Introducing MOZIAH, a multi-layered, creative artist whose music is as vibrant as his visuals.
I was excited to interview MOZIAH, Marcus Guerrier, who is often known for his punny album titles and layered beats.Through his music, he often paints the scene of New York City landmarks between layered sounds and glass-shattering vocals. In this interview, he’ll take you on the exclusive journey through his first album, Dax Nextdoor, Finessa Hudgens EP, and his upcoming ZYEBOI EP. He provides details ranging from the Band-Aid behind his image, journey towards self-acceptance, and how he overcomes failures. He’ll also explain the intersection of music, activism, and visual arts as part of his identity and provide advice for young, emerging artists.
Tell me about your background.
I was born in Boston to Haitian immigrant doctors. Since I was a young child, music had been present in my life. My dad would often play Haitian and French songs and sing around the house, which ignited a spark in me to enjoy performing. As a child, I found ways to integrate music into my life, whether it be singing in church choir or performing musical theatre from age 8. I was always attune to different ways to blend my love for visuals and music.
At 13, I attended Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School’s Honors Performing Arts Program. It was then that I started a punk-ska band, formerly known as “The WaistBandits.” Tyler Crosby, who I now co-direct music videos with, was a bassist in that band. My experience in a band was integral to the solo career that I have now; it taught me how to write songs and understand the basics of music theory. Being in a band also taught me how to be comfortable with failure and improvisation. Oftentimes, we didn’t have any idea of what we were doing, but we figured it out gradually as we went. So, from a young age and into high school, music had been a focal point for how I expressed myself, and it remained that way throughout college and beyond.
How exactly did you start making music?
For college, I studied Drama at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. During orientation week of college, my roommate airdropped me Logic. Not only did learning to produce help me to relieve stress, I also saw audio production as a way to create worlds, which further gravitated me towards it. Two years into college, I released my first single “Trap Queen” on Soundcloud which was a cover of Fetty Wap’s original version.
Around that time, I was discovered by a talent agent and began auditioning all that year. During all of that, I graduated early and began working as a teaching assistant at Stonestreet Studios. I was always on the move, and everyone around me was as well. That sparked the inspiration for my first original single, “Can’t Stay in One Place.” I released the song and people reacted to it really well.
I am also really grateful for my family and their support throughout my creative journey. After I released the video for “Can’t Stay it in One Place,” my dad played it repeatedly on the television at home. Their support has made it easier for me to pursue my dreams.
What impact did your song, “Can’t Stay in One Place” have on your music career?
My song, “Can’t Stay in One Place” was the catalyst for me to understand that I could realistically pursue a career in music. After I released it, I began to work on different tunes and write more songs to further develop a coming-of-age story based on where I was in my life at that time. I was asking a lot of questions; so I just put them to music. I worked with my friend and co-producer ‘theodore’ (Theo Shier, an Iowa-born, Brooklyn-based musician I had met through a friend in late 2016) to fully develop my first album, Dax Nextdoor, which included 10 songs.
We really turned over every rock to make it. During the creation process, I was working as an assistant for a voiceover class; before class would start, my friends and I would enter the studio early to record skits for the album. The making of my first album held such great memories with the people around me; I will always have a deep appreciation for making art with friends and other meaningful people in my life.
A year later, I dropped my second project, which was titled Finessa Hudgens. Finessa Hudgens was named after my old finsta. The songs I was writing that year cut a little deeper and brought to light things I’d usually keep to myself; so I felt it was right to name it after the place where all the personal stuff goes. I wrote, recorded and produced the entire project myself. I even snuck in an interactive aspect within the EP, that if you listen and find the code, you could unlock an early version of our new EP, ZYEBOI.
Do you have any other channels or outlets besides music that you use to express yourself?
In addition to music, I also love visual work. I like to say that I make my albums on Pinterest. I really enjoy visual arts and film and have been experimenting with Photoshop and Adobe After Effects since age 12. I still use Photoshop and After Effects for designing my cover art and promo materials.
In college, I minored in Producing and would love to be a filmmaker in the future; it’s been a lot of fun directing my music videos. Overall, it’s so dear to me to have a stake in the film world. Nowadays with social media, people see recording artists before they hear them, so whatever accompanies the music itself is just as useful.
As I continue on my creative career journey, I see myself utilizing all aspects of my interests, as opposed to cornering myself in a single, definitive box. It’s been part of the journey for me to embrace all of it and I see my career being reflective and inclusive of that.
How did you create your image of MOZIAH into the signature that it is today?
I was intentional about showcasing an honest self-image. During the time I was starting out, I was beginning to understand who I was on a deeper level. I paid attention to what I liked, and aspired to make what I liked. Creating my image is also strategic; I use my image and brand as a way to show people how they should treat me and my work. For example, I refer to my project, Dax Nextdoor, as a coming of age story because I want people to perceive it as a film you play through. It’s my job to show people how to treat MOZIAH and the work that my team produces. I’m a storyteller by trade, so I lead with that.
How did the Band-Aid become a part of your image?
It’s actually a funny story, but in short, I can be very clumsy at times and I didn’t want to exclude that part of myself in how I planned to make the debut for my music career. How it started was that I was on the subway and saw a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. I was so excited and in my stride to him, I bumped the right side of my head really hard on a post and started bleeding, so of course I had to put a Band-Aid on it. I had to keep the Band-Aid on for an entire month for the wound to heal properly. This was happening right around the time that I was making “Dax Nextdoor” so I just decided to keep the Band-Aid as a part of my image and as an introduction to the world of who I am. I am not interested in or inspired by portraying myself as perfect, I wanted to do just the opposite of that and embrace my full self with my mistakes. My image represents meeting myself where I’m at.
What’s been your journey of overcoming perfectionism?
Overcoming perfectionism is a continual exercise and is by no means easy. In starting my music career, I was too scared, didn’t have enough money, and wasn’t at a place I wanted to be. But when you continually worry about the future, you miss the opportunities right in front of you. It’s a seductive concept to wait until you’re bulletproof to start, but the real defining factor is just showing up and taking a chance.
The most dangerous trait about perfection is that it’s illusive, it doesn’t exist. Attempting to chase it only leads to procrastination, shame and anxiety. In the long run, perfection doesn’t serve me and it’s not an investment I even want to expend energy towards. The same concept applies when I’m making music. An individual song, project or video will never be perfect and at some point, I need to inform collaborators that we need to cap it. However, that’s where the beauty in it exists, because the project is supposed to represent a time capsule for me and reflect where I am in that moment, imperfections and all.
My advice to people is to define what’s most important to you, prioritize it, and show up with what you have. You can try to put 100% on everything, such as the beats, vocals, cover, video, etc., but you can also put in 80-90% on what’s most important and save yourself time, funds, and energy. Choose which variations work best for you because a lot of factors will be outside of your control. Also, be sure to remind yourself that you are always starting from an imperfect place. I may not be able to make things perfect, but it’s okay because the audience isn’t looking for perfection. Instead, I can make people excited all the time and I can make people dance and that’s way more valuable to me.
What’s the theme for your upcoming projects?
I have a few projects coming up soon and I view them as fraternal twins. The new projects are vessels for the stories that I want to tell and the conversations that I want to start having with my fans.
My first upcoming project, ZYEBOI, is like a soundtrack to a disaster movie. It’s very chaotic to be a young and Black right now, and I wrote it during a time where I was questioning my faith in how things are currently. The project served as an outlet for me to talk about the issues that I needed to get off my chest. America has been running on survival mode for a long time and it’s catching up with us. We have been playing the same note over and over again but slowly, the world is progressing. I can’t say too much now about the second EP, but it exudes a different vibe. It’s structured as a diary entry and the motif is about learning to enjoy what’s right in front of you.
What does activism mean to you and how does it intersect with your music?
Activism is very important to me because issues about Black people affect me directly; I am fortunate to have the platform that I do with fans who are engaged so it’s only right that I use my platform to spread important information. I am made up of more than just my love for music and visuals, so it’s important to me that I reflect that everywhere. The most exciting aspect about 2020 is that resources are much more direct and accessible. In past years, social media was used solely to inform people or host conversations. Awareness is important, but this year, social media has been a tool for people to take action. Taking action has never been easier, now people can simply click a link to sign a petition or donate money, and that’s exciting to me.
As a Black man, hearing about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Nina Pop struck me. In having a platform, I could easily support the cause and share resources daily, which is what I have been doing. Making action a habit is vital in supporting genuine change. As a society, we’ve made social media a habit, but we should also normalize donating to a campaign during our lunch break. Racism won’t go away easily, it’s going to take a lot of time. It’s similar to cleaning a room, you can’t just clean a room once and never again. You clean it perpetually as it gets messy and things come up.
Another note is that you have to put respect on something to fix it. The government can’t just induce a decree just as people can’t solely post a black tile, or companies hire a Black staff member. Collectively, America needs to go beyond that and see the situation for its nuance. Black people, myself included, want to be seen, loved and heard. We are doing our best to make it easy for the majority of people to take action and become involved, but people need to meet us halfway.
What was most challenging in creating your upcoming EPs?
I recently started working with an amazing new team. And we came together because we all love experimenting with different mediums. It’s something that my manager Maddy, my agent Jesse, and I are striving to do, which is to identify the most fitting medium to best tell the story that we want to tell. We want to give people a world beyond music.
In working with what we have, we’ve been intentional about meeting ourselves where we are at. While you can drop a million bucks to make a thesis film, sometimes you can replicate the same idea with a TikTok. Acknowledging the different mediums and kinds of art out there beyond traditional practices is challenging but definitely interesting. I actively strive to strike a balance in making art that is reflective of the times, but also timeless. But, how I overcome these challenges is to retire a traditional idea of perfectionism and focus on what’s exciting to me. Once you show up and put the work in towards your goal, some amount of progress is bound to come.
How should young artists best prepare themselves for the music industry?
When it comes to overcoming mistakes within the music industry, it’s about how you respond to them, not the mistakes themselves. I studied improv for 4 years and what I learned from it was that first, anything can happen, and second, the magic occurs in how you respond to it. The music industry works really hard to look flawless, even though it’s entirely flawed. As I reiterate in my song, “Do You,” it’s really important to just do you and define success for yourself.
Life can be high school sometimes. There will always be other things to consider and things to be up on –which can be healthy– but in the midst of all of that, you should actively define your “why.” Ask yourself what the motivation is for doing something and what continued action should take place in order to pursue it. Once you define your motivation, it’s much easier to weave through all of those things to consider and things to be up on. Similarly to yoga, it’s much easier to stand on one foot while fixing your gaze on a stationary object. Staying grounded is something that will help you navigate the industry.
What is something that people don’t know about you?
Something that people don’t know about me is that I am also training to run a 10K this year. During quarantine, running has been my hobby and meditation. I’ve been using the Nike Run Club App with my friends, which has been really helpful in tracking my workouts and mapping my distances. Running is a prime example that I can do the things I never thought I could. It’s not about how fast you are or for how long you can run. Instead, running is all about discipline and consistency and it stands as a reminder that people are always more capable than they think they are.
How has your artistry changed you as a person?
My artistry has forced me to embrace who I am and the imperfections that come with that. It’s allowed me to write about feeling stuck, scared, or not able to stay in one place. Writing songs is reminiscent of writing a love story to myself — I really get to make the things I’m inspired by. I enjoy the fact that I am meeting myself where I’m at; and I am grateful that music was the outlet for me to not only embrace who I am, but also use that to connect with others.
MOZIAH will be live streaming a show for Rockwood Music Hall on July 23rd at 8:00 PM EST; RSVP and donation link is available here. You can also stream his music on all major platforms, such as Spotify and stay up to date on his upcoming releases through Instagram.
Check out his post on our Instagram page.