It was hard for me there. Everyone at my school was really into sports and I was the girl doing cartwheels in the outfield.
Moxie’s decision to pursue a career in music may have been a risky one, but the gamble seems to be paying off. Born Laura Raia, Moxie’s creative side manifested early. Having started singing since “I could speak” and having danced across the country by the age of 6, the stage is in her blood. The New Jersey-native’s sonic checkpoints are autobiographical, namely, if you look at the preoccupation of her most popular track to date (“Buffalo Bill”), which concerns her time spent at The Brain, a songwriting commune consisting of six other guys. Hinting at the prevalence of
booze-fueled good-natured parties, the vibrancy of youth hangs over Moxie’s effervescent music.
Putting her soulful voice, eclectic influences and self-assured duality of a seasoned performer on full display, it’s easy to forget that Moxie is just 24. She has already collaborated with such industry know-it-all’s like Tiësto and The Brain founder Freddy Wexler—it’s also a record label—who famously produced the original demos of Lady Gaga, the clubby New York art-pop manqué. These days, all the cards seem to be decked in Moxie’s favor and she’s undoubtedly the one to watch. This August sees the release of her single “I Love It When You Cry”. Moxie’s forthcoming EP is set to debut in the fall and her full-length in early 2015 through Capitol Records.
How did you come up with the moniker Moxie?
I didn’t, actually. It’s a nickname that my pianist started using a few years ago that kind of stuck. He thought I had a lot of it—moxie. Everyone just started calling me that, which is why it caught on. Even my mom calls me Moxie now. There’s a larger story behind the moniker too. When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I lived in a house with six guys. You heard about that.
I do know that about you.
We used to have these parties where we would invite a bunch of musicians over. One time we had these Philly musicians come, and when we were hanging out outside, a rat ran across the floor. I knew about the rat already, but they hadn’t. So everyone ran inside screaming—these big dudes—but I didn’t because I had this really good melody I didn’t want to lose. They were like, “Girl, you’ve got some moxie!” I couldn’t lose that melody. You can lose it as fast as you find it.
The pad you’re referring to was called The Brain. It’s my understanding that everyone came from different places, so did you all know each other previously?
We didn’t all know each other, but Freddy [Wexler], the founder of The Brain, knew all of us. His goal was to move his favorite artists, producers and musicians into a house together, and see what happens. I think we were all sick of jumping from one session to another, writing with strangers. Writing sessions require that you share your deepest feelings in that moment, write and show confidence—“This is good enough to share with the room” sort of thing. There’s always a wall put up and Freddy wanted to eliminate that. Since we had this family unit in the house, stuff would organically come out all the time. We would wake up in the morning and someone would be playing guitar cords over their cereal. I would roll out of bed and [Moxie belts out a melody]. By that time, someone else would say, “I’m going to take that and make a beat to it.” Everything flowed naturally like that all the time.
It seems like a really efficient, spontaneous process.
That’s my favorite part about writing—the spontaneity. It’s not like you have a session from 4 to 8 p.m. where you’re expected to write the masterpiece within that time window. It’s so hard to do that, but when you’re working on something late at night, you have this whole house full of inspiring tools. It’s like, I know David is really good at guitar and have him come to my room that night to work on something with me. It’s a really cool process. Any time of the day or night, you had all these people wanting to write with you.
Are you still living at the house?
No! [Laughs] This was a two-bedroom house with six guys—it was crazy. I was there for a year and a half before we all moved out. Well, that’s not true… Some of them still lived together. I think four of them still live together now, while Freddy and I live elsewhere, separately. The two other guys also live apart. But we still see and talk to each other every single day.
You grew up in New Jersey. What was that like?
I’m from a really small town in New Jersey. It was hard for me there because I was a bit of an outcast. Everyone at my school was really into sports and I was the girl doing cartwheels in the outfield. [Laughs] I really wanted to get out of my town, so without my parents knowing, I applied to a performing arts school in New York. Being here was my dream and when I did get in, I asked them if I could go and live with my sister. They said, “Sure,” which is crazy. They were always supportive and knew how serious I wanted it.
Why were you scared to tell them you wanted to go before applying?
I just didn’t think they would let me go unless I had already gotten in. Since I did get in, it’s not like they’re going to dismiss the opportunity. If I did ask, they would’ve been like, “Are you kidding me? You’re going to leave this house?” It was cool because my sister had just moved to the city, but it was also like, “Sorry to crush your single, 20-year-old dreams, but your 13-year-old sister is coming to live with you!” It was really fun. At least for me. [Laughs]
When did you find your voice and start singing?
I’ve been singing since I could speak. I didn’t think I was good or anything like that, but I remember singing all the time. My mom put up with a lot… I put on productions all the time and built scenery for plays.
Were your parents musical at all? What were they listening to?
Totally! My parents aren’t musicians themselves, but I grew up in a very musical household. My parents loved to party and they played loud music. Every night, Motown was blasting and that’s what I grew up around. My dad grew up like that too, so he sort of carried that into our lives. There was always music playing: Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Jackson 5, Four Tops… So music was always in my blood. I started taking dancing classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 6, I was traveling around the country doing that.
You studied Jazz, much further down the line. How did that come about?
I’ve always been into Jazz. I think I got really into it when I was 17. It’s when I moved out of my sister’s place and got my own. I actually lived down the street from The Jazz Gallery, this unpretentious Jazz spot with few seats in a small room. People would come and play all the time, so I went there by myself all the time. I just love how free Jazz is and how closely tied it is to emotional, personal expression. Pop music can sometimes be put on or feel like an act, which is cool, but Jazz is more interesting and raw. And the thought of going to Columbia [University] always infatuated me. They had a Jazz Studies program there, which focused so much on the social aspects of it and the Civil Rights Movement, for instance. I think Jazz artists were so in touch with making music that’s for the people and having a positive influence on the people.
In our current landscape of music, which artist would you deem particularly remarkable?
I’m a huge James Blake fan. He’s probably my favorite artist right now and I love everything he does. When I first listened to his music, it was almost a religious experience. I was like, “Hold on. Everyone. I gotta turn the lights low and listen to this blasted!” [Laughs] It was so special to me and I really love him. I’m a fan of Chance The Rapper too. Everything he does is very socially aware and he’s doing so much for Chicago right now.
Do you enjoy recording in the studio and performing live equally as much?
I really do enjoy both of it. I’ve been in the studio for two years now. I don’t even have a social life—I’m a hermit. The house sort of became this commune that you never leave. When I went out, I would wonder, “Why am I so socially awkward? Oh yeah, I haven’t been outside.” [Laughs] How would I know what to do? I recently had a show and I came out onto the stage going, “This is why I do this. This is so much fun!” It’s really interesting to see people react to your music, you know? It’s nice to see that firsthand, especially when it’s a good reaction. When I put something up on SoundCloud, I don’t see those people.
It’s very similar to actors preferring the theater.
Totally. You can see what works and what doesn’t work immediately. You might sing a note and, oops, four people looked down at their phones.
Do you ever tweak past recordings?
It’s ever-changing. Some of them just work and stand the test of time, but I’m the queen of going back and re-editing. I just feel that, as I grow, I don’t want to keep a version of a song written maybe a year ago when it could be better. Everyone knows I love re-editing and I’m so annoying when it comes to that. [Laughs] They’re always telling me, “Just leave it!” I can’t. It’s uncomfortable putting out something that I don’t feel 100% good about. I have to re-edit.
How did you end up signing with Capitol Records?
I was living at The Brain when we came to this point of feeling like we had the majority of the album and I felt really comfortable with what the music would sound like. We wanted to partner with someone who could help us put it out there. My lawyers actually brought it to Tim Blacksmith and Danny D, who have their own label with Capitol Records, and they both loved it. I actually met with a bunch of labels, but Capitol felt like they got me the most and was willing to give me so much creative freedom, which is awesome.
Was it a scary thought going from independent artist to this?
It was so scary, but I was lucky they said, “We want you and we want your team to lead this.”
It’s great that you’re going into this with a concrete identity. It would be so different if someone got discovered and the manufacturing begins.
Yes, if they didn’t have anything yet.
So what can we expect going forward?
The single will come out in August and it’s called “I Love It When You Cry”. The EP will come out this fall and the album, I think, next spring? I don’t exactly know the full details on the LP yet, but the EP will definitely come out in the fall.
“Buffalo Bill” is making the rounds online and listeners are asking a lot of questions. The song is about the house you lived in?
It is. Buffalo Bill is basically “the perfect high.” It’s the feeling you get when you’re with your best group of friends. You might be writing a song, maybe there’s some alcohol involved or maybe not even. It’s that moment when you love life so much and you don’t want that moment to end.
You put a lot of thought into instrumentation. You like tribal drums, right?
Yeah, totally! We had a citer player at our last show. It’s the guy who played on [No Doubt’s] Tragic Kingdom and he plays on “I Love It When You Cry”. One night at the house, we thought it would be so cool to get a citer player. We actually found him on Craigslist. [Laughs] He had the most amazing resume, so we didn’t think he would answer, but he did! He came over to our house at 2 a.m. and the first thing he played is what you hear on “I Love It When You Cry”. It was like, “That’s perfect! Amazing! You’re done!” I’m into all kinds of different instruments. I love horns.
Going back to the spontaneity again.
Exactly. He actually came and played at my show, which was so special since I hadn’t seen the guy in a year and a half.
Things are about to get pretty crazy in your world. How are your parents taking it?
My mom is really scared. I tell her I’m going to dye my hair blue and she’s like, “Okay…” [Laughs] She’s supportive, but they just don’t know anything about this world, you know? With so many of the things I’m doing, my dad is like, “When are you getting paid?” One day, dad! I’m not in this for the money… Honestly, I think they’re all really excited for me. They understand that I’ve wanted this forever.
If you somehow chanced on someone who had never before heard music in their lifetime, what would you put on their mixtape?
Wow, no hesitation!
Stevie Wonder, hands down.