Q&A with MORIAH"My times of solitude influenced not just the songwriting process, but just the kind of human being that I am."
Moriah is a Christian recording artist, producer and actress who released her new EP, “Live from the Quarry” this month (December 2021).
PEER: How did you come to know Jesus? Did you grow up in the church?
MORIAH: I grew up in Southern California. And so, I think by nature of growing up in a diverse metropolis, I was really exposed to lots of different ways of life and faiths and religions. I’m thankful that I grew up in that environment. There really wasn’t like a predominant religion in the town that I grew up in. I love that because I think it’s really helped just keep me 10,000 miles away from seeing people as their set of beliefs versus as human beings.
So that’s how I grew up. I hope that I really try to look for that kind of diversity everywhere I go, even where I live now in Nashville. But I think that’s the best thing for my character is to be surrounded by people who live differently than me.
PEER: What is the inspiration behind your new project “Live from the Quarry”?
MORIAH: The truth is, is that at the end of 2019—and this was before quarantine, before people were talking about COVID—I experienced heartbreak in a way that I hadn’t really experienced it before. I thought heartbreak was kind of more exclusive to romantic relationships, but I didn’t know that your heart could be so broken over like a friendship or sometimes in family you experience that, or in your work. So, I think heartbreak happens across the board and it’s no less painful in one area than another.
It was out of that pain that I started to look at music as therapy, which it’s funny being an artist for as long as I have been I’ve never looked at it that way. I think I’ve always seen it as just as a playground and something fun and approaching the production process with just a blank canvas and it’s just exciting. It’s my favorite part of being an artist is writing and producing songs. But in this season, I needed music to heal. I had tried everything else. I had been diligent about seeing a counselor and communicating with mentors and doing life in the community. But I think that there’s a healing process that happens while you are creating that touches a part of your heart that nothing else really can. At least that’s what I discovered at the end of 2019, top of 2020.
So, when I went up to a cabin in the Smoky Mountains to just write as therapy, I went up with lots of anger, lots of resentment, lots of bitterness. I came out of that trip feeling very different. I felt like even though I was alone, I wasn’t lonely. I felt like every lyric I wrote was a collaborative lyric. I felt very connected to just that divine inspiration that strikes whenever you sit in front of a blank page or in front of a logic computer session. All these ideas come, and I don’t even know where they come from. It’s crazy.
PEER: How does your personal quiet time with God influence your songwriting process?
MORIAH: My times of solitude influenced not just the songwriting process, but just the kind of human being that I am. I try to just live as a healthy human, not just a healthy songwriter or musician. And for me, having a moment, particularly at the start of my day before I’ve had a chance to ruin anyone else’s day, to be able to just take the time and be in stillness, be in the quiet. There’s a line in a song called “Known, Seen, Loved” where it says, “I’m always in a hurry, talk too much when I pray, because if I’m quiet I’ll hear you and I’m scared of what you’ll say.”
I think oftentimes when I pause and silence the distractions, I really come face-to-face and toe-to-toe with my ego and God in His good graces allows me to see all the ways that I’m just acting out of selfishness or pride or ego and that’s not a very free way to live. So, my time in the morning, I take it very seriously to live more freely and to live with more altruistic intentions to be more aware of other people’s needs versus being controlled by my own.
PEER: Why was it important to hire women of diverse cultural backgrounds to work alongside you on this project?
MORIAH: You know, it’s interesting. I didn’t think about it like that. I’ve had a few people point that out on the visual side of the EP. They’re just all my friends. Like Torsha and Tiffany and Bethany, those are my girls. Betty and I have done a few weekend trip getaways together. Torsha and Tiffany, I met them backstage at an event. I think it was some event with Lecrae and they were singing in a choir for my husband’s band. They were rehearsing backstage and there was this big piano in the room. Someone got on the piano, and they just started singing the songs that I grew up listening to.
Powerful gospel, melodies and harmonies, and I just heard this noise and this voice, and I was like, “What is going on?” So, I ran over to the room, and I just started singing with them. It was just this natural, very healing moment. My heart melted just being in this room with these women. I think we just have each connected on a very spirit music level. And that bond, it’s strong. They’re just my friends, and I think the world that we project should be an authentic reflection of the world that we live in.
PEER: What advice do you have for young Christians who are interested in pursuing music?
MORIAH: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a musician. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being on a stage. In fact, I still struggle with stage fright. Every time I get up in front of a group of people, it could be singing, it could be a couple days ago I gave a lecture at my university, and even that was just absolutely terrifying.
So, if you’re familiar with what stage fright feels like, you’ll understand that. When I hear people say like, “All I want to do is just be on a stage and like play shows and seeing people.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’re an inspiration because I’m missing that bone in my body.” I think for me, the way that I got into music was just by doing whatever music-related opportunity was in front of me and doing it without any expectation. Just doing it for the love of music. Even though I struggle with the whole performing concept, I do love to sing. And so, whether it was singing the national anthem at Chili Cook-Offs or track meets in my city, or singing for my church for Christmas, or singing for little kids who often would just throw Cheerios at my face.
It’s like just singing wherever and whenever you can do so to serve other people. Recognizing that whatever gift you have, whether you’re a musician or a producer or a vocalist, it’s just that. It’s a gift. It’s most enjoyed when it’s given away. I think that’s the fruition of any gift is when you get to share it with others. It’s funny how one thing can often lead to the next when your heart is to serve the people around you or the community around you. So, I would say don’t hoard your gift. Don’t hoard your talent. Because when you hoard art, it tends to become propaganda.
PEER: What excites you about being a Christian artist in 2021?
MORIAH: Oh, I love this question. No one’s asked me that before. I got that. I think the perspective that I bring to this question is that I’ve kind of bounced around in different genres and in different lanes and I’ve done different kinds of work. I’d like to think that I have some form of a pulse in what makes this particular genre unique. The first two records that I did were under a Sony label called Provident, and that was just straight out of my diary conversations with God kinds of songs. So that really served a Christian audience. And then I created a couple of EPs and some singles with the women that I was touring with it at the time. We wanted to lead with creativity, and we decided that we would write as authentically as possible and just see where that music and that art took us genre-wise and let the music find its own home.
We ended up releasing music under the band’s name, “TRALA,” into the alt-pop space. And I learned a lot about how that genre and that community of musicians and listeners think and work. There’s so much freedom in that space that still to this day some of the most fun writing sessions and productions that I’ve been a part of has been with “TRALA.” So, I really love that.
And I’m a fan of all genres of music, especially living in Nashville. Everything I’ve experienced in the country world is just so bold and familial and cultural and it’s a fun genre as well. So, I think in this season, part of the reason why the art that I’ve been given has lent itself in this direction just naturally. I think as artists, we do ourselves a disservice if we look for a genre and write for that genre versus look to our hearts and write what’s naturally coming out of our hearts or our lives or our daily experience.
And so, in this past year of writing as authentically as I possibly could, a lot of the songs just came out like worship songs. I couldn’t help that. I think it’s just the season that I’ve been in and because I didn’t write any of these songs with the intention of sharing them with people. Again, I wrote them as like therapy in a way to work through some heartache. As it’s released, as it’s come out, I realized that a lot of people who are in this space are looking to heal from hardship, heal from heartbreak, and they’re looking for something greater than themselves. Something outside of themselves to make it through another day.
I’m really thankful that this music is serving them, and I’m honored to be in a space where I get to work alongside some amazing creatives. For KING & COUNTRY being one of the acts that I think is really setting the bar of excellence in this genre, but even just some of the fresh music that’s coming out of artists like Amanda Lindsey Cook or Dante Bowe, just these artists that are willing to say things unconventionally. I think that there’s a wave happening in this space where people are willing and ready to be more honest than ever before. I think something we learned during COVID, and quarantine is that just the kind of monotonous just go to church, just say this when someone’s struggling, just go to that Scripture when you’re struggling. I think we’ve realized that there’s a lack of depth to that way of thinking and a lot of the music that’s reflected that ideology has become less relevant. And I think people are more willing to ask questions and dig deeper and wrestle with things and sit in detention. I hope that my music provides a safe space for people to do that.
PEER: Do you have anything exciting at the works after your project?
MORIAH: Yes. We are going to be releasing a new version of my song called “Brave” at the top of next year. I think we had such a wonderful experience recording the “Live at the Quarry” project that we kind of looked at the library of music that I have and thought, “Okay. How can we serve the audience that I met while touring these first two records?” “Brave” was such a wonderful song to be able to take out on the road. People really made it their anthem. I actually think it’s funny how art works when it’s written from an authentic place that has a way of cycling back around and still being relevant even years later. But I think the lyrics and the message of the song are appropriate for the season that we’re in.
There’s a lot of people who are afraid, very scared. It seems like it’s a very uncertain future for so many and people don’t feel safe. That’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes that can be a good thing because it does challenge you to find bravery in ways where you maybe haven’t accessed before. So, we’re going to be releasing a live version of that song plus a live music video at the top of next year, and that will go to all the DSPs and just be a way to serve people before more new music comes out.
PEER: What advice do you have for those who may be struggling with their mental health, especially during the Christmas season?
MORIAH: I’m so reverent of the concept of mental health. It’s easy to talk about it like you’re an expert and I’m not. I think the only way I can relate to the concept of mental health is when I think about my own experiences or the experiences of loved ones. My sister has been more vocal about it because she has really struggled with a very physical form of anxiety and panic attacks. And so much of this is linked to our mental health. I would say for both her and I because she’s my older sister. She’s a news anchor in New York City. She works crazy hours. She’s in a tough industry. And in a lot of ways, the music industry, particularly when it’s around spirituality, it can be very tough as well and very hard to navigate because there’s not as much distinction between the head and the heart. It’s all kind of metaled into one.
It can be hard to set boundaries, to organize your thoughts, to think positively, to rest your brain, to device detox. All of that, the practices we need to be healthy, particularly in a month like December. And I think for a lot of people, December represents loss. It can represent being disappointed in yourself for all the things that you didn’t accomplish that year. December can be the start of a gloomy season. And it can be a reminder of a lot of the things that we don’t have. And so, I think for anyone facing some of those challenges, whether it’s in the month of December or any month of the year, of course, I think there are very practical things that we can do to make sure that we’re taking care of our minds as an organ, not just as a neurological thing. But as drinking water, exercising, eating well, and limiting our exposure to devices and screens, I think those things cannot be stressed enough when it comes to mental health.
Also, I think the biggest reset for me that I experienced a couple of years ago when I was in the Infectious Disease Department at Vanderbilt for two weeks. And whatever sickness I was experiencing had to do with stress. It was like stress induced. I realized that “no” is a very important word in our vocabulary. It doesn’t mean we just say no to things that are hard. I heard someone talking yesterday on social media about, “I just cut people out of my life if they just don’t bring positive energy and make me feel good. I cut them out of my life.” I think that’s a little extreme. We’re called to love people, especially when it’s hard.
But I think in the busy culture that we live in, it’s becoming increasingly important that we find time for rest, say no to things so that we can make more margin in our lives to pour into the people that we love so that we can pour into quiet time, times of solitude, traveling, being exposed to different cultures. Making sure that our world doesn’t get too small, because when your world gets too small, your problems get too big. Being aware of other people’s pain and struggles, I think that has a way of just positively impacting all the things that we think are terrible about our lives. I think that’s why Jesus led by example in doing life with people who are different and that even circles back to kind of how we started this conversation. It’s important that our world doesn’t look monolithic and wherever there’s equilibrium and diversity, there’s health and there’s sustainability. I know that was a bit of a runaround answer, but hopefully, there’s something in there that’s helpful to somebody.
PEER: What’s one of your go-to self-care habits?
MORIAH: Gosh, there’s so many. It’s hard to pick one. I love taking care of my body. I really do. It’s one of my favorite things. I love to sleep. I love water. I love walking. I think right now my favorite thing is walking my dog.
PEER: What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?
MORIAH: Making tamales, hands down. We do it every year. My mom makes them. Last day of December, we make all the tamales. We cook them all up. We have people over all day long into the night. It’s my favorite.
PEER: What are you listening to right now?
MORIAH: Okay. I’m listening to a lot of music by an artist out of the UK named Paul the Messenger.
PEER: What is your favorite Bible verse?
MORIAH: I think the one I’ve recently been really diving into is 2 Corinthians 8:14 and it talks about the importance of taking care of people who are needy when you are experiencing wealth or opportunity, and then being prepared for the tables to turn and for the people that you help to help you as well when in your moment of need. I quoted it in an op-ed that I’m working on for Hispanic Heritage Month because I feel like there’s not a lot of representation of Mexican Americans in a lot of spaces. I think that’s reflective of the culture. And statistically, people who identify as Mexican or Hispanic, they really tend to believe that if they work hard, good things will come to them. And I think that’s true.
But there also comes a point where you need to work hard and really step into the spaces that you feel like you can serve well, and you can meet people’s needs and not wait for the opportunity. And then people who are in decision-making seats in any industry. I think they have a unique opportunity to look for people who are underrepresented in their staff and in their teams and higher accordingly. So yeah, that’s just something that I’ve been thinking about.
Follow Moriah on Instagram @moriahsmallbone and stream her newest project, “Live at the Quarry,” on Apple Music or Spotify.