Big Head Todd & the Monsters: Steady Rocking

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For the last 20 years Big Head Todd & the Monsters has been a steady work horse, releasing strong album after strong album.  Their latest, Rocksteady, is another step forward in the evolution of the band and a high water mark for an act that has been constantly touring for over two decades .

Lead Head Todd Mohr took some time to check in with Honest Tune to talk about the new album, Red Rocks, and what still excites him about music.

 

Big Head Todd & the Monsters (Todd Mohr – guitar/vocals, Brian Nevin – drums, Rob Squires – bass, & Jeremy Lawton – keyboards), has had the same core trio of Mohr, Nevin, and Squires since forming in the late 80s in Colorado. They seemed to achieve almost immediate success with the release of 1989’s Midnight Radio, and found a home with the early jam-revival scene of the early 90s, joining the second and third installment of the travelling H.O.R.D.E festival with fellow like-minded bands, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, the Samples, Dave Matthews Band, and Aquarium Rescue Unit.  They cemented their place with the release of 1993’s career-defining platinum release Sister Sweetly, which marked them as one of the truly great bands of the early 90s.

Since then, Big Head Todd have soldiered on, releasing consistently strong albums and touring relentlessly.  They have seemed to hit a late career surge as the last few years have seen the band play and record on a level equal to their mid-90’s output.  2008’s All The Love You Need, was a reinvigorating release, and seemed to find Big Head Todd a whole new audience. This was followed by a live album, Red Rocks, recorded at the legendary Colorado venue, which captured a complete show, a 35 song monster that found the band digging deep into their large catalog.

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Honest Tune: You guys have been at this a long time, how do you as a band keep it exciting? 

Todd Mohr: We’re very close friends; we don’t have a lot of drama within our group, and we are close with our crew and enjoy travelling together.  The thing that keeps it fresh for us is our music and the audience. We have such a large body of work to chose from, it allows us to play different shows from night to night so that keeps it fun and interesting for us.

bht1.jpgHT: What is it personally for you that excites you to keep doing what you are doing?

TM: {laughs} Believe it or not I still really like music; I actually like it a lot more now then when we first started out. Part of it is just the idea that I can get better as a songwriter, as a singer, and as a guitar player. It is very enjoyable right now. We are in a great period for our career and we are really fulfilled with the new material and album right now. It is very exciting for us so we have a lot of things to wake up and greet the day with and make us feel good.

HT: Do you consciously work towards improving yourself as a singer and guitar player or is just something that happens gradually for you over time?

TM: I think just over the years you learn new tricks and acquire new ways of thinking about things and listening to other types of music. It just makes the landscape a little richer.

HT: What role do these new tricks play in your songwriting process?

TM:  I am always working as a writer. It is hard because I never want to write the same song twice and I have been doing this so long it can be difficult to feel like there is new ground to break. It can be challenging.  There are ideas that I abandon that I come back and pick up years later.  It is always frustrating to try and find new things.

 HT: With your songwriting process, is it words or melodies first?

TM:  It is usually a pretty simple musical idea. I usually write the music first and have some vocal melody ideas mapped out. The words are the hard part. I have never done it where I have written the words first.

I guess I always feel like the musical melody is more important than words, even though that is not necessarily true. Music kind of tells what the inner meaning of the thing is, what the emotion is. So I always have started from the music, and that infers what the lyrics should be.

HT: Where there any specific new musical ideas or sounds that were crucial to the creation of the new album

TM:  I have always been interested in Caribbean and African music. Things like Fela Kuti, with all those crazy horn arrangements, that kind of stuff. I have always liked the Caribbean feel, that world music sound. And that has been an influence to me on this record. I have always been very interested in pop music and how Bob Marley songs are really good pop songs. Those are the touchstones for me on this new material.

bht3.jpgHT:  There is definitely a different feel to the sound of the new album.  Did the album capture your original idea for what you envisioned when you began working on it?

TM: Yes and no. I am really thrilled with the sound and vibe of the new record. When we started out I didn’t know we were going to be making kind of a soul/R&B record. It just kind of worked out that way because I had so many compositions going in and it just turned out that the music was stronger in different camps. So we split up the rock material from the R&B stuff with the idea that we were going to make two records out of it.

HT: So there is going to be a companion album to Rocksteady?

TM: I don’t know how “companiony” it is, but we have all the songs written and almost all of them are recorded. So we have another album in the can already.

HT:  Do you have a release plan for it yet?

TM:  It just depends on well things go. So far we have one single out there, “Beautiful”. It has done better for us on radio then we have seen in 20 years, since Sister Sweetly. The successes of this record well determine how quickly we pull the trigger on the next one.

HT:  Looking forward, where do see yourself going with this album?

TM: It has been a real pleasure to just perform it.  We are still evolving a lot of the material for our live show. One of the fun things about this album is there is a lot of room for other musicians, horn sections, and vocalists. Those things are fun when you get the opportunity to work with more people.  I am just looking to see how the single unfolds and what songs people gravitate towards it.

HT:  Speaking of those songs, I have to say I love the “Beast of Burden” cover. It has always been a favorite [Rolling] Stones song of mine.

TM: Yes! {laughs} We started out 20 years ago playing it as a cover. It was something my wife reminded me that she used to like when we did it. We took another swipe at it, and it fit so well with the R&B feel of all the other material.  It really added something to the record.

bht2.jpgHT:  You seem really pleased with the new album, not to make you drudge up any bad feelings, but are there any changes in hindsight you would want to make to the album?

TM: {laughs} There is always that emotion. Luckily this album is a little special, because unlike other albums we have done in the past we had a lot of time to work this one. So we really took our time make sure we worked everything out.

HT: We were talking earlier about how you have been at this a long time, do you ever to look and reflect at that evolution of your self and your band? Are there any specific changes you pick up on?

TM: For sure. We did a Red Rocks a show a couple of months ago and it was the 20th anniversary of Midnight Radio. We played the record from beginning to end, so to do that I had to relearn some of the older material on Midnight Radio. It was fun to see how much we have grown as musicians over the last 20 years.  Also listening to that record I felt I could barely sing or play guitar then, but it still had a charm to it, it was still appealing. It is always fun to track your progress.

I am a better singer and player now. In hindsight I would like to redo some of it [Midnight Radio].  Fortunately we got a real good recording of the Red Rocks show, and released it as a live album, so it was kind a rerelease of Midnight Radio.  I got a second chance at it. Normally you don’t a second chance at an album which can be too bad.

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