She set out to swap the folky tunes of the Colorado Rockies for a journey to Rock’n’Roll’s muddier waters in Poland. The amazing thing is that you’ll be able to witness the rising star that’s Moriah Woods in the flesh this Thursday (7 January) at 8 p.m. when she hits to the stage at Poniatowski here in Leipzig. This is definitely an occasion not to be missed, so catch her before the big record companies do.
Here’s a girl with a folky voice as full and sombre as they come, all steeped in the beautiful tradition of American singer/songwriter musicians such as Townes van Zandt. A background in classical music makes sure you can tell she knows what she’s doing, and a teenage affiliation with all genres ranging from Mozart to metal and punk to electric music has a bearing on her songs to give them that joyous melancholy that resonates within all of us. Having deserted her Colorado roots years ago, Moriah set out to play all the smaller clubs and bigger cities of Poland at the age of 24. In 2015 the honour of opening the prestigious Sziget Festival in Budapest was bestowed on her and we are very happy to see her grace Poniatowski’s downstairs with her presence on Thursday.
Here’s a little Q&A about her roots, the unlikely breakthrough in Poland and what it feels like to take to the bigger European stages with her band The Feral Trees. The original Polish interview was with Jan Błaszczak from “Tygodnik Powszechny“.Jolanta Drywa from Poniatowski connected us with the very likable singer. You can read the full interview here to get all excited about being charmed by her dulcet tones on Thursday.
What is your musical background? What kind of music had you been writing or performing before The Feral Trees started?
I was born and raised with music. I was always surrounded by song in family and spiritual gatherings. My mother is a classical violinist. Every day she would be running through scales and preparing various pieces for some local orchestra concert, while in the other room my father, guitar on knee, would be singing some old American rock song. It was a great balance of music to grow up with. And I started playing the violin myself at the age of 5.
As I got older, I abandoned classical music and turned to something more powerful as I was greatly inspired by symphonic metal and punk rock. I bought an electric guitar and started playing. However, I soon abandoned that idea and continued composing music on my computer electronically. I was always fascinated by powerful melodies and harmonies that I was experimenting with. At the age of 19, I was inspired by various folk punk musicians that I met on the streets while travelling the US by thumb, and I soon found myself swapping the guitar with the banjo and accordion. I started writing my own music after listing to Townes Van Zandt for the first time. He was one man saying so much with so little. It sparked a fire and I continued to write personal acoustic songs that, at first, were just purely to make myself feel better as I’m bad at expressing myself any other way.
I guess Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) must be the popular reference, but it would be interesting to learn which vocalists were important to you on your way on building your own sound?
To be honest I feel like my sound is currently being built. Before, I just wrote what I needed to express and sang because I felt I needed to say something. And the result was what I thought sounded nice at the time. I never actually thought of myself as a vocalist until recently with the realization that I want to spend the rest of my life playing music. I have begun to take it more seriously than playing to bedroom walls or drunkenly to drunken friends on a back porch somewhere. In the process, I encountered various musicians such as Sharon Van Etton, Chelsea Wolfe, Townez Van Zandt, Jeff Mangum, David Eugene Edwards, Mazzy Star and Cat Power – all these artists have inspired and still continue to inspire my music.
How did you meet guys from Hidden World in the first place?
My first trip to Poland was in the winter of 13/14. A friend who has business in Hops invited me. Of course I brought my banjo and started to play in and around Kazimierz. I was invited to come to a jam session at Klub Oskar in Puławy. There, Mariusz Antas of Hidden World saw me performing. He enjoyed what I did and contacted me through Facebook. Mariusz booked a few events for me before I went back to the USA. While back in the states, I started tossing around ideas with Grzegorz Napora, sending recordings through the internet and so on in order to combine his heavy style with my alternative folk. As soon as I returned to Poland, we all got together to see what would happen.
What was your first impression from listening to their music?
The first band of theirs that I listened to was Kaldera, which all three guys played in as well. When Mariusz sent me a link to listen to, my first thoughts were “oh great, another band playing rock standards”. But when I actually started to listen to the track, I was quite shocked. I had met a lot of musicians in Poland in my first 2 ½ months, but it seemed like everyone played blues or jazz. This music doesn’t fit for me, and I was feeling frustrated a bit because I didn’t have anyone to share my musical interests with. Kaldera is very heavy, long, melodic and passionate, and it was at that moment that I experienced my first bit of alternative nature in this country. Needless to say it was extremely empowering considering I had only experienced life in the countryside around Kazimierz.
What gave you the idea that their heavy sound might work with your more folky style of music? Or was it their idea?
I think Mariusz Antas came up with the idea after meeting me. They tried some experimental stuff with the vocalist of Kaldera as they were looking to go in a new direction separate from the original band, but it seemed that it wasn’t working. Mariusz suggested that we get together for a practice to see what might happen. I was horribly nervous, and didn’t meet with them until after I returned from the USA. Have you seen the pictures of those guys? They always look so tough in the photos! Fortunately for me, it turned out they were all just as goofy and strange as I am. I think we were all looking for something new to explore. After one practice ‘Take It To the Grave’ was born, and it just continued from there.
From what we understand you were only planning to record one song (“Take it to the grave”) – what has changed?
Well, I don’t think we ever had any specific plans. We all were willing to take it as it went, and it worked well for all of us so we decided to continue. All three guys have very different styles within their musical preferences, and I think The Feral Trees is the opportunity for everyone to put a piece of themselves into the sound mix.
Were you surprised with such an enthusiastic reception in Polish media? What was the Sziget Festvial like?
Well, to be honest I didn’t follow any media over the year. I think it was the result of being unable to fully understand Polish. So I maintained my blissful humility and was just able to focus purely on the music. Of course, the guys shared their excitement with me, but I was such an alien in Poland that I didn’t really understand the weight of everything we were about to do. I didn’t grow up listening to Trójka or hearing about Open’er or Sziget. So for me they were just ordinary gigs, which I am always looking forward to playing.
I am shocked, surprised and very gracious that people seem to like what we are doing. It really means so much to me and to all of us.
What are your plans for 2016?
It will be huge, and I have many ideas and plans for this coming year. All I can say for now is that we are currently working on new material for our next album with The Feral Trees and I can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished. I am also working on a new album that I will be recording soon with my solo project which is taking a heavier direction as my sound is developing. Whether with The Feral Trees or not, I am always touring and playing and will be doing a lot more of it this year. We will see where the road will take us.