Jean-Frédéric Vachon: You started out as the Roxx Gang, and eventually you created the Mojo Gurus as an alter ego band that ended up taking over. Can you talk about the history of the band a little?
Kevin Steele: Hmm, yeah, that’s essentially true what you just said. Although now it’s 10 years later and I’m the only person left that was ever in Roxx Gang, and I feel that 10 years in rock ‘n roll time, is a lifetime. And to say that we’re just Roxx Gang with a different name at this point is to do my fellow bandmates a disservice. I think that 10 years earns us the right to be recognized as a separate entity than Roxx Gang. But in the beginning, that’s what it was. Kurt Cobain had come out and taken the hair out of the whole glam rock scene, and Roxx Gang actually put out an album called “Mojo Gurus”, and what happened is I said “Hey, F this, whatever is going on right now, we’re getting back to our roots”. We did, and we alienated a lot of Roxx Gang fans (laughs), but that’s OK because I’m doing what I want to do.
I look around at the guys who were my so-called “peers” in the 80’s who are still doing that same stuff, and it’s sad to look at those guys. They’re still doing their whole 80’s thing, they’re stuck. When I was a little kid, I was drawn towards glam rock. I had a terrible childhood; my mother was murdered when I was 8 years old, and rock ‘n roll was an escape for me, and glam rock in particular. I was drawn to bands like T-Rex, Mott the Hoople, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop: that’s where my glam roots are, in the seventies.
And then we kind of unfairly got lumped in with the 80’s hair metal, and Roxx Gang suffered from the backlash from it too. But when I was a little kid, I remember seeing, and I love that song, “Rock ‘n Roll, Part 2” by Gary Glitter (sings the chorus), that they play at all the sporting events. And when I first saw Gary Glitter in a video, at the height of his popularity, when he was having those hits, he was already like a forty-year old man, packing himself into skin-tight pants. He looked terrible, he looked like a clown! And I knew, as a kid, that I wanted a glam rock band but only had a certain window of time for it.
I want to do this forever, or at least until people stop coming to see me: I’m what you call a lifer. But I knew I only had so many years as a glam rocker. You know, glam rock is a young man’s game! Mick Jagger’s still rocking hard but he’s not wearing spangled jumpsuits anymore! Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople is still rocking but he’s not wearing satin suits and platform boots. David Bowie, well, at least until recently, is still going but he’s not Ziggy Stardust anymore. So I knew I had to grow, and mature, and I hate to use the word mature in the context of rock ‘n’ roll because it’s kind of about not growing up. But I’m looking for a way to age gracefully. I look around and I see guys who came up at the same time as me who are still… man, look at Steven Tyler. Somebody’s got to tell him “Just because you can still wear those kind of clothes doesn’t mean you SHOULD!” (laughs) He’s dressing wilder than ever and aiming his songs at prepubescent girls! It’s kind of creepy.
JFV: You don’t want to see your grandpa doing that.
KS: Right! (laughs) So it was this natural evolution for me. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved down to Florida when I was about 14, I think, and it was a big culture shock. The area I moved in was very undeveloped. I mean, I saw alligators: I’d never seen alligators where there was nothing between me and them! (laughs) I had friends who went wild boar hunting, and I was like “Oh my god!”. I was freaking!
So I had all these glam rock influences, and I moved to Florida and it was all Lynyrd Skynyrd! Now, I love Lynyrd Skynyrd, the original band with Ronnie Van Zant, not the tribute they’ve devolved into. But I think there was a time when Skynyrd was at their peak that they kind of were America’s Rolling Stones. And I think the Stones are at their best when they try to sound like a bunch of boys from the southern delta. And Lynyrd Skynyrd WERE wild, long haired boys from the south. So I’ve had this weird mix of influences, of glam rock mixed with street tough southern rock, which I think is totally reflected in the Mojo Gurus today.
JFV: Absolutely! When explained like that, the music makes a lot of sense. So you’ve got a new album out, it’s called “Who Asked Ya?” and it’s your first in five years. Any reason why it took you that long?
KS: This album took a couple of months to record, but, to be frank with you, every album the Mojo Gurus put out has been on a different independent label and each time we try to better our situation. This album was recorded a few years ago, and I kept adding songs to it because it took so long to find a better deal. That’s what it came down to: we weren’t happy with our last label and we thought it was senseless to put another album out on that label and it took us this long to find a situation we were happy with.
JFV: While we’re on the subject of labels and the music business: you’ve basically worked during four decades of the music business, and have witnessed its ups and downs during that time, and all the upheavals. Have the new opportunities now available to artists (Home recording, social media, self publishing, etc) compensated for the loss of what we could call traditional label support?
KS: Having an album out on a major label theses days, that’s like a double-edged sword. It’s tough to predict what’s going to happen, it changes so fast. Definitely when I started in the 80’s early 90’s, it’s a completely different scene now. Bands don’t get those kinds of deals, or sell those kinds of numbers anymore. The way to make money is not selling CDs anymore; it’s to go out on the road. All I can do is just hang in there and keep making music that makes us happy as a band. That’s really all that’s counting for us these days.
JFV: Let’s get back to the album. Can you talk about the album’s songwriting process?
KS: What I do is I come up with a title, or a lyric or two, and as I try to write, the melody usually comes right along, kind of simultaneously. And I’m not much of a guitar player, I can barely play. I would never even take a guitar on stage, let’s put it that way. (laughs) The guys in my band, they don’t read music, they all taught themselves to play by ear. So if I need to express a musical idea to them, it’s quite simple: I sing it to them. And Doc Lovett, my guitar player, he’s great, and we come from the same school of rock ‘n roll, we’re drawing from the same library. His idol’s Keith Richards, so that makes Doc excellent in my book. (laughs) I just sing him the melodies and actual rhythm parts! On “Where You Hidin’ Your Love”, I sang the horn parts to the horn players!
JFV: There are a lot of different styles on the album. The opener is Stones-like, “Bandito” has the mariachi vibe, “No Damn Good” is a great country ballad, and so on. Do you set out to write in a specific genre or do you just follow where the song will take you?
KS: I would say that I set out to write that song. I’m a fan of many different genres of music and I hope that my songwriting reflects that. These days, and I consider that a real problem, artists are in a niche and they only play these types of songs, and they package those same kinds of bands together on tours. When I was a kid, the variety was much wider and you’d see bands that were very different on the same bill. Everybody asks me “what kind of band are you?”, and I say “We’re a rock ’n roll band” and they’ll say “yeah, but what kind of rock ’n roll?”. They want a prefix, they want to know if it’s punk rock, southern rock or country rock. We’re a little bit of all those things, and calling us just one of those things wouldn’t be doing the band justice, you know? Like the Rolling Stones, who I feel are one of our most obvious influences, they dabbled in R&B, reggae, glam… you name it! I just think it would be so boring to write in just one style over and over and over. If I had to perform the same kind of songs every night over and over, I would kill myself. (laughs) It’d be no fun! And I’ve been criticized for it too, for trying too many things. I was a fan of The Beatles too, and if you listen to the White Album, they tried everything from hard rock to country rock to British music hall tunes, or whatever. To me that’s half the fun of being a writer.
JFV: What’s your favourite track on the album?
KS: I really like the single “Where You Hidin’ Your Love?”, and the, I guess we’ll call it a ballad, “No Damn Good” because it’s got kind of a twist at the end lyrically. You think the guy’s apologizing but at the end he says how much fun he’s had being no damn good. And there’s one that’s just a simple rocker called “What Do You Want From Me?” but if anybody takes time to read the lyrics, I think that song reveals more about me than any song on the album.
JFV: How’s the reaction been so far to the album?
KS: So far, we’ve got lots of great reviews; of course we haven’t been reviewed by any hipster magazine! (laughs) But it’s been unbelievably good so far, and we’re really proud of this album. We’ve put a lot into it and it’s been a long time coming out and to get such a positive reaction does the heart good.
And the title is really about our current era. Everybody’s got an opinion these days, in this day and age of 24 hour news, and the internet, and everybody’s bombarded with everybody’s opinion, everybody’s got a blog, everybody’s got something to say about something, and most of these people should not have a forum for their thoughts. A lot of people are saying rock is dead, and to all those fucks, the Mojo Gurus say “Who Asked Ya?” (laughs)
JFV: Will you be touring behind it?
KS: Ah, yes, hopefully. We’re talking to a great booking agency and if that happens, then yes. We also just completed a very successful PledgeMusic drive. You know what that is?
JFV: Yeah, I do.
KS: It’s like a Kickstarter thing. We got to 156% of our goal and it’s all going towards tour support, and our label matched it dollar for dollar. So that’s gonna be a nice little boost to our touring.
JFV: Any plans to come up to Canada?
KS: Oh yeah. Our last label was based out of Canada, True North Records. We had plans to do a string of dates in Canada but… I think I mentioned that my guitar player Doc Lovett is a Keith Richards fan? Well, very much like Keith Richards, we had some problems getting over the border… (laughs)
JFV: Well if you ever manage to make it across it’d be great to see you guys. Thanks for the chat!
KS: My pleasure, thanks!
The Mojo Gurus’ latest album “Who Asked Ya?” is available now. Click here to read my review of it.