Colorado-based Big Head Todd & the Monsters never imagined they would be considered one of the finest roots rock bands of their generation. Todd Park Mohr and the boys have enjoyed critical and commercial success, most notably with their 1993 breakout record, “Sister Sweetly,” but have been quietly cranking out worthy successors ever since. We were happy to have Todd take a few moments to talk Big Head Todd & the Monsters, as the band celebrated the release of their latest, “Rocksteady”.
Q: It is hard for me to grasp, but Big Head Todd & the Monsters is approaching its 25th year – did you foresee it lasting this long?
A: Of course nobody expects a career in the music business to last twenty-five years! We are very gratified to still be here and making music.
Q: After eight studio records, can you tell us where all of these great new ideas keep coming from?
A: Songwriting is something that takes a bit of work and perseverance, so keeping at it as a songwriter is what keeps things new and fresh. I think also, as we grow older we become exposed to more different kinds of music and accumulate more tools to incorporate into our songs.
Q: Is the songwriting process the same for every record?
A: I write the music and lyrics, and the band members and I collaborate on arrangements and song selection. I always write music first, which I think tells the inner meaning of the thing, and that in turn gives me direction and clues as to what the words should be.
Q: Is it possible to pick a favorite record from your discography?
A: Well, it seems the favorite is always what is newest, and in a sense it’s true, if you buy into the idea that the band and the songs are getting better. That being said, there is always a magic to early works that is elusive because “first times” only happen once. The key is to make every day a first time if you can.
Q: If you could choose one word to describe the new record, “Rocksteady,” what would it be and why?
A: I would say the word would be “fun”. “Rocksteady” is about just chilling and enjoying a few soulful moments, rather than about a heavy statement musically or lyrically. Of course there is still some depth to the song craft and a range of emotions, but they all tend toward lighthearted fun.
Q: I thought your interpretation of the Rolling Stones classic, “Beast Of Burden” was genius – have you considered jumping on the bandwagon and releasing an album of cover tunes?
A: Well, “Beast of Burden” started out in a pile of covers that we had thought would make for a “cover of the month” program for the band. I think we’ve always had it in the back of our heads that we had a decent cover record in us somewhere and have always resisted including covers, with the exception of Hooker’s “Boom Boom”. The thing that’s nice about covers is, obviously, they are already proven hit songs, so it’s a little easier to sell the performances when you don’t also have to sell the song.
Q: BHT is best known for the platinum selling “Sister Sweetly” (1993) – on both a personal and profession level, how was it to experience that level of success?
A: Success is always bittersweet. We are thankful to have had the success, but at the time it was also a difficult pill for me to swallow because I didn’t feel I was an accomplished enough musician or writer to deserve it. I ended up standing in my own way more often than not.
Q: In my opinion, you are one of the greatest unsung heroes when it comes to today’s guitar masters. Who are your favorite guitarists and who has had the biggest influence on your style?
A: Albert King and Albert Collins probably had the most influence on my guitar playing. Of course I loved Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, and also Jimmy Page.
Q: As someone who has been doing this for over two decades, I’d like to get your perspective on how the music business has evolved over the years, and where you think it is going.
A: When we started playing in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the CD had just hit the scene and people were buying them like mad to replace their scratched record collection. This was the last of the glory years for the business of selling a hard product in a real store. Everyone knows that the business has been turned upside down by the internet. The upshot is I think good for culture and music because there is much more room for diversity and smaller scale efforts. It is really, really difficult however for new bands to reach the same levels of super stardom that past artists and labels enjoyed.
Q: What advice would you give to young bands trying to capture the success that you’ve had?
A: My advice is to focus on quality songwriting, musicianship, and performances, and then to develop a meaningful relationship with your audience. If a new artist has these things going on then success has been achieved. The rest of it – fame, money – is really a wild card that is, more often than not, completely out of one’s control.
Q: What can fans expect in the near and distant future from BHT?
A: Well, BHT is going to continue to put out. This winter we will be touring with Hubert Sumlin, Honeyboy Edwards, Cedric Burnsides, and other blues luminaries to commemorate Robert Johnsons’ 100th birthday. Then we will, at some point, finish and release a hard guitar rock record that we’ve been working on for a while now. Long term, we just want to stay interested and enjoy our life with music, and our regal and righteous fans!
For all the latest on BHT: http://www.myspace.com/bhtm