Making a Scene presents an interview with Natalia Morris of Southern Halo!
It was just a dream. But sometimes dreams can change your life…
That’s how Natalia (“Nata”) Morris felt when she snapped awake one morning not long ago. So she did what she’s always done when something important happens in her life.
“I called my sisters,” she says. “I told them about the dream. It was all in my head, the life story of Southern Halo. So I sketched it out as a collection of songs, as if they were individual scenes — just like In the movies.”
And that’s how Natalia, Hannah and Christina Morris, aka Southern Halo, conceived and created their new album, Just Like In The Movies. More than a collection of expertly crafted songs or a textbook lesson in honey-sweet harmonies, these 14 tracks fast-forward this trio’s ascension toward country music superstardom.
Now, it’s not like Southern Halo hasn’t already assembled an impressive track record. They’ve won multiple talent contests as pre-teens. In 2014, they set the record as the youngest artists ever to compete in the Texaco Country Showdown, making it to the national finals at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Brantley Gilbert, Maren Morris, Eric Paslay, Tyler Farr, Deana Carter, Love and Theft — even blues immortal B.B. King and legendary chanteuse Dionne Warwick, among many other headliners, have welcomed them as their opening act. They’ve performed at the CMA Music Festival and at a pre-show on the rooftop terrace of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. They’ve also hosted their own radio show, “Hangin’ With Halo,” on WDMS-FM and worldwide on CMR Nashville. Major media have taken notice too; the teen-oriented Justine Magazine and France’s Guitarist Magazine have both featured Southern Halo prominently in recent issues.
They’re no strangers to the studio either. Alabama’s Jeff Cook signed on to produce their debut EP, released in 2014. Two of Nashville’s top songwriters, Gerald O’Brien and SESAC’s 2012 Writer Of The Year Catt Gravitt, teamed up in 2015 to produce Southern Halo’s initial, self-titled full-length project. Two singles from that release, “Rewind” and “Living Like That,” impacted Nashville’s MusicRow chart, while a third, “Little White Dress,” also claimed the Number One slot on the International HotDisc chart — for eight consecutive weeks.
Oh, and by the way, Christina and Hannah are still in their late teens, with Natalia just recently crossing over into her early twenties. Yet they’re exploring, challenging themselves to take risks and raise their bar. Which brings us to Just Like In The Movies. With friends and prior collaborators, Gravitt and O’Brien back in the production chairs, the sisters set and met goals with this album beyond all they’ve already accomplished.
“Our new album has a lot more of my originals than our first album and more tracks too,” says Natalia (pronounced Nat-a-LEE-ya]. “We’ve progressed on vocals; our sound is much bigger now. But, the most important thing is that it’s a concept album. All of these songs are like pieces of a puzzle that all fit together into a single picture. We can’t even pick a favorite; we love them all so much because each one is important!”
Maybe the most unusual feature of Just Like In The Movies is how Natalia worked with some of her favorite co-writers and still achieved results that were honest, personal and linear parts of a fuller story. “We were happy with the songs we had,” Natalia explains. “But when we looked at them it was like there were still four puzzle pieces missing. So we called our songwriter friends, told them what we needed to complete the picture. And bam, they were like, ‘You got it!’”
Though ambitious in design, Just Like In The Movies communicates powerfully to all who embrace life’s adventure. Over an infectious melody within the first track, “Southern Halo” (written by Natalia and Roxie Dean) opens the door and takes us on a “drive on Highway 55” into their world of “muddy water, magnolia trees and girls who are sweeter than a glass of tea.” On track two, “My Girls And Me” (Natalia, Dean and Steve O’Brien), we feel the intense yet playful bond the sisters share. As if filling pages of an intimate journal, they reflect on the lonely sides of an artist’s life on “Famous” (Natalia and Alex Dooley), “Missing Mississippi” (begun by Natalia during her very first night as a Nashville resident and finished later with Jennifer Adan) and “Coming Home” (another Natalia solo-write, anticipating a return to the Delta “with you and the moon and the stars at night”).
Their journey ends with the title cut, “Just Like In The Movies” (Catt Gravitt, Jana Kramer and Brian Kierulf), with its declaration that “this is who I am, this is what you get … No apologies. Take me as I am.” As the song’s last notes ring, we know that we’ve experienced one of the most emotionally honest albums in recent years — more than that, we feel that we’ve gotten to know three remarkable young ladies whose adventure is only beginning.
Music was central to the Morris sisters as they grew up amid the flat farmlands of Cleveland, Mississippi, because, Natalia jokes, “all our friends in elementary school played soccer and football — and none of us was ever any good at sports.” She started piano lessons at age 6. Then, at age 10, when she began playing her dad’s old guitar after finding it in his closet, her younger sisters were inspired to get into their own instruments, with Christina (“Tinka”) choosing drums and the youngest, Hannah, getting into bass guitar.
Being children of the Delta, they were inspired first by the blues artists they heard in nearby venues. They rehearsed, with Christina leading the way in fashioning their vocal blend. By ages 9, 10 and 12, they were being booked to appear at nearby blues festivals. But, they also listened to and learned from other genres, especially harmony-oriented groups such as The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.
Ultimately they gravitated toward country music. “We related to its storytelling,” Hannah explains. “You can get more passionate with country music because it allows you to really get your story out.”
“But country music is also like the blues,” Christina points out. “Both genres are really great at letting you express the inside story of your life.”
“And we learned very quickly that country music is like a family,” Natalia adds. “Everyone writes together. Your best friends are also in the industry. So eventually we decided, ‘You know what? We’ve got to go to Nashville.’”
By that time they’d made countless five-hour drives between their hometown and Music City. It felt natural, then, to make the move and plunge into doing what they’d always wanted to do. And now, their future beckons from far beyond the city limits. In fact, they’ve toured the United Kingdom three times, where ever-larger audiences greet them by singing along to each of their songs.
All of which confirms the message of their latest single, “Anything Is Possible.” “It’s such a great message,” Hannah affirms. “We wanted to kick off 2018 by lifting everyone’s spirit with its message, that “anything is possible” if you put your heart, soul and mind into it.”
Just like in the movies …