Ultimate Interviews

Ultimate Interviews

Friday, February 26, 2016

Interview with Simon Visco - Mojo Stone

It was a warm night on the streets of Toronto, outside a book store where the next day the legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, was to appear. Throughout the night, the growing number of people securing their place in line were treated to some live entertainment by three young men who came up from Buffalo, NY. It would be my first introduction to Simon Visco (writer/vocals/guitars). With an acoustic guitar, they entertained us all into the wee hours of the morning. It was evident that this young man had an incredible talent.  Since then,  I've enjoyed listening to his band's music. Filled with traces of rock and roll and blues, it is an incredibly well written, performed and produced album. 
Photo: Gabriel Visco
Upon receiving my copy of their debut album, I was fascinated by how wonderful it was. It has since become a favourite go-to album of mine. (Read the album review HERE).
'Mojo Stone', is a delicate combination of calm and chaos. The strong lyrics, catchy melodies and impressive guitar playing catches your ear from the very first opening guitar riff of 'Push' to the closing number 'Howlin' at my Door'.
I had the great honour of having Simon take some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about the history of Mojo Stone, as well as his writing techniques and speak about the songs on the album.
Kaoticnotes: Can you give us a brief history of when and how Mojo Stone formed?
Simon: Prior to the formation of what would become Mojo Stone, Nick and I had been playing guitar together in a local hard rock/metal band. When that band met its demise in early 2014, we decided that we wanted to form a blues-based project with Nick on drums and myself on guitar. After going through two bassists, Ryan joined up with us in January of 2015 after seeing us play a gig the month before as a duo. I feel that we definitely have a certain chemistry together as musicians, things seem to slide together very naturally - both in terms of writing and playing. So here we are!​
KN: Who came up with the band name 'Mojo Stone' and the significance behind it?

Simon:  The name "Mojo Stone" came out of a brainstorming session with Nick and I where we were trying to think of band names that worked with the music we were making and wanted to make. "Mojo Stone" evolved from a combination of Jeff Buckley's "Mojo Pin", as well as through putting together the titles of two Muddy Waters songs - "Got My Mojo Working" (covered on the album) and "Rolling Stone" (the same song which Brian Jones took for his band, the Rolling Stones).
KN: The debut album was released on December 15, 2015. I'm sure you're all excited yet nervous about what sort of reception it may receive. What do you hope that people take away from the album?

Simon:  I honestly just hope that it can give people as much enjoyment as we had making the record and we have playing music. The feedback we've received on it so far has been very positive and it seems to have done that job for at least a few people, so I'm happy with it.
KN: Speak about some of your influences that have inspired the original tracks on the cd, both musically and lyrically.

Simon: My personal influences that I feel came through on the record were vast in both numbers and genre. Everything from Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley, Rival Sons, Bob Dylan, Howlin' Wolf, Maroon 5, Black Sabbath, The Yardbirds, Anne Briggs, Rush, The Black Crowes, and so many others - I could go on and on with the list, but I think that covers the material on the album well enough.
Photo: Jorian Holka
KN: You all play all the instruments on the album. A variety of guitars can be heard on the tracks, including a bow on "Howlin' at my Door". Can you share some of the gear that was used to record the songs?

Simon: For the electric guitar tracks, I used an '08 Gibson Les Paul Standard, an '80s Fender Telecaster ('62 Reissue, Japanese made), and an early 2000s Gibson ES-335. Amplifier-wise, I used a Marshall TSl100, a Vox AC15H1TV, and a Vox AC4TV. For the acoustic tracks, I used a Yamaha LL6. I used a plethora of different effects on the record which I won't go into detail about (special thanks to my father who I stole most of the pedals used from). The bass used for Ryan's tracks was an '80s USA Fender Precision Bass and the mandolin used for Nick's track on "Ophelia Otherwise" was an Ibanez A-Style.

KN: There's an amazing cover of the Muddy Waters song, "Got My Mojo Working". What was it about that song that made you decide you wanted to cover it? Are there any covers that you'd be interested in doing?
Simon: It just got our mojo working! We arranged that number and have been playing it since our first show with Ryan back in February 2015. It just fit tonally with the rest of the material on the album. It's a seriously rocking blues track, really. I mean listening to Muddy Waters' version  and those from bands like The Shadows of Knight ('60s rock group), it's just a driving tune with a great energy to it. We cover an array of songs live, everything from Elvis Presley to Kendrick Lamar. It's hard to say if we'll record any more covers for studio albums, only time will tell.
KN: Some may be surprised that young men like yourselves can convey the Blues as precisely as the way Mojo Stone does. Who do you credit for getting you interested in the Blues? Was that the music that you heard growing up?

Simon: My father and his band were the reason that I really listened to the Blues in the first place. They were a heavy-rock-turned-blues band who I was absolutely fascinated by from an early age. They introduced me to a wide range of music and taught me how to harness a certain power and energy that's carried in the Blues. The Blues is so much more than what's given to it. It's a feeling. It's all about "thinkin' evil". "If you thinkin' evil, you thinkin' 'bout the Blues". That's Howlin' Wolf. The Wolf has been a favourite of mine since I first heard him as a child. That voice, it's just so incredibly powerful, and not to mention that he was physically massive!
KN: How involved were you with the mixing and production of the tracks for the album? How important is it to you to have that participation and control of the outcome of the final product?

Simon: It was a team effort between the three of us at the beginning. I was the engineer for the sessions and worked the most on the production of the tracks, although Nick and Ryan did contribute a lot. We also had a major help from a few close friends, who gave us some tips and pointers which were very much appreciated (they are all listed on the album's liner notes).
Photo: Gabriel Visco
KN: The acoustic track "Avalon's Seed" has a tranquil, calming quality to it. Reminds me of "Bron-Yr-Aur". Was that drawn from your appreciation of Zeppelin's music and being a fan of Jimmy Page? It's far from being an album filler, what's the story behind the track?

Simon: That was something very spontaneous that I wrote and recorded basically in a few takes. I had this tuning I had been working in and developing how to work around melodically, and I sat down my guitar and a vision of what sort of atmosphere I wanted the tune to take and it just came out of it. I wasn't sure whether it would be included on the album, but it ended up working as a great transition track coming out of "Trouble's Gonna Come" and (despite having arranged the tracks on the album for eventual configuration on vinyl) leading into "Got My Mojo Working". Influence-wise, it draws tunes like Page's "Bron-Yr-Aur" and Scott Holiday's (of Rival Sons) "Nava".

KN: "Trouble's Gonna Come" (a personal fave) is a song consisting of many textures, haunting vocals, and it seems to take the listener on a  journey as the song progresses. It sounds like it would have been a complex song to record. What was it like completing the song?

Simon: That was the last song we tackled recording. We had struggled with getting it right for a while, trying to figure out a good arrangement for it, new parts and places for it to go. Then one day, it just came together - the ending. I had been fooling around with a heavy little start-stop chord progression and transitioning that into an arpeggiated bit, and so we started playing with that and Nick came out with this incredible fury of beats that resulted in this epic climax for the song.
KN: Each composition complements each other, yet they stand confidently on their own. Was there any discussion on order of tracks or which tracks to include? Were there any left off for whatever reason, and will they make it onto the next album?

Simon: There was much discussion on the track order. For the most part, it came together without much trouble in the early stage of the album. There were a couple tracks which got switched around for sake of energy and flow of the album. The biggest change being "Push" starting off the record - which is owed thanks to Ryan and a close friend who contributed to the production. There was one song that was left off for the sake of not fitting in tonally with the rest of the tracks on the album, but we will most definitely be including it on the next album. It wasn't recorded in studio, but we've been playing it live since the first show we played with our old bassist back in September of 2014.
KN: Speaking about the compositions, how is the writing process for the songs? Do you start with a melody, lyrics of riff?

​Simon: Honestly, it's different every time, at least for myself. Sometimes it'll be lyrics that I write music to, sometime a riff or chord progression or something that inspires the lyrics. To me, more importantly than the order than which it's written, is that the lyrics and music are properly paired. Otherwise, it doesn't matter what you have, it won't be right.
Photo: Alyssa M.
KN: The track "Black Soul Shine" features Nick on vocals. Will there be more songs with you guys sharing the vocal duties?

Simon: I think there will be more in the future, although it is not something we plan on doing. We haven't sat down and said, "Ok, let's have Nick do vocals on this one". It just sorta happens in the progress of writing. "Black Soul Shine" was Nick's tune. I brought in the riffs, and we started grooving away at it, and Nick asked if he could try writing something up for it. He got these little breaks worked our for the vocals and the arrangement kinds just came together - with a bit of work, of course.

KN: You're no stranger to performing and now recording an album. What is next for Mojo Stone?

 We plan to go on a short tour along (at least) the East Coast of the United States in the late Spring/early Summer of 2016. Scheduling is currently in the works for that, but we hope to have that set up within the next couple of months. From there, we already have a little more than half of an album in new material that we've been working on and plan to record at some point in the year. We move relatively fast in that regard, always writing, always shifting around and finding different sonic possibilities to explore.
KN: Gonna come to Canada to play anytime soon?

Simon: We are seriously hoping to at least make it up to Toronto or Canandaigua, NY by the end of the year, but it all depends on things go.
Photo: Mojo Stone
I can't thank Simon enough for the interview opportunity. It's an incredibly informative insight into his influences, his playing and how he is hands on with his band and the process of recording their music.
At first listen 'Mojo Stone' is a great Rock and Roll album married with Rhythm and Blues. Upon more plays it begins to grow on you and will easily become a favourite to any music lover. It crosses over genres, not wanting to be assigned to one particular label. The writing is tight and meaningful and is performed equally tight and with the same amount of passion.

What the future holds for Simon and his bandmates (Ryan Burow - Bass & Nick Miletto - Drums/Vocals) is completely in their hands. But if this debut album is any indication of what they are capable of, I'd have to say the future is looking mighty bright for these young men. 

To keep up to date on Mojo Stone, be sure to follow them on their official social media sites.  You can also order their album and tshirts. (Links below).

I'm excited to see and hear future releases as well as live performances. 

​They definitely deserve all the success that will be coming their way.

Official Mojo Stone Facebook
Official Mojo Stone Bandcamp
Official Mojo Stone Twitter
Official Mojo Stone Instagram
Official Mojo Stone Soundcloud
Official Mojo Stone YouTube Channel

Extra special thanks to Simon, for which without his cooperation and support this interview or review would not have been possible.

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Also Published on: KaoticNotes

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