Sarah Morris talks ‘Toilet Tunes,’ songwriting prompts, and dream collaborations

Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris Katie Cannon

Sarah Morris was meant to be a songwriter.

Her gift shines bright and clear in all her songs, in their expertly crafted bridges, memorable choruses, and cinematic verses. While she might have headed off to write hits in Nashville, she’s chosen to cultivate her roots in Minnesota. Here a social media songwriting challenge has recently helped fuel her productivity, and a video series of performances in her bathroom has allowed her to collaborate with her friends. On her fifth album, All Mine, she paints full-color panoramic drama simply by outlining the wood grains of a table.

We sat down with Sarah to talk songwriting and to get the story behind her “Toilet Tunes” YouTube series. 

CP: Tell me how you discovered the songwriting challenge.

SM: After I had my daughter, I realized it was crucial to my mental health to be writing more, or to just be creating again. I never stopped singing through both pregnancies, but I definitely didn’t write because my brain was occupied completely with: I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired.

I had read something about the improv principle of “yes, and...” and using it in your life. I wrote it on a Post-it and within days this person came up in my Facebook feed: “We’re going to start a songwriter challenge where you’ll write a song a week for the summer.” Well, I just wrote this on a damn Post-it, I’m gonna do it. 

CP: Is that still the same person you’re getting prompts from now?

SM: Yes, it’s a father and daughter. The daughter actually sings on the album on track two. I owe them. Every song on this album is from a prompt. They get big, big gratitude props everywhere because it changed my life. 

CP: How did you come up with the idea for the bright green bathroom “Toilet Tunes” YouTube series? 

SM: It was so serendipitous. The bathroom when we moved in was this very sad, cold gray. And the other piece of the bathroom was brass. My favorite color has been emerald green for a very long time. So I asked my husband, I said, “I know this is crazy. What can we possibly do to save this brass situation?” So I was like, “Let’s make it like Miami in here. Are you down with that?”

When I first started the songwriter challenge, I used to record my videos in the craft room, and as it went on I was like this is so silly because kids and dogs interrupt me all the time. So I started recording them in the bathroom, only because there are two locked doors. 

[After a friend who backed Morris’s Kickstarter wanted to join her in her bathroom to sing as her Kickstarter reward, it caught on]. 

Not that long after, Katy Vernon was like, “Hey, can I come sing a song in your bathroom?” And Ben Cook-Felz said the same thing. I love that now we can do it if someone’s releasing an album, and it can potentially be a vehicle to promote their show. The acoustics are good and it does fit, you know… we had 14 people in there. It’s a decent size, if you don’t care about personal space. 

CP: Do you have an overarching message that you’re trying to send out to the world when you’re putting out your music?

SM: Right now I’m falling in love with poems by Mary Oliver. I’m reading her and it’s like, how does she know me? It’s so magical. As a writer that’s all I ever want. I want someone to feel seen and known so that they feel better about being in the world. I don’t want people to be lonely when they don’t have to be. I want people to feel a part of a grander scheme. I don’t know how my songwriting can do that, but I know that’s the intent. 

CP: Lately there’s been a lot of talk in country radio about how they don’t play female artists. Have you ever experienced sexism like this? And what steps do you think need to happen to change it? 

SM: When I’ve talked to radio people about how we change this, they say they’re not receiving female artists from the record labels because the labels aren’t developing female artists. Then the record labels are saying radio isn’t wanting that. They all kind of throw their hands up in the air and point fingers at the same time. There was this beautiful article in Star Tribune not long ago that Chris Riemenschneider did where he interviewed all the female talent bookers in town and the best point that I saw was to go buy tickets for females’ shows!

CP: Who would your dream collaboration be with?

SM: Oh gosh! Lori McKenna would be the dream dream. She’s my favorite songwriter. The other one would be Jason Isbell. And I would love to have Lizzo in my bathroom. That’s my dream “Toilet Tune” right now: Lizzo. 

Sarah Morris
Haley Rydell
Where: Turf Club
8:30 p.m. Fri. Feb. 7
21+; $12/$15; more info here