New Jersey natives Mojohand are seasoned improvisers.
In fact, that’s one of the key elements to their sound, along with cosmic Americana and 60s-and-70s-infused psychedelia. Influenced by folk and roots-rock legends like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Eagles, The Band, and others, Mojohand is a jam band at its core, with a knack for improvising and keeping the good times rolling. This is on full display in their singles “Easy Daisy” and more recently, “Highway Girl,” which comes off their upcoming album, Songbook, set for release this Friday, October 29th.
The band is compromised of Elijah Klein (guitar, vocals), Ian Darcy (keys, vocals), Joe Dinardo (bass), and Jasper Mahncke (drums). Their story began in 2016 when Klein and Dinardo found themselves indulging in none other than a Dead & Company show. Immediately wanting to recreate the sense of community and magic surrounding the Grateful Dead’s legendary prowess, the two eventually recruited Darcy and later Mahncke. It was then Mojohand was born.
Beginning in 2017 and since growing into a full-fledged music festival, the band’s independent MojoFest sustains precisely the kind of community bond they were aiming for. Complete with seven different local or regional bands on the lineup, camping, vendors, and three hundred audience members in attendance- and this year’s MojoFest was the biggest yet. In fact, Jersey’s Aquarian Weekly felt confident that Mojohand would “resuscitate NJ’s DIY scene.”
With Songbook mere days away from seeing the light of day, listeners will be treated to a heavy dose of the band’s energetic, roots-oriented sound. The album is full of life, with references and nods to their late 60s and early 70s influences.
We got to chat with the band to learn more about Songbook, their namesake music festival in New Jersey, & more.
So I was hoping you could talk about the inception of Mojohand in a nutshell and what the first year or two looked like for the band.
Elijah: Mojohand started in late 2016 with Joe, Ian and I, with a rotating cast of side musicians. We played around the New Jersey music scene somewhat regularly, but it wasn’t until we met Jasper in 2018 that everything really “clicked” musically and personality-wise, and that was when we started really taking the songwriting and consistently playing shows seriously. Since then, we’ve only been getting better and playing more and more shows.
How would you describe your sound and style to those wondering what you’re all about?
Jasper: Mojohand’s sound can best be described as Cosmic Americana; there’s influences from old country musicians, alternative rock, psychedelic music from the 60s, and singer-songwriters from every era. It can be hard to put in a box beyond “rock music”, because we arrange each song to be as much “itself” as it can be – and that can result in a super wide range of genre-specific sounds and writing styles. Our live show is where the rubber hits the road, because there’s something there you don’t get on the studio record, which is improvisation. When we’re jamming, a song can start out completely normal-sounding and end up in a sonic space that has almost nothing to do with where it started from. From bands like the Grateful Dead and John Coltrane’s classic quartet to noisy sound walls and classical composers like Steve Reich & My Bloody Valentine, the beauty of improvisation is how it can free us from the constraints of genre and lead to something completely new.
How does the songwriting process work within the band?
Elijah: I usually will think of a line that excites me and that can lend itself to painting a greater picture; it’s always one good line that’ll fuel the inspiration for writing a song around it. I always start writing on acoustic guitar just to outline the harmony and feel of the song, but that can change by the time we’re in the studio. For some songs I have certain ideas of arrangements, but for most of the songs the arrangement of the instruments is very collaborative with the rest of the band.
Jasper: After Elijah’s got the lyrics and basic outline of the song done, we’ll start coming up with different instrumental parts that serve the song; one of our biggest principles is to write instrumentals around the lyrics that highlight them, rather than getting in the way or stepping on them – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves in listening to music, when there’s clearly a great song in the mix somewhere, but the band just wrote too many riffs and drum fills over it to where the essence is obscured. We’ll also keep in mind the overall arc of the song’s dynamics; making sonic choices like leaving out the keyboard until the first chorus, or only starting to open up the high-hat until the second half of the song are some examples. Small details like this might seem unimportant, but they really help to give the song a shape and make it feel alive, rather than a standard copy-paste job of “verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, chorus” we’ve all heard a million times before. Often, the arrangement of the instrumental parts is just as important as the song itself when it comes to making the best music we possibly can.
So I was hoping you could talk about your upcoming album, Songbook. What’s the inspiration and influence behind it? Any overarching themes or motifs?
Elijah: In the very early stages of the pandemic, I was writing songs – as a songwriter. I’m pretty much constantly doing this, even when we weren’t thinking about recording an album. Eventually, as they began to take shape, it became clear that they were all connected and framed by the state of the world during COVID, and we had been playing them enough that they were undeniably great songs that needed to be shared with our listeners. Once it became too cold to do outdoor gigs, we decided to put all our energy over the winter into making the music come to life on record. We found Sean Walsh of the National Reserve and asked him to produce it. He was excited about the music and making the album a reality, so in March 2021 we went into the studio and spent 10 days recording and mixing it. He was absolutely essential to making this album into a reality and is a totally amazing musician – if you’re reading this, go check out his band The National Reserve!
As for overarching themes, I feel like the songs that came out of us during this process were definitely influenced by the fact that we were in lockdown; especially here on the East Coast where the lockdowns were early and kind of out of nowhere. The shadow of the pandemic loomed over every interaction we had daily, and the feelings of isolation were undeniable even in the brightest moments. While this isn’t a concept album in the Pink Floyd type of way, each song is about relationships, friendships, and human interaction in general – something all of us took for granted in 2019. For us, the value of all the people in our lives that we didn’t have access to anymore (including each other, because Jasper had to go back to California for almost six months) was staring us in the face when we were stuck inside, and when you listen to the album, it all comes from that.
Other than obvious pandemic reasons, what was the most challenging part about the writing or recording process of this album?
Jasper: The hardest part had to have been deciding when to stop recording! We’re all musicians first and foremost, and what comes with working out those creative muscles for so long when you finally go into the studio is the infinite wellspring of ideas – namely, that you can record and mix and re record and overdub forever, and the musical mind will always have another idea of an extra percussion track, or some more reverb on some vocals, or redoing a guitar solo – or pretty much anything about the music. A recording studio is basically like a playground for us in that way. If we had a huge major-label budget, we could have spent six months in the studio and not finished it, just because everyone’s always trying to think of the best way to make the best music, and that can change daily. That was one of the most valuable things about our producer Sean Walsh; he’s a far more experienced musician than any of us, and knew when we had gotten “the take” and when we needed to switch something up – or not. If not for him, we would probably still be fiddling around with the songs and mixes to this day!
While it may be like picking a favorite child, what song or two might mean the most to you or are you most excited for the public to hear?
Elijah: I’m excited for people to listen to “Highway Girl” and “Why Oh Why”, because they’ve been getting great reactions from the audience when we’ve been playing it live. It took a lot of work to make those songs work, and we’re really proud of how they turned out.
Jasper: “Here’s to Hoping” is the one I’m the most excited for people to hear – I’m very satisfied with the arrangement of the song and how it builds, and the lyrics are some of my favorites on the album. I think it’ll resonate with a lot of different people and their personal lives.
I also see you host your own music festival in New Jersey, Mojofest. How has it grown over the years, and what has the reception been like?
Elijah: Mojofest started as a free backyard show in 2017, and over the past 5 years it’s grown into a full-fledged summer festival with a bunch of bands on the lineup, vendors, camping, and over 300 people in attendance! The festival has grown only more and more important to our community in the last two years, since they both happened during COVID and it was a time where we could safely gather and enjoy music & each others’ company. There are people who met at Mojofest and are still friends to this day, and throughout the year people always tell us how much they’re looking forward to the next one. We do it all completely DIY, from the sound system to the port-a-potties, and this fosters an organic vibe where anyone can come and have a great night of music and meeting new friends!
What does a dream gig look like for Mojohand?
Jasper: Our dream show looks like an active, excited crowd, probably outdoors (it’s always fun to play around nature and in good weather), with friends new and old there, dancing and singing along; we always say to the crowd that the more they engage with us, the better we play!
Do you have any post-album release plans? Touring, more writing, chilling, etc?
Elijah: After we release the album, we’re gonna play as many shows as we can, in as many places as we can, and meet as many new people as we can to spread the word of this album and our band. We already have plenty of songs ready for the next one, so whenever the time feels right, that’ll be coming down the pipeline. We pretty much want to play live music and make albums for the rest of our lives; so in a way the road ahead is simple and clear.