Since he emerged on the scene in the 1990s, singer-songwriter Jason Morphew has gotten consistent boosts from a variety of sources. The Hot Springs native studied poetry with Miller Williams at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville before attending Yale. His songs have been featured on the annual CD samplers of both the Oxford American and CMJ magazines. He’s recorded with members of the Mars Volta and Magnetic Fields, and had releases on New Jersey’s Ba Da Bing label and the U.K.’s Shifty Disco label.
And in fall 2004, Morphew recorded his first score, for a film called “Runaway,” starring Robin Tunney of TV’s “Prison Break.”
It was not Morphew’s first foray into the cinematic world. His song “Bring Your Sorrow Over Here” was featured in the 1997 movie “Niagara, Niagara,” also starring Tunney. But it was the first time he’d written music specifically for a film.
“I did it the way it seemed one should do it, the way I thought everybody did it,” he told “Arkansongs,” “which is, I downloaded the script, went out to the backyard, started reading the script, really carefully, really slowly. And sort of let the atmosphere created, and the language of the script, seep into me — I don’t know how to express that in a non-flaky way … engage my style of music with it.”
First asked to write some songs for the movie, Morphew was then asked to score the entire project. But as the “Runaway” film project languished, dissatisfaction rose on both sides. The producers liked some of Morphew’s movie music, but not all of it, and brought in others to contribute. Eventually a frustrated Morphew asked that every note he’d written for “Runaway” be taken out of the film.
“I haven’t regretted that decision at all,” he said. “And having seen the film, you know, I don’t think that the [changes to the] film … helped.”
Two years later, in late November 2006, Little Rock’s Max Recordings released the music as “Sunday Afternoon.” The Morphew album looks like a movie soundtrack, and sounds like a movie soundtrack. But it’s decidedly disconnected from the movie it was ostensibly written for –- which still awaits release.
“It’s not that unique a story,” Morphew says, “it’s just that I’d been working on it for nine months, so it’s really painful, and I got paid next to nothing.”
Rod Bryan, the Ho-Hum bassist and 2006 Arkansas gubernatorial candidate, produced the song sessions and plays bass. Alex Piazza plays guitars and lap and pedal steel, and Zach Reeves plays drums, harp and guitar. Aaron Grimm adds keyboards on the instrumentals, which Morphew produced. Grimm and Piazza are also in the Little Rock band the Munks.
“These guys on this record could all play so well,” he says. “It was a wonderful marriage of guys that could play, and guys who had a feel for it … For some reason, this group of guys worked out by far the best of any of the groups I’ve played with.”
Besides instrumental titles like “Michael’s Theme Number Four” and a brief mention in the liner notes, the only clue to the album’s original genesis is a page from the “Runaway” script used as art in the CD tray.
“It was an amazing, educational experience. But it’s not so different from the way I work all the time, and the way I approach life in general. Which is, often, it’s one sort of sucky experience after another, but these experiences rubbing up against each other, what falls out between them is a song that I like. … It was simply a more condensed form of my life in general,” he says with a laugh.
So call “Sunday Afternoon” a film soundtrack, call it a regular album. Just don’t call it the soundtrack to the movie “Runaway.”
Morphew remains philosophical about the affair: “It’s not up to me — it the director’s call, and it’s a film studio’s call. And, in the end, this music’s coming out — and that movie ain’t.”
Stephen Koch’s weekly “Arkansongs” radio program is heard on National Public Radio affiliates across the state and originates from Little Rock’s KUAR-FM, 89.1.
• “If There’s Anybody Left”
• “Looking Out a Window”
• “Hunting Clothes”
• “Drugs and Drink”