All life seeks balance. Without an opposite—a contrary or complementary state—we cannot appreciate the cycles of nature and the way we move through life as people. All those negative and positive forces of change are illuminated on Shine A Light, the first full-length release from Moorea Masa & The Mood.
“All I was doing was thinking about songs and songwriting, all these themes in my life, digging into all these different traumas,” Masa explains. “I was processing a lot when I was writing this record. I feel like I've been taking a light to my brain and shining it on all these dark and dusty corners that I've been too afraid to look at in the past, or didn't know were there.”
To help see herself, Masa collaborated with other luminaries, like artist Alexandra Becker-Black who created the striking and sensual watercolor likenesses of her for the album’s cover and several singles including “The Garden,” “I Can’t Tell” and “Ever Moving.”
“[Alexandra] was going to make a painting and I was going to write a song about it,” Masa tells. “She ended up doing a painting of me, and I was like, ‘Oh, okay... now I have to write a song to this painting of myself. This is kind of awkward.’ I sat with it in my studio for a couple hours one day, and it was so uncomfortable. I really felt like I was looking in a mirror and staring myself down.”
Similarly, Shine A Light is a collection of 10 songs reflecting a cycle of internal exploration and external conversations. It is equal parts personal and political. The album tackles the heavy topics of sexism, police violence and abuse, while balancing them with a profound sense of self, expectations, love and letting go. It is the essence of strength and vulnerability of a woman living in our very current and collective reality.
There is an immediacy in Masa’s music—a well-textured, mellifluous blend of folk, R&B and jazz that allows for plenty of intimate space for her voice to be soft and sultry, or to build into powerful passages of soulful perfection. Shine A Light was co-produced by Jeremy Most (aka J. Most), guitar player, partner and producer of Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Emily King, with additional production skills from Raymond Richards and Sebastian Rogers.
Special guests include a duet with Ural Thomas and songs written by Catherine Feeny—one about women in the music industry called “Conversation” (co-written with Masa), while “Wake Up // Lover Be Found” was penned in the wake of recent police violence and features the soaring voice of Tonya Abernathy as well as Lauren Steele delivering a spoken-word piece that punctures the gospel-tinged dirge with a poem. “It’s a song about a mother losing her son,” Masa says. “I wanted to lift up all these voices. It's a really meaningful song to me even though I didn't write it. Catherine felt it really needed to be heard and asked me to sing it and record it.”
Shine A Light contains dark, bruised moments infused with tenderness and promise, best captured in two polar opposite songs: “‘I Can't Tell’ and ‘Shine A Light’ both came in an hour. Those two are maybe the quickest pair of songs that have ever come to me. I just sat down and started playing guitar chords and singing the songs. Every song is different, there's no formula to it, I just try to capture it when it comes.” Watch and listen to both songs below.
These and so many other tangible dualities are captured in painstaking poetics on Shine A Light. Paraphrasing one of her favorite passages from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Masa reflects, “You have to stare the darkness in the face before you can get to the real joy.”
'Shine A Light' is out May 11. Celebrate its release at the Doug Fir Lounge on Sunday, May 20 with Raquel Rodriguez—find their full tour dates below. And enter to win a pile of Moorea Masa swag including the new record on vinyl, an original framed photo from when Masa was on the cover of Vortex, a copy of our 10-inch #PDXmusic vinyl comp featuring her unreleased title track, her debut EP on CD, and a shirt and mood ring—all this can be yours! Just fill out the form below and join the Vortex Access Party, if you're not already a member.