Mexican-American Christian recording artist MŌRIAH (Smallbone) is set to release a new EP and visual album on October 29, titled Live From The Quarry. Made up of honest and transparent lyrics, MŌRIAH drew inspiration for the album from her own personal experience with friendships, faith, personal insecurities and worth. The new album centers on contentment. Like many, MŌRIAH experienced an array of emotions in 2020—feeling angry, hurt, scared, insecure and remorseful at times. Yet all of those phases were necessary steps on her journey to a greater sense of calmness and gratitude. In addition to the EP, featuring the live recordings, the visual album will give listeners an intimate experience of the recording experience. In this TCB Exclusive, MŌRIAH talks openly about how an initial desire to write songs as a therapeutic way to process her experiences morphed into a relatable new album that she was encouraged to share. MŌRIAH also speaks about the importance of the visual component of Live From The Quarry and her definition of success for the collection.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of your EP Live From The Quarry! Can you share when you first had the vision for this project?
Thank you for the congratulations – I really appreciate that! With any creative project, it tends to have a stop/start initial beginning. And I really wrote these songs for myself. That sounds super selfish, but I’m just going to say it. I had zero intention of sharing this music with anyone beyond my husband and parents. I really went into writing these songs as therapy to work through heartbreak, hurt, and pain. I had never written or produced by myself. My husband packed my car when I was heading up to a cabin to write. He packed my computer, MIDI keyboard, and mic. He created a tutorial on how to set it all up. He told me not to just take my guitar and voice memo things, but go produce demos. My favorite producer and mentor, Matt Hales, told me I was a producer. My manager told me I could do this. So I had all these amazing guys in my life coming around me and encouraging me. When I finished writing these songs, again never for the people, and when I finished them, I had more people around me, my mentors, my friends, come around me and tell me that these songs needed to be shared. There are hurts that other people could relate to, and this can help bring healing. So through much coercing, I was comfortable sharing, but because of the last 18 months, I don’t want to just deliver an audio clip and be done with it. I want to create an experience. There are certain things that you can communicate through the visual medium, through your body and movements, and that you can’t express with just the song on its own. So I’m really glad that everyone’s first introduction to this music, and my initial reconnect, has been through a visual medium.
In addition to writing, you also produced the project. With being so involved in all aspects, how were you surprised most by the process?
The surprises are endless. If you start with the production side of things, I never knew what an incredible world that could be. I think when you, at least in my experience, move to Nashville and are surrounded by these incredibly talented people, you tend to find your lane and stick to what you know. And for me, I’ve really only considered myself to be a singer. I’m an average guitar player at best. I tried dabbling in production and it just didn’t make sense to me, so I just felt it wasn’t my territory. But what I’ve realized in the process of stepping into it, I have so many people to thank for giving me those 10,000 hours. The amount of producers I’ve sat behind and just watched them work and fine-tune and layer. And then stepping into TRALA, which is a project I did with some wonderful female musicians in Nashville, I got to watch my friend Julie Odnoralov just sit behind those computer screens and go to work. I think sometimes you can’t be what you can’t see. So I’ve been thankful to see so many people in that role, and all of them have been generous to me in the process. So I’ve been really excited about this idea to encourage other singers and songwriters, particularly women, to have more autonomy in the production process. You might be able to get a song to 50% and then partner with people to take it to the finish line, people who are better and more experienced than you to refine and finalize. But I think it’s important, because not only does a lyric communicate something and a melody communicate something, but sound, an instrument, a rhythm, all of these things are part of communicating and birthing the vision that God has given you. And I’m excited to see that progress!
You pre-released two of the tracks – “Known Seen Loved” and “Trust”. Since you wrote these songs first for yourself, is there a lyric or impact from these that hits a little differently for the listeners than you personally?
Yes, there is, and I didn’t expect it or see it coming. The pre-chorus in “Known Seen Loved” is:
I thought I wanted answers
I thought I wanted healing
But what I need most
Is to be known, seen, loved
I thought I wanted justice
I thought I wanted power
But what I need most
Is to be known, seen, loved
When I felt hurt and betrayed, those are the things that I thought would make me feel better, or give me resolve and peace. And I did everything I could to chase after those things. I got to the end of it and this hasn’t solved any of my problems. And it took me striving for all of those things. And all of them are important, we want healing for people we love. We want justice for those who have been wronged and for victims. We want power for those who are powerless and we want it to be distributed equally. But if you have them and you feel unseen, unloved, and like no one knows or understands what you are going through, then none of it matters. It’s all ash. I think in writing that lyric, I was coming from a very personal experience with all of that. And I was nervous to share that with people because there is a lot of room for misinterpretation. The fact that of all of the lyrics released that this is the one people are messaging me the most about. I’m here in [Washington] D.C. and I just finished a worship set for an intimate group that work in legislature fighting for sex trafficking. There are some people in this group who are even survivors themselves. The person running the retreat asked me to sing “Known Seen Loved” and after playing it, that was the lyric that people said they were taking home with them. We’re all fighting for justice and power and it’s important that these women who have been rescued are first and foremost known, seen, and loved by God, none of this makes a difference.
How does your definition of success change for the collection as a whole, compared to the individual single releases?
I think success means something very different to me now than when I first started doing music. I never wanted to be a professional musician. I feel like I accidentally fell into it. Being 17 and being in this world of writing and releasing music, I was being a sponge and learning. So initially my definition of success was based on streams, listenership, and numbers. I’m naturally a competitive person, so I wanted to grow. Through the years and jumping genres and trying to be authentic to the creative ideas God has given me, I realized that success to me is rooted in inner peace and contentment. I wrote a mission statement a while ago and I come back to it often. There’s a part of it that says just that – to create from a place of deep inner peace and contentment. I try to align everything that I do to my top five values. I did an exercise where I started with 100 and went down to my top 20 and 10 and 5, and my favorite two are growth and working with open and honest people.
Who, or what, is currently providing inspiration for you, either musically or spiritually?
I think that really changes day to day. Today, I’m drawing from the men and women who are on the front lines of fighting human trafficking in America and overseas. People who have dedicated their lives to creating safe houses for survivors and women who have been rescued. I spent the past few days with these people and hearing their stories and how they have combatted this has inspired me. I tend to live very much in the present.
What are you most expectant for in the remainder of 2021?
That’s a hard question for someone who is very much in the present. I think I have vision for the people around me more so than myself. I work with some really wonderful people, and I do life with some amazing friends. My husband and I host something called slow church in our house, and people from our area come to our house and we do life together. I think COVID and quarantine exposed our need for community. I’m hopeful that by the end of this year, that a lot of the struggles my friends and coworkers are going through, that they will overcome them. I’ve seen such progress and I think a lot comes from verbalizing and sharing, and when you do that in a trusted space there is opportunity for growth. So I hope they find healing by the end of this year.