Interview: Meet Justin Moses

I recently had the pleasure of conducting an email interview with multi-instrumentalist Justin Moses. He is the IBMA 2018 Dobro Player of the Year, and a 2019 nominee for the award. Justin is married to virtuoso mandolinist Sierra Hull.

HVBA: Congratulations on your IBMA award in 2018 and nomination in 2019. Talk to us about achieving those honors?

JM: It was truly an honor just to be nominated alongside the other nominees! You always want to do good work that might someday be noticed, but it almost felt unrealistic to me for a long time to win an award like that. But I’m very grateful people thought of me in that light. It has possibly even made me more determined to try to continue to push myself forward on all the instruments I play.

HVBA: Who are your musical inspirations / influences?

JM: I have so many… Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks, Chris Thile, Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe — just to name a few.

HVBA: I understand you began playing music with the mandolin. Talk to us about your musical journey with the mandolin and the other instruments.

JM: I did start with the mandolin. I became interested in it after seeing a gospel group called The Primitive Quartet on television. I asked for one for Christmas and got it right after I turned six years old. My father played guitar, so I eventually learned a lot about guitar just from watching him play. He used to trade everything from instruments to pocket knives, so any time he’d get a new instrument, I’d also be interested in it. We really got more into bluegrass music when I was about twelve or thirteen. That’s when I started playing the banjo a lot.

HVBA: Was your goal to play every instrument in a bluegrass band?

JM: That was never a specific goal. I was just always very interested in all of them. That curiosity lead to me tinkering around with them all eventually and trying to get better at each one. I do think I always wanted to play like everybody in the bands I was listening to early on, so I never settled on one instrument – I just wanted to know how they all worked and how they worked together.

HVBA: When did you move to the dobro?

JM: I mentioned earlier that Dad would have different instruments in the house. I messed with the dobro at a pretty early age – by my teens I was definitely playing it some. But I got more serious about it after watching Rob Ickes up close. He came and played some on a record I made with Blue Moon Rising in 2002. Just hearing him play scales was very inspiring and made me want to go home and work on it.

HVBA: What is your go-to instrument when just sitting around at home?

JM: Sitting around at home, I tend to play a lot of mandolin and guitar. Those are my first two instruments I learned on and they just seem friendly to play solo. I do more writing on those instruments typically as well.

HVBA: What music and artists do you enjoy when you have time to relax?

JM: I don’t listen to as much music these days as I have at times in the past. I still love to hear a lot of the same things. I love the music of the founding fathers of bluegrass – Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs. I love the modern acoustic sounds of Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas or the Punch Brothers. But I like a wide variety of things. The record I’ve listened to the most lately is Coldplay’s new record Everyday Life – I’ve kind of been obsessed with it. I just love the soundscapes and the songs.

HVBA: Can you give us an update on your solo project with Mountain Fever Records? Guest artists, tunes, release date, etc.

JM: Yes, I’m really excited about this project! It’s being mixed right now and will probably come out in the fall. We haven’t finalized the name or release day yet. But this is somewhat of a dream project for me. It’ll be a mix of vocal and instrumental. I wrote the four instrumental tunes and co-wrote a couple of the vocal songs. There are also a few cover songs. I’m doing more singing on this record than I’ve ever done. The first single will be out very soon – it’s a cover of Eric Clapton’s “Fall Like Rain” that I’m singing lead on. I’ve got some great guest vocalists – Del McCoury, Dan Tyminski and Shawn Lane are all singing songs on this record. The other musicians are Sierra, Bryan Sutton, Cody Kilby, Barry Bales, Stuart Duncan, Michael Cleveland, Jason Carter, Ethan Jodziewicz and Jerry Douglas. I also had Dennis Parker sing some harmony. One song has a couple of middle eastern instruments on it that I actually had recorded by a couple of guys in Iraq.

HVBA: Please talk to us about your gear — instruments, strings, pickups, picks, steel, pedal board, etc.

JM: I use D’Addario strings for all my instruments and have for years. I use Blue Chip picks on mandolin and guitar. I have a Scheerhorn reso that I absolutely love (it may be my favorite instrument I own). I play a Yates banjo a whole lot but have a Deering I like as well. I mostly play Sierra’s Weber mandolin on the road. She has several great mandolins and she always travels with her Gibson, so that Weber otherwise might not get played much.

HVBA: On your Cosmoses Podcasts, you hosted an incredible array of musicians. Alas, we haven’t heard any in two years, when you said the podcasts will take a new direction. Do you have any plans for future podcasts?

JM: I had good intentions for it at the time I put that out, but life seemed to pull me away from the podcast being something I could spend as much time on for a while as I was. It’s very time-consuming to come up with ideas/guests, record, edit and publish them. I’ve not closed the door to doing more podcasts. I love listening to podcasts myself, so I’m grateful other people enjoyed listening to the ones I made. It’s something I’d like to get back to once I get this new record out.

HVBA: Talk to us about your process of songwriting. Do you write music with Sierra? If so, can you talk to us about that process as well?

JM: We’ve not actually written together much at all. That’s something I think we’ll do more of in time. One day we started recording a voice memo on one of our phones and both just started playing randomly without any discussion. We still haven’t done anything with that, but I think there’s a least one good tune idea in the five minutes or so of just experimenting. That’s what my process is like usually when I’m trying to write alone. I’ll noodle around until something strikes me as something that could be built on.

HVBA: What do you most enjoy about touring? What do you least enjoy?

JM: The thing I enjoy most about touring is getting to perform for so many people and just getting to share music. I also enjoy getting to see a lot of places I otherwise probably wouldn’t. The thing I least enjoy is the travel itself. The daily grind of getting from place to place is one of my least favorite things about this line of work. I do what I can do to keep things from getting too repetitive and working with different artists these days makes that a bit easier.

HVBA: Do you have the opportunity to sit in the audience and watch Sierra perform or are you compelled to join her on stage and vice-versa?

I’m actually heading tonight [3/4/20] to watch Sierra perform. I always love getting to join her, but I do enjoy getting to watch her do her thing as well. We try to be as supportive of each other as we can. And it’s good to get that separate perspective that you can only get from being in the audience.

HVBA: You play with many other bluegrass musicians on stage or in the studio. What have you particularly enjoyed about touring with Eric and Leigh Gibson and their band?

JM: I love the songs they write and the music they play, but they’re just fun guys to be around in general. I’m a huge baseball fan, so that’s something I have in common with Eric and Leigh. They’re probably the most serious fans I’ve ever played with. And Mike Barber is one of the nicest guys I’ve gotten to travel with.

HVBA: My retirement project has been to learn to play the dobro, and I have attended the last five ResoSummits with Rob Ickes. Is instructing at ResoSummit in your future?

JM: I like teaching private lessons, but always struggle with camps. I wouldn’t completely rule it out, but I try to avoid them. It’s usually too much for me to come away feeling like I gave everybody enough attention and their money’s worth.

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