IMPACT
03/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Songwriter Matt Morris Talks Haiti, Disney And Helping Others

Award-winning songwriter and frequent collaborator to fellow Mouseketeer alumnae, Matt Morris recently released his own debut full-length album, When Everything Breaks Open.

Causecast's Brandon Deroche joined Matt Morris for a backstage conversation at the album release show at The Mint in Los Angeles where they discussed Haiti, what Matt's doing to help, and how people unite in the face of tragedy.

This interview was originally published on Causecast.org

Causecast: What are your overall thoughts about what's happening in Haiti?

Matt Morris: What's happening in Haiti is overwhelming. That's probably a gigantic understatement. Certainly for everybody who is on the ground, working for the relief effort and also those who are just trying to hold on to their lives, and survive this. It's difficult to conceptualize how deep a disaster this is. I think that people have a response now, a different response, on account of Katrina. I think that people responded so quickly, because not very long ago, we all saw what kind of devastation happens when you don't respond quickly. I think that's good.

Matt Morris

I think that's a good thing that's happening, where people are immediately trying to find ways to donate money, to fly there, go there to help. There's this attempt to, on a national and international scale, to send people to help. I say it's overwhelming because, the images that you see, the video, it just cuts your heart open. It's heartbreaking. Literally, it's heartbreaking. So, anything that can be done, any little thing that can be done, is the right thing to do.

CC: What are some of the things that you're doing to support the relief efforts?

Matt: I'll tell you, it's been an interesting week for me. My album came out on Tuesday, and right after the album release... it coincided right around with the earthquake. I've been doing a bunch of promotional appearances around my album, which has been on one level, great for me. But I've been doing these morning news shows, and it seemed like it would've been wrong to use those times on television, singing my songs or any song with any kind of social voice, to go on TV and do something like that, and not try to mention how people could contribute. I've tried to sing about texting the word Haiti to 90999, as you know. It's something small but it felt like, you know, couldn't go on TV and be all self-promotion-y, right after the news just covered another element of how Port-au-Prince is falling apart. As an artist, I've tried to take advantage of any media appearances that I've had, to raise awareness about how easy it is for people to give money. That's a good thing to do right now.

CC: As insensitive as it may seem, would you agree that times like this are an opportunity to show people the positive aspects of a collaborative effort in tragedy?

Matt: It's a strange thing to think that there's some sort of opportunity in a tragedy. Because you don't want to say that when people are... When you're looking at it from afar, and you say "oh there's an opportunity to do better," you know. Well, when you're in the thick of it, you know, and you're just trying to survive it, that perspective may look a little privileged. And we're privileged. Everyone who's not in that place right now, everyone who's not in Haiti, suffering through this, is experiencing by default, a kind of privilege. And so the question's not whether it's good or bad that we have that privilege, it's what do we do within that privilege. What do we do in this place that we are, where we have running water, where we have electricity, or where we have the things that they don't have. What can we do? And if it's ten dollars, it's ten dollars. If it's five thousand dollars, or how - you know, some people can't give a lot of money, but they can give a little money. And then some people can give clothes, or they can... They can give. There are many ways to give. So yes, I think that when horrible things happen, it's an opportunity for people to come together, and show the best of humanity. And that's what I hope happens now.

Matt Morris

And that has to be the intention behind all of this. And that has to carry through past the next week, and the next two weeks. I think what was really difficult, after Katrina, there came a point where people kind of just forgot. There's still people trying to rebuild their lives, so the key is to sustain, somehow. The emotional, empathetic, sympathetic, the heart response to what's happening right there. To sustain that through. Because it's not gonna fix itself in a week, or a month. It's gonna take a long time. And if this creates some sort of shift where people begin to open their minds, open their awareness to how many places around the world are actually in states of total disarray, then that's good. That would be another good outcome of this, if everyone can put their Tivo on pause, you know what I mean? And realize that this... That there's suffering in so many places.

CC: Haiti is not the first time you've been active in your life. Who or what has inspired you to want to help other people?

Matt: When I was about fourteen, I was working on the Mickey Mouse Club. And we made a record, an album. We put it out, we did this fourteen city tour. And Disney sent a limousine to my house. I lived in this little suburban neighborhood. It wasn't a big fancy house by any stretch. It was kind of bizarre, for a limousine to come rolling in my neighborhood, to pick me up once a week to go out on this weekend tour. Fourteen year-old in a limo; it's weird. And my mom would pick me up - the limo would drop me off after it was all done, for the weekend, on Sunday. And she'd take me to the church to sack potatoes, because she didn't want me to think that the world was all about riding in limos. So any sense of responsibility to doing something for the betterment of people other than myself, I attribute that to my mom, and to my family.

Matt Morris

When I was in high school, I did volunteer work with an organization called Amigos de las Americas. I traveled to Paraguay and lived for a couple months in a small town called Embalado, and worked to organize the construction of sanitary latrines. It was small work; it wasn't like the Peace Corps. I have some friends who were doing Peace Corps work in China, and they just got back. They went from South America to Asia in the course of like, two years. They're doing serious, big work, you know? But for a sixteen year-old, it was pretty big. I was away from my family and I was in away from all the modern Western amenities and working to teach little kids how to brush their teeth, and basic sanitary practices that, again, we take for granted... The things that we know about how to keep things clean and how to take care of your basic health. So, it's just always been a part of my life in some way. And again, I attribute that mostly to the way that I was brought up - to my family.

CC: The word Peace, you hear about all the time, but there doesn't seem to be a collective understanding of what we seem to be striving for, or what Peace actually is. So, what does Peace mean to you, on a personal level?

Matt: That's an interesting question. What does Peace mean to me? I don't think Peace is a passive thing. I don't think Peace is a passive state. I don't think it's aggressive; I don't think it's confrontational. It's sort of the opposite. But I don't think it's something you just - I think it's something that you build your life to experience. You build your life in such a way that you can experience that, and you can make a choice to experience it. It's complicated. When you're talking about it in terms of Peace, Love, as some sort of catchphrase. Peace got branded somewhere. And then, unfortunately, some people, they can reject it because it's a brand that they're not into. They can use that kind of idea, 'Well, I'm not really digging that whole thing. It's a hippie thing. Whatever.' I think that people need to remember our interconnectedness. I think that there're a lot of things that need to happen before there can be any sort of real peace. I think that when there is one person or a group of people who are experiencing real agony and pain and suffering... Do you know the word, ubuntu? Have you heard this word? It's spelled - google it - it's spelled 'u-b-u-n-t-u.' And it's this idea - I believe it's an African word; I don't know from what country it originates. But it's this concept of, 'there is no individual. There is only the collective.' So you say something - you don't say... Say your grandma is sick. You don't say, 'She is sick.' You say, 'We're sick.' Because if one person is experiencing it, we're all experiencing it. I think that's a valuable way of looking at the world, and looking at our interconnectedness. That if one person is suffering, we're all suffering. So if one person is experiencing oppression, we are all oppressed. And if one person is without food, then we cannot - because we see our plate of food in front of us - that's everybody's experience. There has to be that awareness of how we're all a part of the same whole. Those are the kinds of things that I think are important to dig into a little bit. To pick apart, to unpack. Whatever terminology you want to use. Peace, you stamp it as a brand, like Peace... The world's more complicated than one word. Even Love. Gotta love that word, you know? Some languages have a lot more words to describe all the things that we use that one word for. So I'm not afraid to... I don't think it's just about Peace, it's not just about Love. It's about those things, but it's about so much more, too.

Read more Causecast musician interviews at www.causecast.org/music.

More on Matt Morris: www.MattMorris.net
Listen to songs from When Everything Breaks Open: www.myspace.com/mattmorris

Transcription by NICHOLAS CHUNG, Causecast Writer

Photo 1 by ACL Festival, flickr.

Photo 2 by n8foto, flickr.

Photo 3 by ACL Festival, flickr.