MoZella: Songwriter/Singer

The summer of 2012 is finding MoZella, Maureen Anne McDonald, as a bit of an accidental pop star.  The singer/songwriter, born and raised in Michigan, released her full-length debut, I Will, on Warner/Maverick in 2006 and her sophomore LP, Belle Isle, on Universal/Motown in 2009 and has toured alongside the likes of Tyler Hilton, Dave Matthews Band, and Lifehouse.  She’s also had music appear in TV shows like How I Met Your Mother, The Hills, and Pretty Little Liars, among others, along with campaigns for JC Penney and Verizon.  However, when she was approached to do her latest, The Brian Holland Sessions, which dropped last month, she was in a slightly different state of mind.  “At the time, I was thinking I’d segue more into writing songs for other artists,” she told me in a recent interview (She’s previously written for Miranda Cosgrove and Shonetelle and is currently working with Miley Cyrus.)  That took a bit of a detour (although only slightly) when she got a call from her publisher: “My publisher called and said, ‘I had someone from the Motor City who would like to work with you.’”  That “someone,” was the aforementioned Brian Holland, most famous for his work writing with and producing Motown legends like the Supremes and the Four Tops (He’s actually the songwriter of 25 #1 Motown songs.)  She tells me that she was quite taken-aback by the request: “I was like, ‘Me?!?!’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, you!!!’”  Although continuing on as a performer wasn’t what MoZella had in mind, under the circumstances, it certainly wasn’t something she was going to back away from: “Writing with Holland was always a dream.  I’d always thought I would love to work with an old Motown legend and make an album.”

The Brian Holland Sessions is MoZella’s most impressive release to-date.  It boasts the swagger of classic Motown R&B, but also the gloss of the prettiest of pop.  Holland seems to have encouraged her to let her emotions explode more gloriously than they ever have in the past… it’s quite epic.  The album is the best of its kind since Duffy’s debut.  However, while most contemporary blue-eyed soul songstresses push sentimentality to the forefront of their sound, for MoZella it takes a backseat to a whimsically liberated sass that comes across as far more charming than those who simply try to continually re-iterate just how damaged they are.  The album has become a smashing success of sorts, garnering praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, Spin, and USA Today. MoZella admits that it’s all quite shocking (“I never did it with any expectation.  We had no budget… The success of the album was reallyunexpected.”)… Yet not unappreciated:

“I think going on The Tonight Show a few weeks ago was pretty special.  When you’re a little girl and you can’t imagine doing it.  I mean, you dream about it, but you never think it’ll happen.  It’s like a dream-come-true… Being asked to be on NPR was also a highlight. I’m a big fan of public radio.”

However, despite her recent accolades, pop stardom isn’t necessarily the path that MoZella (Who is one of the most humble individuals I’ve ever met.) is interested in continuing down:

“I don’t have any crazy plans for the rest of the year.  I think I’m primarily interested in writing for other artists.  I primarily enjoy songwriting – that’s what makes me happiest… I love a good singer and I love a good performer, but I always focus on the songwriting.”

Despite being so interested in collaborating with other artists, MoZella tells me that she’s not terribly picky about who she works with and isn’t necessarily holding out for any existentially Utopic collaborations: “I don’t really have any fantasies about collaborating, as long as the people are cool to be around.  I’m really lucky.  A lot of my dreams have already come true.”  She does, however, admit that it would be cool to get to work with classics like Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, and Burt Bacharach.  But endearingly, MoZella’s influences aren’t nearly as lofty as her actual accomplishments:

“I’m always inspired. Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development really inspire me.  Traveling inspires me, or reading a good book… I get just as inspired by Arrested Development as train rides though New York City.”