Austin Halls is a senior psychology major with a minor in sociology. Halls is a singer who was born with Moebius syndrome, giving him facial paralysis. He sat down with The Montclarion Entertainment Editor, Thomas Neira, to talk about his story, his music and his upcoming album.
Q: For those who may not know, what is Moebius syndrome?
A: Moebious syndrome is a neurological disorder where the VI and VII cranial nerves are underdeveloped, making me have facial paralysis. It depends on the case. I have a really mild case, but some people don’t have hands or legs, or they have mental disabilities, tracheas, etc.
Q: What is your personal story with Moebius syndrome?
A: I was born with facial paralysis and I also cannot move my eyes left to right, I have to turn my head. I was actually born with an inability to swallow, so the doctors said I was never going to eat regularly and I had to have a feeding tube. At the age of three I proved the doctors wrong and I actually got the feeding tube out. That started my journey of proving to people what I can and can’t do. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I go out of my way to prove them wrong because everyone is capable.
Q: When did you first become interested in music?
A: I have a VHS tape of me doing karaoke when I was three or four years old, and I was singing Smash Mouth. I just always loved singing. I think I was always drawn to that because music is such a powerful way to show how you feel. If I couldn’t show my facial expression, music was always an outlet for me. I was just so in love with the aspect of music.
Q: How would you describe your music?
A: I would describe my music as ever-changing. I definitely don’t want to put myself in a label because I feel like, more and more, I just love to experiment with it. But it’s definitely pop with organic instruments and its electronic-influenced. I’m trying to get into more of an electronic feel because I did probably eight or nine songs that were organic, guitar and piano. It wasn’t what I was listening to and I wanted to make stuff that I would listen to myself.
Q: Who are your influences?
A: I was definitely influenced by Ed Sheeran when I was younger. His first album I fell in love with. I definitely started writing music because of him, but now I’m really heavily influenced by Marian Hill. They are a pop duo that do a lot of vocal chops and a lot of cool electronic synth and piano.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your music and your story?
A: I definitely want people to take my story and motivate them to do what they’re passionate about and what they dream about. You can do whatever you want to do. Don’t let anyone stop you from following your passion and your dreams. I do my social advocacy because I want to inspire people to love themselves and to feel like every part of them is uniquely themselves and that everything that they own is unique to them. My syndrome is actually really, really rare, it’s two people out of a million. I do advocacy in social media by presenting myself, my image and my music. And by also raising awareness for my individual story, and self-love and self-positivity in my music. Just thrive off of that and do what you’re passionate about.
Q: Did you ever face people looking at you differently or being mean to you growing up?
A: I did not really care about my syndrome until I was a teenager because I grew up in a small school. Everyone didn’t care about what I had. They just thought “Oh it’s Austin! He’s fun, he’s uplifting!”
Every two years they have a Moebius conference and they pick a hotel around the United States. My first conference was when I was 14 years old and I walked in and people are so shy. People my age should feel like they’re in a safe space, but they don’t. They’re uncomfortable because they’ve been bullied their whole lives. Society has shut them down and they’ve shrunk inside of themselves.
After meeting so many people and knowing that they got bullied, that they don’t love themselves and they’re insecure, I wanted to be that role model that I never had growing up. I never had someone to show by example that I am going to thrive and that I am going to do well in life. I kind of took it upon myself for old people, young people, whether they have disabilities or not, just follow your passion and don’t let anyone stop you from being who you are.
Q: Can you tell us about some of your favorite singles?
A: My first single that really spoke to me was “Be the One.” It was in a four song EP bundle. That was the first song I wrote that I really felt like was something I wanted to share with the world. I have been writing songs my whole life, but I didn’t go through a lot when I was 10. At the age of 16 or 17, I felt like I’ve experienced so much and I put that into a song.
When I was 15, I got in contact with Gavin DeGraw’s producer and they knew a child with Moebius syndrome. They contacted me and they knew that I loved music because I was sharing on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. I did a four song EP in Nashville with the producer. That was my start to my music career. I knew that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After being in that studio, I took two or three years to just write some good quality songs that I felt were dear to my heart. I wrote “Be the One” when I was 16 or 17, and felt like I needed to get into a studio and do that. It definitely started my music passion and my fire.
Q: You’re working on an album right now. Can you tell us about that?
A: I am in a new studio, and I’m really excited about it. I feel like we have a good energy. I’ve been writing songs for probably the past three years, and through the years I’ve kept my favorites. I have probably nine songs on the album and I am so excited. I am raising money on GoFundMe, and I think I have $700 out of $1200, which is awesome.
Q: Can you describe your songwriting process?
A: I am very sporadic. I know people who can just sit down and force out a song, but for me it’s a weird thing of hearing a melody in my head, or a concept, or a feeling or a phrase. A lot of the songs that I have written are so lyrically constructed like “Jaded,” my newest single. I just love that word. I had to write a song based on that, feeling worn down and torn down. It can take two months to write a song or an hour to write a song. It all depends on the different songs and how I feel about that song.
Q: How has Montclair State University helped you with your music?
A: Montclair State has given me a lot of opportunities for connections. There’s a lot of people that I’ve met that know people, and the opportunities that I’ve gotten from this college is really awesome. My friend Haley has helped me with songwriting and how to promote yourself and so much. The connections I found at Montclair State are special to me.
Q: What are your plans for after graduation?
A: I am graduating next May and I’m getting my bachelor’s. I want to go into my masters program for counseling. I would love to be some kind of therapist, a life coach. I’m really drawn to that right now because it’s all about positive psychology and gratitude and seeing the positive outlook on life. I think that when we think about psychology, we just think about the trauma and who hurt you and all the past, but there’s a whole field of psychology that focuses on happiness and your thoughts and how they change your behaviors. I want to help people with how they view themselves and the world around them.