photo by Brian Ebner/Optic Nerve
The local Madison guitar-driven harmonica-powered rock ‘n roll juggernaut known as Mojo Radio has a lot of positive momentum to hang their hats on these days. Their first self-titled CD has garnered attention in both the Midwest and the East Coast, as well as Germany and France. Having just signed to the self-proclaimed “high octane riffage total guitar” label Grooveyard Records, the group is now fine-tuning material for a second full length release. I was recently able to catch the band in their rehearsal space to get some insight in to how they got to this enviable position in such a short time span, and what the future promises. Mojo Radio is Jason “JP” Peterson on guitar, drummer extraordinaire Brent King, bassist Scott Aumann, and singer/harp player Adam Zierten.
Having been impressed by the band’s professional approach (obtaining sponsorship from Bud Light to help offset promotional costs, the Grooveyard deal, and a steady presence at local festivals) I first poked the guys to get a reaction as to whether that was a natural reaction or something they consciously strive for. Adam replied, “What just happened innately is that the four of us have been musically connected to this city in a semi-professional way for going on 20 years, and by the time we all got together, stuff just started falling in our laps. Combine that with the tremendous amount of effort that everybody is making on a daily basis, to try to break down all the doors”. JP added, “Even when the three of us were jamming, before Adam came in, we wanted to be that ‘musician’s band’ where people would go, ‘these guys are playing their asses off’. I think between the work ethic of putting on the best live show, which is key, and then meeting some people (who) believe in the band to help give us a hand up… to us, it’s always been, just give us a foot in the door, and we’ll do the rest of the work”.
Mojo Radio has been fortunate to get some major exposure due to opening for many popular acts, including The Romantics, Ted Nugent, and Kansas, to name but a few. I wondered what those experiences were like, and how it contributes to their mission. Scott said, “Each show was really cool, for us to open for bands we all like. The one thing with Nugent, his show is so political, it kind of distracted from his music, in a way”. Brent continued, “It was nice, because we got people showing up at other shows of ours, because they saw us at those shows, and contacting us for CDs, so it did the job. It is kind of wild the people that we’ve met at shows, or fans, it isn’t the age group, because we do the 70s stuff, but we have enough edge to us to appeal to some younger people who like the heavier rock”. Scott added, “This is something we’ve found funny, a lot of people our age (have) very young kids (who) love our CD. They make their parents listen to the album everyday, and they hate us because they hear that CD, like, a thousand times!”
An obvious question was how they got the deal with New York’s Grooveyard Records (owned by Joe Romagnola), and how that changes the band’s direction. Brent: “Grooveyard came out of nowhere. A DJ at a radio station burned him our album. They’re getting us worldwide distribution. We’re already getting some airplay overseas, and some reviews in blues magazines in France. I think Grooveyard pushes it over there, because people buy CDs”. Scott added, “It was either an actual radio DJ, or a streaming radio (station), somehow that guy had bootlegged our CD and gave him a copy, which we think is funny! That someone is even sharing our CD with someone (else) is pretty cool. It was kind of funny, because when Joe contacted us, we’re basically looking for… what’s the shady part of the deal, because obviously, it’s a pretty good deal! We were always trying to find what’s wrong with it. And, it was like, who’s Grooveyard? It’s not like, Atlantic or whatever, but then going through who’s on there, it was like, oh, I have that Lance Lopez song”. Brent continued, “If somebody’s willing to pay for that album to be made and take the risk, with no fine print, it was kind like (a no brainer). He bought the first (CD) for distribution, but he’s paying for the second one”.
The immediate focus for Mojo Radio is that next CD, and using the familiarity of their rehearsal space to record in. JP: “If this thing keeps steamrolling, the second record is going to blow the first (one) out of the water. Eric Katte, who’s recorded Sunspot and a couple other bands, said you really should think about recording here, because you’re comfortable, (and) it’s your home. Based on the type of record I would like to make, this spot is going to work for us. It fits, and after the first run, it was great. It was the first time that we recorded, and like, I’m not looking at my watch, worrying about money or when we’re going to get out of here. We did one track, ‘Death Of Me’, just to see how well it would actually work. I’ve never experienced something like that that, where I can just focus on what I need to do, which is playing my guitar, and I loved it. I think the overall vibe of this record and what it’s going to do, very much fits this kind of spot. It’s magical in it’s own way”. Adam expounded, “(We’ve got) five of the ten songs virtually done, and now we have the space to dial the next five in, and just keep evolving and pushing it here. We’ve totally grown as a band. We’ve locked in. These guys had three of the twelve songs on the first album written before I was even in the (same) room with them. And those were some of the first, like, bam – we synched up! But, instead of just one little bit of inspiration (and) locking in around that, now… JP still brings the spark to the situation and then we all add to it until it becomes a fire. Once the fire’s hot enough, we lay it on the people”. JP added, “We’re taking a different approach to what we do now. We know what our strengths are at this point. (We) utilize that and focus on everybody’s individual part in the song. So, you’re going to see better crafted material as well”.
When Mojo Radio first formed, they called themselves Soul Shaker, and used the terms “blues rock” and “dirty blues” a lot. I was curious whether that terminology become a distraction at all, or perhaps got them booked onto some inappropriate billings. Scott offered, “Going back to before Adam started, Jason’s idea was more of a blues band, because we brought in all these old blues songs to learn, but then it evolved from there. All this rock, comes from the love of all the old blues guys, so we’re going back to (the) roots”. Adam: “It’s about not forgetting that every bit of rock ‘n roll came from the blues, and we’re all so steeped in that, we can’t help but dredge up this awesomely authentic bluesy undertone, and then fool everybody. Like, yeah, you wanna call us a blues band? That’s fine, but we’re not your Dad’s blues band! We’ve got enough of a dynamic, so if we go play a blues festival, like we play in Nashotah once a year, we don’t just rip their face off with hard rock ‘n roll music, we play the bluesier, groovier, more soulful stuff. We’re lucky that we can craft our set to the (situation). Everything we do can be stripped down into a back porch acoustic setting, and it would be blues. But, what we do is what all the great rock ‘n roll bands that we love, do… hey, what happens if we crank that up ten notches on the electric guitar in the 21st century? It becomes Blues Frankenstein. It was dead because people don’t want to give enough credit to this awesome blues music, and great rock ‘n roll bands over time, (right) up until now, have always brought new life into that by just jolting it up with voltage and making it walk again”.
JP had the final words on the subject. “At the heart of our core, we are a rock ‘n roll band with a blues foundation. A prime example is, you can listen to a song like ‘Gilded Cage’ and it’s really heavy, really dynamic. When I came up with that original riff, that was written the way Son House would’ve approached it, based on a 12 string blues. When you listen to it, and strip it back to just the acoustic guitar, Adam and I, that’s where you can hear that blues foundation. That’s deep south rooted, just, hardcore blues. To me, ‘blues’ is about grit and emotion, and just fuckin’ lettin’ it out”.(3927) Page Views Mojo Radio Online:
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