|The Über Rock Interview: Matt James (Blacktop Mojo)|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Saturday, 25 February 2017 04:00|
Texan hard rockers Blacktop Mojo release their excellent second album, ‘Burn The Ships’, next month. In advance of it hitting the streets, I took up an invitation to catch up with singer Matt James to get the lowdown about the release, as well as chat about their musical influences, the importance of writing together as a band and their viral hit cover of an Aerosmith classic…
I started by asking about asking about the album title, and if it is a reference to the Civil War blockade runners… Not only was James surprised by my slant on it, I was taken aback by his response:
That's a guess we haven't heard yet. That would make for a cool reference. The title actually comes from a story we came across about Alexander the Great. It was said that once he sailed an army to enemy lands and once all his men were ashore, he burned all of the ships so that they couldn't retreat and had no choice but to conquer the new land.
FFS. As a student of classical history, that really should have been my first point of reference… that’s what happens when you make assumptions!
Anyway, the band hail from Texas, and with the style of music they play - and by that I mean they play rock ‘n’ roll, not punk, black metal or thrash - they’ll perhaps inevitably get pigeon-holed as “southern rock”, alongside the likes of Black Stone Cherry, for example? I wonder how difficult it is for them to bring an individual twist to a genre about which people have so many preconceptions, and to get out of that particular compartmentalisation of being a certain “type” of band?
We definitely embrace anyone who would put us in the southern rock category. We all grew up listening to a lot of it. I wouldn't say it’s difficult for us. We just try to do our own thing. We like to play what we play. Sometimes it’s heavy and sometimes it gets a little twangy. Hopefully it sticks out from the rest.
There are a variety of influences within your music – I detect elements of grunge and stoner grooves in there, as well as good old-fashioned chunky boogie, along with elements of old-school country. Do you think that bringing these different elements together helps you to escape the pigeon-holing I mentioned, as people then don’t quite know what to expect from song to song?
There’s definitely a little bit of everything you mentioned in there. We started out in country bars here in Texas playing covers and as we started writing original material, we slowly graduated into heavier and heavier stuff. Somewhere in there we started to find something in the middle of all of that, and I think that, that sort of has lent to what we sound like.
Talking of the songs, you all write and contribute, both individually and collaboratively. How important is to you that everyone is involved in the writing, and do you think that makes you a more homogenous entity as a band?
It's very important to us that each of us has a say in what goes into a song. We have a mutual respect for each other when it comes to writing and we enjoy creating together and helping to bring each other's ideas to life. We are definitely all for one and one for all as a group.
Are there any particular themes or issues being addressed in the songs? For example, a lot of American bands are writing about the political situation there at the moment… do you think it is important for bands to reflect what is going on in the world around them, or do believe that politics and music should be kept as two separate entities?
We definitely like to stay out of political debates as much as possible. We try to respect everyone's opinion whether we agree with them or not. That being said, I think it's important for a band to comment on how they feel about the world around them in their songs. There are definitely a few songs on the album that deal with the way we feel about some of the media outlets in our country and how they can be very divisive. Life's too short for us not to try work together to make things better.
A bigger theme throughout the album is finding out who you are and what you believe as a person, which I think is something that everyone struggles with throughout their time here.
You’ve included a version of Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’. Why include a cover in the first place, and why did you pick this particular song?
Our producer Philip Mosley got us all together to see if we could pull it off for shits and giggles at first. We showed it to a few friends and they didn't hate it, so we decided to put it up on YouTube. When we went to go record the album, the video started getting a lot of hits on it so we thought it would be cool to include in the album. We like to do covers and we still play bar gigs and things to get by where we have fun doing a lot of cover music.
I must say that the album has a HUGE sound to it! It sounds very mature, and like it could have been produced in a big studio with a big budget – which obviously was not the case! How important was it for you to get that big sound? And was it hard to achieve with the limited funds you obviously had?
We were fortunate to record at some amazing studios while making this album. A few of the songs were done at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and the rest were done at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville, Tennessee and Audioworx Studio in Palestine, Texas. The team we had the pleasure of working with was incredible as well. We collaborated again with the producer of our first album, Philip Mosley, and also got to work with Steve Melton engineering and Jimmy Johnson co-producing. Jimmy and Steve have worked with everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Rolling Stones.
Also when all was said and done, the album was mixed and mastered by Austin Deptula and Drew Hall at Rosewood Studios in Tyler, Texas. All of those guys working together with us is what created that sound. We definitely couldn't have done it without them.
At the same time, it has a very raw and energetic feel, as if much of was recorded live: again, that obviously was important – to capture the feel of a gig in the studio?
We most certainly try to do that. We always play together, especially when we’re laying down a song for the first time.
So now that the album is out, what are your plans to promote it? Touring obviously? Summer festivals?
We definitely plan on touring and playing anywhere and everywhere that people want to come hear us.
Any plans to hit the UK or is that just a bit too cost prohibitive (and it’s likely to get more so in the near future)?
We never rule any place out. We’d love to come to the UK!
Good luck to Matt and his band-mates with the release of ‘Burn The Boats’ which, as I noted at the top, is released on 10 March.
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