Todd Park Mohr was enjoying a little holiday season downtime a few weeks ago when we caught up to him after a dinner out in Littleton; he kept apologizing as his cell phone nervously straddled mobile and Bluetooth car modes. Mohr is a guy on the go; even his devices have a little trouble keeping up with him.
This past year found Mohr and the Monsters out on the road (with Hazel Miller and Chicago blues guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks during the winter swing), promoting the band’s January release of Black Beehive¸ the Steve Jordanproduced fulllength CD titled after Mohr’s touching elegy to Amy Winehouse. Mohr has an under-appreciated gift for character study (one of our recent favorites is the dukes-up stomper “Muhammad Ali” from 2010’s Rocksteady), and “Black Beehive” deftly resonates with the shaded mourning that followed in the wake of the troubled soul siren’s 2011 demise, neither heroic nor lachrymose.
“There’s a lot of things in that story that come together in a powerful way,” Mohr said about “Black Beehive,” “and it was an easy song to write because of that. When she died, it probably took me a half hour to write that song.”
Jordan’s influence on the CD is evident; his production and playing credits extend to Eric Clapton, Don Henley, John Mayer, Herbie Hancock and Keith Richards, as well as gigs in TV bands like Letterman and Saturday Night Live. Mohr could hardly have found a better helmsman for this CD, a producer with equal facility in roots and commercial-appeal disciplines, especially as Mohr continues to incorporate his deep exploration of pre-war blues (evidenced by the band’s 2011 CD and tour 100 Years of Robert Johnson) with the band’s native-born songwriter rock.
“Yeah, he played on most of the tracks, he works really fast and he’s a musical genius to boot. He has incredible arrangement ideas and is rhythmically flawless. He knows how to get the feel and the vibe out of a performance, and yeah, we definitely owe him a lot for the sound of Black Beehive.”
Mohr says that Jordan’s no-nonsense approach to the studio thing — get in, figure out what works and get out — aligns pretty closely to the band’s newfound appreciation for efficiency.
“I think the main thing for me is that I’ve become a big fan of the less deliberative approach [to making records]. More spontaneous, working very quickly,” Mohr says. “Black Beehive was done, I think, in about six days. Working like that is really appealing; the thing doesn’t wear out its welcome. And if you’re working with somebody who can help you really focus on what’s good, not waste time, you can really get good live tracks. I think that’s a big difference from the way we used to work. I mean, we used to really slave over things.”
Perhaps consistent with this approach, Mohr himself has been working on a little online side project this holiday season that he calls the Daily Donut; daily videos of new original songs and polished-up covers, with Mohr singing and playing solo in front a mic and a little context and currentevent commentary running across the bottom like a news crawl.
On paper, the project might sound a little like a vanity throwaway, but the effect is arresting. And yes, by the time you read this, Mohr will have just about completed it, but all the previous videos are still out there.
“It’s kind of like a music blog,” Mohr explains. “It’s a daily exercise; I call it the Daily Donut because you have to make the donuts fresh every day. … My goal is to do them every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas… So far I’ve only missed a couple of days,” he says and laughs.
Writing and/or arranging a new song, and then committing it to video and uploading it, every day for almost a month sounds… Well, it sounds like work. Maybe even a bit grueling. Whatever happened to chilling over the holidays?
“It is grueling, and I’m tired, I’ll admit it,” he says and laughs. “But it’s really worth it for me. I’m really enjoying it and I’m getting a lot of great material out of it. And success — I’ve been getting on average about 5,000 views per video. And some of them have gotten as much as 23,000 views, so it’s been exciting to have people respond.”
It sounds like a songwriter’s exercise, almost a boot camp.
“Essentially that’s what it is,” he says. “But it’s also kind of a different way of looking at the artform, of music as [being] kind of journalistic. Not necessarily meaning to write a song that’s meant to last forever, but that’s appropriate for the moment.
“It’s kind of liberating because I find that I can write a lot very freely and quickly, without having to worry about whether it’s good or who’s going to like it… For me it’s been an interesting cultural experiment… I’ve been using a lot of bluesy, folk or country standard I-IV-V stuff, and then I’ll throw as many tricks as I can at it.”