Moriah Formica, The Reality After Reality TV (Part 1 of 2)
Moriah Formica, if you live in the good old 518 area, is not a new name. She is another one of the many extremely hard-working and talented superstars to find fame, be it local or international, on a reality television music competition show. She is what Adam Levine, frontman for Maroon5, has called a “pint-size powerhouse” and what country superstar Blake Shelton once referred to as someone who received an extra dose of talent when God got distracted when He was sprinkling it onto people. It’s people like Moriah that make me joke that they need to save some talent for the rest of us.
Moriah, as you may have guessed, was a competitor on season 13 NBC’s Emmy Award-winning show The Voice (as well as season three of American Idol!). She wowed the judges with a fantastic performance of Heart’s classic “Crazy On You,” turning all four of their chairs and giving them the opportunity to fight for her attention. Ultimately, Moriah decided on Miley Cyrus, and carried stellar performance after stellar performance until she had run her course on the show. Rookie mistake, Miley. I’m not sure if Mo is still salty about that, but I sure am.
The Voice wasn’t her first rodeo. She’d been wowing local audiences even before her stint on TV. She’d been gigging for so much of her young life. She’d released an EP, a music video, and writing music with people like Michael Sweet of Stryper. She was and remains a voice of what I believe to be a renaissance of good rock music. Moriah is an effervescent young soul that has a lot to say. Sorry in advance for the long, long interview—but with lots of experience and words and passion filling her 19 years on this earth, her insight was nothing to be abridged, whether you agree or disagree. Thanks for reading, and I hope you stick with us through the end.
Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part interview with Moriah Formica, the second part will be available tomorrow night.
Elissa Ebersold: Let’s start at the beginning and get some of the most cliche questions out of the way, so sorry in advance.
Moriah Formica: Hey you know what, being in quarantine, I’m just happy I have an interview because I haven’t done shit.
EE: How did you get started in music?
MF: Well, I’ve always loved music. It’s just always been a “part of me,” which is really cliche to say, but it’s true. I’m a firm believer it’s due to my parents. My parents raised me around music. When I was a baby, I’m talking infant baby, my mom would always put me in those rocking swings for baby naps, and she’d put headphones over my head, and she’d play “flute by the sea” or “guitar by the sea.” I’d just fall asleep for hours. I loved it. Music was ingrained in me.
As I started getting older, around five or six, I loved Aerosmith. My dad was always watching 80s band videos. I would always see the bands, and the hair metal solos and whatever, and I remember being fascinated with the guitar players. I want to be like them. “I wanna be him, he’s so frikken cool!” My Nana got me a guitar for my 6th birthday. You know, those 20 dollar ones from Target with the built-in amp on the side and you just flip the switch. I fell in love with it and so I just fooled around. Taught myself a couple things. Then my aunt got me Guitar Hero, and that’s when I was like, “Holy shit this is the closest I’ve ever been to playing a real guitar!” And then before you know it, I got my first real guitar at 7. I locked myself in my room and wouldn’t come out until I taught myself one new Aerosmith song a day.
I played guitar for a little bit, but at six or seven or eight you’re not asking yourself “how can I go play a gig?” In fifth and sixth grade in my elementary school you’re required to do chorus. And my chorus was doing “Eye of the Tiger.” My dad was obsessed with Rocky so I grew up listening to that.
My chorus teacher was like, “Yo, we’re looking for a guitar player.”
Of course, little me didn’t say anything in fifth grade. It didn’t occur to me! Believe it or not I was the shyest kid. I didn’t say jack shit. I did not talk unless I was spoken to. I sat there and observed. I was reserved. A complete introvert. I’m always an introvert at heart, but my job forces me not to be.
So then [my brother] Gabe finds [our music teacher] Mrs. Wing at Latham Ridge Elementary and was like “Hey! Mrs. Wing! You know Moriah plays guitar, right? I bet she can play ‘Eye of the Tiger!”
I was just mortified.
She was like, “Moriah. Why didn’t you say anything?” So all because of Gabe, she finally convinced me to stay after school and learn the song. I learned the song in about two days. I played it and she was like, “You are so awesome! Why didn’t you say anything?”
I was just like, “Uh, I don’t know.”
I ended up playing there at the end of the semester recital. Big auditorium where the parents come to see you at the high school. That was my first real taste of playing for an audience and performing. I was like, “Holy crap, I love doing it. It’s so much fun.” So that was that.
In sixth grade, the next year, we were doing “Stray Cat Strut” by Stray Cats. And she said, “Moriah? So you know how you did ‘Eye of the Tiger?’ How do you feel about doing this song?”
I said, “Alright.” So I learned the song. Same reaction. I just fell in love with it.
Sorry, this is a really long answer to your question. But there are so many angles I can go from!
EE: That’s alright!
MF: There’s no real one thing that got me into wanting to do music. It’s a whole bunch of things. I just wanted to hit the milestones that got me into it. I just like to give as much information as possible.
So shortly after that, or around the same time, I got into singing. The first song I ever really tried to sing for real was “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. [CHUCKLE]
EE: You’ve stated that Lady Gaga, Aerosmith, Lzzy Hale, and Amy Lee are some of your biggest musical influences. Is there anybody that would really surprise us that is an inspiration or appears in your playlists?
MF: Oh man. Probably Demi Lovato. I don’t know if that comes as a surprise to you, but for some people it might, just because a lot of people think of me as just straight up rock and metal. Which is good, because that’s what I am at heart, but I have influences that are just completely out of that. Demi is a big influence for me. I found a lot of similarities in her voice with the power, but also the delicateness and the cleanness…and the clearness of her singing. I think people would be surprised that I love Blondie, just because they’re kinda weird. They’re kinda wacky. I love it. Oh, I love Patti LaBelle too. I really love Ariana Grande. I just love so many—I’m a very diverse person. I really love all types of music. OH YOU KNOW WHAT people would be the most surprised? CupcakKe, the rapper. I absolutely adore her. I listen to literally all of her songs. Gabe and I know all of the words to her songs. I love her. I think people would be very surprised to find out that I love CupcakKe.
EE: So how have these musicians influenced your creative process?
MF: Well, let’s start with my biggest influence ever which is Amy Lee from Evanescence, or just the band as a whole. When I first tried to start writing music, a lot of songs that I would write were very heavily influenced by Evanescence. If you looked at my really early stuff that’s not even released, it just sounds like recycled Evanescence [LAUGHS] because I so looked up to her when I was eleven. I thought she was the most amazing thing. I think my love for that kind of music, you know, having an orchestra being integrated with metal, that’s one of the biggest things that really influenced my creative process. Hearing that in Evanescence. You don’t really hear a lot of Evanescence without hearing violins or an orchestra. My vocal style [is influenced by Lee]. I mean, maybe not so much now because I’ve grown into my own vocalist. I’m sure people can hear the influence of Amy Lee in my voice from time to time. At eleven years old that’s who my whole sound was shaped around. Really got me into the whole idea of clean, clean melodic vocals over hard hitting, dynamic instruments. I still write stuff like that today. It’s not like a quick influence, they really really were my base that I always go back to. They were kinda laid out like a foundation for me to start writing on as early as eleven years old.
Next, Halestorm. I discovered them when I was about twelve. I was talking about how much I love Evanescence and my band director at the time was like, “You know who’s better than Evanescence?”
I was like, “Nobody!”
“Lzzy Hale, have you ever heard of her?”
“No, that’s a dumb name!” (Or whatever I said). And he told me I had to hear them. He played me their cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and I was like “Whaaaaat?” And then I saw her in concert at Northern Lights before they were huge, and I was just like “Holy shit!” When I saw that concert, I’m so glad I actually had the opportunity to tell Lzzy this and thank her for this…I saw everything that I wanted to be when I saw Halestorm. I’d never seen a woman with such killer vocals who also plays such killer guitar while singing. And that was something that I did in my eleven year old kid band. It really gave me someone to look up to, and oh my gosh, I would kiss the ground that she walked on. I was totally in love with Lzzy Hale. She was the strong, badass female figure that I could look up to, and be like “Yeah, that’s how I want to be.” I want to be bold. I wanna be like “Fuck you! In your face!” You know, she’s so unapologetic. I love that about her.
Obviously eleven year old me wasn’t gonna come up with that word, but she really is so unapologetically who she is, and she’s a huge reason why I am so unapologetically who I am because I grew up looking up to people like her. I’m looking at a picture of her on my wall right now. This bitch is just a bad bitch. And I just never heard so much aggression. You gotta think, the difference between Amy Lee and Lzzy Hale is….I was eleven years old. I hadn’t had much experience in the music industry. As you get older, you hear different things. I went from looking up to Amy Lee who had these beautiful, angelic vocals and then I hear Lzzy Hale who is growling…so aggressive, and it just rocked my world. It was a completely different thing.
EE: Two sides of the same coin.
EE: You have the very ethereal Amy Lee with the flowing gowns and the soaring vocals and symphonic post-grunge band.
EE: Then you have Lzzy Hale who is this powerhouse, as you said this badass bitch who is in control of every little aspect—Not that Amy Lee isn’t in control but it’s a different kind of control.
MF: You know, that’s exactly what it is I was looking for. That “control,” that’s the word, that’s just control. The command. She commands the crowd. She commands the band. She commands attention. She commands everything. You know what I mean? It’s crazy.
EE: You’ve collaborated with people like Michael Sweet, Sarah Lake, and of course your brother Gabe. How does this collaboration change your process?
MF: Co-writing gives you a completely different perspective. A lot of musicians are stubborn. We don’t want to give up, not that we’re giving up our work or our craft, but we’re opening it up to change and asking for ideas by showing it to someone else. It can be scary at first but when you go to write with someone, they’ll say something…You can think you have something perfect in your head. And they’ll suggest this, or say “why don’t you try this?”
And you’re like, “Oh! Why didn’t I ever think of that approach. That’s a really interesting way to approach that part of the song.” It gives you a whole different perspective. It makes the song better and different. You have two or more different minds all smushed together with one song. If you think about it, the majority of hit songs are all co-written. And I think it’s because of the gathering of multiple genius minds.
And it’s also thickening my skin when it comes to my work. I used to be super guarded with my stuff, I didn’t want anybody to hear it unless I thought it was perfect. I didn’t want anybody to change it. But then I realized once I started writing that for some things I prefer co-writing.
Asides from all the creative stuff, you just have a really great time. You click with whoever you’re writing with and have a great time.
EE: Speaking of collaboration, now I have to inquire about something that falls way out of your usual wheelhouse— about the one with Friends Wit Nobody (where you sang the hook on the song “Exposure.”)
MF: [COVERS FACE] UGHHHHHHHHHH!
EE: Not your favorite? How did that opportunity come about?
MF: So the thing with “Exposure”…these people reached out to me, I don’t remember how they did, but they reached out and said that they loved my voice and they wanted a female singer. They said, “We wanted to have Kelly Clarkson on it but that’s unrealistic. We just love your voice, it’s very similar to Kelly Clarkson, so we’d love to have you.” They also had a bigger fanbase than mine.
So I said, “You know what….why not? Exposure, literally.” It was a paying gig and in all honesty I just wanted to make a little extra money, but it can’t hurt to take that opportunity, who knows if one of their fans is gonna be like “Woah, I really like this girl’s voice.” Nothing ever really came of it; I didn’t stay in touch with them, but that’s how that went about.
EE: It is what it is, and it’s a piece on your resume, or Spotify page.
MF: Exactly! It was my most streamed song on Spotify for a while though!
EE: What do you enjoy most about performing on stage? What do you enjoy the least?
MF: I think I enjoy interacting with the crowd. I just love seeing people have a good time. I love seeing people’s hearts be touched by a certain song we’re playing. I love the energy around where it’s this carefree let-everything-go energy. I just love feeding off the crowd. I just love it. I also love, for myself personally, the therapeutic part. You get up there and leave everything on the stage and get everything out. It’s a place where you can go absolutely crazy and have no rhyme or reason for it. You don’t have to explain it either.
EE: What do you enjoy the least?
MF: The nerves. I hate the nerves. It doesn’t matter how many times I go over it in my head when I know logically and rationally it doesn’t coincide with my [with what my] body [is doing] at that moment. I can say in my head, “Moriah, there’s nothing to worry about. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if no one is there.” My body just doesn’t get it. My chest will close up, I am short of breath. I’ll sweat. I’ll shake.
EE: You should see a doctor. That sounds like coronavirus. Sorry, bad joke.
MF: Yeah, right! […] But that’s my least favorite part.
EE: How do you handle those nerves and the stage fright?
MF: Just get it all out on stage. It all just turns into adrenaline. After the first song or two, I’m fine, but there’s no way to “get over it.” You kinda just have to suck it up. Grin and bear it. There’s been times where I’ve had literal panic attacks on stage. Like I couldn’t breathe, but no one would ever know because it’s not an option to just be like “Hey guys, I’m having a panic attack.”
EE: What have been your favorite shows been to perform?
MF: Ooh that’s a tough one. My favorite show that I’ve ever performed was where we opened up for Joan Jett and Halestorm. Not just because of, y’know the obviously amazing opportunity and two of my favorite people, but the crowd was just ridiculous. They were so enthusiastic, they loved it, and were so responsive. There were so many of them. It was just a fun, fun time on stage and off. It was a really incredible time. Halestorm had us back for a fire later that night. Tony [Tirino, drummer] and Nick [Stamas, guitarist] were playing cornhole with them. It was just awesome. Joan Jett and her band were so nice too. It was nice of them to be so friendly and inviting to the openers because a lot of bands just aren’t.
EE: If you could play any venue, which would you choose and why?
MF: Oh man. Shoot! I don’t know. Honestly I don’t know. I’ll play anywhere that has an enthusiastic crowd. With people that are just happy to be there and enjoying the music they’re hearing. Anywhere where I can interact with a large number of people I’ll play. I don’t care what it is or what it looks like. But what I do hope, I don’t have any specific venue in mind, but I hope to be playing arenas consistently. I hope that the Times Union gig becomes a part of my reality one day consistently.
EE: What’s your favorite song to perform?
MF: Dang. I really love doing “Call Me” by Blondie. I really love doing “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande. I really love playing [my original] “Slave.” I really like playing [my other original] “Bring it On.” I haven’t played it in a while but that used to be one of my favorite songs to play. What else do I love? I love playing “I Will.”
EE: That one is an anthem. I mean, I guess all of your songs are anthems in a way but—
MF: But “I Will” is an anthem.
Another one that I love to perform live is “I Hate.” That’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written. It’s a very emotional, very real song for me.
Check out Part 2 of the interview, here.