JJ Grey & Mofro with David Ramirez
Sunday, April 10, with doors at 7 p.m.
O’Daly’s Irish Pub, 564 Dauphin St., www.odalysirishpub.com
Tickets: $22 in advance/$28 day of show, available through Ticketfly
Local fans of JJ Grey & Mofro were highly disappointed the band’s recent gig in Mobile was canceled due to bad weather. Luckily, the show was quickly rescheduled and Grey and his band of soulful swamp rockers are guaranteed to bring a unique brand of energy to the O’Daly’s crowd as well as new tunes from their latest album, “Ol’ Glory.” When Lagniappe spoke with Grey, this talented songwriter was generous with his information on both musical compositions and pecan farming.
Stephen Centanni: In addition to your music, you also run the family pecan farm. What’s it like trying to balance those two lives?
JJ Grey: Well, it’s not hard. The reason being is that pecan trees don’t take a lot of work. I guess they do if you’re commercially worried about it, and that’s how you make your living.
For me, those trees were full-grown trees before I was born. All I gotta do, really, is put out fertilizer in February and mid-summer and try to trim them up and try to keep their vigor. They do pretty good on their own.
Second thing is that I’m kind of a “wherever I am, there I am” person. So, it’s not hard at all. Wherever I am, that’s what I’m doing, and that’s where my focus is. One doesn’t really do anything to the other. Although I’ve been on the road a lot for years, I’ve never treated the road like it was my real life. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know if that makes sense. I enjoy going and playing music and meeting people, but my real life is always at home.
Centanni: I was surprised to find out Jerry Reed is one of your heroes.
Grey: Oh yeah!
Centanni: What is it about Jerry Reed? I know he was a hell of a guitar player.
Grey: Yeah, he was a super badass guitar player. The main thing about him is his vibe. He epitomizes the men that I grew up around. They had humor, and they were storytellers and shuckin’ and jivin’ and laughin’. At the same time, they had a full-grown man-type vibe. If you watch the movie “Gator,” he was just being Jerry Reed, and he’s almost scary.
Centanni: As far as your musical style, Louisiana and Florida have the swamp rock. What do you think it is about these natural environments that has made it such an inspiration to this rock ‘n’ soul?
Grey: I think the land affects everywhere. I personally believe that if aliens came here, and you played them some reggae music, then you showed them three natural environments to look at, like some city in Northern Europe and showed them some tropical place, then they would be like, “[The tropics] is where that came from.” There’s something unspoken, and it’s not just association.
When you go around the globe, you form these pockets of musical familiarity. You do the same thing with food and everything else. It was there before they had boats and mixing and mingling cultures, or at least people’s knowledge. My point is that the land transcends all that stuff. It affects it whether you know it or not. You can either listen or don’t listen. You don’t have to listen to it. I just felt like I had to.
Centanni: “Ol’ Glory” is your latest album. For this one, you wanted to capture the power of your live show on an album. I think you called it “a crucial, lived-in feel.” That’s not easy to do. How did you work it out in the studio?
Grey: To me, the first thing to do is to familiarize the people playing it with the task. Most of my tunes, I sprang them on the people playing it. They’d never heard it before, and we would be getting a take within a few minutes. That’s fine too. It becomes something else when everybody is familiar enough with it to where they get a little loose. Who they are starts to show up in it without them even knowing it.
It’s one of those things, man. If you try to impart who you are into it, it’s always too much. I don’t care if it’s your own thing. If you try to express too much of who you are in your sound, then it’ll always sound forced.
To me, you just do music and don’t worry about all that sh*t. You just let the chips fall where they may. Then, the real you will come through it, instead of the phony that’s created in the idea of who you think you (are) and not let it be created in the spirit of who you really are. To me, that’s the biggest chunk of it.
Another chunk of it is not getting caught up in the rules. You’re in the studio, and there are all these rules everywhere. Sometimes, it makes sense. You can’t quite play as hard and loud in the studio, because you’re trying to record it. With recorders, no matter how expensive, no matter how much money is spent, no matter how much it’s advanced, it’s not the same as a human being receiving music in a live situation. The ears can hear stuff that the recorder can’t, and the body can feel stuff, like bass.
Centanni: You say you like your albums to be like a novel or film. If “Ol’ Glory” was a novel or film, what would you say it was about?
Grey: Honestly, it’s about what every album I’ve done is about. It’s about waking up, and that’s it. Every album I’ve done is about waking up. Each day, it happens to everybody. You wake up to more, especially after you’ve spent a lot of time thinking that you know what’s going on in the world, because you live in the narratives of life that build in your mind. It’s just a prison and a bad place to be.
You build narratives in your mind of what the world is and construct a virtual reality in your head. Then, you seek out everything you can to prove your narrative is right.
The mind is kind of puny in the face of infinite space. We’re floating on this ball around this thing called the sun in the middle of nowhere. Everything is the middle of nowhere. The mind can’t deal with that, and you build ideas of how things are. It’s a boring place to live and detrimental to yourself, especially if you feel like you’re tired of dealing with it and need to move on.
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