Interview: Dave Grabs A Word With JD Simo

JD, it’s great to speak to you, sir. Simo’s new album, ‘Let Love Show The Way’ is your first for Mascot Label Group, who have an incredible roster. Was this one of the reasons for signing with them?

“We’re honoured to be with them. It’s more to do with the overall package really. The roster, the incredible staff and the relationship we have with the upper management. It’s a family and it felt like a perfect fit!”

Classic Rock Magazine had a newspaper style pull-out called ‘The Mascot Messenger’, in which you featured prominently. How have you found being on a major label?

“It’s amazing. We’ve worked for years for this kind of opportunity and to have the kind of support we have from Mascot is something that we couldn’t be more grateful to have. When you spend years slugging it out on your own, it makes you more grateful when things like this present themselves.”

You went into the Big House with the intention of recording some bonus tracks for the album, but instead started again. What was it about the environment that led you to start afresh?

“It wasn’t intended. It just happened. The environment inspired really good performances, and we just rode the wave till we made it to shore. Obviously, when you’re recording it can be easy or impossible, and all points in between, as far having it flow and not encountering technical problems, or just merely getting the performances of the material you want to document. In this case, it flowed so well we just continued till our time was up, and at the end of it we have more than enough for an entirely different album than we intended. In the end, I just couldn’t not use it.”

The album kicks off with a passionate cover of ‘Stranger Blues’ Did this come straight from a jam or was it always your intention to open the album with such a statement of intent?

“We hadn’t played it before we recorded it. It was a last minute thing, once we had already been recording for several hours. As far as the choice to open the record, I really liked the idea of opening the record with something that crept in and built in intensity, rather that slamming right out of the gate.”

You have a reputation for improvising. One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘I’d Rather Die In Vain’, and I can’t imagine it being born any other way than through an almighty jam. What is the appeal in improvising?

“Thank you! We compose most of our material through jam sessions. Even when we aren’t on the road, we usually are together four or more times a week to play. It’s always been that way since the beginning of the group. We are constantly refining new material and stashing it away for future use. Improvising is an incredibly useful writing tool for us, for we never seem to tire of it, and it yields limitless motifs to meld into new songs. The appeal is the freedom. You work for years and years to refine your musicianship, and are always shaping it, and hopefully pushing yourself to grow. Improvisation allows you to let go of your consciousness, allow the music to flow through you. In essence, allowing yourself to channel rather than it coming from your conscious mind. It’s a buzz we never tire of, and when you improvise as a group with people who you are in tune with, it’s a feeling of bliss that is simply magic.”

Another highlight for me is ‘Long May You Sail’, the guitar sound has, dare I say it, an almost Celtic feel to it in places. Was that intentional, and why?

“Yes it was! Originally we had bagpipes playing the main melody on a demo we made ages ago. When we cut it for this album, I played the melody in a cadence as much like a bagpipe as I could, and used an old wah wah to filter out the low end and make it sound even more like a bagpipe.”

As someone who classes themselves as an album cover art geek, I have to ask you, who did the incredible artwork for the album? It screams ‘vinyl’ to me!

“[Hahaha.] Our Art director at the label Roy did it and we were so knocked out the first time we saw it!! It’s exactly what I was hoping he’d do. It embodies everything we could have wanted for the cover. I just received the first vinyl of the new record and it makes me so proud. I love it.”

You moved to Nashville from Chicago some time ago, before the current explosion of bands de-camping there. Is it getting over-saturated now, or can “Music City” still unearth a gem or two?

“I’m sure there’s always room. The town has changed so much since I came here, but honestly, I think everywhere changes. It’s inevitable. Nashville is home and I love it dearly. When we’ve been gone for long periods of time I can’t wait to get back.”

Talking of which, you’ve not long returned from a brief trip to Europe, playing with label mates Walter Trout and Beth Hart. That must have been a blast?!

“It was an incredible experience. We had an amazing schedule that was non-stop, and it was very very exciting. The shows were very memorable and the reception we were given was way over the top! We were very grateful for that, for you just don’t know how people are going to receive you, especially when they don’t know you. Overall, it was something we’ll all always remember. The people, the press, Walter, Beth, and they’re respective bands and crews. A lot of amazing stuff in a condensed amount of time.”

As well as playing some of the coolest cities in Germany you also visited Paris and Brussels, two cities sadly affected in different ways by the recent atrocities. How was the atmosphere when you were there so soon after those events?

“It was heavy. The feeling was very, very tender. The people were raw. Emotions were very present, and there were tears and all the other rush of emotions that come after something of that magnitude. It was an honour for us to be guests during that time of healing. You could feel the sense of wanting to heal, and obviously, music is tailor-made to aid that.”

You remind me of classic power trios like The James Gang, Cream, and Taste… bands that made me think “How can three guys make that massive sound?”… so… how do three guys make that massive sound?!

“Thank you! We simply play the way we play. We’ve never really worked it out, meaning we didn’t set out to sound like that, it’s just the sound we make together. I mean, we use similar equipment to some of those bands you mentioned, but we’ve also played on other gear and sounded the same, so I guess it’s just us. We respect that, and try and treat it with respect.”

You are very active on social media, but you also have your blog ‘JD’s Vintage Guitar Corner’. Do you feel that, today especially, a musician or a band needs to be prolific on social media to build and maintain a following?

“I think it plays a part, for sure. I think anyway you can make yourself accessible is a good thing. The separation of our society is not really the best thing. We’re all in this together, ya know? [haha] Like anything, it can be abused, but overall, I think anyway we can all connect and communicate is a very positive thing.”

You have mentioned before, The Blues Brothers played a part in your musical upbringing. Apart from the awesome music, and the best shit bad guys ever (The Illinois Nazi Party), it has the scene where the band have to play behind chicken-wire at Bob’s Country Bunker… so my final question is…What’s the most unusual venue, you’ve played, or craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on stage?

“I was probably 16 or so, and I was playing in a pick up band that was traveling through Colorado and Utah. We were booked to play several nights in a row at this club in Provo. We showed up to load in the first night, and immediately the manager started hassling me about how old I was. As usual, I tried to wiggle out of it, and express that I wouldn’t drink or do anything to jeopardize their liquor licence, and that all I wanted to do was play. She wouldn’t have it though, and demanded that I couldn’t play. Well the band needed a guitarist [haha!], so her solution was to have me setup outside, on the patio, with caution tape around me creating essentially a six foot by six foot box! No joke! There was a glass door, which had to remain shut, I was allowed to look into to see the guys on stage. My amp was set up on stage, and the guitar lead was run through the club, out the door, to me in my patio prison. That is how I was forced to play the shows. Now seriously. I couldn’t make that up! It really happened!”

That’s brilliant! Many thanks for your time, it’s very much appreciated. Good luck with the album, it’s a belter! See you April 2016 !

“My pleasure, and thank you so much for having me! Stay Groovy.”

Interviewer: David Stott


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