Interview: Moses Sumney - talks opening up for KING, Musical Gear, & DIY model
Having recently completed a month-long residency opening for KING at Los Angeles' Bootleg Theatre, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter Moses Sumney is definitely catching the acclaim of not only local and online press, but also that of his contemporaries. In addition to the aforementioned sister Soul troupe, songwriting luminaries such as Emily King and Corinne Bailey Rae have also signed off in support. All this — backed by Sumney's one-man showcase of strumming guitar, vocal percussion and enchanting harmonies on loop — poises him to be one to watch for the foreseeable future. We checked in with Moses after his final show at the Bootleg and got to know this up-and-coming talent.
You have a very unique sound. It's very hard to draw any immediate comparisons. How would you describe what you do, and who would you say are your influences?
I like to just call it soul music. That's all it is. Recently I've become fond of the term "fantastical folk." Some of my main influences are Sufjan Stevens, India.Arie, Ray LaMontagne, and Feist.
How did your residency opening for KING come about?
I've been friends with KING ever since I had them do a live session on my college radio show in 2011. Then I invited them out to see me play at the Bootleg right before they signed on for the residency, and they came out. I guess they liked what they saw, because a few weeks later i got an email from their manager asking me to do the whole residency with them.
I think you pleasantly surprised a lot of people who might have only come out to see King. During your show you not only had people visibly excited about your material, you actually had them singing along with you. What do you think it is about your performance that hooks people, and how does it feel to have an audience in the palm of your hand like that in such a short amount of time?
Oh wow! I don't think of them as in the palm of my hand. I think of myself as in the palms of their hands; it takes a lot of vulnerability to reach out to an audience like that and ask them to participate, so my level of success is dependent on the level of "down" the audience is. I'm really grateful that they were receptive, but I think ultimately when people go to a show, they just want to feel like they're a part of something. I try to give people that -- show them that music is a symbiotic, mutual experience. It's not just my show; it's ours.
You've only been singing and playing guitar for two years. Is that true? Can you tell me how you came to be a singer/songwriter?
Yeah, well I've been playing guitar for 3 years now actually. I'm not sure how much the first year of doing anything poorly counts, though. (Ha.) In all, I've only been actively performing my music for a little over 2 years. I had always wanted to perform but never had the confidence to do it until i turned 20. Something about moving out of my parents' house and going to college scared me into realizing I was getting older without accomplishing my goals. I guess it was the urgency that fear provided that pushed me.
Some of your songs include odd time signatures, and I noticed at your show that you were conducting the audience during the sing-along. Do you have any formal music training?
I wish I had training. My most formal training is from Youtube and ultimate-guitar.com. I studied the various works of Sufjan Stevens, Ella Fitzgerald, Corinne Bailey Rae, Stevie Wonder, and Radiohead at the University of My Bedroom (UMB).
Let's talk music gear for a second. Your setup seems to include your guitar, a loop pedal, and a Korg KAOSS pad for vocal effects. Is that correct?
I actually don't have a Korg pad. Sounds cool though. My loop pedal is a Boss RC-20XL and I'm a new user of the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch.
You don't have any of your looped music posted on SoundCloud yet. Do you plan to record it, and how did that style of writing come about?
It came more out of necessity than anything. I needed a way to document all of the sounds/arrangements i was hearing in my head and couldn't afford recording equipment/software, so I just got that. I then started doing it live on a whim. I'll record that stuff... some day, but it has to be right.
Not only are you associated with KING, but I noticed last night that Corinne Bailey Rae and Emily King were in the crowd. Did you get a chance to talk to any of them, and did they give you any advice? It seemed that Corinne was very excited about you.
I didn't get a chance to talk to Emily in person, but she tweeted about my performance and that was kind of cool. Hopefully I'll get to meet her some day. Talking to Corinne was cool. One of the first things she said was "I tweeted about you!" which was definitely weird. She gave me a lot of recording advice which was much-needed. She told me to just try as many different things as possible to get to know what I want out of a studio sound and let it all happen naturally.
During the show, you joked that you didn't have a manager. Did that change for you last night?
I'm a solo operator -- no manager, no label, etc. I'm fortunate to have some great offers on the table, so some of that might change soon (no overnight decisions, though).
You've released a few songs on your SoundCloud and have now finished your residency at the Bootleg with King. What's next?
Up next is hiding a little and recording my first EP. I'll also be opening for Afrobeat legend Tony Allen at the Mayan Theater on July 21st.