INTERVIEW: Second Hand Mojo

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “After Midnight”?

Chuck: It’s a gritty, swampy rock n’ roll tune with an infectious groove from beginning to end. It had over 4,000 streams on Spotify in it’s first 2 weeks, so we’re very happy about that!

Vern: It’s part of the first batch of tunes we wrote together as a band, so it’s a very special song for us. This was a riff I had been kicking around for quite sometime. Once Chuck joined the band he was quick to develop the lyrics. After that, the other guys did their part to enhance the tune. I am especially fond of the Organ solo that Q (Marq Andrew Speck – Keyboardist) laid down in the studio. When he first came to us, he set the room on fire. If you ask the guys…that’s when we knew we had our guy to man the keys.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Chuck:  A story is told there, but no particular event inspired it.  Vern started playing the opening riff in rehearsal, and I quickly came up with a melody to go on top that riff, based simply on feel when I heard the riff – which is the typical way we write our songs. Usually I start singing a word or phrase, once again, just based on what the music feels like to me.  Once I find a word or phrase that seems to stick, then I essentially build the rest of the lyrics around that – and that’s what happened with “After Midnight”. For whatever reason, I kept singing, “Whoa oh, After Midnight.  That’s the only time you lose your mind”.  Once I wrote the first line “You sit there in the morning with your coffee cup in hand, scribble on a sticky note all the things that you got planned”, then I envisioned this Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde type story of a mild mannered secretary by day, rock n’ roll party girl at night, and the story just kind of wrote itself from there.

Vern: For me I usually don’t start with a story or event. I find that most of my ideas come from happy accidents while practicing or noodling around. This one was just a syncopation exercise for my right had to finger pick. After that I wanted a change of feel for the Chorus section so it was big chords. After playing it with the group for a while we stumbled upon the solo rhythm while I was trying to change it up a bit between the two.  Once Scott (Drummer), James (Bassist), and Myself locked in to the simple movement between the chords, it had a cool feel.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

Vern: I have an idea for one based on the story arc form the song, but we will see if that is in the cards for us. Chuck and I kinda talked about it a bit. The story in the song really would direct the video itself.

Why name the album after this song in particular?

Chuck: When we listened to all the songs post-recording in the studio, we really felt “After Midnight” captured all the different elements of The Mojo style, in one song.  So it just seemed like the perfect tune to introduce people to what Second Hand Mojo is all about.

Vern: It was always one of our favorites, but to be honest, it really came to life for me once we put it down in the studio. I was actually surprised how it kinda demanded to be the single and the title track.

How was the recording and writing process?

Vern:  The writing has been a lot of fun. The best part of being in a band as a writer (in my humble opinion) is what happens when all members of the band put their stamp on a tune. It’s that growth that makes the tunes become whole. One of my favorite things about all of our guys, is that there is no shortage of ideas on how to improve a song. It then becomes a process of trial and error to find what works for us collectively. This is probably a cool point to call out Chuck for his writing prowess. He was immediately from the first time we met, ready to create. That struck me right away. The guy is a fountain of ideas for songs. James is the uber talented cool guy with a more sophisticated lean musically. Scott is the only drummer I have ever worked with who knew what I was hearing in my head when I wrote the riff and can bring it right away. Marq is sublimely talented and has a ton of ideas for finishing and adding to the songs.

The recording was done at Plymouth Rock Recording Studio in Plymouth, Michigan. Ryan “Toby” Hyland engineered and helped produce. I personally love the place as I had an existing relationship with them. Marq and I have rehearsed and recorded here on other projects. It also has the added benefit of being around the corner from the “Mojo Dojo”, our rehearsal space. The bed tracks took about a day and a half, and were done essentially live in the studio’s big room. After that we moved on to Vocals in their new studio downstairs. Including overdubs for vocals it took roughly a full day. I should mention that everyone in the band sings. I took about half a day on guitar overdubs. After the live tracks were recorded, Q recorded his tracks in his studio (Nightcrier Studios), and we flew them into the mix. The funny thing is, the solo in the title track, that is his original take while we played it live. Mixing took a lot longer. This was a scheduling thing more than a volume of work or difficulty thing.

Would you call this a departure from your previous musical work?

Chuck:  For me, coming from my most recent project writing tunes for kids and family entertainment, oh yeah. With that project, I was also writing rock n’ roll tunes, but they were more pop/rock in nature – given the targeted audience. When I hooked up with Vern and the rest of Second Hand Mojo, I was able to bring a catchy, pop-sensibility to the melodies I throw on top of the gritty, bluesy riffs that Vern tends to write. It’s a combo that has equally resulted in some very fun rock n’ roll tunes.

Vern: Not so much for me. This group of songs, with the exception of “All About You”, have been banging around with me for a while. The finished product might be more of a departure due to the contributions of the others.

What role does Detroit play in your music?

Vern: It’s huge…. at our core, we are a Midwest Classic Rock Band. The tunes/bands we grew up with here have influenced music the world round. I am a huge lover of all Detroit music and it seeps out of my pores. Can’t help but bring that into the songs. We grew up with Motown, Bob Seger, the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges. We welcomed out of town bands like J Geils, Kiss, Aerosmith. That has to affect you.

Chuck:  And for me, I’m the only guy in the band not from or living in the Detroit area.  I live down the road in Toledo. Toledo has a great music scene as well that’s been very good to me over the years, and more recently has been very good to this band. But Detroit is obviously a much bigger market, so I’ve always looked up to the Detroit music scene – so much good music has come out, and continues to come Detroit and the surrounding areas from so many great players.  It’s an honor to find myself in the middle of the Detroit music scene now.

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than working on your own?

Chuck:  In all my other writing projects, I was responsible for coming up with both the music and melody/lyrics that went on top of that music. There’s still a few Second Hand Mojo tunes where that’s the case, but for most of the songs we write, I’m able to just focus on melody and lyrics.  That approach has allowed us to write more songs, at a quicker rate, that we are all very proud of.

Vern: I think first and foremost when working on someone else’s music or idea, you try to be respectful but truthful. It takes a pretty confident person to hear “This just doesn’t do it for me”, or “I don’t really see where you are going with this”, and not be mad or upset. While I don’t want to be dictated to on my part (that’s not working on someone’s stuff that’s learning a specific part), I do want to do the song justice and serve the song as best I can. If that means taking a little direction, then so be it. On my stuff, I think I am typically harder on myself or more to the point. There are times I’ll say “guys, this just isn’t my favorite song” or “I think we have better songs than this one”. The beauty of this group is there is no shortage of ideas and the next better song is right around the corner.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Vern: I only do a little bit with lyrics (staying in my lane), so for the ones I contribute it is mostly a feel of the song or a mood for a given day. As far as the music itself, the best example is “All About You”. I heard the chords in my head while we were practicing. Once we were done rehearsing, I started playing the progression. Soon Chuck was singing the melody phonetically. James added a chord change to the turn around. I believe that Chuck had the chorus by the third time or so through it.  Scott of course understood what the song needed from drums, and Marq had a great idea for the intro.

Chuck: As I mentioned earlier, from a lyrical standpoint, the biggest influence of the words I start singing is most commonly from the feel of the song itself. Then once I got a word or phrase locked in, I build the lyrics up from there.  I draw the topic in from personal experience and observations at times, but then other times from really nothing at all. Sometimes it’s as simple as a theme gets started, and then I do my best to add in phrases and words that aren’t too corny – and if I get lucky, they actually rhyme where needed!

Any plans to hit the road? 

Chuck:  So far we’ve been able to build a pretty solid following in Detroit, Toledo, and in between since that’s the core area where all of us are from.  Our goal for 2020 is to branch out a bit to solidify a more Regional presence throughout Michigan, which is our true home state as a band.

Vern: Also, our songs will soon be getting radio airplay nationwide, so if our tunes catch on in a particular area, we would love to bring the Mojo out to anyone who are digging what we do, if the right opportunity presents itself. I guess what I am saying is we are trying to build it the right way and have as much fun as we possibly can. We haven’t ruled anything out, and there are no immediate plans to “hit the Road for a year”.

What else is happening next in Second Hand Mojo’s world?

Vern: Well, we have the EP out on the 24th. We have some shows booked. The radio promotion has started and we are starting to see our recording get added to Radio Stations Playlists. Really just letting it come to us. Ideally this project can generate enough income to perpetuate the project. We have had some great traction with the single on the streaming platforms. Looking into licensing this music for other media (TV, Movies, Commercials, etc.). It is rally an exciting time to be a Mojo.

RJ Frometa
Author: RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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