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Folk-Pop Singer Harry Hudson on How Life After Near-Death Inspires His Music

Harry Hudson is as eccentric, fantastical and enthusiastic about life as you would expect for someone whose longtime best friend is Kylie Jenner, who is only 23 years old, and who has already beaten Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, after being diagnosed in 2013. 

The singer's path to his debut album due out "sometime this March" has been complex -- marked by bouts of depression, unexpected personal awakenings, and most notably a battle with cancer that ended in June 2014. His two singles "Cry for Love" and "Yellow Lights" can best be described as neo-folk-infused pop ballads, and are the first installments of his plan to release a song every month. The two songs span the emotional spectrum and tout a co-sign from longtime friend (via the Jenner connection) Kanye West. The potential pop star spoke to us about music, enlightenment and life after near-death. 

As one of the six music-minded members of the Los Angeles-based creative collective MSFTS, Harry Hudson is a small part of a larger whole that includes musicians, artists and philanthropists, with most of its members hitting an intersection of multiple disciplines. 

Most of the MSFTS live in a house together in L.A., where they eat vegan brunch daily and are "homeschooled" together -- the latter a routine which started as a means for the group's youngest members Willow and Jaden Smith to finish school, but quickly became a daily ritual of sorts for anyone in the house interested. (The collective's website includes a "mystery school section," with an essay penned by Willow, and a link to the existential novel "The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life, Vol. 1.") Every Friday, the group wraps their week with a field trip to “stay updated” on what’s going on in the rest of the world. 

On the music end, the collective includes the aforementioned Willow and Jaden Smith, ¿Téo?, Tyler Cole, Jabs and Hudson. And even with two of the six members sharing Will Smith as their father, Hudson’s storyline is still arguably the most interesting of them all.

Hudson's connection to big names like the Jenners and the Smiths came after his mother moved four-year-old Harry and his older brother and manager Remington from New Jersey to California. Hudson eventually found himself in Calabasas, the notoriously quieter, more nature-y side to California that young stars like Kylie Jenner hide in. In an interview with Broadly, Hudson says he would occasionally run into the the youngest Jenner at house parties, and their close relationship grew from there.

When we sit down to talk about his new music, he’s wearing a red cowboy-esque hat, complete with western-inspired button-up detailed with white embroidery.  But Hudson says it wasn’t until he grew up that he actually appreciated the folk music his father had played as a kid. 

“My dad loved Westerns and forced us to watch them and forced us to listen to folk music when we were kids. And I tried to steer away from what our dad showed us because you don’t like to listen to dad music when you’re a kid. I was like ‘put f---ing Hanson on' or some shit. Like 'put on Eminem or Limp Bizkit.'”

In fact, Hudson says he didn’t truly read a book (“without Sparknotes”) until 2017, and he didn’t watch or care about movies until sometime around 2015, when he moved to New York with longtime friend Jaden Smith.

Hudson’s full cultural awakening, a subsequent after-effect of beating cancer, is what led him to his recent pair of new songs. The singles' lyrics come from a journal of notes he kept during his time in chemotherapy in 2013, up until now. The journal was Hudson's response to a fellow patient saying that she had forgotten her 20s as a result of the treatments. Hudson says each song on the album includes some part of his musings from that time. 

"From the first song to the last song, it’s my whole journal. So like that’s why I can cry during every song because that was the darkest places of my life, like truthfully to the point of actual suicide. And I’m like f---, let me push it to everybody and make everybody hear it."

And while the lyrics come from the journal, the singles' sound comes from his recent acceptance of the musicians he heard growing up, like Johnny CashHank WilliamsKris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.The album is set to have a corresponding short film, all part of Hudson’s recent attraction and understanding of the intersection of film and music. He said it would be an “injustice to himself” if there weren’t a movie component.

But before this sweeping creative enlightenment, and the move to New York that sparked it all, Hudson was in a dark place. During chemo, he had relied on an unfailing positive attitude and a close circle of friends, but after he had finished, things were, almost ironically, more complicated.

“You’re so prepared to die, and [then] they’re like, ‘Hey you’re not gonna die. You’re good.’ But for 13 months, you think you’re gonna die, and you’re throwing up everyday, and you don’t know if you’re gonna wake up.  And after that, it’s done and it’s like, ‘What are you gonna do with your life? Are you gonna go back to school? Are you gonna get a job? Taxes?’ Like, I’d rather be dead.”

Harry says he turned to heavy Xanax and Percocet use in the year following, as he tried to re-learn how to live. That’s when Jaden Smith stepped in. Smith knew something was up, and invited Hudson to live with him in New York sometime around 2015, as he worked on the Netflix show The Get Down.

Their apartment was above a movie theater, and soon all of Hudson’s free time was filled with anything film-related. He went to movies, listened to film scores, and visited Jaden’s set almost daily. He said his ADHD had kept him away from movies in the past, but now he was jobless and uninspired, so movies seemed like the perfect venue to hold his mounting emotion and endless creativity.

“I didn’t have anything else to do, so I’m watching these films, and I’m like, 'This is amazing, why didn’t anybody tell me about this?  And they’d be like, ‘It’s The Godfather, like it’s a classic.’ [Laughs.] And I started understanding how music and film make the perfect collaboration. Only music and film can make me cry.”

Now, Hudson is focusing his energy on movie-inspired music, as well as passing on his unfailingly positive mindset to youth battling cancer as he works with Teen Cancer America.

Every MSFT is trying to contribute something to the “ultimate goal of equality and love.” Hudson’s dream of opening hospitals is his non-music contribution. He says Willow is focused on gender equality, and Jaden is focused on education, specifically looking to open schools.

As Hudson talks about his last three years, it's hard to believe and also the most believable thing at the same time. When he talks, he makes constant eye contact, he smiles, and he insists on hugs upon meeting. 

“For me, the advice for people, is just do what you love -- and it’s hard, but you have to be mentally strong. And you gotta fight for yourself because you’re here for a reason.”