Florida-based Southern rock band JJ Grey & Mofro perfectly fits the description of a “swamp-infused style you would have sworn was from the depths of Louisiana,” as said in a Creative Loafing article.
The band will be playing in Augusta for the second time ever, at Sky City on June 14.
JJ Grey & Mofro’s latest and ninth studio album, “Ol’ Glory,” came out in 2015,
and Jacksonville, Fla., native and current resident JJ Grey said he’s waiting until just the right time to make another one. In the meantime, he and his band have been playing a lot of shows over the years.
“I’m slowly but surely working on I guess a new album — I’ve got a bunch of songs. I just, I don’t know; I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen,” the singer-songwriter said. “It’s just something that I’ve never tried to force, and anytime I have — well, let me back up. It’s not that I’ve never tried to force it; I’ve tried to force it, and it’s always sucked, so I just don’t try to force it anymore. Let it happen when it happens, and when I feel like it, I’ll know, ‘OK, it’s time.’ It’s coming; it’s getting close. I’ve got the music and most of the lyrical ideas and stuff, I’ve just got to do the dirty work and get it done.”
JJ Grey & Mofro’s name has somewhat of a funny sound (in case you’re wondering, “Mofro” was originally a nickname that one of Grey’s co-workers had for him, and he used it as the band’s name because it “sounded Southern”). But they’re musicians to be taken seriously. JJ Grey has gone from playing “greasy, local juke joints,” his bio says, to headlining major music festivals. The leader of the band has a fearless way of living life; he says although he’s not sure he stays grounded in this world, he tries to.
“But rule No. 1 for me is, I don’t take none of it too serious. And it seems like fear is a poor motivator — it always has been,” Grey said. “I came to the conclusion that any decision you make out of fear is the wrong decision.”
And that shows in his music and performance. It’s gritty, Southern rock with an increasingly soulful sound over the years, and his bio touts that he delivers his songs with compassion and a relentless honesty.
When asked what he’d likely be doing if he wasn’t making music, he said he really wasn’t sure… but that he’d probably be working for Caterpillar, “on the big stuff.” One of the things that consumes his time when he’s home from the road is rebuilding after Hurricane Matthew flooded his Jacksonville home a couple of years ago.
“It’s still being rebuilt. When I go home, I get a nail gun and do what I can do, the little that I can do,” Grey said. “I’m no pro at it, but I grew up in a house where my dad did everything, and subsequently I was his helper, me and my brother, and sometimes my sister as well, when she was around. But I wound up being my dad’s helper most of the time because my brother and sister were older than me, so they were kind of moving on with their lives when my dad took on lots of projects.”
That includes “pouring concrete driveway, which we swore we’d never try to do again,” he said with a laugh. “But my dad grew up doing everything; he never called anybody for anything, whether it was rebuilding the engine on a tractor or whether it was to do whatever he did… I don’t even think I had the idea of calling an electrician. Now I do.”
Grey acknowledged that he’s mellowed out a lot over the years. He says when he was a younger musician, he had a lot of anger issues, and it showed in his lyrics. Part of that, he says, was growing up in an area of the country where violence was common.
“I was never one to walk around and cry about what went on, but I grew up in a place that was darker than the average bear,” he said. “And I had no idea; I thought everybody was like that, and I was shocked to go out into the rest of the world and see that it wasn’t quite the same, not as — people didn’t get killed as easy as they did where I grew up, and but that was just part of it. And you know, in retrospect, I wonder now how bad it really was and how much it was me just making it out to be so bad. Don’t get me wrong, people got whacked, and people get whacked everywhere, you know? Crazy shit happens, and there’s no way around that.”
He says what changed in his approach to life is learning to “put space between me and all the things that happened in my past.”
One of the ways he unwinds while he’s at home — when he can get time off from fixing up his house — is by surfing. When he talks about being on his board in the ocean, you can just tell his entire being is content when he’s out there. But there’s also a dangerous aspect to it that makes him forget about all his problems.
“It’s awesome. The waves, it’s not the water; it’s the thing in the water,” Grey said. “It’s moving in a circle, a spiral. And when you catch it, I don’t know how to describe it. People say, ‘Oh, you’re just standing on a board,’ but it’s not the same thing as just riding across the water. It’s different. And you sort of negotiate a truce, if you’re in real big waves. But you’ve got this little dance thing going on. And something in that, it takes you away. Especially the bigger it is; it really will take you away. Because when there’s consequences to it, you’ll forget about all the dumb shit you’ve created in your life that you call problems.”
JJ Grey & Mofro w/ The Texas Gentlemen
8 p.m. Thursday, June 14
$28, advance; $33, day of show (21+)