Q&A with Florida-based Swami of swamp rock JJ Grey, unforced talent and deep feeling, blend of southern rock and blues

"Life is life. All influence and creativity comes from that for me. My music has only been me telling the story of that life."

JJ Grey: Southern Blend of Music & Stories

JJ Grey, the Florida-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creator of the band Mofro, released his new album, Olusteen (2024), it’s his first since 2015. JJ’s music is rooted in the soil of his backwoods Florida family home. His songs are almost impossible to categorize, but they include elements of soul, swampy Southern rock, funk, Americana, blues, and even classical (this is the first Alligator album with a guest appearance by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra). JJ formed the band Mofro while still working his day job at a lumber yard. On Olustee, Grey's first self-produced album, the North Florida-born and bred artist sings his personal stories with universal themes of redemption, rebirth, hard luck, and inner peace. Grey previously released five groundbreaking albums on Alligator between 2007 and 2013. With Olustee, JJ Grey has once again pushed the boundaries of his own creative musical, lyrical and vocal talents, delivering an album that is destined to become a classic.

(JJ Grey, Florida-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist / Photo by Steve Rapport)

Many of the songs are steeped in the mythical Southern stories of his ancestral Florida home and filled with people from JJ’s life. The songs overflow with the sights and sounds of the region as told through the eyes of a poet and sung with pure, unvarnished soul. With his music, Grey also celebrates good times with lifelong friends, often mixing the carnal with the cerebral in the very same song. Fueled by his vividly detailed, timeless originals, spun from his own life and experiences in the Northern Florida swampland, Grey’s gritty baritone drips with honest passion and testifies with a preacher’s foot-pounding fervor.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios          Special Thanks: Marc Lipkin (Alligator Records)

How has the music influenced your views of the world? Where does your creative drive come from?

Music hasn't really influenced my worldview so much as it's the other way around. My worldview has influenced my music and by worldview, I mean my life. I'm not exactly sure where my creative drive comes from. It seems like it just comes when it comes out of thin air.

How do you describe your sound and songbook? What's the balance in music between technical skills and soul/emotions?

I honestly have no idea what my music sounds like. I can give you a long list of my influences, but honestly, I really only hope it sounds like that. 

You’ve one more release with Alligator Records. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “Olustee"?

I met Bruce the owner of Alligator many years ago and we just hit it off. I am extremely happy to be back at Alligator again. One of the interesting things that happened during the making of the record was having the Budapest symphony orchestra play on four of the tracks on the album. It was a mind blowing opportunity for me to get to hear a world-class symphony like that play on some of my songs.

"Music hasn't really influenced my worldview so much as it's the other way around. My worldview has influenced my music and by worldview, I mean my life. I'm not exactly sure where my creative drive comes from. It seems like it just comes when it comes out of thin air." (JJ Grey  has once again pushed the boundaries of his own creative musical, Florida 2023 / Photo by Just Add Video)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I honestly can't think of one moment that changed my musical life that much. Instead, it's been a bunch of different small moments that sort of woven the fabric if you will of this thing, called my musical life, which is sort of inseparable from my “real” life.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

This is a good question, but truth be told I don't really listen to a lot of new music or a lot of music in general. When I do listen, I pretty much listen to music that's older and I have no idea exactly why. Maybe it speaks to me more.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications?  How do you want the music to affect people?

I have no idea what the impact of music is on the sociocultural level or of anything else at that level of abstraction. I've never really wanted to have my music be a message or try to affect people in any general way. I can only reflect back now, and I feel like doing music has been a therapy for me and it seems that all this time I've been singing songs as mantras if you will to remind of what's important.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

To let go and let it happen. And to seek it is to deny it.

Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music?

Life is life. All influence and creativity comes from that for me. My music has only been me telling the story of that life.

JJ Grey & Mofro - Home

(JJ Grey / Photo by Everett Zuraw)

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