Simoan interview with guitarist/singer JD Simo
by Teri Barr
He is old school, and proud of it. J.D. Simo says pounding the pavement to meet people, and playing live night after night, is what suits him and his style of music. Simo grew up in Chicago, quit high school, and moved to Nashville where as a studio musician he played on more than 500 albums. He says many were popular names we may recognize – which made him recognize – he didn’t want to play sessions the rest of his life. In just the last five years, the now 30-year-old released his own album, formed a trio named SIMO, played festivals, opened for Greg Allman, Deep Purple, and recorded another album. It will be released in January, 2016; while SIMO, continues to tour non-stop, adding Europe to the schedule this winter. He also just got married. Simo the man, and SIMO the trio. Both are something special. I talked with him backstage during July’s AtwoodFest as his group closed out the first night, and found him to be kind, smart, and witty. Our recent phone conversation was very similar, and though on the road, he seemed to enjoy talking about returning to Madison, and what has shaped the way he commands the stage.
Teri for Maximum Ink: You’ll be back for a second Madison show on October 7th at High Noon Saloon. Did you get a feel for Madison your first time through for AtwoodFest?
J.D. Simo: We try not to have expectations of a place when we play there the first time, but Madison was beautiful, and I felt a creative contingent of people, similar to Boulder or Asheville. That’s a feeling that sustains you as you get on stage, and get into a rhythm. It’s what I did at the AtwoodFest show, and after a few songs I looked out to see the place was packed. It’s something I want to remember! I’ve actually had people tell me, sometimes as a band is climbing, you forget to live in the moment, so you have to enjoy it. It really was a show we’ll never forget.
MI: SIMO is a three piece, but you sound so much bigger. Not louder, but bigger.
JDS: I’m very proud of the three of us! We are so conscientious of our sound, and it’s why we use vintage gear, in the context of our heros like the James Gang or the Jeff Beck Group. We want to earn a stake in that lineage. Plus, as a trio, you have to give 100% of your talent, and energy. You have to be completely committed to the music, and we aim to do that every night, so we know not one of us can slack off on it.
MI: You are strong musicians individually, but as a group, there’s another dimension to what you are doing on stage. How did you find each other?
JDS: We all knew of each other in Nashville; Frank Swart (bass) and Adam Abrashoff (drums) were already well-known as a rhythm section, both in studio and with live bands. I’d always hoped to jam with them, and when we finally got the chance, we didn’t prepare anything. We just got together and improvised for hours. It led us to write together, and the three of us were signed to a major label in New York City. But the grind of it got to Frank. He left, we lost our label and manager, but Adam and I were deterimined to keep going. Someone we knew, introduced us to Elad Shapiro (bass) earlier this year. We played together and hit it off instantly. It’s been even better for us ever since.
MI: You’ve had the taste of a major label, and now you’re doing so much of the work yourselves. How is it working for you?
JDS: We really are outside the main-stream music business even though we are based in Nashville, but we are comfortable with it. The area we’re treading is much more personal. It’s also more like the old days where you are out playing exciting live shows, and word of mouth is helping spread your music. Each of us also had careers outside the group, but we started playing together, liked it, and decided to write together, and record a new album at the old Allman Brother’s home in Macon, Georgia. We’re planning to release it in January, but in the meantime, we’ll keep playing our live shows which are so full of improvisation it’s like a new show every night. The way it’s working for us is really pretty organic; someone sees us the first time, then comes back for another show, and brings more friends.
MI: You’re young, but been doing this awhile. What is your hope for your music?
JDS: I want it to go where it’s supposed to go. I don’t want to put a limit on it, so instead I’m going to keep working hard, having fun, and I just know everything will fall into place.
We’re a working-class band. And we take our work, our music, seriously by going out there every night and putting on a good show. I guess I’d like to build it to a level where I can take care of my loved ones. That’s pretty simple, but it’s what I want in the end. Right now, I’m looking forward to the release of our new album, and touring Europe before it. We will actually be playing in some of the places our heros have played! I also hope to meet Jimmy Page someday. I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask him!
MI: Anything we should watch or listen for during the Madison show in October?
JDS: As a unit, we have a large repertoire of material, and we typically just play what we feel. Because alot of our music is improvised, it’s never the same one night to the next. It’s also part of the reason we encourage people to take and share video because every show is different. We convey a vibe, an emotion. And we’re always trying to improve on it. When you see us you’ll understand why we say we are very much a live band. And once you see us, we hope you’ll want to see us again.