Introducing Blacktop Mojo: Gators, guns n' whiskey

A press shot of Blacktop Mojo

You can tell a lot about a band by their leisure pursuits. In a world of gamers and bookworms, it’s refreshing to note that Texas heavy mob Blacktop Mojo cite their hobbies as “wrestling gators, whiskey, fire and shooting guns”. Really? “Yeah, we’re a whiskey band,” says frontman Matt James. “We like to go clay shooting, fire off some shotguns, blow stuff up. It’s like going for a round of golf, but with firearms. Gators? That was something we put in our biog – and I forgot about it. But I wouldn’t turn down the chance to wrestle an alligator.”

As it happens, it was whiskey that brought the line-up together.

“In 2012, Nathan [Gillis, drums] and I went to a concert with separate groups of friends,” James recalls. “We were only acquaintances at that point, but we were both pretty intoxicated that night and I invited him to see me play in a local coffee shop. We had another drinking session, and he showed me his drum chops. And he was a beast, so…”

With the addition of bassist Matt Curtis, lead guitarist Ryan Kiefer and rhythm guitarist Kenneth Irwin, the band took their first steps on to a Texas circuit – one that didn’t always embrace their jaw-breaking sound. “Converting an audience that wants to hear country, that’ll help any band cut their teeth,” says James. “You’d get drunk rednecks throwing things at you.”

In February this year, home-state vindication came with a support slot for Bon Jovi in Dallas. “Jon told us a story,” says James. “Their first big show was with ZZ Top in Madison Square Garden, and when Richie Sambora went to start strumming his guitar, it didn’t make any sound, and the whole crowd starting shouting: ‘ZZ Top! ZZ Top!’ “Jon told us: ‘If we can make it through that, you guys can do this.’”

Don’t rule out more arena action for Blacktop Mojo, with this year’s second album Burn The Ships tipped as their breakthrough.

“I’d say the sound is a southern grunge, with a bit of twang,” considers James. “As for the lyrics, Dog On A Leash is about a relationship between a couple of friends who were always fighting. Pyromaniac is about me and an ex-girlfriend – it’s like, she’s waiting on a future that could never happen.”

To grasp how single-minded this band are, you only need consider the album title.

“We’d read about Hernán Cortés, the conquistador,” James explains. “He’d sailed to a new land to conquer it. But the soldiers became nervous about the army they were up against, and wanted to retreat. So Cortés ordered the ships to be burnt so there was no way home. The only choice was take over the land or die. At the point we were making this record, we were all quitting our day jobs and going all-in, so that theme really struck us. Could we be the next little ol’ band from Texas? I hope so.”

Burn The Ships is out now via Cuhmon Records.

For fans of

“We’re heavily influenced by a lot of the heavier grunge bands from the 90s. We all love Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. I really enjoy the Dirt record, and Rain When I Die is one of my favourite songs. I also grew up with hair metal, actually – my mom listened to Poison, Bon Jovi and Ratt – so that’s where the ballads come from.”

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Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.