'The Passion To Succeed Finally Pays Off!'
When 15-year-old MoZella failed to land a coveted role in her high school play, the Detroit native decided it was time to take her career into her own hands. With the stubborn determination that only a teen can muster, MoZella — who had fallen out the previous year with the members of her folk-rock garage band over “creative differences” — began to book her own shows at local coffeehouses in the Detroit area.
“My first gig was the day I got my braces on and I could barely talk,” she recalls. Still, the owner was impressed enough to ask if she wanted to perform there on a regular basis. One night she made $80 bucks. “At the time, I thought I earned the money on my own, but now I’m sure my Grandma snuck a $20 in the tip basket,” she adds.
From this auspicious beginning, MoZella has grown into a full-fledged singer-songwriter releasing her debut album I Will, which documents the 24-year-old’s journey from leaving home at 18 and arriving in Los Angeles to pursue her dream of making it as a recording artist and performer. “I didn’t go to a four-year university,” she says, “so struggling to get my music heard was like my schooling. I learned a lot and wrote these songs about the experience.”
MoZella, whose confident, soulful voice can turn from seductively husky to girlishly vulnerable on a dime, sets her coming-of-age tales about love won (“Love is Something”), love lost (“You Wanted It”) the state of the world (“Killing Time”), loneliness (“Last Twenty”), and forgiveness (“Light Years Away”) to plaintive acoustic guitar and hip-hop influenced programmed beats — a style that one critic described as “balancing coffeehouse intimacy and subtle groove with jazz and electronica.”
Taking it from the top and being that you are from our very own 'D,'please tell us about your musical memories growing up here? "I was raised in the Livonia/Redford area on the west side. I took guitar lessons at Music Plus (which isn't there anymore) on 6 Mile and Middlebelt. I worked in Plymouth at the Coffee Studio (which is not there anymore either!)."
"I used to hang out for hours at the Coffee Bean and the Coffee Studio in Plymouth playing guitar and singing. I also had shows at the Grand Cafe in downtown Farmington."
"My high school years were filled with music. I was really into grunge and alternative. I saw local shows at Pharaoh's Golden Cup in Westland, I saw bigger bands (Toadies, Bush, No Doubt, Live, Our Lady Peace etc.) at Saint Andrews, Clutch Cargo, The State Theatre, and The Fox Theatre. I saw even bigger concerts (Cranberries, Goo Goo Dolls, Counting Crows, Pearl Jam) at Pine Knob and The Palace. My mom was in the church choir, and my neighbor was a techno DJ (back in the mid 90's when techno was still underground). I loved new music. I listened to just about everything!"
Since those early days spent within the 'D,' what have you seen as the musical growth of the city as a whole ... or do you feel that perhaps it has had its day in competitive music folklore? "I'm really impressed with the music that has come out of Detroit. The Hip Hop is still trend setting and the Indie/Rock stuff is bad ass. I'm really liking Sufjan Stevens."
"Detroit is sneaky like that. It's doing cool stuff before the rest of the world is awake to it. People kind of pass Detroit by cause it does not look that pretty. Then, when Detroit is making the real music, the rest of America tries to claim it. It's been like that since Motown!"
Your album title I Will is an interesting choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you? Is there a theme to it, perhaps? "There is a song on the album called 'I Will.' I wanted to name the album after one of the songs on it. So it actually has two meanings.'
"The album is also named 'I Will' because that was my mantra. I came to L.A. at 18 with nothing but a guitar and some clothes. I took the bus. I worked. I struggled. The whole time I was like " I can do this. I will. I will. I can make this happen". And I did. I got a deal. I made a record. So I named the album after that affirmation."
And if it was indeed once something else, for those readers that don't know, please reveal to us today where the name MoZella first originated? "My family called me Mo Mo growing up. My grandfather had a cousin in the south named Mozella. I don't know if that's how it started or what. But then my dad started calling me Mozella bobella. The family caught on and Mozella became a nickname."
Take us back to your very first gig, the day you got your braces put on. What was going thru our head as you began singing?! "I was so determined to play, that I sang through the pain of the wires stabbing my gums!"
"I guess I had a lot of gumption for a 15 year old (pardon that terrible pun)!"
"I knew I had to make it through the night! The room was packed. I couldn't let my crowd down!"
For a Detroit native to uproot at age 18 and go to seek fame and fortune in LA, that must have been both exciting and dangerous. Have you a tale to tell of both those aspects, perhaps? "There was SO much to see and learn. I have had so many adventures. There were false starts and empty promises. But there were also all night parties, tons of laughter, interesting people, good food, cool concerts, and stories I'll never forget."
"Exciting: Dancing on a table with Kiefer Sutherland at a bar in Silverlake."
"Not exciting: Getting held up at gun point on Santa Monica Blvd."
"To clear up any confusion, I made my album at Ironworks (Kiefer's recording studio/label). So I didn't just randomly meet him and dance on a table with him. LOL."
Please tell us more about the artwork for your debut album ... is that your handiwork? "A woman named Sylvia Ji painted that. She is really talented. I wanted a painting because I was sick of feeling like I had to fit a mold. I'm a white singer/songwriter with soul and something to say. I didn't want to be just another blonde chick on a CD cover. I pass by those albums when I'm shopping!"
Has work begun yet on a follow-up album, perhaps? "I have not started another album yet. I still need to tour and promote this one."
"I've written a lot of songs though!"
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "I just did a cover of 'Jenny' by Tommy Tutone. It was for and Billboard/Oscar party. That would not be my first 80's choice though. I have a big heart for 80's love ballads. I would like to do a duet to the song 'Always' by Atlantic Starr. I just need to find the right partner!"
Lastly, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "No, I love Redwings. Although little fuzzy penguins are cute!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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