Moriah Bailey plays the harp, an instrument strongly associated with notions of purity and femininity. Much of Bailey’s approach to the harp – looping, layering, playing with ambiance, dissonance and noise – has implicitly challenged many of these assumptions about her instrument. Her new music relies less on experimental sounds, and instead, lyrically focuses on her struggles to understand and make sense of definitions and expectations of femininity. More broadly, Bailey is a songwriter and composer who uses harp, vocals, effects and other instrumentation to tell stories and explore ideas through song.
How did you get started?
I’ve written songs and poems for as long as I can remember. Songwriting has always been a part of my life, and I guess… I got started with loneliness, by being bullied and alienated as a child. So, I would swing on the playground by myself and make up songs. Poetry was also a huge part of my childhood and something that helped me to communicate with other people. I was a vocalist and played piano and guitar when I was younger. I didn’t see a harp up close and in real life until I was 20 years old. I instantly fell in love with the harp. Growing up, my family never could have afforded a harp, and when I first looked up the price of a harp, I thought I might as well give up on any dream of playing. But I couldn’t get the harp out of my head, and I saved and took out a loan through a rent-to-own program and worked super hard for my first harp and to learn how to play it. I’ve since studied with some amazing harpists: Dr. Michelle Gott, Dr. Xiaodi Xu, Professor Gaye LeBlanc-Germain and Janelle Jansen Lake, and I still take lessons with Professor Faith O’Neal. At times, I’ve felt embarrassed that I started later in life, but I’m now a much more confident harpist. And I’m really proud of my harp origin story. I can’t imagine my life without the harp, and it is the primary instrument that I use to express myself musically.
Did you always want a career in the music industry?
I’m still kind of struggling with this honestly. Ha. I’ve resisted this path a lot, but I guess… Even when I’ve resisted it, I’ve found myself working with music in some way and pursuing it without even meaning to. I’ve always known that music was something I couldn’t live without, and I’ve always used music as a means of communication and connection. I accept that more now, and I’m trying to embrace it more as a career.
What is your role in the music industry?
I think of myself as a songwriter and composer first, but I am also an artist/performer. I aspire to be a teacher.
Most Recent Successes / Placements / Accomplishments / Projects? Career highlight?
I recently finished recording a new album that will be released soon. I can’t share all the details just yet, but I’m really proud of it. I’ll be playing SXSW and Norman Music Festival this year, and I am thrilled about those upcoming shows. I also wrote a dark, experimental and reflective score for a short film, that will be released hopefully at some point this year.
What is your favorite Oklahoma music venue, music store, recording studio, etc.?
I love Opolis in Norman.
Networking and connecting with others who share your dream or vision is a vital aspect to the music industry. Can you share which Oklahoma organizations (if any) have contributed to your success and are there Oklahoma organizations you would recommend others connect with for promotion or to help further their craft?
Soooo many. More than I could name. Opolis does an amazing job of booking acts from multiple genres, and they’re super supportive of indie and experimental musicians. Evan Jarvicks (of Make Oklahoma Weirder) and Elecktra Stanislava do an incredible amount of work to support local musicians. I’m eternally grateful to the DIY music scene here. Also, the now long-defunct Oxford Karma (and the writings of Zach Hale and Joshua Boydston) really motivated me to record and believe in my craft early on in my recording journey and at a pretty low point for me mentally/emotionally. And really everyone who is creating blogs, opening venues, curating festivals, hosting rock camps or song circles and putting in work to support local music and art.
How can we follow you? Best place to purchase and listen to your music (if applicable)?
Follow me on your preferred music-listening platform. I am on social media too, but I’m just not good at it and get really tired of my face. Ha. But feel free to follow me on any of the social media platforms too. Links to all these things are available here.
Advice for someone interested in working in the music industry.
The music industry is super vast, and there are lots of roles for people. Try to find a place that feels good to you but also try to find a way to ensure that whatever you do in the music industry nourishes creativity and fosters musical exchange. Treat other people’s music with care because we pour ourselves into it. More specifically for singer-songwriters/bands, send press releases about your works. Try to find avenues outside of social media to share your music and share info about your music.
What are some of the benefits of having a music career in Oklahoma?
There are some super talented writers here who care about music and take the time to listen to new music, reflect on it and then write about it. After putting your energy, labor, thoughts and time into a project, it’s a dream to get feedback and reflection from people who have actually taken time to really listen to your music. The cost of living has been nice historically, but it is increasingly becoming inaccessible and minimum wage is atrocious here. If any folks want to organize for rent control and/or higher minimum wage, let me know, and I will join you. Ha. For me personally… all the sky helps, the weather, thunderstorms, busted sidewalks sprouting green beings, Oklahoma feeling like home. Those things help me write, think, practice and feel supported, even when I’m struggling in other ways.
Favorite quote (if applicable)
This is rotating and always multiple, but in this moment, I’ll go with…
“Snakes are more scared of you than you are of them.” – My father and lots of wildlife biologists and a lyric from a song on my forthcoming album