J.J. Grey's swampy, soulful music could only come from the South. Backed by his band, Mofro, the Jacksonville, Florida native has built a loyal following on both a regional and national scale. On Friday, November 14, J.J. Grey & Mofro will perform at Zydeco. Currently, the band is touring in support of Orange Blossoms, its latest release for Chicago-based Alligator Records. Recently, Grey spoke to the Weekly's Brent Thompson by phone from his Jacksonville home.
BT: J.J., thanks for your time today. What has your touring schedule been like recently?
JJG: We've been out since August 28 - the record came out on August 26 - and I've been home for a total of one week and a couple of days since the record came out. I leave next week for two and a half weeks and then I'll be home through the holidays. Also, I'm going up to play in Warren Haynes' Asheville Christmas show for the first time.
BT: We're really enjoying the new release, Orange Blossoms. If you will, talk about the evolution of the album's material. Are these all new songs or had some of these songs been lingering for a while?
JJG: It's a little bit of both. The song "What You're Looking For" - I wrote that song in the early '90s and first recorded it back then. I tried to get it on the first record, Blackwater, and it just didn't turn out right. I waited until it turned out right'a0 - that song and "On Fire" are two that really needed that in-the-pocket sound. I was able to get the recordings I wanted at home by myself and I took the demos from home and let Anthony [Cole] and Adam [Scone] play along with them. That way, the pocket wasn't open to interpretation. Some of these songs - like "Orange Blossoms" and "I Believe (In Everything)" are brand new. "The Devil You Know" was recorded at home awhile back and I went in and re-recorded it.
BT: You mention home recording, which leads me to the topic of technology. In the age of Internet, iTunes, satellite radio and customized ring tones, it seems that easy access to music can be offset by the overload of signals that are coming at us.
JJG: I think it's a little bit of both. I went and made a Mofro website and hooked up with Dan [Prothero] - the guy that's produced my records - through the Internet. That was around 1998 and I was convinced you couldn't be in music without the help of a major label. To tell you how much things have changed, a friend of mine works at a major label in New York and tells me, "Don't look this way - everything you do would be changed." For all intents and purposes, Blackwater and Lochloosa were put out by me and Dan. We stuffed envelopes and sent them out to publications.
BT: Your music sounds distinctly Southern. Do you feel lucky to come from the region that includes Muscle Shoals, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta - all places that are renowned musical hubs?
JJG: I think every region has great music and I think the climate dictates everything. Culturally, it's part of the South to be loud amongst each other. It doesn't mean that people up North are boring - it's just different and I love it. There's nothing more scary than a monochromatic culture. True culture doesn't change every 10 minutes like pop culture does. To me, there's a difference between fashion and culture.
Justin Townes Earle opens the 10 p.m. show. Tickets to the 18+ show are $15 and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com or by calling 933-1032.