Carla Morrison: "If I'd Have Followed the Rules, I'd Still Not Be Doing Anything"

Carla Morrison's return to the Valley is a bit of a homecoming: She attended high school at Marcos de Niza and took music classes at Mesa Community College before dropping out to perform with friends in Tempe's Babaluca. They built a local following for three years before Carla moved out to Mexico City, to pursue her solo career.

Since then, she's won multiple Latin Grammy Awards and played to growing crowds as a solo artist. On Thursday, her Valley fans will get a chance to watch her perform again when she pays a visit to the Musical Instrument Museum Theater; we got a chance to talk with her ahead of the show about struggling through class and finding the will to keep going with an assist from First Fridays.

Carla's acoustic EP, Jugando en Serio, was released Tuesday to iTunes, but it was originally recorded two years ago, between her albums Mientras Tu Dormias and Dejenme Llorar. If you're a Carla Morrison fan, you'll recognize all of these songs, which have appeared on her albums in different versions.

Each one is impeccably crafted, and these acoustic performances make it sound like you're in the room as the songs are being performed. The cover art features Carla lying on a bed with instruments very much like the ones she once wandered through thrift shops and vintage stores for in Phoenix: a ukulele, a xylophone, a toy keyboard, tambourine, maracas, a guitar, and an accordion (as well as a cute sleeping puppy.)

But Carla wasn't a natural multi-instrumentalist. She first taught herself to play the keyboard before eventually moving over to the guitar, her main weapon nowadays.

She would frequent vintage stores and Goodwill thrift shops in Phoenix shopping for "little Casio keyboards and organs," which she used to practice on and experiment with. But playing didn't come easily for Morrison, who admits, "I used to flunk my music classes. I couldn't pass piano, music theory, or guitar. I just couldn't do it. I preferred to take the route of learning it by myself."

Carla was failing her piano class during the day, but by night she was playing keyboard and singing lead with Babaluca. If only her professors knew at the time that their student was earning a following with the same instruments they believed she couldn't master: "If I would have followed the rules," she says, "I would still not be doing anything, because I didn't pass at all."

During her time in Tempe, Carla supported herself by working in a call center. Meanwhile, she was struggling through adversities that could have made her quit; she was failing her classes, and she wasn't satisfied with where she was going musically. I asked her how she was able to stay motivated during that time, and eventually take the risk of pursuing her dream full-time by moving to Mexico City.

Two inspirations came to mind: her brother and First Friday. Her brother, she says, "told me I couldn't give up. I had to try harder. He studied Computer Science, so he told me, 'I flunked my first class for Computer Science, and I kept going. You have to keep going. You can't give up. You have to have faith in God and in yourself.'"

Phoenix's First Friday scene proved to be another impetus to keep pursuing music. One day, she said, particularly bummed out and unsure if she really wanted to continue making music, "I went to First Friday and I saw this guy making music with forks, spoons, and knives. I thought, 'Wow -- if he can make music out of that, I can totally work something out."

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Carla Morrison is scheduled to perform at MIM Music Theater on Thursday, May 23

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