In her first ever international article, Albany (USA)-based Hard Rock singer MORIAH FORMICA talks to AM’s Joshua Batten about rock music in the mainstream, television talent shows, and dealing with the pressures of being a modern day artist.
As rock and roll revels in its seventh decade of existence, among the challenges for new, up and coming artists all over the world are staying relevant and finding commercial success without compromising artistic integrity. Some artists, like previous interviewees Greta Van Fleet, have gone for a 1970’s approach and are finding success by exploring that era’s vibe. Other acts take influence from the golden days of the glam metal genre, when the music was just as loud but fun for the listeners too. However, recent acts that have taken up the glam metal mantle have come under scrutiny for being too insensitive to modern day conventions. Steel Panther, we’re looking at you! Being a rock act in 2018 can be a perilous journey.
Enter Moriah Formica, a 17-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist from Albany, New York. Formica’s ultimate ambition is to bring to light the struggles of anxiety and mental illness, topics that seem to be gaining traction in the alternative metal scene today thanks to bands such as Evanescence and Halestorm. It’s no surprise then that those bands’ frontwomen, Amy Lee and Lzzy Hale respectively, are Formica’s two biggest influences. “I first started singing when I was ten, and all I wanted to do was sing Amy Lee’s songs. And when I saw Lzzy Hale, I was so inspired by this badass female up there with her guitar and hitting those notes. That was what made me want to be in a band.”
Formica is a rock chick through and through, having spent her childhood locked in her room practicing Aerosmith songs before making her live debut as a backup guitarist for her 5th and 6th grade chorus. It was at that moment that Formica knew the stage was where she belonged, and where she could truly be herself. “It’s just a place for me to just truly be me, through my music. I can dance wherever I want, I can sing whatever I want, I play my own music, and I like to communicate with the crowd in a way that some other people don’t. All my thoughts, fears and anxiety get left by the stage when I go up there and play as hard as I can.”
After receiving training at Modern Day Music, a local rock school in Albany, Formica’s first big break came when she was asked to open for Stryper frontman Michael Sweet. “I go do my thing and open the show, not really expecting much to come out from it, but after my set he came out and was just amazing to me. He and his wife were talking about how amazed they were, and he said that he just really wanted to help me.” Since then, Sweet has taken Formica under her wing and has not only invited her up onstage to sing with Stryper, but also featured her as a guest singer on the song “Can’t Take This Life”, from his album “One Sided War”. “A lot of my fanbase comes from the Stryper family, so I’m forever grateful to him for giving me a chance.”
Formica’s debut EP “Bring It On” was released in 2016 and although the production of this record is a bit sub-par, it’s definitely an early indication of the type of music she’s going for – Heavy and catchy, but with a sense of pride and determination in her lyrics. The title track sums this up perfectly. “I’ve been through a lot, and I think a lot of people have been through a lot – that’s what life is about, it just constantly throws things at you. Sometimes you’re not ready for it, and sometimes you are. But even though I felt broken at the time, I always came out with the literal mentality of “Bring it on!” These things can keep flying at me in life, but at the end I have to pick myself up, continue to work and hopefully touch the lives of other people.”
Once word got out about the young singer with a big voice, Formica was approached by producers of the American version of “The Voice” to appear on the long-running NBC show. “Being 16, I was a little hesitant, because I wasn’t sure how shows like that work for Rock people,” Formica recalls. “But then I thought ‘I play music – this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, how stupid would I be if I didn’t take that chance to be on in front of millions of people?’ But most importantly, I wanted to do it for Rock & Roll, give rock a chance, and I think I helped bring that to light a little bit by being on the show.”
As has been mentioned many times by Australian Musician, television talent shows are a bit of a taboo subject in the music world. While it does offer plenty of exposure, at the end of the day it’s a show about entertaining its audience, often at the expense of the contestants’ mental and physical health. For Formica, it was no exception; “There were days when I would have to get up at 6AM and I wouldn’t get back until 9PM. It’s very hard and I just wasn’t prepared for that physically or emotionally.”
Fortunately, despite not reaching the finals, her time on the show was long enough to introduce herself to America as a powerhouse singer, performing songs such as Heart’s “Crazy on You”, The Guess Who’s “American Woman” and Beth Hart’s “World Without You”. Formica speaks positively of her time on the show, as it opened the doors for new social connections. “The biggest highlight is how close all of the contestants were with each other. We keep in touch with each other to this day, because when you’re out there for months, all you have is each other. I met my best friend Iliana Viramontes through The Voice, and I’ve never had a connection with anybody like that.”
Since her time on The Voice came to an end in November last year, Formica has been zoning in on her target audience and hitting the road with her band, currently consisting of guitarist Nick Stamas, drummer Tony Tirino, and outgoing bass player Andrew Blowers. Her latest single “I Will”, co-written with another TV talent show alumnus. It’s her most polished work to date, with a chain gang style “Stomp-Clap” rhythm evoking The Pretty Reckless’ “Heaven Knows” and a big, catchy chorus. “That would definitely be my favourite song so far; I think it’s really empowering.”
Off the back of “I Will”, 2018 has been a big year for Formica as a live performer, with the last two months playing host to an Independence Day show with Smash Mouth, and two huge shows with Joan Jett and Halestorm. Given that Lzzy Hale is one of Formica’s biggest influences, and Joan Jett is one of Lzzy Hale’s biggest influences, Formica says that the shows were a celebration of women in rock, past, present and future. “I never thought that I would be playing a show with my hero, and then we got to hang out afterwards – we had a fire with smores and we all really clicked and had so much fun together. I hope we get to play with them again.”
One of the reasons I personally wanted to speak to Formica is our shared experience of anxiety. Fortunately, Formica has jumped onboard the bandwagon to raise awareness to break the mental health stigma. “People are so eager to talk about drugs, but they don’t seem to want to talk about the role that mental health has to play in that. The people that struggle with mental health all have to come together to help one another, because the suicide and drug abuse rate is just too much now. We’re all going through the same things, so we might as well support one another.”
So, what does the future hold for Formica? “I’m not working on a full album at the moment, but I’m working on some singles and some new songs. I’m performing at the New York State Fair on Wednesday, and there’s a few things that I’m flying out to LA for that I can’t really announce yet. But really what I’ve been focusing the most is really trying to find my sound – something that can bring rock back into the mainstream while being a part of who I am. There are just too many amazing, talented rock artists out there that are just not known, because the mainstream won’t give them a chance, and that’s just not fair. So, I guess I’m working on that new sound to give rock a chance”
With further development of her musical identity, Formica will no doubt be on her way to becoming a fully-fledged performer and she’s a great role model for young women who want to pick up a guitar too. We here at AM wish Moriah all the best in her career ahead and hope that with each new release, she gets one step closer to achieving her goals.
The writer, Joshua Batten is a Melbourne based singer songwriter https://www.joshuabatten.com.au/