Born into a legacy of gospel music, J. Moss continues to blaze an R&B trail with his addictive beats and no nonsense message. Through his new album Volume 4… The Other Side and powerhouse production team, J. Moss is breaking new ground in the industry and challenging gospel artists to let even their stage presence open new doors for ministry.
Family Christian: Would you start us off by taking a few minutes to describe your childhood?
J. Moss: (laughs) Well, it’s kinda fast. My dad basically stuck a mike in front of my face at the age of 5 years old and I’ve been doing it ever since. At the age of 41 this year, that’s 36 straight years in music. So of course, you can only imagine what that type of childhood is like, being in the limelight right at the time you can complete full sentences. But I think it took every bit of that time to nurture and shape who I am today. But it also took me away from being on the local football teams and basketball teams, a lot of movies I didn’t see, a lot of parties I didn’t attend, get-togethers at school I didn’t get to experience. During the summers my dad had us on the road. I wasn’t able to do things with my friends in the neighborhood because of the calling that I had and of course what my dad required of us. Definitely a very fast, expedient (if you will) childhood. I missed a lot, but that’s why I’m making up for it now – still a kid at heart.
FC: So you come from a long line of musicians – your dad was part of the Moss Brothers and your cousins are the Clark Sisters. As you just alluded to, you went on tour as a child. At what point did you realize that your life was going to continue moving in that direction, as a Gospel singer?
J. Moss: I always knew it, way back from when I was 5, on those old 45 records that we put out years ago. I always knew I’d be a singer in some capacity. Whether I’d be in a group or a solo artist I didn’t know, but I definitely knew at a young age that a calling was on my life and I was different from other kids. No better than the other kids, but I was different; the pull on my life (and not just what my mom and dad were requiring of me), there was something to my heart. A passion deep down that hadn’t even been awakened yet. It probably came [to fruition] when I was at Michigan State University. Those years are where it really started to shift and I was kind of able to guide it to where God wanted it to be.
FC: May we ask what you went to MSU for…?
J. Moss: Electrical engineering.
FC: So you’re one of those guys (like a lot of us) who are not doing what you went to college for…
J. Moss: Right, not at all. (laughs) It wasn’t easy, but I definitely utilized that education, I programmed microphones and was a programming instructor for Microsoft for 7 to 10 years. I was able to utilize some of that training and even get more training (at a certifiable level) with Microsoft. But I’m not using a lot of that now. It’s all about music and music production.
FC: Let’s talk about music a minute. You seem to take the listener on a journey in every single one of your songs. What is your process for writing a new song?
J. Moss: Well, it varies. Sometimes [I get ideas while] mowing the lawn, pulling weeds out of the garden, sometimes it’s on a plane. There’s no finite way to write a song, it comes in many different forms. You just have to be open and available for it to drop in your spirit. That’s what I love about art; there is no right or wrong way to do it. We just have to be open to those feelings as they drop into us. That’s pretty much how I live my life. It could be 3 AM or 3 in the afternoon that I go to the piano and get something going on. That’s just how it is. That’s how we make it happen. I don’t run from that, I embrace it and my family understands that. My wife automatically knows that if I jump up in the middle of the night and run out of the room, 9 times out of 10 it’s not an emergency, it’s that something’s been pulling at me during the night, during my sleep. I’m just always in a receptive place for whenever or whatever God wants to do.
FC: How would you describe your music?
J. Moss: My music is definitely very in-your-face, very one-on-one. Humanistic, if I can use that word. Just a real down-to-earth kind of writing. They’re songs that people can put in and say “that’s neat” without having to decipher through. I write by Scripture, but there’s not a lot of scriptural “jargon” to pick through. A lot of the songs just kinda hit you in the face just dealing with your everyday situations. Marriages, parent/child relationships, things that go on in our churches, our jobs, things that happen while we’re driving home from work, things that happen in school, in relationships. Things that aren’t miracles. Just a real, in-your-face, down to earth, grimy kind of style that hits home with everybody.
FC: In writing your latest album Volume 4… The Other Side did you set out to write around a specific theme? We aren’t music critics, but we’re pretty sure we’ve picked up on one…
J. Moss: Well, [typically] the theme you’d guess is exactly what we set out to do. We’re very strategic with our albums. Very strategic with what’s going to be the direction or focal point. We try not to be all over the place so we can give the listener or those who are going to experience the project a pleasurable experience. So this album is definitely one of victory and triumph, being on the other side of victory. So many gospel albums are very somber, slow, very “in the struggle” or “in the storm,” types of concepts and what we wanted to do was go on the other side of that; get into a more celebratory, triumphant and victorious type of delivery. Where we’re talking about the advantages of God bringing healing and bringing you out of it – God doing what He promises that He would do. So probably what you felt is what we set out to do.
FC: What would you say to a person who is spiritually “in the wilderness?” They realize that God is there, but in their heart they feel abandoned…
J. Moss: Well, that’s where the song “Good and Bad” comes from. I just got so tired of people falling into this hopelessness. And it’s not necessarily just individuals; it’s those of us who are leaders, ministers, recording artists, what have you. It’s our job, our duty, to let them know that God has not abandoned us. That’s a really serious thing. That’s heavy on my heart. I’m on a campaign to let everybody know, hey look, God is still there, He’s still healing. As long as you have breath, the Lord has your back. All we have to do is tap into that. A lot of times we stray so far away that we can’t find our way back home – so basically what you have to do is use your spiritual GPS system (which is the Word of God), and a healthy supporting cast – your friends and family. You want to hang around the people that actually speak those things into existence and you’ll be able to find your way back to the light. But by no means has God punished us, left us, abandoned us. That’s what this record is about. It’s about reminding people of God’s faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness. It’s because of His mercies that we’re not abandoned, we are not consumed. And I live by that promise. Every single day we are renewed. That means every morning He gives us a clean slate. The things we’re ready to ask forgiveness for He’s already thrown into the sea of forgetfulness. Now all we need to do is just press on toward the high calling which is in Jesus.
FC: J, you’ve said “this record is a clear reflection of my life and where I am at this moment.” You’ve talked briefly about going through the wilderness and living on the other side of that. Do you write from your own experience, or for a particular audience?
J. Moss: Well, I’m definitely writing [in response to] things that I hear on Facebook, read on Twitter, what I get in emails and from people walking up to me at the end of shows we do. People saying “thank you J for your transparency.” I’m hearing these stories and these issues and experiences that others are going through, so a lot of the final form is not targeted just at J. Moss – but he gives you a lot of himself. [I showed you] the fragile human being in the 3rd project Just James, but with V4… The Other Side we came out of that and decided to really just be a servant of the people again and give them what they needed to hear – a word of encouragement to continue to press on…
FC: So obviously you’re a solo artist, but also along with your business partners – Paul Allen and Walter Kearney – you’ve formed PAJAM Music Group and have had the privilege of working with a ton of heavy hitters: Byron Cage, Hezekiah Walker, the Trin-i-tee 5:7 girls, Karen Clark Sheard, N’Sync, Boyz II Men, Patti LaBelle…? Dude, seriously?! How do you continually balance all of this and keep Christ at the center of your heart?
J. Moss: You have to balance it out. You know, you can’t say yes to everything. Sometimes you just have to say, “look I’m unavailable right now” even if it’s just for a 30-40 minute reading or meditation session with God, or I’m going to Bible study and I’m not going to be bothered. A lot of times it’s family that will keep you rooted and grounded in those things. You have to balance family, spirituality and business all at the same time and you only get 24 hours a day to do it per day. Plus you gotta get sleep in there, exercise, health, all of that in there. Balance and management of time truly is key. And again I can’t say enough about the supporting cast. You gotta have management and partners around you who understand the demands on your life and will allow you to breakaway and break free to do certain things. A lot of times it’s our business affairs guy, Walter Kearney, who handles most of that [for me]. He’ll call me sometimes and say J, we have an interview in five minutes and I’ll say, Walter, I just sat down at the table with the family to eat. And he knows that we’ve been out of town for a few weeks and that the time is important, so I won’t even have to deal with that – he’ll intercept it for me, call the radio station or media outlet. You need people like that around you so you can keep a level head about these things. Because you’ll always be pulled in different directions, and eventually you’ll just explode. So I thank God for the people at PAJAM, my family, friends, siblings, mom, all of them who really understand what it takes to be somebody like J. Moss and they really help me the best that I can be.
FC: This is kind of a curve ball – In all of the various people that you’ve worked with in the past, do you have any embarrassing moments or hilarious memories with them that you’d be willing to share?
J. Moss: Well if anyone follows us on Twitter or YouTube you’ll know we always have a top 5 or 10 [artists]. One artist that is consistently in our male vocalist top 10 is Marvin Winans. He was gracious enough to lend us his talents on the V2 project that we did with Byron Cage. So we did the vocals, recorded it and he did a wonderful job, and somehow between Paul, Walter and myself, after it was done we somehow threw the vocals into a digital trash can and could not get them back. We had nothing. I mean, man, for days we went back and forth first to try and find the vocals, and once we realized that it was just a no-go, we had to call him. We almost did everything but flip a coin to see who was going to have to call Marvin. (laughs) I mean we were so on edge, He’s a Grammy award winner, he’s our mentor, he’s helped us in so many areas and given so much to our ministry, he’s just been a great friend down through the years. But still, out of respect for who this guy is and his time, how do you tell him on a vocal that he already approved that we lost it and now he’s got to do it again. On one hand you look like you don’t know what you’re doing, and ya know, on the other hand he’s busy and he may not want to do it again, or he may get upset with us. So Paul and I had a time on our hands just trying to figure out the best way to break the news to him. The funny part about it was, I ended up being the one to break the news to him and really all he did was laugh. I mean, he couldn’t stop laughing. He’s a jokester so he clowned us. We have a very personable relationship with him. If you would have seen us, you never would have thought the end result would have been him laughing and clowning with us. It was definitely a time to be remembered.
FC: Ok, last question - every time we have seen you live or on video, you are a ball of fire! So we’re wondering, do you drink Mountain Dew or Red Bull? Are you just jacked up on caffeine all day long?
J. Moss: (laughs) You know what, that has been one of those things people have always said to me. If you look in the gospel music industry, especially black gospel, there’s just not a lot of artists that can target the young person in how they want [music/ministry] presented. So when you look at Kiki [Kierra Sheard], myself, Deitrick [Haddon], you know, outside of the few of us, there’s not many more. Of course Kirk [Franklin] does what he does, but just for that incorporating of the dancers and all the movement, jumping from one side of the stage to another, it’s all really just trying to give people in general (not just young people) an experience, and let them know that we’re excited and having a good time. We’re happy with this commission that we have on our lives. I just think that’s where God put me, not just in a place of standing flat-footed to sing, it’s always about being excited about Him. I think the more people can see the excitement in you, they will be more engaged and that will prompt them to get more involved in the service and what’s happening. When you can capture their attention on that level, then you can start feeding them that word of encouragement from the Word of God and start [seeing] changed lives. So PAJAM and I are all about artists who are sticklers for their presentation, because if we can get their attention and get them in the palm of our hand, we can start feeding them what our ultimate purpose is – the Word of God.
FC: We love it. We just really appreciate your music and have especially enjoyed this last record.
J. Moss: Thank you so much, we appreciate your love and support – allowing us to use you as an outlet to get this message out. We are going to continue to stay in the studio, in the books, on our knees before the Lord and try to provide excellent product.
Bonus - video for God's Got It