Blacktop Mojo is a hard-driving Southern rock unit based out of Palestine, Texas, Blacktop Mojo’s fiery blend of post-grunge, classic rock, and metal falls somewhere between Soundgarden, Black Stone Cherry, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Founded in 2012 by frontman Matt James and drummer Nathan Gillis, the band eventually morphed into a five-piece with the additions of bass player Matt Curtis and guitarists Ryan Kiefer and Kenneth Irwin. They released their debut album, I Am, in 2014, followed by a heavy bout of touring that saw the group sharing the stage with a wide array of heavy hitters, including Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar, Candlebox, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Black Stone Cherry, Shaman’s Harvest, Pop Evil, Puddle of Mudd, and Drowning Pool.
In 2017, the band teamed up with Muscle Shoals producer Jimmy Johnson for their highly anticipated sophomore outing Burn the Ships. The album was released via the band’s label, Cuhmon Records, in March of that year to critical acclaim, and it’s first single, “Where The Wind Blows” reached #27 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, while the band was on its first U.S. tour that fall. Through that tour, they landed a slot on 2018’s Rock Fest, featuring headliners, Disturbed, Incubus, and Godsmack, among many other industry leading hard rock acts.
At the beginning of 2018, the band has started work on its third full length release, as well as touring to support the second radio single from, “Burn The Ships”, a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On”.
Interview With Matt James Of Blacktop Mojo
XS ROCK: So James, let’s start with you. Tell me a little about yourself.
James: First of all….I’m James and I sing for Blacktop Mojo.
XS ROCK: Can you tell me a little about this current tour you’re on?
James: This is the second leg of our North America tour. We’ve been out on the road since April. We went home for about two weeks and then went back out. We just got off the road with Shaman’s Harvest and then we’re going to meet up with our boys in Black Stone Cherry.
XS ROCK: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you guys are working on material for a new album, right?
James: We are! We’ve got some demos of several songs done back home and we’re going to play a couple of new songs tonight at our show here in Sarasota Florida.
XS ROCK: So how long have you guys been together as a band?
James: We’ve been together as a band since 2012. Almost six years now.
XS ROCK: Did you guys know each other before starting the band?
James: I worked in a coffee shop in Palestine Texas and me and our drummer Nathan Gillis had some mutual friends. We kind of ran into each other at parties and people would be like this guy can sing, or this guy can play guitar, you guys should get together or whatever. We always shrugged each other off, but we ended up running into each other super hammered drunk in a bar, somehow Nathan remembered to call me and invite me to come over to his house and jam and we did. He blew me the hell away. He’s a solid drummer. And then the band started from there.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for starting or being in a band?
James. I taught myself how to play guitar when I was a senior in high school. I was always kind of shy in college, so I would play at parties and it kind of helped me have something to talk about I guess.
XS ROCK: You guys are receiving a lot of buzz in the music industry right now. Does that help your belief in what you’re doing?
James: It’s a nice kind of affirmation, but I think we’d be doing it anyway, you know.
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys to people?
James:I don’t know. We’re just some Southern boys who like to play heavy music, man.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing and recording new songs or playing for a live audience?
James: They both have their pros. I really like playing for a live audience. You get that adrenaline rush. But creating stuff is cool too. It’s a different kind of high. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together.
XS ROCK: What kind of lyrical themes do you have when writing new songs?
James: The themes kind of vary depending on what we have going on at the time. “Burn the ships” is about everybody in the band. We all quit our day jobs and decided this is what we’re going to do. I think our lyrics are really reactive to what everybody’s going through.
XS ROCK: What’s the single most important thing to you as a musician and performer?
James: Just having fun, man! Make sure everybody has fun!
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories that you can tell?
James: We did a VIP after party show on our bus one night.We had a guy….a really nice guy who’s come back since then, but he passed out drunk on our bus, we were all drinking whiskey, and his wife had to take him to the ER. And now we have a framed copy of his Emergency Room’s doctor’s note that says “Make better decisions with alcohol and reconsider pursuing a rock star career”. The doctor had a sense of humor.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest fan request that you’ve ever received?
James: That’s a tough question. Usually they just wanna grab the beard, maybe.
XS ROCK: I’m assuming it’s females that want to grab your beard.
James: Ha Ha Ha, yeah. It’s always been girls.
XS ROCK: Are your friends and family members supportive of your choice to play in a rock band?
James: Oh absolutely! They’re some of our biggest supporters. We definitely couldn’t do it without them. We wouldn’t be where we’re at with them.
XS ROCK: Which bands or artists inspired out to perform?
James: One artist that had a big impact on us because their from our home town, is Whiskey Myers. I remember seeing them in concert when I was a teenager and seeing what they’ve accomplished. It made us think if they can do it, we can do it too. We grew up in the South so we liked a lot of Southern Rock and of course Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ronnie Van Zant is awesome! We started out playing in bars and we did a lot of country covers. I think some that country twang is still in our music. And then we all kind of find common ground as far as influences go with Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and the whole grunge movement of the 90’s.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
James: Here lately, it kind of been our new songs. They’re really fresh and we’re still kind of hashing them out. It’s fun to do that in front of a live auduence and see what their reactions is. We’ve been playing two new songs the first is called “All Mine Now” and the second is “It Won’t Last”. One’s a hard and heavy jam and the other’s kind of a bluesy number.
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour to go out on the road with, who would be on the bill?
James: Us, Shaman’s Harvest and Black Stone Cherry. It’d be a hell of a time.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
James: Being able to play music full time. We’re really blessed to do what we do all of the time. man.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band, what kind of career do you think you would have had?
James: Well, I have a degree in Biology. So probably a doctor or a lab technician. Something along those lines.
XS ROCK: Tell me about equipment. Do you guys have endorsements?
James: Yeah. We’ve been working with Gibson guitars, Warwick basses, we’re talking with Dean drums now. Di’Addario strings and I just got endorsed by 1964 Ears.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
James: Just come and check us out at a show. We’ll be out on the road through the end of August. We’ve also got some festivals coming up like “Louder Than Life” and Rock Allegiance” and “ThrottleFest”. We’re hoping to have a new single out in January of 2019 and then a new album out by next Spring.
XS ROCK: Thanks for taking time out to talk with us at XS ROCK.
James: Absolutely brother! Thank you for having me.
Blacktop Mojo – Burn The Ships Review
If you haven’t heard Blacktop Mojo yet, hang on….you will….very soon. The band is making serious waves throughout the rock world and with the release of Burn The Ships the band prove that they’re for real. With a catchy sound that combines a modern hard rock edge with about 10% Lynyrd Skynyrd thrown in for good measure, Blacktop Mojo stand apart from the current crowd of cookie cutter radio rock bands. Starting out with “Where The Wind Blows” the band should immediately appeal to fans of Zakk Wylde‘s brand of metal with a southern twist. The band have a really hard edge while maintaining a catchy as hell melodic quality too. End of Days starts out with a great rock shuffle beat that doesn’t let you forget that they’re here to kick ass. “Burn The Ships” is a simply great song that deserves to own the title of the record. A bit darker than the preceding songs at the beginning, it quickly evolves into a great, powerful rock anthem that you’re no likely to forget anytime soon. Blacktop Mojo‘s cover of Aerosmith‘s Dream On shows just how versatile the band’s sound can be. The entire album is a spectacular feast for your ears. The production of the album is immaculate. The great sound quality just helps propel these already great songs to new heights. “Burn The Ships” is filled with great songs that create a solid album that shouldn’t be missed by any rock fans out there. This is exactly how rock n’ roll should sound. These guys are incredible musicians and have poured their blood, sweat and tears in to making one hell of a great rock album. Blacktop Mojo prove that a great modern rock band doesn’t have to abandon rock n’ roll’s great past to be unique or relevant. I simply can’t wait to hear more from these guys. Blacktop Mojo prove they belong and are here to stay.
Artist: Blacktop Mojo
Album: Burn The Ships
Genre: Rock / Hard Rock
Label: Cuhmon Records
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Reviewed by: Bobby Caughron
01. Where the Wind Blows
02. End of Days
03. Burn the Ships
05. Shadows on the Wall
08. 8000 Lines
09. Dog on a Leash
10. Make a Difference
12. Dream On
Matt James- Vocals
Nathan Gillis – Drums
Ryan Kiefer – Lead Guitar
Matt Curtis – Bass
Chuck Wepfer – Guitar
Blacktop Mojo Live Concert Review
Blacktop Mojo performed an incredible set during their live performance in Sarasota, Fl. I caught up with the band just prior to the show and sat down and talked with lead vocalist Matt James about the band’s tour and more. The band took the stage around 10 PM and simply blew the doors off of the place. They performed their hits “Where The Wind Blows”, “Burn The Ships” and “Pyromaniac” as well as some great cover versions of The Black Crowe’s “She Talks To Angels” and “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. They also gave the ecstatic crowd two new songs including a fantastic rocker called “All Mine Now”. The band kept a great pace throughout the show and played with an incredible amount of energy. Guitarists Ryan Kiefer and Chuck Wepfer displayed exceptional skill as they both took turns with explosive leads, while bass guitarist Matt Curtis was a fireball, full of energy who kept a rock solid heavy rhythm along with drummer Nathan Gillis. Lead singer Matt James has one of the most powerful rock voices in recent history and really knows how to deliver the goods both live and on record. Be on the lookout for these guys. I am expecting great things from these hard rocking boys from Texas. If you get a chance to catch them live, by all means do so. You will not be disappointed.
Artist: Blacktop Mojo
Venue: Kelly’s Live
Date: July 22, 2018
Reviewed by: Bobby Caughron