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Pollen Meets The Blacktop: An Exclusive Interview With MATT JAMES Of BLACKTOP MOJO

By Pat Yukon, Roving Contributor
Wednesday, April 24, 2024 @ 10:16 AM


"An hour in Texas is nothing"

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Band Photos By Drew McCuistion

Texas Southern Rockers BLACKTOP MOJO have been busy. They have officially dropped their newest album Pollen everywhere! Released on April 5th, it's an eleven track masterclass in storytelling through music.

It has a strong connection and ties into every fabric of the human condition and it's deficiencies.

Additionally, they are about to buzz off onto a seriously impressive tour with THE NATIVE HOWL and CLUTCH.

I was fortunate enough recently to be able to have a talk with Matt James, Vocals, about this and so much more!

KNAC.COM: Hey! Matt, you there?

JAMES: Hey? What's up, man?

KNAC.COM: What's going on, man? How are you today?

JAMES: Pretty good dude. How are you?

KNAC.COM: Good, definitely hanging in there. I appreciate you taking some time to talk and discuss things. Lots to go over, thoughts to unpack. I've been following you guys for some time. I was actually introduced to BLACKTOP MOJO when I was shooting photography for a WHISKEY MYERS concert.

JAMES: Oh, nice! Yeah, man, thanks for having us. Thanks for having me on. Sorry. (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You guys just dropped Pollen, April 5th right? This album still has that new car smell!

JAMES: Yeah, man. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: In the scheme of things like life, everything is a cycle. Always changing and evolving. Musically for BLACKTOP MOJO, the evolution of it all. How do you see the change from your first record to where Pollen is at? Has it changed and grown a lot from where you can see it from versus a fan's perspective?

JAMES: Yeah, man. I mean, definitely. Just right off the bat with the first album, I don't think most of us have been in the studio at all. So there's definitely a lot more comfortability getting in there and working and stuff. And then our first album came out actually, 10 years ago this year or so, I think. I don't know about you, but I'm not quite the same person I was 10 years ago, I don't think. And you know, we're going through some different phases of life now and that definitely lends a lot of different stuff to draw from I think. There's definitely an evolution there, you know?

KNAC.COM: Right, agreed. Recently, I read a quote that you put out before the release of Pollen. To paraphrase, regarding just how pollen signifies rebirth and change by ushering in a new life, new beginnings and things of that nature. "The End Is Gonna Come" is the opening track. Is the beginning really the ending though? It's like you're starting at the end to get to the beginning, if that makes sense? I mean was that kind of like by design? It reminded me of how a Tarantino movie was narrated. By starting at the end, dropping subtle hints leading to accepting things and ushering in a rebirth.

JAMES: Exactly, Hell yeah

KNAC.COM: I thought that was pretty cool. It's kind of one of those things, you have "The End Is Gonna Come" as the first song. Then as far as tracking a record do you treat it similar to a set list? Is that your sole responsibility, the order of things or is it a collective?

JAMES: It's definitely a group effort. It's a pretty democratic process. Everybody kind of puts together their list, and we all kind of listen through it and hash it out. But I feel like the track list that we ended up with was based on the musical flow, like the feeling of the vibe of each song kind of flowing into the other one, and wanted to kind of do that for the people that still listen to albums front to back.

KNAC.COM: I do. I think that's kind of a lost listening opportunity not to. You can get the full story by listening to it that way. As long as you don't allow any interruptions. Backtracking a minute to "The End Is Gonna Come" and the backwards storytelling, are you presenting it as a rhetorical question? A situation you dealt with? I know everybody has their own takes on whether they leave the lyrics open to interpretation, or if it's more personal.

JAMES: Oh, for sure. I mean you could. You could definitely still interpret your own meaning from anything. But for me, the end is gonna come. The lyric story came from a place of struggling like a lot of people nowadays. They struggle with anxiety and a lot of people nowadays, they just struggle. I'm no exception. It's basically like, you're always feeling like the end is gonna come and you're calling out to somebody for help. It was kind of symbolic, putting it at the beginning of the record for a lot of reasons. It's kind of like you said, a new chapter, a little bit of an evolution in the music. I don't know what's gonna come in the future, but not that we won't ever write anything like we have in the past, but we felt like it was a whole kind of new direction for us

KNAC.COM: You can definitely tell. It's a little bit of a departure. I think it's great. That's the whole point, right?

JAMES: Yeah. Man, yeah

KNAC.COM: Certain records like Pollen, when they are emotional are personal. Did you draw from traumas of your own, writing it from personal experience and scars? Essentially can't your scars sometimes be a catalyst that heals somebody else?

JAMES: Well, it's also like a healing process for us, too. It's like, 'Oh, man, I'm going through all this stuff', and then you put it into a song which is like 'Oh, I'm turning that into something cool and get it out of me and now, I don't have to deal with it anymore'. You know what I mean? It's not just sitting there. It's like a lot of people you know use journals or whatever to get the demons out.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of demons, you have that one lyric about "using a hammer to break the stone, it's breaking my demon's bones", something to that effect.

JAMES: Oh, yeah. Yeah

KNAC.COM: Dude, that's a cool line man, that's just a super cool lyric. That one kind of caught me off guard.

JAMES: Yeah, I wish I could take credit for that one. I think that was one we co-wrote with Nathan Hunt from SHAMAN'S HARVEST. I think that's one that will hit. He's definitely got a way with words.

KNAC.COM: You guys are set up to hit the road here pretty soon, right?

JAMES: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Actually taking off next week. I'm really excited. I think this is one of the bigger tours that we've ever been a part of, and I think the first like 7 shows are sold out already, or something like that. We haven't really played a show since last year so this is gonna be a nice, crazy little return, for, you know, getting thrown back onto the stage.

KNAC.COM: Yeah. So where do you guys fall? CLUTCH is headlining, then...

JAMES: Yeah, we're direct support. And then I think, THE NATIVE HOWL is right before us. So I'm looking forward to playing with them, too. Man, phenomenal band.

KNAC.COM: To be quite honest, I hadn't really heard much of them. I'm gonna be checking them out tonight.

JAMES: They call their thing thrash grass. It's like a bluegrass mix with metal. It's super cool man as a fan of both genres smashing together like that. They did a really good job.

KNAC.COM: So you're a bluegrass guy. You like bluegrass?

JAMES: I do. I do dig some bluegrass, man.

KNAC.COM: Where's the tour pick up? Is it Richmond? In VA?

JAMES: Yeah, Richmond's the first show, and then we're kinda shooting all over the place, because CLUTCH has some bigger festival dates like a Sonic Temple and Rockville. So we're kind of bouncing back and forth between all that. We're going out to Colorado and between all that. So it's gonna be fun, we get to crisscross the country a little bit.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, cause you guys are doing Estes Park in Colorado, right?

JAMES: Yeah

KNAC.COM: You've been there before?

JAMES: Once man to stay in the hotel, or whatever, this beautiful town. It's crazy up there.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I mean, there's not a whole lot there.

JAMES: Like that hotel, ski lifts and stuff. Yeah, man but it's really cool to be where they shot The Shining and Dumb And Dumber. I think they shot the ballroom stuff in there. Yeah, it's a weird, a weird contrast, for sure.

KNAC.COM: I never realized that about Dumb And Dumber. That's funny. Completely different movies in the same small town. Dumb And Dumber is pretty much a road trip movie. Road trips man. Road life is hard. What are the things that in a big tour like this you're kind of looking forward to? Being that you're gonna be married to the road for a spell?

JAMES: Man, I'm really looking forward to it. I think I might be a different breed of guy, but I'm kind of built for it. I love being in a different place every day, seeing all our friends from tours past. You make friends everywhere!

KNAC.COM: Oh, I'm sure

JAMES: It's cool to see people i hadn't seen in a couple of years, or whatever. And it's nice that we all get along. So luckily it's nice to be on the bus. We're a group of dudes who get along. It is kind of like summer camp.

KNAC.COM: Ha! Summer camp with booze?

JAMES: Yeah, pretty much, and truck stop showers. Man, the unsung hero of the road!

KNAC.COM: Ha ha

JAMES: 5 stars

KNAC.COM: What about the rest of the guys? Are they kind of as enthused on the road in long stretches as you are or after a little while are they all ready to break?

JAMES: Well there's a few of us who have kids now, so we try not to stay out longer than a month, cause that's pretty tough. You get to miss them. As far as them being enthused, I think I've seen so many text messages in the group message the last, like week or 2 that it's like 'dude, I cannot wait to be back on the bus!'

KNAC.COM: You guys all like still in the same area?

JAMES: What's that?

KNAC.COM: You guys all still live in the same relative area, right?

JAMES: Malcolm and I, we still all live in Palestine, and then Nathan lives about 20 minutes away, Kiefer lives in Lindale, which is probably about an hour away. But that's where he grew up. An hour in Texas is nothing.

KNAC.COM: That's where WHISKEY MYERS is from too? Palestine right?

JAMES: They're all from around here.

KNAC.COM: Both bands should do a joint show coming up. Put that into the universe, possibly?

JAMES: Man, I hope so. That'd be really cool. We played many times in the past. But it'd be nice to link up with them again, for sure.

KNAC.COM: The whole pollen theme, I'm kind of curious. This is from my photography brain, who came up with the album artwork/concept and executed it?

JAMES: I did. I did the album artwork actually.

KNAC.COM: You took the photos?

JAMES: I didn't take the photos. That's what I was about to say. We have a very talented photographer friend named Kelsey Anderson. She took all the photos, and I just kinda had the concept thing in mind and told her my vision, and she kinda nailed it. She wrecked it up, you know.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, for sure. What I like about the artwork the most, and again, it's just from being in photography, it's not super polished. It's gritty, dirty and reads well for that visual curb appeal. Definitely plays. It plants a deeper visual meaning into your head just by staring at it.

JAMES: Yeah. She did the photos and then I kind of arranged everything and put all the words and that stuff in the liner notes.

KNAC.COM: Well it's a composed shot and the layout is great. BLACKTOP MOJO is pretty well known. You guys are definitely becoming household names. For young fans, they always look up to their idols, whether you're a musician, sports figure, things like that. It's a huge opportunity as it gives you guys the floor in that aspect of making a positive impact. Do you guys have plans to try and use your celebrity for a cause?

JAMES: We're actually playing a charity show coming up in the fall for a charity around here in Palestine that actually provides clothes and shoes and stuff for kids that can't afford it. We've got a lot of unfortunately poor and have a lot of kids in our community that need help. We felt like that was something we could give. You know, right here they say make change in your neighborhood. Don't worry about changing the world.

KNAC.COM: I was reading somewhere also that you guys are helping to endorse a GoFundMe for somebody on your crew. Who's pop is sick? Was that correct?

JAMES: We actually have a couple of people. Joe's our stage manager, his dad. I can't remember the cancer off the top of my head, but he's got some cancer that he's dealing with right now. Our guitar player's step dad actually also has some cance, he's been dealing with.

KNAC.COM: Damn

JAMES: So I think we're actually gonna get something going for him pretty soon, this week. Andrew's health thing.

KNAC.COM: Any knowledge bombs or info you want to drop on us?

JAMES: Yeah, the album is streaming now, we leave for that on tour for CLUTCH next week, tickets at BlacktopMojo.Com. And then we'll be announced with some summer headlining stuff. Hopefully pretty soon, so be on the lookout for that.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of headlining, have you guys announced what festivals you're doing?

JAMES: We have some smaller festivals. We actually just announced Foxfire Festival in October. It's gonna be out in Kentucky with some more Country tunes actually. It's just got a condensed format. An hour and a half of like where you normally are at. Gotta figure out how to do that in a 30 or 45 minute slot. That's kind of been a fun challenge for this. This tour coming up I think, we got 40 or 45 minutes opening up for CLUTCH so we gotta take everybody on the journey in that 45 minutes, you know?

KNAC.COM: Do you guys change out a lot of new stuff on your sets like daily? Or does it stay relatively consistent?

JAMES: Yeah, we've been pretty good about switching out songs pretty much, every day here and there. I mean, we'll have a little box of like maybe 2 or 3 that really go and flow together. We've got a bunch on the back burner. We've got 5 records now, so we can toy with it.

KNAC.COM: You got me, I'm sold. I'm in!

JAMES: Oh, I got you. Sounds good, really. Great talking to you, man.

KNAC.COM: Be safe

JAMES: You too. Later.


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