seeing that show and thinking, ‘I need to put everything into this and let this be where the feelings go.’”
As a hit songwriter, Morgan was torn about investing time in recording her own music, precious time that could be used to write potential hits for other artists. She credits her publisher Sony/ATV, and songwriting friend and mentor Lori McKenna (who co-wrote the album’s title track and the exquisite “Arms of a Lion”) with helping Morgan gain the confidence to commit to her own music.
“Thankfully Sony/ATV was very supportive and thought it was a very important part of my journey. Troy Tomlinson gave me so many examples of songwriters, like Guy Clark, who wrote for others and made their own records that he is such a fan of.
“And Lori is such a major part of why I was even able to finish the record and why I didn’t give up on it when it was tough,” Morgan says. “It’s such a balance trying to write and do this at the same time. She told me how important it is to have this time to write for myself and make this album. She was like, ‘It’s going to be so worthwhile when it is done.’ I think she said something like, ‘The world needs this record and you need to make it.’ I have known her for about six or seven years now, just through writing, but seeing how her life is, she gets to make records and write with amazing artists and then she tours and then she has the perfect balance of it all together. That has always been my goal to just follow in her footsteps and have my art represented in my own album but I love writing with other people so much. It’s like having two loves.”
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