In many ways, Mojo Juju could be touted as the quintessential artist for this years Bluesfest. With a diversity of musical genre’s ultimately ‘un-defining’ who or what Mojo Juju represents, her 2016 performance is due to be anything besides ordinary and appropriately merges her blues and soul background with a more modern pop sound.
Having last played Bluesfest in 2010 as part of the larger contingent ‘Mojo Juju and the Snake Oil Merchants’, Juju is promising to bring with her a very different performance, with two solo albums under her belt since 2012.
If there’s one thing that she is known for, it’s breaking the mould. With her characteristic ambiguity towards being pigeon-holed by any musical or societal type-casting, Mojo Juju’s 2015 album ‘Seeing Red/ Feeling Blue’ is an exploration that touches on rock, blues, soul, jazz and a notable pop influence.
It’s a break away from her grittier debut solo effort, which will no-doubt divide her followers to date, but as I discovered on speaking with her, that’s not something that will hold her back from being authentic and honouring her own musical journey.
With an obvious fire in her belly and desire to communicate a powerful emotive punch through her music, I was unsure what to expect on talking with Juju for the first time. Who I found was an astute, sensitive and very authentic artist who is unafraid of showing who she is to the world and obviously striving to question what and where to go to next.
In the lead up to the festival next month, I caught up with Mojo Juju and chatted about the new album and what we can expect from her at Bluesfest.
CG: So 6 years since your last Bluesfest appearance Mojo, are you looking forward to it?
MJ: Yeah for sure, its always fun…a lots happened, there’s been a lot of changes!
CG: OK, so what can we expect from your live performance this year?
MJ: The new band has been playing together for the last 12 months but Blues is just going to be a 3 piece. It’ll be a more personal, intimate gig. I want to get to know the audience more. And I want it to be more about my voice this time. Last time we had a 9 piece band playing and it was full-on and loud and energetic – real chaos! This time I really want to cut out the noise and just give the music some space. It’ll be me, my brother Tyrone on the drums and Andrew Garden on Saxophone.
CG: Your new album’s great and there’s an obvious exploration going on there in terms of the musical genre that you’re working with and it no-doubt has a wide ranging appeal. Tell us a bit more about that.
MJ: The new album has been really well received and I never want to make the same album twice. I’m not a genre artist and I find making my music a very self-exploratory process. I ultimately want to sound like myself and not anyone else. I want people to hear one of my songs and say ‘ That sounds like a Mojo Juju song’. I’m not narrow in my work and I’m very open to experimentation.
CG: Bluesfest is a very diverse festival and this years line-up definitely seems to be breaking away from any ‘rules’ that we might have expected in the past. You’re kind of the perfect artist for the festival in that sense don’t you think?
MJ: Yeah, Blues has really changed. A few years ago you would not have expected to see Kendrick Lamar’s name on the bill, but people are starting to embrace the wholistic nature of music more. I’m really excited to see Kendrick perform – he’s top of my list. It’s a blues and roots festival and that goes back to the roots of nearly all music – most music goes back to the same place and I relate to all of it. I’ve taken it all on. And in the past that’s been frustrating and confusing, but you go with what you go with…you kind of think that you have to do what’s expected of you – but it doesn’t serve you best. I just had this desire to go off tangent and delve into something new and fresh with the new album and that’s what I’ve done.
CG: So how does that diversity affect your music making process? Does it make it harder to narrow down what you do and don’t put on the album for instance?
MJ: Making the new album I felt like I was supposed to do certain things, to follow on from the first one. I felt the pressure and as I was writing the new songs I was thinking, ‘these aren’t good enough’…but then I let go of that pressure and just started to roll with it. I let go of that expectation and realised that I was essentially into writing a few pop songs for this album. Once I knew that was what I was dealing with I felt happier and just decided I’m going to do that.
CG: It must a difficult thing to over-come those notions of what your ‘expected’ to be as an artist, but it’s testimony to who you are as an artist if you can push those things aside and just be authentic with who you are.
MJ: Yeah, it was great having that complete freedom to write. And most of the songs worked really well together. I took on a producer who is essentially a hip hop producer. And my previous recordings had been done in a very traditional way, using a full live band in a studio set up. I wanted to inject that hip hop element and he wanted to bring more of the band stuff in, so we kind of just met in the middle. He spent a lot of time in the box and we’ve got an awesome band.
CG: The album title ‘Seeing Red/ Feeling Blue’ – that’s got quite a poignant message behind it. Was that coming from a personal reflection of where you were at when you were writing?
MJ: Well yeah. It kind of exists in 2 halves and I was talking to my producer about it and we were thinking that it was like an A side and a B side album. And initially I kind of wanted to release it as 2 separate EP’s. He was like ‘one side is full of really angry, aggressive songs and the other side is more introspective and melancholy and full of really personal and emotional songs’. So it’s very much like 2 different colours….yeah, red and blue.
CG: So back to the Blues – who are you most looking forward to seeing this year?
MJ: Kendrick Lamar is top of the list for sure. Djangelo I’d really like to see. But yeah, I just love finding new artists that I haven’t seen before – I’ve had a little look and listen to some of the guys on the lineup and I’m interested to see Fantastic Negrito – I’ve heard a few of their songs and really like them. I’m also really keen to encourage people to go and see some amazing friends of mine – Steve Smyth is amazing!
CG: Oh yeah, we’re super excited to see Steve too!
MJ: Yeah he’s really great.
CG: You’re based down in Melbourne – will you take the chance to stick around the Byron area for a bit?
MJ: Yeah, I’ll be spending a bit of time around here. My partners mum lives in the hills so we’ll probably stick around for a little while afterwards.
CG: Tell us a little bit more about your influences. What turns you on and makes you go away thinking ‘I need to write and perform’?
MJ: I grew up listening to Billie Holiday and my parents would take me to all the jazz festivals. My dad was really into Elvis Presley and all that old school Rock n Roll. My mum loved James Taylor and Carol King – my uncle was really into Tom Waits who has been an absolutely huge constant influence of mine. Now, I’m really enjoying Son Little – for me he’s really hit the nail on the head with modern Rn B. And Kira Peru. I’ve been playing her new song ‘All Dulled Out’ about 100 times in a row and then I’m like,‘what can I listen to next?!’ Its sooo good!!
CG: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us Mojo. We’ll see you at the festival.
MJ: Yeah thank you! See you at Steve Smyth!
Mojo Juju plays:
Friday 25th March at 14.30 on the Juke Joint Stage
Sunday 27th March at 13.30 on the Delta Stage