Nobody could accuse Blacktop Mojo of lacking commitment. Five years ago the Texan five-piece – who mix the intensity and power of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains with a southern-style soulfulness – took the brave move of ditching their day jobs and moving into a shared house in their home town of Palestine.
“We always liked hanging out with each other,” frontman Matt James explains. “It sounds clichéd, but we are all each other’s family.”
They spent lockdown putting together their fourth self-released album (this one self-titled). Recently, though, the family has been splintering. Well, kind of.
“Our drummer Nathan [Gillis] and guitarist Chuck [Wepfer] have both gotten married and moved out. People are gradually leaving the nest now, growing up and becoming adults.”
Inspiration comes from historical figures
“It’s easier to succeed if you don’t have a Plan B,” James surmises. “If you’ve got that Plan B you’re always going to be looking back, with one foot still over there. I think moving in together was a big push to take music seriously; this is the way you’re paying your bills, making your living. You’ve got to treat it like a job. That’s why we called our second album Burn The Ships, cos like Alexander [The Great] or [Spanish Conquistador] Hernán Cortés there was no going back for us at that point.”
They’re happy to stay in Texas
“We take a lot of inspiration from here,” says James. “Not only classic southern bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, but from the country songs you hear on the radio – you hear some of that twang in our music.”
He doesn’t feel the need to move from Palestine. “It’s a good spot for us. Less expensive than LA or New York. Plus we’re only a couple of hours from Dallas, Houston and Austin. We can get pretty much anywhere we need to go quickly from here.”
Seattle is close to their hearts too
Although they’re too young to remember grunge first-hand, all the group have fallen in love with the music of that era. “Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone…” says James. “I’m pretty sure we’ve watched every documentary on every band from that time. We fell in love with their story of how they came out of the middle of nowhere, isolated from everything else and they blew the door off of the world. It’s a huge inspiration for us.”
A cover they did of a Phil Collins song made Blacktop Mojo YouTube stars
Google ‘Blacktop Mojo’ and ‘Phil Collins’ and you’ll come across a video the band made of them playing an acoustic cover (slightly inebriated) of In The Air Tonight in the unusual setting of a distillery in Fort Worth.
“We were being given a tour by a friend who works there,” explains James. “It’s located in this old ranch-style factory and one part of it is abandoned. We walked into that part and every word you said echoed. So we got our guitars out.” It has since picked up more than five million views. Not bad for an “unplanned spur-of-the-moment thing”.
The band once won a competition to support Bon Jovi
A few years back, Bon Jovi launched a competition in which they picked a local act from each city they played to open for them. “We entered it on a whim, really. You had to submit original music, so we sent off a video for our song Where The Wind Blows. We got to open to a sold-out twenty thousand crowd. At that point we’d only ever played in front of two hundred. The whole thing was like skydiving! Stepping out on to that stage was like falling out of an aeroplane.”
After a show they like a bit of karaoke
“One of our favourite things to do on the bus to unwind is karaoke to Celine Dion,” says James. “She’s got some seriously good songs. I think our favourite has to be It’s All Coming Back To Me Now. Come on, man, it’s classic Jim Steinman!”