by Jason Earle
J.J. Grey and Mofro is one of my all-time favorite live bands. The first time I saw them, circa 2004, they played with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, back when the band was just known as Mofro. The symphony players donned camouflage hats to mirror their “conductor” that night, J.J. Grey and his band’s southern swampy sound.
Thus began over a decade long love affair with Jacksonville’s Mofro. A couple shows, a few dozen beers, and a year or two later, I saw Mofro at what used to be called Common Grounds in Gainesville, FL. Bands like Avail and Against Me! used to pack the place in the 1990s when it was in some other incarnation. It’s a big room that feels like a mini high school cafetorium. The opener that night was a band called the Legendary JC’s.
My practice is to watch the opener whenever possible. That’s how I learned about Joe Pug, Matthew Fowler, and countless other musicians I love. The Legendary JC’s were unfamiliar to me but anyone hitched to J.J. Grey and Mofro was worth a listen. The JC’s is a band fronted by Central Florida musical legend Eugene Snowden.
Eugene Snowden is a force of fucking nature, now, fifteen years later. A decade and a half ago he was a sexual dynamo who wailed on the microphone, made love to it, then abandoned its embrace to leap off the stage into a split on the dance floor. That’s not a hyperbolic metaphor. He literally did all of the above as an opening act. Never before or since have I seen someone upstage J.J. Grey. Eugene did it that night.
Opening the Portal
The Marinade has opened a lot of creative doors for me. For my partner in life. For my friends. My family. The Marinade is a portal. A way that things I never thought possible could come true. I’ve interviewed and become buddies with creative heroes. I’ve seen my favorite bands from just feet away.
Most importantly I have learned that the voices, both internal and external, telling you your art is silly or unimportant are wrong.
If ten people listen to the show and think it matters, or they learn something, then damnit it matters. But, if no one listens, it still matters. It matters for all the cliche reasons but also because we are nothing without art.
The show J.J. and his band played with the symphony might as well have been tomorrow it’s so fresh. Eugene’s split does not happen anymore but that does not matter. It resides in my memory and every time he does some bat shit wild thing on stage now, I am transported to that moment when I was creatively stifled but there were people like Eugene Snowden and J.J. Grey who let me escape to a place where I could not otherwise travel. I could not do what they were doing but no matters of the ego would survive that moment.
Uncovering the Well
The song you hear playing in the background of The Marinade intro is by Explosions in the Sky. It’s called “First Breath After Coma.” You may not have noticed it the first twenty-plus times you heard the intro, but now it’ll be dialed in. The song is an ear worm of the best sort.
That intro was recorded on a whim. My partner Kris had just gifted me mic stands, a present that ranks among my favorite to this day. She put a ton of thought into what I might need while recording intros and outros, or while having people over for interviews.
We were hanging out late one night and I enthusiastically asked her to play around with our new recording setup. On her worst day, Kris is my favorite singer. Her singing blends pain with hope and ties the two in a bow of universal class. That’s how I fell in love with her. All of that.
She has always supported my creative endeavors, but those mic stands sent a message that she was all in on my creative pursuits. And, her subsequent renderings of my logo concepts proved to me that I was on to something with The Marinade. If Kris likes it, or at least supports it, then I have a chance.
Years of writing, interviewing, and recording later, The Marinade reached a place where we not only had our feature episodes, but a few tendrils to manicure as well. One of those vines is our website exclusive episodes. Episode 4 of that series is with the incredible songwriter Amy McCarley.
A Push From New Friends
Interviews are almost never bad. I’m okay at this by now. But, some are amazing. Sometimes you hit a flow of sorts. My website exclusive episode with Amy McCarley was one of those moments. During our conversation, I mentioned that I had some songs written but they had not been consumed by anyone other than me and a few select girlfriends over the years. To which she basically replied, tighten up and put yourself out there.
Barley and Vine Biergarten is my home base. A local bar where everyone knows all your shit - the good and the not-so-good - and they want you to succeed. A week after my conversation with Amy, I showed up to play some original songs only to find that open mic was cancelled. I told Amy what happened and she said not to give up, to give it another go in a week or so. The same thing happened to her the first time she tried to play an open mic.
Two weeks later, I was preparing to emcee the Rockin’ Robinson music festival, an easy excuse not to face my anxiety about playing. It’s not that I don’t think my songs are any good, or that I don’t like my voice. It’s that I feel like a poseur. I can’t help comparing myself to these brilliant musicians I work with, a standard of which I fall well short.
Meanwhile, my episode with Amy went live and I sent her the links. In her response to my note, she asked about whether I had gotten up to play! Persistently, lovingly, asking if I faced my anxieties and got up there.
It was good, tough medicine. I showed up again at the end of a really labor-intensive week, with all the excuse in the world to skip out again.