Rock The Summer – BlackTop Mojo
Summer rolls on, as does Wordkrapht’s “Rock the Summer” feature, and for this artist we roll on about 100 miles southeast of Dallas to the Texas city of Palestine, for it is there that we find BlackTop Mojo. BlackTop Mojo is a five piece hard rock band who formed in September, 2012. They were three when they started: Matt James (vocals), Nathan Gillis (drums), and Kenneth Irwin (guitar), and after a few gigs with mercenary bassists, were soon joined full time by Chris Davis. As with many young bands armed with a handful of tracks, and a determined vision, they hit the road and played as many shows as they could, wherever they could. It was through touring that the band met guitarist Ryan Kiefer, and after a handful of jams, he soon joined on as the fifth member giving BlackTop Mojo their dual guitar attack that added the depth to allow them to kick their music up a notch.
The band’s debut album I AM was recently released. The title track off the album is a perfect snapshot of what the band offers. It opens with heavy, slightly distorted guitar riff is soon joined by the rest of the band and the vocals. The vocals are a defiant response to the threat of a breakup proclaiming “I am what I am, you know you can’t control me, you might as well go storming out.” The music gets heavier, and dirtier as the song progresses, a representation of the proclamations. In fact, it threatens to leave listeners banging their heads with a fist raised and wishing for a beer in their other hand.
Their music is gritty; it is guitar riff and solo driven hard rock that threatens to explode into heavy metal, but tends to pull itself back from that brink. Matt Stein’s vocals have a touch of gravel to them, but not so much that he can’t soar over the music when called for. The guitarists play off each other trading riffs, licks, and holding the rhythm down for the solos. The bass and drums are right where they should be loud, present, and in lock step as they hold down the groove of each tune.
BlackTop Mojo is an example of an old school hard rock band, one that is determined to take their music out there to throw down, have a party, and kick some ass with, just because they know they can. If it were 20 years ago, BlackTop Mojo would have videos playing on MTV, and singles on rock radio stations, but due to the times of consolidated corporate labels and radio stations in pop music, and their demand for non-threatening cookie-cutter bands, BlackTop Mojo is too outside that frame, which the readers should not forget is a very good thing. Check ‘em out, and make note, because BlackTop Mojo will be growing bigger and gaining notoriety as they make noise continuing to rock the summer, fall, winter, spring, and so on and so on.
Wordkrapht had a chance to catch up with BlackTop Mojo through an email interview, and this is what they had to say:
First off, could you let our readers know a little bit about the band and how it got started? Were you guys friends beforehand, or did you meet through the music, so to speak? Has performing and creating music been a part of everyone’s lives for a long time, i.e. were there other bands before BlackTop Mojo?
Blacktop Mojo: We started playing shows in late 2012. After the drummer, Nathan Gillis, and I [Matt James] met up a couple times and jammed, I called up an old high school friend, Kenneth Irwin, who I knew had played guitar in a bunch of bands when we were in school, so we thought, “Hey it’d be cool if he could play a little lead for us.” The three of us jammed a few times and then played our first gig on a flatbed trailer in Neches, Texas at their fall festival with a borrowed bass player. People seemed to dig it, so we kept on booking little shows here and there and in the meantime picked up our bass player, Chris Davis, who had played guitar before, but basically taught himself on the spot how to play bass. We toured around as a four piece for about a year until we ran across our other lead guitar player, Ryan Kiefer, who played guitar in a band called Chase and The New South, and he officially officially joined the band around the time we were in the studio making our first album, “I Am”. Since then, we’ve been rocking out as a five piece with a dual lead approach, and now here we are!
As you guys got started together, was there an “Ah-Ha!” moment when it all seemed to click, and that this was the right group of guys to make this music?
Blacktop Mojo: I think the “ah- ha” moment occurred the first time we all sat down in a vehicle to listen to the final mix of the album. Every guy had a smile of disbelief on his face after hearing it and we were all thinking “Wow that’s us. We made that!” It was a very cool feeling.
On your website’s Bio, Nathan is quoted as saying “ALL of us write the songs.” How does this process work for the band? Do you each write your own stuff to bring to the band? Are there songs done collaboratively with full band input?
Blacktop Mojo: Sometimes one of us will have a whole song written, that they’ll bring to the rest of the band with the lyrics and basic chord structure of the song, and the rest of the guys will then in turn throw their input in on how we should build around that. Other times we’ll all be in a room together and one of us will have a cool guitar riff, or Nathan will have a drum sequence he’s playing with, or Chris will have a cool bass groove, or visa versa, and the other guys fill in on it until we strike something cool. From there, we’ll hone it and break it down collaboratively until the song takes on a more structured shape and says what we want to say and sounds the way that best conveys the message.
When writing lyrics, are they done with music in mind, or are they matched to music that someone else in the band has come up with?
Blacktop Mojo: Whenever a guy in the band comes up with lyrics before the music, there’s usually a sound they have in mind depending on the tone of the words, but if they can’t find the sound on their own, they’ll bring it to the rest of the guys to see if maybe something about the words inspires something in somebody that translates into notes on an instrument.
Your Facebook page says that you’re as of now, unsigned to a record label. Is the band looking to get picked up? If so, what would you look for in a record company? If not, why? Are there advantages to being an unsigned artist in this day and age that you guys see?
Blacktop Mojo: There are both great advantages and great limitations to being independent; the greatest advantage being total control of both the creative and business side of everything. Nobody tells us how, when, or where to make our music. Nobody tells us where we can or cannot play shows. It’s nice having that sense of freedom. It’s up to us to build our own network of friends and partners along the way to further our life as a band and to get our music to the masses. On the other side of that coin, having a record company behind us that has that network of people built already, and the resources to put that network to good use, definitely wouldn’t put us at a disadvantage. Our goal is to make the kind of music we want and have it reach as many people as possible. That being said, if we were to find a label that had similar goals in mind, we wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with them just for the sake of being independent. We’re always up for expanding our horizons.
As independent artists, do you find you’re able to take advantage of modern social media to get your music out to people? If so, what have you found to be helpful ways of utilizing these tools that may be of help to other independent artists?
Blacktop Mojo: In this day and age you have to be at the top of your social media game. It’s our number one weapon when it comes to getting out there and reaching new people. Venues, radio stations, fans, and countless others see it . The outlets we utilize regularly are Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which are three media sources that the majority of artists use. ReverbNation has also been an awesome tool for us and has provided us with quite a few opportunities we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise such as shows, reviews, and submission to different radio outlets. Another important social tool we utilize is SoundCloud, which easily allows people to stream our tunes for free. Every band uses all these tools differently, but finding a way to intertwine all of them so that we can connect with the folks that listen to our music is a powerful way to make new fans and also to stay connected with people we’ve met along the way.
Even with modern social media at your disposal, I’d imagine that the best way to connect with people and make new fans is to do what you can to get out there and play live, right? Your website lists a number of shows lined up through the fall, including a biker rally in September (which seems like it should be awesome), how has the reaction to your live shows been? Do you make new fans each time out there, and is the band pleased with where their live performances are at this point?
Blacktop Mojo: Definitely. Live shows are where a lot of lasting connections are made. We almost always get a positive reaction from the crowd. We have a blast with our live shows, but we are always looking for ways to improve them and make them as tight and entertaining as possible for the people that come to our shows, which is why I think we get a lot of “satisfied customers” so to speak.
Finally, where do you see BlackTop Mojo going from here?
Blacktop Mojo: We hope to be the band that space aliens are jamming while they cruise around in their badass space ships.
Album Name: I AM
Date Released: July, 2014
Genre: hard rock , heavy rock,
Location: Palestine, TX
Band Members: Matt James (vocals), Nathan Gillis (drums), Kenneth Irwin (guitar), Chris Davis (bass), Ryan Kiefer (guitar)