An In-Depth Interview With The Kentucky-Based Musicians and Activists, HUDOST!
HuDost, led by Kentucky-based musicians and activists Moksha Sommer and Jemal Wade Hines, have released a powerful video for their forthcoming single, “Our Words Will Be Louder.” The new song which was officially released on October 16, is a vital message for positive, collective action to be taken in this vulnerable and polarized time. “Our Words Will Be Louder” was co-written with Dan Haseltine (GRAMMY Award-winning band Jars of Clay) and Guitar World magazine’s “Acoustic Guitarist of the Year,” Christie Lenée.
“Our Words Will Be Louder” has several cameo performances from artists and activists including Jars of Clay, Kevin Hearn (The Barenaked Ladies), Kevin Clash (creator of Elmo), Cy Curnin (The FIXX), Gangstagrass, Jai Uttal, Hymn for Her, The Accidentals, JP Durand, Liza Carbe (Incendio), and others. Specifically, the song addresses how inadequate people can feel until they give their voices to a larger purpose.
Proceeds from “Our Words Will Be Louder” will be directed to The Poor People’s Campaign, a non-profit organization committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation as well as to building unity across lines of division.
At the end of HuDost’s music video is riveting footage of peaceful protests and the voice of The Poor People’s Campaign’s main leader, Reverend William J. Barber II, saying these words:
“We will stand up again, we will march again, we will preach again, we will organize again. We are black, we are white, we are latino, we are native American, we are democrat, we are republican, we are independent, we are people of faith, we are people not of faith, we are natives and immigrants, we are business leaders and workers and unemployed, we are doctors and the uninsured, we are gay, we are straight, we are students, we are parents, we are retirees, we are America, and we are here and we ain’t going nowhere!”
HuDost were recently honored with an Independent Music Award for their song “Rise Together” in the “Social Action” category (also co-written with Dan Haseltine from Jars of Clay).
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Learn more about Hudost in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! So how are you keeping busy and musical these days during the pandemic? How are you staying connected to your fans? Are you finding that social media is even more useful now?
I feel like we’re in a massive time warp. We’ve been so incredibly busy during these last few months with music making and home-schooling our 7 year old. We’re used to being on the road the bulk of the year, so this is the first time we’ve been planted in one spot. We’ve been writing and recording A LOT!
Early on when Covid started, we had a big art/dance/music project with Jana Harper & Rebecca Steinberg that was supposed to have its live installation debut at Oz Arts in Nashville and the whole thing moved to a streaming film project at the last minute, so we also recorded the entire soundtrack for that during this time.
It’s been a challenging time but a fruitful time creatively. We’re always together as a family, but this whole situation has really made us more closely knit. It’s also made us find new creative ways to stay connected to our fans so we’ve started a ‘DostFam Subscription Service’ on our hudost.com website and that’s been fun coming up with ways to stay connected with folks. We’ve also done a lot of live streams, but it’s such a different vibe obviously than playing live. We really really miss the interaction with actual humans.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this band together? What do you think motivates you day in and day out? How has that drive changed since you first starting writing songs?
Well, Moksha and I met through music. We met at a big Rumi Festival in Chapel Hill, NC. I drove up from Florida to hang out with the Sufis and Moksha drove down with some friends from Montreal. This was in 2000 if you can believe it! 20 years! I was playing drums and chanting holy names with the Sufis and she came in. I still remember it. We were all rocking and chanting and jumping up and down and swaying back and forth and at one point I heard this voice coming through all the other voices doing this crazy bleating vocal sound and I looked around and saw her. We locked eyes in the middle of this big sacred moment!
We exchanged emails and a few months later in the spring/summer of 2001 she came down to Florida for a retreat in Sarasota and I loaded up my recording gear and drove down from Gainesville and we re-connected, fell in love and instantly wrote, or should I say improvised and recorded a bunch of music together. Not too long after that she dragged me up to Montreal where I got a sound engineering degree and she finished college and all during that time we continued to write and record, so it just naturally happened.
As far as motivation, I am an avid music collector; especially vinyl. I draw inspiration from listening to music; from deep diving into a certain artist and really exploring their whole catalog.
We are also motivated by the global advocacy work that we do with the ONE Campaign and recently working more regionally with the Poor People’s Campaign. That has been informing our song-writing messaging.
Where did your band name come from? Was it hard to narrow down a name that you could all agree on?
Before we were HuDost we just called ourselves ‘MokshaJemal’. We weren’t touring yet but we were playing shows here and there. We were living in a community called the Abode in upstate NY in 2005 and decided to do a ‘side-project’ of Sufi songs with the lovely Linda Worster and we called it ‘HuDost’. That became our ‘first album’. It was very well received and we started performing more and more. At that point, we just kept the name. All of our ‘songwriter—songs’ that we’d been working on over the past few years ended up coming out on our second album called ‘Seedling’ in 2006. Realistically ‘Seedling’ is really our ‘first album’ as most of the songs had already been written.
HuDost is a Turkish Sufi greeting. ‘Hu’ is the ‘unifying breath’ or ‘one sound’ and also part in the word Human interestingly enough. ‘Dost’ translates to ‘the true friend’, so HuDost basically means ‘the true friend of the One sound or breath’. It’s an acknowledgment of that attribute in another person, so it’s kind of sort of like a ‘Sufi Namaste’.
How do you think your hometown has influenced the kind of music that you make? If not, why is that?
It’s according to what I consider my hometown. We currently live in the backwoods of Kentucky near the Green River about an hour and 20 minutes from Nashville. I grew up in Gainesville, Florida and started playing in the punk rock music scene there in 1987. Tom Petty was always looking over my shoulder saying, “Tired of this town!” nudging me along. Gainesville has always had a vibrant musical scene throughout the years thanks to him. I basically bought my first guitar after picking watermelons in Newberry, FL for two summers and saving my money. I instantly bought a fuzz, chorus and delay pedal and just started making noise and got into a band.
Even though HuDost music is totally different than what I grew up playing, there are still elements of that that seep in. Falling into Sonic Youth mode is always my default… when in doubt, feedback’.
Moksha’s musical upbringing was totally different than mine as she grew up in a Buddhist household with poet and artist parents. She grew up spinning Meredith Monk records you know….
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Was your family and friends always supportive of this career choice? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I’ve been an obsessed music fan for as long as I can remember. My entire childhood is mapped out according to the year certain albums came out. My first music memories are of me dancing around my house at 2-3 years old in Oklahoma listening to ‘Honkey Cat’ and ‘Crocodile Rock’ in 1972/73. I remember staring at the gatefold of Elton John albums for hours on end while listening.
I started collecting Osmonds vinyl at 5 years old, but quickly shifted focus around 7 years old when I discovered KISS in 1977. That’s when everything changed! For the next couple of Halloweens I was dressing up as KISS and putting on makeup and growing out my hair. That’s when I knew I was a rocker for life.
My musical tastes are wide and range from Prince to Queen to Earth, Wind & Fire to Fleet Foxes to Arcade Fire to Minnie Ripperton to Brian Eno to Van Halen to Kate Bush to Gillian Welch to Depeche Mode, Love & Rockets & beyond…it just goes and goes. I feel blessed to have grown up in the vast musical landscape of the 70s & 80s, so I just love blending all those things and playing with retro synths and multiple delay’s and experimenting with guitar tones.
In terms of being supportive, initially my family wasn’t. Growing up in a Southern Baptist home, they were really worried when I started playing punk rock clubs in my teens. They were also worried when I started listening to KISS at such an early age. The church we went to forced us to listen to those backward masking tapes trying to convince us that KISS stood for ‘Knights in Satan’s Service’ and whatnot. I never bought into that. My feeling even at a young age was “If I have to choose spending an eternity in heaven listening to these awful piano church hymns or an eternity in hell listening to rock, then BURN BABY BURN!” Of course, later on with the discovery of psychedelics and the Grateful Dead, I learned new ways to de-program myself from that stuff and find that heaven within through music.
At this point in life though, my parents are extremely supportive in every way possible and I am very grateful for that and them.
I honestly don’t have a clue what I would do if I wasn’t a musician.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell your younger self about this industry?
Great question…It’s so much work you know. I mean, HuDost has been going full time and making a living at music for 15 years now. I’ve been playing music in bands for 33 years! Polite persistence and perseverance is key in my view along with something resembling faith. I am lucky in that I have never questioned my path. I have many times questioned myself or my methods or my self-worth through it all but never questioned that music is it.
If I could communicate with my younger self, I’d talk less about the industry and more about not questioning following my heart. The only thing I regret in life is hurting people. I often wish I had played in marching band in High School. I was too cool at the time in my mind to do it. I wish I had learned more music theory early on and would advise my younger self to learn deeper guitar mechanics from the start. But then again, I wouldn’t play the way I play now sonically if I hadn’t gone the route that I had or done all the psychedelic exploring that I did. So on one hand I wouldn’t change a thing and on the other hand, a little more theory and discipline on the front end would’ve been a great aide.
I will say one thing about the industry though and that is, as much as you can, do it all yourself! It’s great to find management and an agent and to have a team, but make sure they are really YOUR TEAM! We had a really successful crowd sourcing campaign through PledgeMusic for our last album and PledgeMusic stole our money and went bankrupt (even though a couple of their CEOs are now ‘consultants’ and have moved on to other lucrative jobs). That being said, we’ve learned to take things into our own hands now even with things like crowd sourcing.
Let’s talk about your recently released single, “Our Words Will Be Louder.” Where did the inspiration for this track come from? What was it like working with songwriter Dan Haseltine on it? How would you say that it compares to anything else that you have put out?
We are very proud of our new single and music video, ‘Our Words Will be Louder’. Besides Dan, the song was also co-written with Guitar World magazine’s “Acoustic Guitarist of the Year”, great friend and sometimes touring HuDost member Christie Lenée. We wrote it in response to the state of the world as a means to speak out against injustice, racial equality and encourage early voting in the US. It is a strong cry for positive collective action to be taken in this vulnerable and polarized time.
I mean, we are white people writing about racial issues, so we really questioned how to put this forward in the proper way. We wanted to ask the right questions. We also wanted to create something that addressed inequality that didn’t create further division, but that’s not fully possible in this climate.
As for working with Dan Haseltine from Jars of Clay, he’s just an amazing human being on so many levels. He’s extremely creative and funny and deep as well as being a truly committed humanitarian. We actually met Dan when lobbying in DC with the ONE Campaign (www.one.org). He’s a ONE member (and a hardcore fellow U2 fan), but he also started his own non-profit called Blood:Water (www.bloodwater.org) which helps build clean water wells, fight HIV/AIDs and teach sanitation in Africa amongst other things. Anyway, when we really got the first big initial Dan dose, he was a speaker at a post lobby day dinner in DC and he just blew us away. I never was a Jars of Clay fan. I pretty much wrote them off as a ‘90s Christian band’. Dan gave us their most recent album ‘Inland’ and we loved it! “Wait a minute…this isn’t ‘Christian rock!”. Then I began to realize that Jars had been banned from Christian radio and stores for standing up and speaking out against both racial, LGBTQ, and sexual inequality. The more we dove into their back catalogue the more we realized we’d been missing out on a treasure trove of deeply insightful amazing music!
Fast forward….we became friends with Dan and asked him if he would be willing to be ‘production ears’ on our last album ‘of Water + Mercy’. He also sings a duet with Moksha on the record called ‘’Ghazal’ which is really beautiful. Anyway, we’d send him songs in progress and he’d make various arrangement idea suggestions and we’d instantly try them. At that point in the process we were totally unattached to the songs, so if he said “Cut this part” or “How about upping the tempo in this one and chopping this section off the end and putting it up front”, we’d happily try it and usually loved the shifts and changes. As we were getting ready to mix the record, Dan said something to the affect of “Can I put my AR hat on and suggest you write one more song and make it the ‘hit single?”. So we then said, “Do you want to write a song together? How can we write a pop song about advocacy?”. So we got together with Dan and wrote ‘Rise Together’ which we won an IMA for for ‘Best Social Action Song’. We recorded that piece at the Jars studio Gray Matters in Nashville with engineer and Jars guitarist Matthew Odmark.
Fast forward to mid-Covid and Dan sends me a voice text saying “Here’s an idea…see what you all can do with it”. It’s him humming a nice catchy melody playing piano. I send it to Moksha and we learn the chord progression and she writes some lyrics to what turns out to be the verses and pre-chorus of ‘Our Words’ which was initially titled ‘I Can’t Breathe’. We work up a demo and then when it seemed Covid was starting to mellow a bit, we decided to book some time at Gray Matters to record this and two other pieces with the band including Charlie Lowell from Jars on keys, Matt Nelson (Jars string arranger) on bass, Bryan Brock on drums & Christie Lenee on guitars with Matthew engineering and co-producing. Dan of course came in and laid down some vocals for the track as well and came up with some great new ideas. We were all SO happy to be playing music together with other creative humans! We brought videographer Sam Boyette in to film the sessions too. The process of this song coming together was really fast and we realized that with the subject matter that we needed to fast track it for release. It was a very co-creative project on all accounts.
What was it like making the music video for “Our Words Will Be Louder”? How creatively involved with the overall process were you? How did you go about choosing all of the artists and activists that are featured in the video?
Creating this song and music video has been inspiring, terrifying, and moving in more ways than we can possibly voice. Initially we were just going to have it be a ‘live in the studio’ video, but around 10 PM on recording day as we were finishing up tracking and being exhausted after having been there since 9 AM, we got a third wind. Moksha had the idea come through of a counter-part chant melody for the end of the track (the ‘Our Words Our Words Will Be Louder’ bit). She sang it for us and then Matthew echoed the response of ‘Above the Armor’ back to her. So Moksha and Christie decided to go in and do gang vocals together. They did the ‘Queen method’ of singing the main melody and stacking it three times, then learning the high harmony part and stacking it three times followed by the lower harmony. At that point it sounded like a huge gang choir! That instantly sparked the initial idea of “Let’s get a choir on the end of the track!” followed by the next idea of “Let’s get a whole bunch of people singing along on the video with this!”, so we just started reaching out to folks that we know. One of the first was us approaching the Mt Zion Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky where we live. We met them through our mutual work with the Poor People’s Campaign.
We then started looking for powerful peaceful protest footage and found a videographer in Chattanooga named Kelly Lacy who had amazing footage that he so graciously let us use. We then worked closely together with Sam on putting the whole thing together and we are just so happy with how it turned out.
All of the amazing people involved have shown us the true power of unified voice and vision. Specifically, the song addresses how inadequate people can feel until they give their voices to a larger purpose, and the video has several cameo performances from artists and activists — including Reverend Barder, Jars of Clay, Kevin Hearn (The Barenaked Ladies), Kevin Clash (creator of Elmo), Cy Curnin (The FIXX), Gangstagrass, Jai Uttal, Hymn for Her, The Accidentals, JP Durand & Liza Carbe from Incendio and others. The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa also helped out a through the process and were very involved in the process. We love them and him and Tulsa!
How did you go about selecting The Poor People’s Campaign to be the non-profit organization that you give the proceeds from “Our Words Will Be Louder” to? Why is this particular organization so important to this band?
The Poor People’s Campaign is a non-profit organization committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation as well as to building unity across lines of division.
Moksha and I also work for the ONE Campaign as Kentucky Congressional Representatives, so we work with congressmen and senators from our state around issues of global extreme poverty. When it came time to do this song, we wanted to find an organization that worked on a more regional level. We played a Poor People’s Campaign rally last year and met Reverend Barber then, so when we realized how much work they were doing not only around addressing systemic racism in America, but also around voting rights and basic moral principles we knew they were the perfect fit for the song. When we heard the Reverend Barber dialogue at the end of the video, we both broke down at the beauty of it and how much it reflects the totality of the message we want to put out with our music. We were so elated and grateful when they sent us the footage for the end of the video. It just really caps it all off and drives the Message home…..I mean c’mon:
“We will stand up again, we will march again, we will preach again, we will organize again. We are black, we are white, we are latino, we are native American, we are democrat, we are republican, we are independent, we are people of faith, we are people not of faith, we are natives and immigrants, we are business leaders and workers and unemployed, we are doctors and the uninsured, we are gay, we are straight, we are students, we are parents, we are retirees, we are America, and we are here and we ain’t going nowhere!” -Reverend William Barber
Do you have plans to release more new music or a full album soon? Are you currently writing more new music?
Oh man yes! We’ve been writing and recording up a storm during COVID here. We’ve got more than a full album at this point and have also recorded a bunch of cover songs that we may release as bonus tracks! We’ll release a few more singles and videos over the next months, but will probably wait to release the full album until we’re set to start touring again which will hopefully happen in 2021!
Moksha’s song-writing ideas just keep getting better and our musical synergy always has something new & interesting to offer. I think it’s a good sign when everything that we work on feels like the best thing we’ve done so far.
How do you think you and your music has grown over the years and since you first started writing music? What has remained the same?
I think our song-writing has refined quite beautifully. We can actually write 3-4 minute songs now effortlessly without sacrificing what we want to communicate! I remember early on having these long sprawling songs with all these parts and having producers say “Why don’t you chop this down some?” and I’d be so attached to everything and think they were trying to dam up my artistic vision. I feel we’re starting to perfect our craft in that regard. I also continue to deeply enjoy arranging songs in the computer and really sculpting sound in that way as well.
That being said, we still love to jam and explore and do longer more drawn out pieces, but the blueprints of those are changing too especially in a live context. Nowadays when we get to the improv section of a piece, there’s no holding back….we’re literally going to go waaaaaaayy off the map knowing we’ll eventually return. Music is my absolute favorite thing in the world besides my family and thankfully I am playing music with them!
What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future? Who has consistently been inspiring you and the music that you make?
Well, we’ve loved working with the Jars of Clay guys. They’re so easy to work with and their musical ideas and parts and sounds always fit so perfectly. They’re surely underrated. We’ve been honored to work with a lot of different artists and even did a full album with Steve Kilbey from The Church a few years back. They were my holy grail band for a number of years. We also worked with Jon Anderson from YES on a couple of tracks and he continues to thrive in creativity. As for others we’d like to work with, I would LOVE to do something with Wendy & Lisa someday. I feel like we’d be fast friends. I know Moksha would love to co-create something with Ani DiFranco. We’d love to do something with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings; that’d be fun. I’d love to just hang with Bono someday or borrow Edge’s guitar tech for a year or two.
As far as people who’ve been consistently inspiring, I’d also say Bono is toward the top of the list; not just for the music but for the advocacy work he does. Reverend William Barber II is also highly inspirational as he tirelessly works for justice, morality and democracy. Jimmy Carter is a lifetime inspiration for the same reasons. His example on service is so clear and selfless. We’d love to work with Van Jones and create an interdisciplinary art community based project.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Let me refer you to Moksha who is much more articulate and refined than I am:
“I hope it will make you ask questions and make you feel more connected to others, a larger purpose, and a deeper source of energy. To me, music in general is capable of being a source of unlimited love and inspiration and my hope is that our music does that.”