By Darren Zancan
The Colorado-born trio brought their act to Lexington at Buster’s Backroom and Billiards to show off its new album “Rocksteady” Thursday. So before they trekked to Lexington, I had the chance to talk with lead singer Todd Park Mohr about the ride the band has been on, the new music and how the song “Blue Sky” became a favorite of Hillary Clinton’s. DZ: First off, I wanted to touch on a couple of things you guys have done more recently. In 2005 you released a single “Blue Sky” and it was requested by the crewmembers of space shuttle Discovery that you write a song for their launch. Tell me how that went down.
TM: Well, we got on a Big Head Todd and the Monsters cruise on the Caribbean and one of the members was a fan of the band, but was a higher up at NASA and we kind of became friends, so he asked me to write a song for the launches, because all they have is like “Rocketman” and no one has really written music specifically for the space program.
So I thought about it for a little while and it just happened with that “Blue Sky” song and thought it would be a perfect fit for NASA, and they agreed. They got a lot of enthusiasm behind the song and it ended up getting us some great VIP tours of the shuttle. I got to put my head in the portal of the door. It’s had a really neat life. One of the astronauts took a picture of the disc in outer space, so that was really exciting. Then Hillary Clinton kind of used the song as her campaign song.
DZ: How did the song transition into that?
TM: Well, I guess, an aid of hers was a fan of the song “Blue Sky.” Part of the inspiration of it was astronaut Eileen Collins, who was the first female commander of the shuttle. So it has a feminine undertone to it, so I think that appealed to Hillary. You know the fun thing about it right now is, NASA is having a song contest, and the top two songs will be wake up call songs on the next space shuttle in November. If you go to their website it’s pretty fun. They have the top 40 songs for wake up calls. They’re all over the map, Springsteen, U2, and our song is third, right behind the Star Trek theme and Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” The only other song up there is by Rush. It’s exciting because there are a quarter-of-a-million people voting for our song.
DZ: What’s it feel like as a band, to be together for a long time, and to be recognized by NASA and Hillary Clinton, knowing your music is not only catching on with fans, but also these other big name people?
TM: It’s an honor and very flattering. Obviously, the space program represents the brightest and the best of mankind, in a way, so to be associated with that is an honor. Anytime people recognize us, it means a lot. They played our song on Letterman last night, which was pretty fun.
DZ: Let’s talk about the new album “Rocksteady.” What went into the process of writing it and the music behind it?
TM: Well what happened was, I had written over 30 songs and about October of last year we started to record them at Jeremy’s house, our keyboard player. He has a studio at his house, and he is a pretty talented producer. We just started recording everything without knowing where we would end up. We ended up with two separate albums with the diversity of the songs. On one side was R&B, blues and Caribbean feel and the other songs were kind of hard rock songs. So we sort of have two albums, and it’s neat for us, because we never had an album with so much focus. Our music is a little eclectic, so it was fun doing almost a fun R&B album.
DZ: You wrote a song called “Muhammad Ali.” Was there any specific reason behind it?
TM: My father and I use to watch him. He was a huge fan. He had had a pretty inspirational life as a boxer, public figure and human being. So that is that side of it. Then every lyric in the song is something that he said. He’s such a poetic person, who loves speaking in poetry. He is perfect to write a song about. What gave me the idea is actually a Tom Russell song and I kind of rewrote it, so it’s not entirely my composition.
DZ: In 1986 you guys formed the band, so it’s been 25 years as a band, is that correct?
TM: I guess so. Wow. (Laughs)
DZ: Congratulations. How does that feel, especially when music changes and fans come and go. You’ve done a lot with fans and music distribution online. You gave away music for free, so what does that mean to you that people still listen and show up for tours?
TM: Again, it’s a great honor and we are all really proud of still being here after 25 years. From my point of view, music is an important part of lives and culture. I am gratified that I am in a job that is rewarding to me. Obviously, we have very loyal fans, so that means a lot to us. They keep us running. So we have, as you mentioned, we have an unusually close relationship with our fans. We go on trips with them. We sign autographs after shows and let them meet the band. We are a fan band.
DZ: That’s a really good thing to be, especially with music in this day and age. You guys play a lot of shows over the course of a year. Is it hard to do this everyday, or is it the love of playing that gets you going?
TM: We’d never have any other life.
DZ: Essentially after 25 years the band becomes family, and average fans don’t see the road life, so what’s it like to have a band family?
TM: It’s been awesome. We have a great relationship. We enjoy being with each other and playing music together. We work together really well. It’s a fabulous partnership.
DZ: What’s the future hold for you guys?
TM: Well this upcoming winter we are doing a blues project for Robert Johnson’s 100 anniversary of his birthday. Then after that we will probably come out with another album at some point.
DZ: Will the next album be the other side of things you haven’t released yet from the studio?
TM: Yes, that’s correct.
DZ: I know you are playing in Lexington, so good luck on the tour and the great success you have found.
TM: We are looking forward to being there!
Big Head Todd and The Monsters formed in 1986. “Sister Sweetly” went platinum upon its 1993 release.