Carrie Morrison is a Brevard, North Carolina-based singer, songwriter and pianist. She’s also a teacher of exceptional children at Brevard High School. She recently recorded and released her first full-length album, Miles and Miles. A 2018 performance at Isis Music Hall in Asheville sold out six weeks before the show.
You’ve played piano since childhood. You’re classically trained, and skilled at improvisation. But you only began public performance of your own music a few years ago. How did that happen?
In 2006 I started going to the Back Room over in Flat Rock [now closed]. It was attached to the Flat Rock Wine Shop, and they had an open mic night every Wednesday. It took me about two months to work up the nerve, but I had three songs. I finally got nudged onstage one night, and it worked well. So Dave Brannock—the owner, who’s since passed away—gave me some gigs. I was like, “Well, playing in a bar is fun! This is great!” So I just started singing and playing.
How does your improvisational background inform your songs?
It’s all about the chords and the relationship between them. I assign emotional qualities to the chords. The major second leading up to the fifth is the “incredulous” chord that goes to the “resolve” chord, and then back to the one, which is the resolution. The four is sort of a reassuring chord. The minor sixth is a plunge into the black hole, which often gets saved by the four chord. I listened to a ton of Broadway when I was growing up, and so I’m always going for that emotional build, and then an arc and a resolution.
Do you see a connection between your work as a teacher and making music?
I think the connection between teaching and making music is purely one of trying to connect with people. The most rewarding moments of teaching are when you’re able to connect with someone not of your generation, not of your background, not of your daily challenges. And my happiest moments as a musician have always been when somebody comes up to me after I play an original song and says, “Oh, I know exactly what you mean,” “That happened to me, too,” or, “That makes me think of this.” It’s just about the connecting.
Chris Rosser produced your latest album, Miles and Miles. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who’s skilled on keys as well. How did having a fellow keyboardist affect the character of the album?
I wanted to play all my own keys—and I did—but he was a very good coach. I needed some fills on one song, and Chris demonstrated some ideas. I couldn’t really do everything he was doing, but I listened to his different rhythms and triplets and little funky things he was doing, and then applied those ideas to my own solos.
Isn’t piano somewhat of a cumbersome tool for a singer-songwriter who performs live?
Yes! It’s such an awkward instrument! I’m always like, “Why didn’t I learn how to play guitar?” [laughs]