Thursday, October 6, 2022

Southern soul rocker JJ Grey talks gratitude, touring ahead of Mofro show at GFLA

JJ Grey and Mofro will perform at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Sunday. (Photo by Jim Arbogast)

Fans headed to the J.J. Grey and Mofro show at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Sunday are likely to see a version of the band less unpredictable than concerts in years past.

Where earlier outings generally found Grey mixing up the setlist night by night, the group has settled into playing a more consistent selection of songs on the 2022 tour. This time around they are rotating tracks among a core list, and include a few covers, such as “House of the Rising Sun,” made popular in the 1960s by The Animals.

“I put together three or four different ideas, to get them hammered in, instead of just kind of willy nilly putting setlists together every night — although, that can be fun, too,” Grey said during a phone interview.

While it may seem calculable, Grey said it opens up a more immersive experience for the musicians to really hone in on their craft.

“It’s just like anything, if you get a song to where nobody’s thinking about what they’re doing, they’re just playing — we all know it goes somewhere awesome, and if you get a whole show going like that, it gets really crazy,” he said.

Years of steady touring built a loyal fanbase, as JJ Grey and Mofro have played their fair share of festivals, pavilions, theaters and larger clubs on a regular basis. The band tours over 100 shows a year (except, of course, during the pandemic).

“To just continue to go do it is part of it, the tenacity of it,” Grey said. “And playing with great people, obviously — but that’s been going on since day one.”

The Jacksonville, Florida-based singer and guitarist first came on the scene in the late 1990s and released “Blackwater” in 2001, followed by 2004’s “Lochloosa.” Over the years, he has continued to put out a steady stream of work. He released five albums between 2007 to 2013, while signed to Alligator Records. Come Nov. 11, the label will release 2007’s “Country Ghetto” on vinyl for the first time.

Grey said there is a lot to be thankful for upon assessing his two-decade-plus career. His modus operandi in life comes with a more upbeat outlook and sunny disposition. Fifteen years ago, he said, it was common he would turn to frustration first if something didn’t go his way. Today, it’s more about tuning into gratitude.

“That changed everything,” Grey said. “Instead of constantly finding flaws and faults with everything, to ignore that 90 percent of the time that things are going right, and then to only focus on the 5 percent of the times when shit goes wrong, it’s like: That’s life. You ain’t getting out of it without pain and wrongdoing, so enjoy it when things go wrong and figure out a way to fix it to get back right.”

JJ Grey and Mofro’s last album, “Ol’ Glory,” was released seven years ago — a long gap for an artist who previously put out work in quick succession. Grey attributes some of the inspiration for 2015’s catalog of work to a life transformation: the birth of his daughter.

“I’ve got it easy — easy because I’ve got a wonderful family,” he said. “There are several songs on ‘Ol’ Glory’ that were about my daughter.”

His adoration can be heard on “Every Minute”: “This mirrored light that sends back/everything that you send out/The grace you give, given back/Loving every minute you live.”

“Ol’ Glory” combines three main ingredients that have always been present in Grey’s music: rock, rough-hewn Southern country, funk and soul.

Stand-out tracks include the ballad “Light a Candle,” which sounds like it could have been spun out circa 1960 at Stax Records studio in Memphis, alongside the likes of Otis Redding or William Bell.

The snappy “Brave Lil’ Fighter” and the gritty rocker “Turn Loose” bring the funk, while the swampy acoustic-based “The Island” lets Grey’s country-blues roots shine.

“I’m working on a new album now,” Grey revealed. “I guess, if you want to call it that — piecing together stuff and listening to it and thinking about it, sussing it out.”

There could be an early 2023 release, if all goes according to plan. No word on whether any new tracks will be played at the sold-out Greenfield Lake Amphitheater show on Sunday, Aug. 14.

“I just think the mood of the song and what’s going on at that time in the show will dictate the setlist,” he said.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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