JJ GREY rose out of the North Florida swamp to share a sound that’s soulful, rockin’, bluesy, funky, and altogether addictive. With weathered, Sunshine State-warm vocals, funky guitar licks, enormous brass, JJ Grey and Mofro appeals to both the jam-band crew and lovers of vintage soul and rock.
Grey and his band hit Southbound Brewery this weekend. Beer samples will be provided through the evening.
We chatted with Grey about his Florida upbringing, recording the old-fashioned way, and how he found his voice.
What was the envisioning and planning like for your latest, Ol’ Glory?
I just let songs kind of happen and come, and when I get enough, I hit the studio. There's not a ton of forethought. I don't try to make it sound one way or another. If I do, I don't think about it, it just kind of happens. I chase the rabbit down the road, through the woods, wherever he goes, you keep on.
Do you write with the band or alone?
I write by myself. When it happens, it just comes, and then when I get it down I usually demo the stuff and then show it to the guys playing and let them learn it and then fine tune it from there.
When you get to that point—have you fleshed out individual parts for instruments, or do bring it to the guys and see what they can add?
It's done, and, that said, all these guys are great players. Who they are is starting to come through when they start to play. Every little thing exactly won't come out; some will. It's a surprising shift, I enjoy hearing it shift.
O'Glory was recorded analog; is that your preferred method?
Everything I've ever recorded, from day one, was to two-inch tape in the studio. It does a sound you just can't get it digitally. Digital has come a long way, and we still use digital in the process to mix down off tape. But we use tape as much as possible, and Pro Tools or Logic to work on it. I demo all my stuff in Logic then use Pro Tools in the studio in the editing.
When I grew up, that’s how you recorded. And I’ve also found that there’s something to be said when you record to tape: you commit yourself to something. Digital, you have too many options to beleaguer over something. I like the finality of tape. Do it or don’t!
What’s coming up for you, are you working on new material?
I got a bunch of songs in the can. I got to get it all together and start getting the guys hip to the songs. I’ll be going into studio, getting ‘em ready. I haven’t really brought music in yet, but I’m getting there.
You often cite the Florida influence in your music; it’s such a humid sound. What influenced your early writing, growing up there?
I grew up listening to my dad’s record collection and my sister had a bunch of disco 45s—Bee Gees, The Main Ingredient, KC and The Sunshine Band. I loved that stuff, especially the stuff with horns, soul records. There was a little juke joint with bands playing soul covers, Isley Brothers, that I got into.
When you start out—and I think everybody goes through this to a degree, whether they’re a musician or a basketball player or writer—at first, you’re the sum total of your influences and what you want to sound like. And as time goes on, you just become you over a period of time. When you first start out singing, like in my case, you sound like a guy trying to sound like a guy that influenced you! But over a period of time, you just become you.
The voice is a weird thing. Seldom does anyone want to sound like they actually sound—I know that feeling. Over period of time, it starts to move and change and you not a dog chasing a tail so much.
When do you feel like you became you with your voice?
For me, that’s all subtle. It’s just something that happens all by itself; you don’t really think about it. Everything that’s going on in your life is affecting you gradually.
You just had a song on House of Cards. Are you a fan?
I didn't have internet connection to get the show, but now I do, and I loved it! I thought it was the best usage of one of my tunes ever done. I've done television and movies before, and that was the best usage I've had yet. I loved it, and the show's great.
Now I go back and watch it, it's kind of heavy, kind of dark. I can deal with some dark stuff every now and again. In some ways, there's no limit to the depravity of what humanity can do—that's a tiny portion of what's really going on.
You recently guested on Galactic's new album. When did you first become familiar with them?
I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now if weren't for them cats. They said, 'Let's do a track,' sent me some music, I worked with it a bit, put some words on it, recorded it. I love those guys. They have, in my mind, the distinct feather in their cap that paved their way for a lot of cats. People don't realize it, but they're still trailblazing and crushing it.
What was the collaboration process like?
They just sent me three tracks and said, 'Do your thing, man, and if you need to change stuff around change it, whatever you want to do, it's wide open.' And they send me some stuff that's just grooving! I'd add a little chord or something for the chorus, something really basic, real simple.
Southbound's going to be awesome. Do you often play breweries?
We normally play theatres. It's fun to step back and, depending on the setup now, I kind of like playing in smaller places sometimes. I like the juke joint vibe.