JW: Have no expectations and remain grateful.
Moksha: …The best advice is to pace yourself. Enjoy the process. Learn and be kind to others. Oh…most importantly, people really like working with nice people. Be kind.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Moksha Sommer and Jemal Wade Hines of HuDost.
HuDost has a new album receiving rave reviews that was released November 19th. HuDost’s last album ‘of Water + Mercy’ reached #24 in the BILLBOARD SALES CHARTS for Folk/Americana also winning The Independent Music Award for Social Action Song. In the last year, they also received two of the ‘Best of Nashville’ awards. HuDost are also committed advocates/activists for ONE (non-profit organization) working to end extreme poverty. They have toured internationally since 2006 including performances at Bonnaroo, FloydFest, Blissfest, The ARK, the Salvador Dali Museum, The Levitt Pavilions, WoodSongs at the Kentucky Theater (on PBS), Nashville’s Bluebird Café, Music City Roots, Tim Robbins’ WTF?! Fest, The Montreal Folk Festival, Hillside Festival, LEAF Festival, Stan Rogers Folk Fest and many more. Highlight collaborations and opening slots for other artists include Ani DiFranco, Philip Glass, Jon Anderson (YES), Steve Kilbey (The Church), Neko Case, Jim Lauderdale and many more. The members of Jars of Clay have co-produced their last two records.
“HuDost is quite folk/postmodern; the band offers new takes on ancient words and melodies, cross-cultural hybrid transcendental music with an edge.… This is not fluffy new-age music — it’s serious, complex fare. Sommer’s vocal execution is precisely orchestrated, her voice-opening, hollow-toned vortexes piercing through the tough spots.” — Chronogram Magazine
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Moksha: Haha…that is a rather long story. In short, I grew up in the mountains of Canada, in southern Quebec to be specific. My parents were Buddhists, professors, and artists who decided to return to the land and raise me amidst goats, chickens, and fascinating visitors. I learned a great deal from the land and from all of the people who shared different art forms and ways of perceiving reality. I went to public school with farmers and hippies and learned constantly about art and music on the side. I became immersed in theatre and music at an early age; performing with the circus from the age of 6–12 and then doing my first music touring in my teens. I was also and, oddly, normal kid. Healthy exploration was strongly encouraged and I remain deeply grateful for that.
JW: I was born in Tennessee in the car on the way to the hospital, but shortly moved to Oklahoma. My first memories are from there and most involve music or comic books. I moved from Oklahoma to Florida when I was four and lived near Gainesville for almost 30 years.
I actually grew up in a small town called Newberry. The schools there were racially mixed and at that time in the late 70s, I remember there being race riots. There were definitely a lot of ‘southern pride’ flags in the trucks at that time. I distinctly remember never understanding why this was happening.
We went to a Southern Baptist highly fundamentalist church there. This was one of those churches that spun records backward and taught us that rock music was of the devil. They would show us ‘Left Behind’ movies and really did a number on all of our heads with the ‘fear of the Lord’.
In all of this music was the one continual thing that saved me and brought me solace from elementary school all the way through. Music is the one constant in my life that has always been there to guide the way and keep the creative juices and ideas flowing.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Moksha: I think that considering my childhood, it is not a shocker. My brother is a lawyer and my sister is in business but they both also have strong art backgrounds. Knowing what that kind of journey is at an early age changes your perspective on what you are capable of and what you want to do with your time and energy. Making art and music are like breathing for me and always have been.
JW: I used to work summers in the watermelon and cantaloupe fields out in Newberry. Over the course of a couple of excruciatingly hot seasons, I finally raise enough money to buy my first guitar which was a Kramer. I chose that specifically because of Eddie Van Halen. My parents wanted me to save the money, but I knew what I wanted and it wasn’t long after that that I started my first punk rock band.
The desire to play music and perform came way earlier though when I discovered KISS at age 7. Later on before I actually bought a real guitar, I remember practicing my moves in the mirror with a tennis racket while listening to Night Ranger’s Dawn Patrol in 82/83.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
JW: While it may not be interesting to others, becoming parents has been the highlight of our lives and careers. It’s affected everything we do.
We have tons of stories about chance meetings and amazing opportunities but it’s parenting and getting more deeply involved in advocacy work that are the key points. I mean, meeting Jimmy Carter was pretty cool. Our son Kaleb was amazed by that experience.
Moksha: I completely agree. I could blabber a lot about the fascinating collaborations we’ve had with other artists and the amazing places we have travelled to, etc. but the honest truth is that being a mother has made me a better person, made me more compassionate, loving, and clear and has shifted my career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
JW: Ha ha! I remember on an early gig with one of my first bands, we rented a fog machine for the show. I was so excited. We got fans to blow on us and had nice colored lights as well. I had a footswitch to turn the fog machine on and off and as we began the first song I just let it rip! It was Uber-dramatic and I felt like a big rock star with my hair flowing surrounded by fog and lights. As the fog started dissipating and the first song ended, I just knew this was going to be one of our best shows ever. It was shortly after that I realized that I had used ALL of the fog for the first song. The rest of the show went downhill from there as I emptied the entire thing in one go. The lesson? Ha ha!
Moksha: Haha. I can’t beat that story. But, I will share that I played Mother Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar when I was 16. Does anyone else find that hilarious? I was so awkward. It was not even a school production so they could have totally hired a real woman to play that role. Not a tiny geek.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
JW: Besides our new album ‘Anthems of Home’ that we recorded during Covid, we’ve also completed an album of cover songs called ’13.’. It was extremely fun to record and create. We covered a range of artists from the Bee Gees to Duran Duran to Elvis to Bowie, Bangles, Arcade Fire, etc. etc. I am already gathering a list of ones to do for Volume 2! We’re also working on an interfaith chant music project that we’re excited about as well as a number of collaborations.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Moksha: Gosh, I think it is shameful how long diversity was not properly represented in film and television. I think we are finally in a time when people are scrambling to catch up and find some level of balance. In reality, it is the diversity of various kinds. Even as a woman, I am often shocked by how the music industry is still male-dominated. The more proper representation there will be, the better the content will be. That representation must also be free of cliches and stereotypes. We ourselves are continuously working to learn how to do this and how to empower others to do the same. On the new album, there is a song called, ‘Our Words Will Be Louder’. Check out the music video if you can. It was very humbling to work with all of the contributors who added their presence to that song and the song was able to communicate so much more than it would have without them. We worked with the Poor People’s Campaign on that song and gave them the money that was raised from it. We learned a great deal in the process.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
JW: Have no expectations and remain grateful….I mean, people can tell you things but you can only listen if you’re open to it right? Another thing is ‘always try to respond to people whether it be a fan or business connection. Any kind of response or acknowledgment is a lot these days and that ultimately brings us back to gratitude again doesn’t it?
Moksha: Agreed. Life, in general, is much better if you just enjoy it. Disappointment is the worst cancer of our culture. And, honestly, on the practical front, I think I was given a ton of good advice when we first started, it just takes time to integrate it. There are amazing resources out there for new artists…time is just the key element. So, the best advice is to pace yourself. Enjoy the process. Learn and be kind to others. Oh…most importantly, people really like working with nice people. Be kind.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
JW: Arrive a day before your show if you can! Tour smarter not harder! I mean, everything has shifted now in this post-current-Covid world so who knows how the touring universe is going to continue. Nothing will be normal again. Anyway, since we had a child we started really touring smarter and taking care of ourselves more. Before he came along, we just burnt the candle at both ends playing 5 days a week and driving hours before and after a show. It’s a recipe for burning out.
Moksha: So true. And I will just add to that, that when touring smarter/not harder, you can ask for what you need! When you are not playing crummy gigs and are playing ones that you truly enjoy, you can put more energy into the promo around them, draw more people, and, ultimately, gain far more success and income from those. It is a more zen approach.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
JW: Maybe a step away from your phone and social media movement? Maybe a movement away from the selfie culture which seems to be breeding narcissism and decreasing human empathy at an alarming rate…. I mean, we do a lot of social activism work but personally, it took a lot to get me to this place. I was hazed and self-obsessed through the majority of my 20s and 30s. If you would’ve told me then that I would be lobbying on Capitol Hill for those who are voiceless in extreme poverty, I would’ve laughed. I always thought that kind of work was for others and that my ‘spiritual’ music was enough; that the ‘vibes’ I was creating were helping the world enough. That’s a delusion. That is the direct result of an unhealthy religious upbringing. Having a child radically changed my perspective on all of this and now this kind of activism work is an essential part of our lives.
Moksha: Yes. And, I think empathy and compassion are easier to have with real people. We never shift our own perspectives or the perspectives of others through the polarizing social media world. But, with people we are within-person, there is more desire to truly understand a differing perspective.
I have been involved in advocacy my whole life. I have only been to a couple of protests. That hasn’t really been my approach. But, rather, I have done a lot of actual hands-on work. It is nourishing and keeps me in my place. I think all people need to do something on a regular basis that goes beyond their own lives and their own needs. That perspective is really healthy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Moksha: Gosh….we couldn’t have taken the path that we have without the support of a lot of people. I could make a long list. There have been many people who have empowered us in our vision because they get it. Whether that is professional or moral support, buying our merchandise, helping us with projects…it is big and small and every bit of it counts. I don’t have enough thank-yous for that. We are independent artists and take pride in that. It allows us tremendous freedom. But, their reality, is that the only thing we are independent of is the control of corporations in the music industry. We are not independent of the community and I am so thankful for that! Our new album wouldn’t be coming out had it not been for all the amazing people that supported our pre-sale campaign and see our vision! That is true for all of our albums. Music is not independent at all. It is the food and creation of community.
JW: You know it’s often said ‘Never meet your idols’ and from my experience, I would now agree, but……gratitude is due where it’s due. When I was just a budding guitarist and songwriter, The Church was my biggest influence both sonically, conceptually and lyrically. From my late teens, I always said to myself, “Someday I am going to work with Steve Kilbey” and it actually happened back in 2015. We co-wrote & recorded a full album together called ‘The Word Is…’ and while there was a lot of unexpected blood, sweat, tears & disillusionment around its creation, it was surely a manifested dream come true. After it came out I couldn’t listen to it for a while, but honestly now I fully stand behind it and am proud of it. The process of a relationship moving from someone being an influence to an actual peer can be humbling and painful, but ultimately it’s a huge growth!
We also brought in another musical idol for this project as Jon Anderson from YES co-wrote one song with us. Seriously though, it felt like Christmas getting multiple layered vocal tracks from Jon & Steve and then adding Moksha on top of it all. It was a heroic arrangement feat that song and over a very ambitious project.
I felt I was really close to Steve for many years, but then a bit of trust was lost between us somewhere in the process, but we’ve come back around a bit and I hope it’s on the road to restoration. I look forward to the next time I see him in person. All in all, there were huge lessons involved around this album we created and it was a serious rite of passage.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
JW: I’d have to quote Yoda here with ‘Do or Do Not. There is No Try.’. This is even the ring tone on my phone. Polite persistence, another one, is key here. We just have to keep doing the work and putting it out there.
Moksha: A teacher shared with me the following: Compare not, Complain not, Condemn not, and Criticize not. It is really, really hard to follow but is really helpful. Also, Groucho Marx said, “time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.” Why is that such a great life lesson quote? Because if we don’t have ridiculous humor, we are in trouble.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
JW: I would love to hang out with Bono and just thank him for all the good work he’s done in the world. I would also really love to hang out with Wendy and Lisa (from Prince & the Revolution) and feel we’d be fast friends. I’d love to meet Mavis Staples as well.
Moksha: I would like to spend an afternoon with Valerie Kaur. I am currently reading her book and find it to be very moving and astonishingly relevant. We also have bizarre parallels in our childhoods so I know we’d share a giggle.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!