Bellbottoms and Floor Toms: Talking with General Mojo’sMay 23, 2017
Composed of five easily recognizable faces among the Seattle music scene, General Mojo’s has been bringing their Northwest spin to psychedelic pop since 2012. The quintet, made up of Dune Butler, Heather Thomas, Sam Veatch, David Salonen and Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews, is back on the Nectar stage, in their first Seattle performance since January, this Friday, May 26 supporting Vaudeville Etiquette (check out our recent interview with them here!). We grabbed a coffee with lead singers Dune and Heather to learn more about the band.
Nectar Lounge: What first attracted you to psychedelic pop? Who are some of the band’s influences?
Dune Butler: The band kind of started out as a very prog rock band, like four or five years ago. Then we realized that people didn’t really like that. I’ve always really liked psychedelic music. You have bands like Jefferson Airplane or The Beatles. My favorite band is The Who. And then there was a big resurgence of that type of music five years ago…
Heather Thomas: Like Temples…
DB: Like Temples. Tame Impala, Pond. And I remember I went and saw Tame Impala in 2010 at Neumos and there was like 40 people there. I saw it and thought to myself…this music is about the be the coolest thing on the planet.
HT: Right, and then it became just that!
DB: Exactly! So it was very enlightening and informative. It made me hopeful that that music can still exist and also garner an audience.
HT: For me it was bands like…the Pink Floyd album Animals. That was one of my biggest influences. But then there was also Supertramp which is more on the pop side of things, but still very experimental and weird. But with pop sensibility.
NL: Where did the name General Mojo’s come from?
DB: It started out as General Mojo’s Key Project. One of my favorite bass players, his name is Steve Swallow, he’s a jazz bass player. He played in a band called the Gary Burton Quintet. And they had a tune called “General Mojo’s Well Laid Plan.” So for me it’s an homage to someone who was really influential for me.
HT: And you met him too, right?
DB: I did meet him!
NL: Does he know about the name of your band?
DB: Yeah! He’s one of the nicest, very old now, but nicest fun people. He was like, oh wow that’s very cool! He’s so funny, he’s just this old guy. At one point he came to this thing called The Improvised Music Project that we put on when I was at the University of Washington. He came and was one of the guest artists. And on the night he was performing with his group, I was the announcer for it. I was pretty nervous, and we were sitting backstage before I was about to go out and he just comes up to me, taps me and goes “doodleoodleoop!” He was like, I gotcha!
NL: You’ve rotated through a few different lead vocalists. Heather how did you come to be a part of the project?
HT: The first singer was Tekla Waterfield, and she’s awesome. She’s so cool, she’s got a great solo project. That was more when the band was just featuring vocalists, it wasn’t like, this is a five-piece band, it was more like Mojo’s plus Tekla.
And then Kate Ettinger was the next singer. She joined the band in 2014. She’s awesome too, and lives in New York now. I had met Dune a few years back and he gave me his CD. I listened to it and was like, oh this is cool, then I didn’t really listen to it anymore. But then I went and saw them about a year later, performing in a basement. And I was like…woah dude. This band is awesome, this is a great band. The next time I saw them was at the Tractor, and they were just ripping it up. I had the thought while watching this band…‘Man, I wish I could be in a band like this. Like this is so cool.’ I then found out that night that Kate (Ettinger) was moving to New York. And I was like, “woah, hey Dune. Can I be in your band?”
DB: No I remember. She came up to me and said, “I’m going to be your next singer.”
HT: (Laughs) And you were like, really? Because you told me you had thought about asking me but you thought I’d say no. I wasn’t really a singer much before that. I’m a drumset player. And this is my first band where I’ve been out in front, instead of back behind the kit. I always felt like I would make a great front person. But as a drummer you’re in the back and you don’t get to move around much. I always wanted to front, so I jumped on the opportunity. We played a show a week after that. I had a week to learn all the songs. It was so fun!
NL: You still play percussion for this band though, don’t you?
HT: Yeah I still play percussion. I play floor tom out front, which I taped a picture of Indiana Jones to so it’s my Indie floor tom. And I play tambourine. I feel like I can really do what I need to do with a tambourine. That’s very psych rock, very Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac. Tamborine is a really powerful instrument!
NL: You’ve released two records up until now. Are you working on anything new?
HT: We have a bunch of new songs and we’re trying to figure out how to arrange our next record. I think what we’re leaning toward is getting into a studio and tracking three or four songs off the bat. Kind of see if that is something we would want to release, or if we’ll want to keep adding songs. We have a bunch of material, we’re just getting ready for it!
NL: Is this material going in any new directions from your previous records?
HT: Yeah it’s a development on our past stuff.
DB: I think we’re focusing on writing more poignant ideas. A lot of our tunes right now are pretty long and epic. Our new stuff is more song-oriented. Shorter tunes that have really clear ideas and clear intentions.
NL: How does the writing process typically go for General Mojo’s?
HT: Most of the time, someone will bring in a song with melody, lyrics and chord changes. Dune is the most prolific writer in the group, he writes most of the material.
DB: But it’s different every time. A lot of the times I’ll bring in a pretty solid arrangement of a tune and then we all flush it out together. One of our rules is to never say no to an idea or trying to step out. And that way, it’s why this band has lasted as long as it has. It feels like we all have a really strong voice and we’re getting something out of it.
HT: Everyone has such different backgrounds and characters and skill sets. But we’re all consistently good at what we do. We do a good job of challenging each other too.
NL: You’re playing Nectar Lounge this Friday, May 26. What should people expect from the show and why should they come out?
DB: For one, we’ve been wanting to play with Vaudeville Etiquette for a long time and we’re finally able to make that happen. Spencer Glenn as well. And our buddies Cedar Teeth, we played a show with them down in Portland and we’re excited to bring them up here. We also haven’t played a Seattle show since January.
HT: We’ve done a little bit of touring but our last official Seattle show was January at the Tractor.
NL: So what’s it like playing to your home city?
H: Oh it’s so fun. All your friends come out. I’m always surprised at how many people I don’t know come out too! There’s a very supportive music scene here. We also all play in a bunch of different bands so a lot of people have seen us in other contexts, and are familiar with us as musicians. But getting to put this band on stage is really awesome, because it’s the band where we really shine.
DB: And we love the Nectar!
HT: This is our fifth time playing there! It’s a home base for sure. We have new material for this show as well which is exciting. You’re not going to see the same show as before!
DB: The band is definitely different than it’s been in the past. It’s very fresh.
HT: Plus: I’ll probably be wearing some crazy bellbottoms.
Come out to Nectar Lounge on May 26 to catch some crazy bellbottoms and crazy good music!