Formed in 2012 by lead vocalist Matt James and drummer Nathan Gillis, Blacktop Mojo are set to release their second full-length album, titled Burn the Ships, in March of 2017. Antihero Magazine recently had the opportunity to chat with frontman Matt James about the new album, upcoming plans for touring, the band’s songwriting process, and much more!
“Seamlessly blending melody with adrenaline fueled, heavy rock and roll, Blacktop Mojo draws in everyone from old metal heads to people whose radio dials have never left top 40 stations. With soaring, gritty vocals and impeccably blended heavy guitar riffs over top of a rhythm section that won’t falter, Blacktop Mojo’s live shows are sure to leave fans’ screaming at the top of their lungs with metal horns in the air.” – from www.blacktopmojo.com
AH: How are you coping with the increased workload? Because you seem to be all over the internet at the moment.
Matt James: Just never get off my computer, I guess. (laughs)
AH: Are you enjoying that or are you just find it’s a necessary thing you have to do?
Matt James: I’m enjoying it. It’s what we love to do so being able to do band stuff all the time is pretty nice.
AH: You’ve been doing this a couple of years now. You mentioned yesterday that you got nervous about a TV appearance.
Matt James: Oh, for sure.
AH: You think it went pretty well?
Matt James: I think it did. I want to say it did, yeah.
AH: Do you have any more of those lined up?
Matt James: We’re supposed to have a few people when we get to the arena tomorrow do some interviews and stuff, so we’ll see.
AH: That’s the Bon Jovi show isn’t it?
Matt James: Yes sir.
AH: How did that come about?
Matt James: Bon Jovi’s putting on a contest where they’re choosing a local opener every town they go to, and all you have to do is submit a video of some of your original music, and we did that and we just so happened to win. Pretty excited.
AH: How long is the set you’re going to be playing?
Matt James: We’ve got 20 minutes, I believe so we get to play 4-5 songs. We are main support right before he goes on stage so that should be a full stadium.
AH: Fun. And a step up as well. Obviously, you’ve done touring for [inaudible 00:01:39] Playing an arena show is going to be quite a step up for you guys.
Matt James: Oh, absolutely.
AH: Any nerves?
Matt James: A little bit, but I think we’ll be all right once we get there and start sound checking and stuff.
AH: Are you and the other guys doing this band full-time?
Matt James: Yes sir.
AH: Is it difficult to sustain a living being a full-time musician?
Matt James: It’s always difficult to sustain a living being a full-time musician, but we all live in a house together. We all pitch in together. We all do everything together. It makes it a lot easier.
AH: You all live together? Is that comradery and brotherhood, yeah?
Matt James: Oh, absolutely. We’re family for sure.
AH: Have you known each other a long time? Have you guys grown up together?
Matt James: Me and Kenneth Irwin, one of our guitar players, went to high school together, but the rest of us, we’ve really only known each other for about the past 5 years or so.
AH: What difference has hooking up with a PR company, like High Road Publicity – how has that helped your career?
Matt James: It’s helped us reach out to a lot of people that we wouldn’t have known to even reach out to. It kind of helps us stick out from all the noise. There’s a lot of bands that are trying to get everybody’s attention and stuff. I think they do a good job of helping us.
AH: Are you guys still based in Texas?
Matt James: Yes sir.
AH: Is it hard for bands to break out of Texas and get out there into the world really to spread your music?
Matt James: A little bit. We’ve done some traveling. We’ve been up to New York City, Nashville, Kansas. Kind of a little bit here and there of the long trips and the long runs, but where we live in Texas, we live about 2 hours from Dallas and 2 hours from Houston, which are 2 of the big, major music markets here in Texas. We’re kind of right in the middle so we get to hit both often. It helps us out a lot.
AH: I checked out your first album just earlier tonight. The sound of the band, it hasn’t really changed from the two albums, and I just wondered if it’s difficult to retain your true identity when other people get involved, like producers? Is it difficult to remain essentially what you want to put out as a band?
Matt James: For these two albums, we had the same producer and the same guy helping us out so I think that helped probably retain a lot of the … He knows how we work and he knows how we put things together and stuff like that. I think it really helps keep that consistency in between the two records.
AH: Touring wise, I just wondered just to follow along from what I said, have you any plans to bring your band overseas, maybe on another major support or anything?
Matt James: We’d absolutely love to do that if we ever get the opportunity to do it. Hopefully it’ll be soon.
AH: You don’t have any other exclusive news that you can reveal that you’ve got lined up or anything, in terms of touring?
Matt James: In terms of touring? Not at this point yet. Our management is working on some different stuff for us, and hopefully some of that stuff comes through soon.
AH: Obviously, you’ve got to get out and tour to promote the album.
Matt James: Absolutely, yeah.
AH: Have you got local gigs lined up for that already?
Matt James: Yes sir. We have a lot of gigs around Texas lined up right now for that. We’re working with some folks to try to get out of state and get around the country.
AH: On both albums, you’re doing ballads like “Back Home” and you also do angry rock songs. I just wondered what you enjoy performing more?
Matt James: It depends on what kind of mood I’m in. If I’m angry I like performing angry songs. It’s fun to perform them kind of all and see how they all fit together during a show and kind of go through that range of emotions while you’re performing.
AH: What about in terms of writing? Do you find the ballads easier? Do they become more personal?
Matt James: Definitely. I think it’s easier to write the ballads sitting in a room by yourself kind of as opposed to the angry rock songs. They’re more of an everybody sitting together and everybody jamming and a lot of energy to it.
AH: Do you write the ballads yourself and the other songs with the rest of the band?
Matt James: The drummer wrote “Back Home.”
Nathan Gillis: Salute!
Matt James: Yeah. There he is. Our drummer wrote “Back Home” on the last album. He wrote “Underneath” which is the last track on the second album. I wrote “Prodigal” which is one of the earlier ballads in the record. Then our guitar player wrote “Why” from the first album. That was one of the ballads. We kind of all trade off doing the ballads and stuff.
AH: That’s nice. As I said it opens a lot of different influences and stuff.
Matt James: Absolutely.
AH: You live together, do you all listen to the same music or do you all have your own separate record collections?
Matt James: We all have a few bands in common and stuff, but we all kind of have our different branches and things that we go off on. For example, Kenneth [Irwin – Guitar] listens to a lot of hardcore music and I guess death metal is what you’d call it now. It kind of ranges the whole gamut of things. Then we all kind of find common ground in that we all like 90s grunge music and like old metal, like Metallica and Black Sabbath, just kind of going back there. Zeppelin, of course. Who doesn’t draw from Zeppelin?
AH: The new album is obviously dear and close to you because it’s going to be released soon. I wondered if you could pick out just two tracks and talk about how they came together, what they mean to you personally, anything there that stands out?
Matt James: I think “Burn the Ships,” the title track. The reason the title came about in the first place was last year when we had plans to co-record this album was when everybody kind of quit their jobs and went full time into the band. “Burn the Ships” comes from a story that we read about I can’t remember exactly who it was. I think it was Alexander the Great, but he sailed to Macedonia or something like that, and they burned the boats behind them so that they had to takeover Macedonia or die trying. We thought that kind of parallel kind of drew to us quitting our jobs and jumping in, and no going back kind of thing.
AH: I’m sure it hasn’t been easy either.
Matt James: It’s been fun. It’s been an adventure for sure.
AH: What about another song then from the album?
Matt James: I’m just trying to think of which one to talk about. “Pyromaniac” we released that one a couple weeks ago, on YouTube, and that one came together with me and our producer kind of came up with the guitar rift. That one was one of the fun ones that was a collaborative effort with everybody in the room just kind of… and it snapped together just perfectly with everybody almost instantly. It was kind of a magic moment kind of thing where you could feel it.
AH: On your second album, I just wondered why the inclusion of the cover?
Matt James: We included the cover because we had a lot of, we had a lot of success with it on the internet, and we thought we’re a new band so we thought maybe if we included something familiar that they …
AH: Can relate to you.
Matt James: Older rock fans are fans that might not give us a chance otherwise with… give our original stuff a chance. We thought it might be cool, plus we love Aerosmith and we like that song.
AH: It’s a damn good version as well.
Matt James: Thank you, man.
AH: What about Aerosmith then? Your first introduction to hearing Aerosmith, can you recall that? Was it in high school? Maybe a brother’s record collection.
Matt James: I think I heard “Dream On” the first time when I was in maybe middle school on the radio, and I had no idea what the hell it was, but I knew I liked it for sure.
AH: Many rock stars have passed on in the last two years. I just wondered which one personally had the greatest impact for you?
Matt James: I think, probably Glenn Fry. The reason behind that is our engineer, Steve Melton, worked with the Eagles and I was having trouble with the vocal part in the studio one day, and he was like, “It’s too bad Glenn died this year or I would’ve called him up and had him talk you through it.” I don’t know. I’ve always been a big Eagles fan. It was kind of a cool moment for me. That had a personal impact in the studio there.
AH: You mentioned a lot of classic influences. Which classic band would you most like to join? Who would you have liked to have sung with?
Matt James: I think Ozzy. That would’ve been crazy to be with him and Black Sabbath back in the heyday of their career.
AH: Did you get to see Sabbath on the final tour there?
Matt James: I didn’t. Can’t afford the tickets. No, I’ve watched a lot of their videos and stuff from their concerts, and they’re still phenomenal musicians and performers.
AH: What are the plans for the band, the immediate plans? Obviously, you’ve got this album release coming out.
Matt James: The album release coming out. We’re trying to put a tour together right now to run around the United States.
AH: You’ve got to get the UK as well. I mean there’s a definite marker there for you guys.
Matt James: Definitely. We have a lady working with High Road, and she’s pushing radio in the UK, so hopefully we can make it into the ear balls of some folks over there.
AH: That would be good. Just a final one then. Who would you like to sit with face-to-face and interview yourself? Maybe somebody that’s inspired you, maybe not even a musician.
Matt James: That’s a tough question. Maybe Steven Tyler. Somebody that’s seen a lot. It’s our dream to be, of course, a big rock band, and to be successful and big like that, and to be able to interview somebody that’s weathered that storm and is still out there doing it would be amazing.
AH: Okay. That’s great. Thanks very much. Brilliant.
Matt James: Thank you so much.
Audio interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ogcz69K-3lI