Maroon 5 Keyboardist tests your knowledge of Black entertainment and culture.

The lockdown has been a whirlwind of emotions. For Maroon 5 keyboardist, PJ Morton it meant coming home early and taking a break from it all. It meant setting music and all projects aside, to dedicate time to his role as a family man. But the singer, songwriter, and record producer is not one to stop working for too long. After his short sabbatical, PJ found a fun way to channel his creativity, while doing what he loves—talk about music, film, sports and all that celebrates Black culture. On June 3rd, he debuted his new trivia game show called “The Culture” on his YouTube channel where he invites celebrity contestants every week to compete with each other by testing their knowledge of Black entertainment. His first episode featured Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and co-hosts of the “Questlove Supreme” podcast Laiya St. Clair and Phonte. V MAN spoke to PJ about his new live-streamed show and what it’s like for an artist to work during quarantine. 

Photo credit: Matt Robertson

V MAN A lot is going on these days. I know back in March you almost got stuck in South America. How does it feel to be back home after a long time of touring? 

PJ Morton It was three years that I was on the road, for the most part, with some breaks in between. The thought of getting stuck away from home was terrifying. But it’s amazing to be home, I haven’t been home this long in years. So to be able to be with my family and really just take life in and a lot of stuff I was missing. That part has been a good thing for me.

VM Other than work, what else have you been doing during quarantine, any new hobbies? 

PJ I taught my kids how to ride their bike. I’ve been mostly, to be honest, just keeping busy with my kids and my family. You know making up for a lot of the time we missed while I was on the road. It’s been good to just be dad you know? That keeps me pretty busy.

VM Has it been hard mixing your personal life and work together after being used to being away for work? 

PJ Well, I think it’s a welcomed thing for me. We have our boundaries. I got my studio set up in the house now. So they know when the door is locked that means dad’s working on music. And it’s been good. It used to be the opposite where you were stuck home and you were ready to get away, get on the road and do something else. But this is what I needed. It’s been good. 

VM I know a lot of people feel that it’s a great time to be productive, to do the most and there’s another side that encourages people to take a break and relax, where do you stand on that?

PJ Yeah, initially I felt very overwhelmed after coming off of a long run. I took the time to totally detach and take a break from everything. Because I really needed to, and being a self proclaimed workaholic I don’t know if I would have stopped if the whole world didn’t stop. I took it as an opportunity to really detach and to listen. I think there was a mad dash when this happened to create content and try to find what was next. But for me, I just wanted to listen and see what this all meant. And now it’s kind of evolved for me where I still give myself the time and the freedom to not do anything. But I also think, now that I’ve listened and watched, there’s so much going on. This is an amazing time to be creative and really build. You can take time, whereas I had deadlines before now I can take time on ideas and really cultivate them. So I’ve been a mix of it through this quarantine.

VM So you have a new show called “The Culture Trivia Show” that just premiered two weeks ago, was this quarantine-inspired?  

PJ It was. In the beginning of quarantine I didn’t want to do anything near music. I had to break away. People were doing a bunch of live streams and stuff and asking me to sing songs and I’m like, man I’m going to just take a full break right now. But then I was watching YouTube and I saw Steph Curry do trivia with some NBA players and it was such a welcomed distraction from everything that was going on in the shutdown. I was like, man I don’t really want to be singing and writing music right now, but I definitely can do this; where we enjoy each other. And I’m just a game show fan anyway. I could do this and not necessarily have to create music right at this moment, but we could educate about music and that was the start of the idea. We did some brief test episodes, just to see the proof of the concept. And once we saw how it worked, I knew we wanted to keep going with this.

VM It’s a really fun trivia show with a different structure, did you consider making a more traditional podcast at first? 

PJ No, and I’ll tell you why. This was a departure from everything that I was feeling at that moment. And as much as people were asking me to do live streams performing, I was also getting an insane amount of requests to do people’s new Instagram, like new interview shows. There were a lot, especially at the beginning when people were just trying to pivot and figure out how they could remain in people’s eyes and remain creative, and I understood it, but I couldn’t do any more interviews. I certainly wanted it to be a departure from that. Which is why I said yes to this. People do want to hear about people’s stories, but let’s put it inside a game where we’re also getting away from what I’ve been seeing. I think, just fundamentally, I’m a disrupter, so when things start to be trendy I generally like to go left. I want something that I don’t see being done.

VM Do you see the game developing, adding more features to it? 

PJ I think that all the classic game shows are the ones that are simple. They’re very easy. They’re very straightforward. But at the same time, this is a brand new show. So I’m still open to how it evolves and grows. But at the core of it, I do want it to be a simple concept and the simple structure because all the classics that I love, I love them because I can go right to them and I can catch right up and know exactly where we are whether I watch it today or five years from now. So yeah, I do want to keep it simple in the spirit of the game.

VM I know you don’t write the questions, but how do you decide which questions are for who? 

PJ Between the team, my partner and my production company, we’re just trying to find, for example, when we start, we try to start with a softball, and then the questions get increasingly harder. And then of course, the fifth question is worth three points. So we try to cater that to be the hardest for the person we’re asking the question because one’s hard for one and not the other. For instance, there was a question that was about a Philadelphia artist. I knew to ask Phonte that question versus Questlove. He knows all things Philly. When I know the artist personally it’s easier, but then we kind of have to guess what’s hard for somebody.

VM What do you like about it being live? 

PJ We went back and forth with that. We’re all usually entertainers on this show. We’re used to feedback, like instant feedback. And I think being able to have an audience cracking jokes and trying to give answers adds to the experience for us. In turn, for me, I always tell audiences when I perform, as much energy as you give me I can give you back. So can I feel a little something and that we’re having a good time. I think that live aspect of it makes me feel more at home for what I do than if we were just talking to each other. It just adds a little more energy.

VM Do you see it becoming an in-person game show in the future?

PJ For me, I would love to have it be a network show. And then have a house band who could play the song from the answers. And then maybe like the live night shows, we can have one of the contestants perform at the end of the show. I think that would be dope. So yeah, I could see it growing and evolving. I’d love to actually have it on television.

VM I saw in your comments that a lot of people would love to play too, will it become more interactive as it evolves? 

PJ Yeah, I wanted to start with friends, but eventually, every few episodes I want to do some fan episodes,  where they are celebrities, but they want to play the game. And we haven’t figured out how we’re going to pick those contestants. But I think that that even adds a new element because then we get to learn about people we don’t know. You know? I’m looking forward to that.

VM I think your show is what we need right now, something educational yet fun, did you ever think you would be making a podcast? 

PJ No, I actually got offered to do some podcasts before and I’ve just always felt that I speak my best through the music and that’s the way I’ve always been able to communicate the best. But who knew, this quarantine kind of stretched me. I’ve done a little acting on screen before, not much, but I certainly never saw myself as a host. I’ve been enjoying it to be honest. I’ve always loved to learn and I think at the core of this show, from the questions you learn, and then from the conversations between me in the guests on the show you learn about them, so it kind of caters to the things that I love. But I originally didn’t see myself in this place. 

VM How did you and your team decide on the name, “The Culture”? 

PJ Yeah one of the main things we knew we wanted to do is be unapologetically Black, celebrate Black culture unapologetically. And when I started to think more about that, we had a bunch of names. A big brand of mine is Gumbo, because of two albums that I had some success on. And when I just stepped away from it, I was like, ‘the culture trivia.’ I mean, that’s what it is. This phrase sums up what I’m trying to represent with this game show and what this trivia is about. So it kind of just came to me after we threw in a bunch of names. It was the one that popped when I went and walked away from everything.

VM Who is a guest you’d love to have in the future and why? 

PJ I’d love to have the Obamas on the show. Both First Lady and President Obama. I think that would be so much fun. They would probably be joking on each other. I think just seeing them interact, in that way, would be the best. We’ll see what their schedule is and try to get them in there. 

VM Who would win? 

PJ Michelle, I just feel like she knows. 

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