Q&A with Texas-based guitarist Jason Elmore, back to classic hard-rock sounds of the 1970's through the 1990's.

"I think it's very important to have a healthy mix of technique and feeling. I feel like rock guitar leans more towards technical proficiency and blues tends to focus more on feeling and less technique. The problem with either approach is that too much technical proficiency can often start to sound a little too mathematical or academic and relying completely on feeling and ignoring technique can often sound boring and can be too stale or unoriginal."

Jason Elmore: Rise Up (The Rock) Lights 

Based out of Dallas TX, Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch is a high energy guitar-based trio that specializes in melding various styles of American music into an original sound that is both familiar and fresh. The band performs mostly original material with a heavy emphasis on rock, blues, and classic soul that sometimes draws comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Johnson, Black Sabbath, SRV, and Prince while never sounding like imitations of any of them. "RISE UP LIGHTS” is the new studio album by Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, available worldwide for digital and physical release on October 31, 2023. It is the band's first album in 6 years and it showcases the hard rock side of the band's sound. While previous albums have been a mix of rock and blues, this one has more in common with the classic hard-rock sounds of the 1970's through the 1990's.                                                                (Photo: Jason Elmore)

All songs were written by Jason Elmore and were heavily inspired by artists like Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Richie Kotzen, Andy Timmons, and Kings X, among others. Mike Talbot and Brandon Katona lay down thundering drums and gut-punching bass, and Elmore handles all guitar and vocal duties. The result is a 44-minute sonic excursion into familiar but refreshing melodies, harmonies, grooves, interesting lyrics, and layer after layer of big nasty riffs and ass-ripping guitar solos that are reminiscent of those golden days of heavy rock music. 

Interview by Michael Limnios                 Archive: Jason Elmore, 2016 interview

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

Mostly I hope that I've grown in my understanding of the guitar and my ability to communicate the music that's in my head. I've really been working hard on learning to sing properly and to treat my voice like an instrument instead of just a place marker between guitar solos. I like to think that I have become more experienced and, with age, developed a better understanding of how people react to music and what it is about songs that people (myself included) are drawn to. I'm able to have more gratitude about being able to provide people with an escape through my music instead of thinking that the world owes me a listen. And if they don't enjoy it, I no longer worry about that and don't let it ruin my self-confidence like I have in the past. I wish I had learned these things from the very start but, experience is the greatest teacher. And the music business is the greatest humbler! 

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I still am able to get excited about music and about practicing and learning the guitar. I am still a student of the guitar and I enjoy the process of continual learning and growth on the instrument. It's very therapeutic for me. I'm still very much excited about listening to music as well. Many people seem to grow out of that or put it on the backburner because life is so busy, but I still listen to music every day and still find new things within old songs that move me. Also, I still strive to give 100 percent when I perform live. That is something that I learned from watching Stevie Ray Vaughan and I try to carry that intensity onto the stage whenever I plug in. Sometimes though, some gigs are really tough and it's hard to do anything but try and just make it to the end without losing your cool. Not all crowds are created equally.           (Photo: Jason Elmore)

"I strive to write clever lyrics that have a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface, and to be able to play and sing in a way that shows the listener that those things are important to me and that I am really trying to hit a healthy mix of technique and feeling, without sacrificing one for the other."

You’ve one release heavily inspired by artists like Van Halen, Black Sabbath and others. How did that relationship come about?

I have always had a fondness for all kinds of music but mainly the blues and early hard rock from the 1960's through the 1990's. I've always tried to meld the two to some extent on my previous albums, but I feel like that turns off a lot of people in the blues community who want to adhere to tradition. The same goes with the hard rock audience. They very much have a disdain for anything that's not heavy enough to suit them. And I get it! So, I wanted to just dive deep into my love for hard rock and early metal and not feel like I need to tip the hat to Freddie King on every song if I don't feel like it. This one is very much inspired by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Kings X, and Van Halen. In fact, I began writing the bulk of it right after Eddie Van Halen passed away. He was always one of my very top guitar heroes and I was saddened with his passing and wanted to pay tribute to that style in some ways without ripping him off or directly playing his licks, although there are a few recognizable passages that go by pretty quick but hardcore fans will be able to point them out.

I've always loved Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath as well and his ability to write a spooky, powerful riff is second to none. There's simply nobody better at that. And when you get down to the base of it all, Eddie and Tony were both largely playing blues licks and patterns. The blues is still the base for all of that early heavy metal music, but many people don't understand the common thread that runs through all of that wonderful music from the 20's through the 90's. After that, somewhere, we fell off and really slowed down on the amount of truly great music. At least that's my opinion, but I am getting older, so I suppose it's normal for everyone to think that their generation's music was superior and that these kids today are just making racket. It's always been that way. I really feel like it's more true though since the internet has come along. I sound like a grumpy old man shouting, "stay off my lawn"!

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “RISE UP LIGHTS”?

The name comes from a comedian (Theo Von) I was listening to on a podcast, and he was talking about how when you say "rise up lights" it sounds like an Australian saying "razor blades". Somehow that stuck in my head, and I thought it would be fitting for this release of heavier music. There's a razor blade drawing on the front cover. It ties in with the name and also a slight throwback to those early Judas Priest albums. The entire project took about 3 years to record and complete. The pandemic set me back on finances and also my inner quality control meter was never truly satisfied with how things sounded, and I was constantly going back in and re-recording parts and adding new parts. Finally, I realized I had been doing that for 3 years and that it could likely go on for decades if I didn't just stop and accept the work that I had already done. I still wish I could just have ONE MORE pass at some of those vocal lines though.

"I've learned to be more gentle with myself. I've learned to loosen up and not be so uptight about things if they're not going my way. That is something that I learned from many frustrating live gigs where the audience wasn't into the music, or the musicians were sub-par." (Photo: Jason Elmore)

Why do you think that the classic hard-rock sounds of the 70’s/90’s and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think that in those decades’ innovation was still possible and the younger musicians of each decade were able to build upon things that were done in the past. That means musical technique, studio recording technology, the incorporation of influences outside their primary genre. People were pushing the envelope with all kinds of music and coming up with new things. Then technology seemed to come along too fast, and the quality of music was replaced with quantity. I don't exactly know why technology has made everything better as it has developed except for music. And I don't mean that to sound like my tastes are superior to anyone else's but I really feel like the music from the 1920's through the 1990's was objectively more creative, honest, and sincere. The focus seemed to be on the music itself whereas nowadays the focus is far more on the artist's image as a superstar. There is twice as much interest in music nowadays, but it's only directed at a small handful of superstars instead of being spread out among dozens of bands in many different genres, at least that's the feeling that I get. 

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

I think my life in music changed the most when I got a little older and realized just how short our time in this world really is. It made me strive to practice more, to learn to really sing better instead of just being passable, and to just enjoy the journey because that's what really matters. I will never be one of the superstars but at least I'll be comfortable knowing that I put good art out into the world and hopefully people will still stumble upon it long after I'm gone.

My biggest highlights have been the support and encouragement that I get from my wife, my family, my friends, and my peers in the music world. I did get voted as the 'Best Blues' act by the Dallas Observer Music Awards in 2012. That was pretty special to me, even though I don't really care about music being a competition of any kind. I do find it funny that everyone's idea of what 'blues' is is pretty wide-ranging.  Some people use a bigger umbrella for the genre than others. I call what I do 'blues/rock' and not 'blues'. Even though I love the traditional blues styles and I'm capable of playing many of those styles, I don't consider myself a blues artist. Although sometimes my music can GIVE people the blues if they don't enjoy it. 

"Mostly I hope that I've grown in my understanding of the guitar and my ability to communicate the music that's in my head. I've really been working hard on learning to sing properly and to treat my voice like an instrument instead of just a place marker between guitar solos. I like to think that I have become more experienced and, with age, developed a better understanding of how people react to music and what it is about songs that people (myself included) are drawn to." (Photo: Jason Elmore)

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? What do you think is key to a well recording Rock album?

I think it's very important to have a healthy mix of technique and feeling. I feel like rock guitar leans more towards technical proficiency and blues tends to focus more on feeling and less technique. The problem with either approach is that too much technical proficiency can often start to sound a little too mathematical or academic and relying completely on feeling and ignoring technique can often sound boring and can be too stale or unoriginal. I do my best to strike a balance between the two approaches. I love overly-technical guitar acrobatics but I can only listen to that stuff for a couple of songs. Whereas with someone like Lightnin' Hopkins, his musical vocabulary is limited to a handful of licks but the way he plays them with such emotion really moves the listener and makes you believe what he's telling you. I think people get too hung up on it being one way or the other. If it moves you and makes you feel something, then it's good. If that means it's overly complicated to most but you still enjoy it, then it's good!

The same way that if it's very predictable and the song starts off with "I woke up this morning" and that's what you like, then that's cool too. The good thing about living during this time is that there is something for everybody. You can listen to Son House or Dream Theater, and one doesn't have to be chosen as "better" than the other. I will say that I think lyrical content is often overlooked in all genres of music these days. Nobody is writing lyrics like 'Stairway To Heaven' anymore and the emphasis seems to be more about the artist's image, while technical proficiency at playing an instrument or writing a line seems to be an afterthought, or sometimes even looked down on altogether. I strive to write clever lyrics that have a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface, and to be able to play and sing in a way that shows the listener that those things are important to me and that I am really trying to hit a healthy mix of technique and feeling, without sacrificing one for the other.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?                                              (Photo: Jason Elmore)

I've learned to be more gentle with myself. I've learned to loosen up and not be so uptight about things if they're not going my way. That is something that I learned from many frustrating live gigs where the audience wasn't into the music, or the musicians were sub-par. I used to get really bent out of shape about it and I would let it dictate my mood and my self-esteem for the entire week. Now I just do my best to let it go and to just do my very best. I try to carry that lesson over into my everyday life too, outside of music.

Life is too short to be uptight. The most important lesson I have ever learned is from a newspaper clipping that my grandmother gave to me. I have it taped to my desk where I can always see it and remember to follow its advice. It says "Do what you love, and do it to the best of your ability every day. The recognition will take care of itself". So, I try to do my very best when it comes to applying myself to making good music, or at least good to me. I'm still waiting for the recognition to take care of itself but I no longer sit and worry that it hasn't happened. I shall continue to strive onward and upward and not take lightly the privilege that I've been granted to give joy to people through music. Hopefully the songs I put out will have a positive impact on someone, even if I never know about it. 

 

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