After five years as founding member, songwriter and vocalist for notorious seven-piece noir punk/garage swing band The Snake Oil Merchants, Melbourne artist Mojo Juju has made a bold departure from the big band and set out on her own.
Drawing inspiration from breakneck rhythms and hard-boiled stories from life and the road, Mojo Juju draws inspiration from the jazz age, early blues and Latin American Pachuco culture of the 1930s and 1940s.
Mojo was born to be musical. ‘My grandmother sang – she was a wonderful singer, and my mother played trombone, my uncle played sax and clarinet; in fact the clarinet was my first instrument – I wish I was better at it.
My granddad played cornet; he was a big jazz fan. We grew up with music. It was always on; there were always records playing. As kids we went to lots of jazz festivals. Of course musically when I first set out I went off on all sorts of tangents – I was into punk bands as a teenager, then there was a swing revival. It contemporised the music for me, helped me find my feet with it. Royal Crowne Revue and bands like them were doing interesting stuff; it made it cool again, this is the music I grew up with, but here were young people doing it so it legitimised it!’
It’s clear from the outset that Mojo Juju is an artist who marches to her own beat. And that beat isn’t confined to one particular genre.
‘I don’t feel like I fit within one genre. It makes it hard to explain what I do because there is so much that I do and love, and I am not content to just do one thing. I am always fucking with the form. This upcoming new single called A Heart is Not a Yo You that has just come out is testament to that. I have been working with a hip-hop producer. I sat down to write another blues album and I couldn’t do it and so I removed all that expectation and wrote what came.
‘As soon as I removed that pressure from myself – that people were expecting a certain kind of thing from me – I thought, wow I am writing pop songs; it’s still soul and R&B flavoured, but in essence they are pop!’
For any artist with an established bent it can be risky to take a new direction.
‘I only worried briefly about that,’ says Mojo. ‘People don’t want to hear the same album twice. If I am not doing something authentic they won’t like it.
‘It’s one of the reasons I ended up being a solo artist – so I can work with whom I want to. The constant in my process is my brother – T Bone.’
Mojo Juju believes she and her brother have a creative resonance that you just don’t get every day.
‘We are kind of telepathic; we joke about it a lot but we have some uncanny happenings. I always trust that he is there and we communicate on many levels.
T Bone played trumpet with Mojo Juju’s previous band The Snake Oil Merchants; at Mullum Music Festival he joins her on drums.
‘We toured Europe in this format. It was interesting because we were there for six or seven weeks and a lot of the time there were language barriers. And the experience you have in such close quarters is an identical experience; there wasn’t a lot to converse about so he would start spending car trips in silence, which was great because it’s a comfortable space. I think our relationship in particular is unusual because we don’t get on each other’s nerves!’
As for Mojo Juju and T Bone as a two-piece: don’t’ assume it’s all acoustic soft music. ‘There is an automatic assumption that a two-piece is less energetic or more stripped back, but it’s drums and electric guitar and we also have a few tricks up our sleeves. For me, playing in a two-piece creates a whole lot of space for subtlety that might get lost with a big band because of that tendency to fill up that space with noise!
‘There will be a mixture of some old faves, some tunes from the new album, and maybe a couple of reinterpreted works from other artists…’
Along with her performances at the festival Mojo Juju will also be featured at Harry Angus’s Jazz Party.
It’s not just the punters looking forward to Mullum Music Festival; the artists are also eager to play the biggest little festival.
‘It’s one of my favourite festivals. It’s so chilled and the programming is so good and it’s such a pleasure to be there – it feels like a holiday. This year at Mullum it’s my favourite lineup, it’s all gold.’
Mojo Juju & T Bone play Mullum Music Festival 20–23 November. For tix and program info go to www.mullummusicfestival.com