At the end of 2013 I found myself in a very unproductive headspace, and wasn’t sure why. To get to the bottom of what was holding me back from finishing my latest EP, I decided I would imagine I was meeting a producer like Rick Rubin for the first time, and that he was interviewing me to figure out what I’m about musically. In the process of having him ask me what I’m about, I was able to break through to find myself again. This is the interview.
RR: Who is Mojo’s Army? What is their sound?
Mojo: Heavy guitar rock, with driving beats and a real sense of groove. Lyrics are often tongue in cheek and heavy on the sexual innuendo and wordplay. I want it to physically move people, but also engage the brain for people who want something more than standard rock stuff.
Tell me about Red Days, what is its inspiration?
It’s inspired by the changing weather of a woman’s mood, especially towards someone she loves. Running hot & cold. “Red days” was a phrase someone used to describe their period and it sounded like a song to me.
The first go around for the title track seems more like groove rock than heavy rock, is that intentional? More Clutch, less Metallica…
The song usually tells me how it wants to be played. in this case I came up with all the lyrics and their melody in a sitting. I’ve been building the song around that initial idea, trying different things. I really like the drums I picked for an intro but they’ve tied my hands a little.
How do you normally build a song?
I often start with riffs, then find some appropriate drums and let them inform and influence each other. Sometimes the guitar parts give me lyrics. Sometimes I kick lyrics around in my head till they come out with a melody, and a guitar part follows that. Sometimes I’ll take already-written lyrics and pair them to some music I’ve put together. I don’t know if I’ve written two songs the exact same way in the last 6 years.
What do you struggle with when writing?
Making sure the chorus is interesting, making sure the song changes and builds, and that the transitions are natural. I always write guitar solos last because they need to be unique, and fit the song, and I’m not a trained guitarist by any means. Usually I do what Tony Iommi says he does, loop the middle eight and improvise till I find something I like and work on that. I also like to throw in one unexpected twist per song, some little thing that you can say ‘here comes my favorite part’.
Do you think about fast songs vs slower songs when putting together an EP?
Not really, but I’ve written a lot of both kinds of songs, and when I get five that I think hang well together I put them out there. It would be interesting to regroup them eventually into more genre type releases. It’s just a thought I had. I don’t know if they’d be more successful if they were grouped differently. I just kind of release them as they’re finished.
What’s the direction of Red Days?
I want it to be a little more mature, as I’ve learned so much in the last few years about production and mixing. I’ve been going back and remixing previous releases, making sure each release has its own kind of feel. I want this one to be more straightahead and simple in terms of production. But I’m feeling some pressure now, it’s not coming as easily as it was when I was in a writing groove, and my expectations are a little higher for myself.
Who are your biggest influences, musically? I hear bits of Black Sabbath and Nine Inch Nails in Mojo’s Army but it seems like there’s more going on.
I listen to literally all kinds of music, all the time. Metal, rock, hip-hop, dance, blues, seriously everything. Lately it’s Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac, and Kyuss. But I’ll watch Youtube videos of anything with a good beat that isn’t too overdone. Mackelmore, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga. I like Britney’s new single “Work Bitch”. But yeah my roots are classic Priest, Sabbath, Dio, Metallica, Stones, Beatles. Soundgarden. Alice in Chains. Don’t get me started, I’ll talk about music all day. Anything that was on MTV in the first years. All that. What’s funny is that I’ll be listening to some random thing I haven’t heard in a long time and something will pop out to me and I’ll think – oh, that’s where that comes from. Either a guitar lick, a lyric, or more likely a transition or just a way a note was held or a beat or pad. Something. It’s all in there. And yes of course Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor is the fuckin man.
That’s a tough one. I play guitar, or rather I play *at* guitar, but I don’t consider myself a guitarist. I don’t know if I ever will. Gotta say Adam Jones, I love the transition from crunchy riffs to feedback textures. I feel like I’m more of a Scott Ian downtuned rhythm riff guy myself. But Adam Jones, top. Next I would say Tony Iommi, Jerry Cantrell, and I don’t know, Peter Green maybe. Really admire John 5’s work too.
Maynard. 100% favorite vocalist and lyricist. Love Trent too but mostly because he’s not a singer any more than I am so it gives me hope. But he’s also a great lyricist, probably second favorite. Dio, man, he was untouchable. Go listen to his solo vocal tracks. Layne Staley of course. Ozzy. Halford. Lennon. Yeah I’m music crazy.
What is keeping you from being productive?
I’ll be honest, I had some life changes at the beginning of 2013 that followed a period of several months where I was concentrating on mixing instead of writing. Now my schedule makes it really tough to find the blocks of time I had to work on writing and recording, so I keep having to refine my working method and chip away when I can. Now that I’ve figured out where to find the time, I’m struggling with tapping into my creative well. I know it’s there, just need to channel it. At my peak I was turning out a finished song a month. Now it’s a struggle to finish a single song.
Let’s circle back around to the current EP. How many songs do you have currently?
I have more than enough in the works to make an EP, but as far as finished or nearly finished “ideas” I would say three or four. I look through notebooks and find songs I wrote in 2007 that I haven’t even started to record or play around with. In fact one of the songs that’s going to be on Red Days is from 2007, one of the first ones I ever wrote, but I have a bit of “demo-itis” with that one and am struggling with arrangement decisions. I may record it two different ways like I did with “Lost in the Fog”.
Walk me through the process of resolving your issue with the title track.
I think I’ll sit down with just a guitar and get a flow from one section to the next, then get the drums in order. Write down some themes and styles that I think I’d like to try to incorporate and use that to inform my decision making process. Once I get the drums, I’ll see if I can get bass lines that work. My method is really to get pieces that I like and assemble them like a puzzle till I get a good flow, then go back and re-record unless I can’t reproduce the feel of the first pass. Half the time my vocals are the scratch vocals, they’re so immediate and just what I had in mind.
Any thoughts of playing live?
I think I would like to, I just haven’t made the leap into that level of time commitment. I certainly know enough musicians to put together a show or two. I sing with a local cover band sometimes, but haven’t performed any of my songs live. One of these days.
What’s ahead for Mojo’s Army?
I want to find my way back to steady releases of new songs and continue to grow my audience. My goal is really to get a song or more placed in a tv show, video game, or movie. I feel like I’m finally at the point where I have a reasonable body of work to draw on, just need to get in touch with the right people.