Big Head Todd & The Monsters
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069
This event is all ages
Big Head Todd & The Monsters
Big Head Todd and the Monsters are not that big on anniversaries, so there won’t be any big hoopla over the fact that the band is officially crossing the three-decade mark this year. Thirty years would seem like something to commemorate, especially with the same core lineup, an achievement few other name-brand bands can boast of. Yet right now they’re less about celebrating stability than volatility, in the form of their eleventh studio album, New World Arisin’, which makes good on its forward-facing title with what might be the brashest rock and roll of their career. The old world can’t rest on any laurels, and neither will they.
“We’re in a real exciting part of our career right now,” says co-founder Todd Park Mohr. “We’re a viable band with a great audience and we’re able to work at a very high level. It’s a career that’s getting more and more interesting, rather than less, which is remarkable,” he says, chuckling at the unlikelihood of anyone being this cheerfully all-in, this far in. “I mean, 30 years into it, I really feel like: Wow, this is getting fun. I’m learning more about music and about my instrument, and it’s just really engaging in every way. We also dovetail well with the times, I think; I feel like we have something to say.”
That desire to communicate and connect is very much reflected in a new album that explores a variety of subgenres, from the funky (“Trip”) to the unexpectedly punky (“Detonator”), with stops along the way for raging country-rock (“Damaged One”), expansive storytelling in the Van Morrison/early Springsteen mode (“Wipeout Turn”), a Jimi Hendrix cover (“Room Full of Mirrors”), and, in the title track, “New World Arisin’,” a Charley Patton-inspired tune that ended up having what Mohr describes as “a heavy metal/gospel feel.” He doesn’t feel these musical zigzags will give fans musical whiplash. “The fact is, most people, like myself, listen to multiple genres of music, so I don’t think people have a problem with variety. I love it.”
But if there’s a dominant musical motif to New World Arisin’, it’s “straight-up rock-pop,” says Mohr. That contemporary approach might come as a slight surprise to hardcore fans that saw the Monsters take a seriously rootsy turn or two in the last 10 years. The band embarked on a side project, dubbed Big Head Blues Club, that saw them paying homage to Robert Johnson and bringing in venerable guest collaborators like Charlie Musselwhite and the late B.B. King. The heavy blues influence that dominated their alter-ego band carried over some into the last actual Big Head Todd and the Monsters album, 2014’s Black Beehive. That element isn’t altogether missing in New World Arisin’; you’ll certainly hear it recur in “Long Coal Train.” But this time the blues take a definite back seat to the unapologetically mainstream instincts that had Big Head Todd going platinum in the mid-’90s with the album Sister Sweetly, which spawned the rock radio hits “Broken Hearted Savior,” “Bittersweet,” and “Circle.”
“Commercial success is still a goal for me and for our band,” Mohr says, “as far as the sense of communicating to, or striking a chord with a large number of people. We feel like we have something to say and something to offer the culture.” Plus, a true confession: “I’m interested in the pop song! And I think ‘Damaged One,’ for one, is a classic pop song. Our label would have killed for that song, back then,” in the wake of those mainstream radio hits that established the band. “They begged me to write it! So there’s a lot of irony in our coming back to that.”
The history of the group actually stretches farther back from the 1987 point at which they took their name. The core members came together at such an early age that it’s hard to know exactly how many candles to put on their collective cake. “It’s murky,” Mohr says, “because I’ve been playing with Brian (Nevin, their drummer) since junior high school, so the two of us go back to 1982. Brian and I played a talent show with Rob (Squires, the bass player) in 1983, and then we continued to plug at it, at a kids’ pace,” he laughs. They began playing original music in earnest in a nascent Colorado music scene that then consisted almost entirely of cover bands. A debut album, Another Mayberry, arrived in 1989, though it would be another four years before Sister Sweetly made them a national phenomenon. The only personnel change in these three decades has been the addition of a fourth member, putative “new guy” Jeremy Lawton, in 2004.
While they enjoy a robust fan base around the country, their success is outsized in Colorado, where they’re practically the unofficial state band. That’s evident in their ability to sell out Red Rocks, the most revered amphitheater in the nation, where they’ve headlined 19 times. It also comes into play when the band gets asked to be a part of commemorative moments: Mohr recently sang the national anthem at a Rockies game, and the entire band took part in the parade through Denver after the Broncos took the Super Bowl.
Their honors extend beyond their home state and even home country… into space. In 2005, they released the single “Blue Sky,” a tribute to the space program, written at the behest of crew members taking to the heavens aboard the space shuttle Discovery; it was performed years later as a live wake-up call to the astronauts on the shuttle. The song had enough appeal back on earth, too, that it was picked up by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 and used to introduce her keynote speech to the Democratic convention.
That campaign usage didn’t come about as a result of any desire on Mohr’s part to take the band in a political direction. He’s not so interested in getting Big Head Todd and the Monsters caught up in that particular fray as looking at the smaller and bigger pictures, wanting to keep the material topical in some far deeper fashion.
“Our audience is America, and I’m guessing it breaks down to the same percentages the country itself has,” he says. “We’ve never gotten in the business of polarizing people politically. But at the same time, as artists, it’s our job to observe and to hopefully find some insight. I’ve always been interested in the human condition more than politics. Politics are a part of it, but I always look at conflict as personal before it’s political. And I would consider conflict my dominant lyrical theme now— how people are trapped in it, and how conflict relates to intimacy and pleasure.” A Big Head Todd show, in any case, is a place where those conflicts might resolve, or dissolve. “In talking about our apolitical-ness, I think unity is an important thing,” Mohr says. “Being a human being, you have a lot in common with other human beings, and why not maximize those things? Music has an incredible capacity to convey other cultures and times, and to create a lot of empathy and togetherness. There’s harmony in it, and it implies oneness — the root.”
There’s an economy to the songs on the new album, most of which clock in around four minutes, and sometimes even closer to three. You’d think this would make Big Head Todd and the Monsters the farthest thing from a jam band. Yet they have a fervent following among that subset of rock fans, lack of noodling notwithstanding. Maybe it’s because of the changing nature of their set lists, since the Monsters are known to take requests, both in person and online.
“Our focus has always been on serving the song,” Mohr says. “We haven’t historically been that jammy. Which isn’t to say that we don’t have an occasional six-minute number -- we do. But having said that, I have a great respect for that audience, which I think is just a music-loving audience. You know, one year I got invited to the Jammies at Carnegie Hall, and I got in a discussion with somebody: ‘Well, how do you define a jam band?’ And he told me, ‘A jam band doesn’t repeat a song for three shows in a row.’ That was the only way that he would define it. I could almost follow that rule, except there are probably four songs I have to play every night. So I guess those four songs are what’s keeping us from ever being a jam band,” he laughs.
What’s clear is that Big Head Todd is one multi-headed rock monster, easily traversing the most accessible hooks and the heaviest grooves. It’s not surprising that they would appeal to any audience or sub-audience that values durability over flavors of the moment. But Mohr has to laugh when he thinks about how little the possibility of long-term perseverance was on the members’ minds 30 years ago.
“When you form, I think your goal is to make it through the party on Saturday night,” he points out. “In art, longevity isn’t the goal. It’s a happy accident if it happens, and I think ours was one of those convenient accidents that led to a happy marriage. But we happen to get along really well and love being with each other and playing music for a living.” Simple as it may sound, that’s a profound recipe for endurance in both the old world and the new.●
SIMO – Rise & Shine
SIMO announce the release of new studio album ‘Rise & Shine’ on 15 September 2017 on Provogue.
On Rise & Shine SIMO widens their sound and is filled with slow-smoked soul ballads, psychedelic desert-rock instrumentals, hard-edged, bluesy barn burners and Stax-worthy funk rockers.
Rise & Shine, SIMO’s new album, widens their sound, as the band stretched beyond preconceived notions and produced a nuanced record reflecting their views, talents and ultimately their growth.
The album began taking shape on the road, where SIMO’s three bandmates — singer,
guitarist and namesake frontman JD Simo; drummer Adam Abrashoff; and bassist Elad Shapiro
— spent most of 2016 on tour. They played 215 shows that year, leaving behind their Nashville
headquarters and traveling to nine different countries in support of their Billboard Top 10 blues
album, Let Love Show the Way. The trio worked on new music along the way, hashing out
chord changes in hotel rooms and tweaking song arrangements during soundcheck. It was a
time of growth and self-improvement for everyone, and they became better friends, better
musicians, and better people. At the same time, the outside world was changing. Political pundits
were screaming at one another. Elections were pitting candidate against candidate, party
against party, neighbour against neighbour. The need to write music that truly meant something
— music that not only demonstrated the band’s explosive chops, but also sent a clear
message — was greater than ever.
“This is an album about change,” says Elad, who joined the band in 2015. “We looked at
what’s been happening in our own lives, as well as what’s been happening in the world.
Everyone is changing: personally, politically, socially. We’ve seen it. We’ve felt it. And we’re
writing about it.”
Rise & Shine introduces the band’s elastic, expanded sound, which blurs the lines between
genres and generations throughout the album’s 11 tracks. SIMO’s previous release, Let Love
Show the Way, was a spot-on salute to the band’s rock & roll influences, full of big amplifiers,
vintage vibe, and plenty of volume. Rise & Shine doesn’t ignore those roots, but it pushes
toward something new. Eager to explore uncharted territory, the guys make room for
slow-smoked soul ballads (“I Want Love”); psychedelic desert-rock instrumentals (“The
Climb”); hard-edged, bluesy barn burners (“Light the Candle”); and Stax-worthy funk rockers
(“Meditation”). Gluing everything together is the charisma and chemistry of three musicians
who spent more than 300 days together last year, mastering the art not only of nodding to the
past, but looking ahead to the future too.
“If you go through my record collection and look at the more contemporary titles,” JD explains,
“you’ll see the Roots, Wilco, Alabama Shakes, and Ryan Adams. I listen to a lot of old soul
music, too. Isaac Hayes. Funkadelic. Bob Dylan. On Rise & Shine, I was just trying to cull from
the vastness that is my normal music diet, and not trying to pander to some target that was
easy to hit.”
SIMO began recording Rise & Shine in February 2017, producing the album themselves (with
help from engineer Don Bates) in Nashville’s House of Blues Studio D. They moved at their
own deliberate pace, taking more than a month to record the album.
“There was a lot more sonic experimentation going on,” remembers Adam. “Every track has a
different sonic imprint,” JD adds. “We took great care to make each track’s sonic identity match
the mood of the song. Even though that meant starting from scratch every day with how the
studio was setup.”
They pulled long hours, too, arriving around 3:00 p.m. every day and staying until 6:00 in the
“There are certain records that stick out in my mind as sounding like they were made in the
middle of the night,” says JD, who remembers recording the song “Be With You” in a single
take at 5:15 a.m. “When Frank Sinatra sings “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” to
me it sounds like 2:00 am. Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” sounds like 3:00 or
4:00 in the morning. There were certain songs of ours that I knew would benefit from that
nighttime feel, where you’re up and working while the rest of the world is asleep.”
A former session guitarist who’s played on nearly 500 albums, JD didn’t take Rise & Shine’s
lengthy creation process for granted. “I’ve never worked on a record that took this long to
record,” he adds. “I was so grateful to have that opportunity.”
Impassioned vocals that call to mind Prince or Al Green; Rhythm tracks inspired by the fatback
swagger of Isaac Hayes and funky spirit of D’Angelo; Lush, highly detailed sonic landscapes
reminiscent of Pink Floyd; Raw, naked songwriting that lifts the veil for the listener to see all the
frailty and ugly parts as well as the beautiful: Rise & Shine makes room for it all, with SIMO
looking not to recreate old sounds, but invent new ones. It’s the band’s most expansive album
to date — the work of a band at its curious, adventurous peak.