Many musicians get their start as teens. It’s when many either get that urge to rebel with music takes center stage, or their mom has forced them to pick up an extracurricular and band is 1000% better than debate. Whatever the reason the talents that makeup Jojo Stella chose to do what they do back in the day, it has all made the present possible. A present that includes hitting one of the biggest stages in Ohio this summer to play the heck out of their latest The Zen & The Art. We talked to Jojo Stella about their newest music, growth, and more.
Kendra: What brought you three together in 2014? Was this any of your guys first time in a band or was this the band that finally made sense?
Jojo Stella: Jojo Stella formed as a result of another failed project called The Bricks. In the aftermath, David and Christopher both continued to perform together (2019 marks something like 7-8 years playing music with each other). Eventually, after countless sit-in players and hired guns, we found Dan while he was still attending BGSU for Jazz. At one point we had a brilliant keyboardist. He went in a different direction than us though and has done some fantastic work in the Detroit Jazz scene since.
Kendra: With a wide variety of genres tossed into your sound, how do you approach a song? Do you kind of test drive various styles with a set of lyrics or does it all fall into place in one swoop?
Jojo Stella: Usually Christopher will write lyrics with a chord structure or musical idea. Dan and David will add their own parts/ideas and together they’ll flesh out the aesthetic of the tune. Chris might take the tunes back home, write some more parts, and arrange the various ideas presented by Dan and Dave. Then we’ll flesh the tune out some more in rehearsal. Sometimes the song is arranged to follow the structure of a poem.
Other times the lyrics are written to fit a musical arrangement. Not everything sticks. We’ve got a graveyard of tunes we outgrew or just don’t play and exist as demo recordings. Those are usually torn apart and turned into other more interesting songs. More than anything though, music is a language to us. We genuinely try to have a musical conversation. The songs have specific arrangements, but the notes played in between the written sections for us is where the magic exists…We aren’t ever really sure what’s going to happen on stage.
Kendra: Was that the case for The Zen & The Art? Which, how much could you personally notice you’ve each grown as artists since your first sort of rehearsal in 2014 compared to what you hear on the new album?
Jojo Stella: The difference in our musical and creative abilities is quite large from the first rehearsal to the album. Even more so from the album to now. The latter mostly due to the timeline of The Zen & The Art’s tracking process. We always try to improve ourselves as musicians. But two years will add a lot of chops to your playing. The record was a rough endeavor. We do not overdub much when we record other than maybe vocals and a few guitar solos. Other than that it’s pretty much all us live with no tricks. So recording is usually pretty quick for us. The Zen & The Art was recorded (all of it except vocals) over the course of 4 days at the end of 2015.
The engineer we hired suddenly moved to LA to for larger recording studios mid-production. With him went our recordings, his interest to finish anything he had agreed to, and the last of our budget. So that was the catalyst to a two-year hiatus where we pretty much just practiced, wrote material, played a few gigs here and there. It was a really boring and intolerable period of time. But we took the opportunity to organize ourselves, eventually got the tracks, and managed to finish out the vocals for a 2019 release. But in the timeline from our first downbeat in the studio to the album’s release, I’d say we’re entirely different people even.
Kendra: The Zen & The Art features the song “The Holy Grail,” so with that, what album in your collection do you feel like is just that? The epitome of music creation, the holy grail?
Jojo Stella: Well “The Holy Grail” is more a metaphor: Searching for happiness where there is none and never finding it where it exists will get you nowhere. The meaning can be subjective though as well. I suppose someone could read that title the wrong way. But the song is a lot more humble than its name might imply. However, we listen to so much music. About 70% of this group’s interaction is probably just listening to music together. Especially on the road. Music is such a language based medium. So to us, this question is similar to asking if we ever listened to a conversation that was the epitome of ultimate conversations. From that perspective, it’s all about the people you hang with, haha. It could be other musicians or the artist of the tune you’re playing to.
Kendra: You had some shows in May and will be in Pennsylvania in July, but what’s this Wham Bam Thank U Jam all about that you’ll be at in August?
Jojo Stella: The Wham Bam Thank U Jam 2019 (Aug 16-18) is a pretty big regional festival near Dayton, OH. The event currently in its ninth year. It features over 25+ music projects on three stages, their famous giant fire sculpture, camping, art, food vendors, workshops, special guest speakers, and a ton more! Proceeds from the event go to area charities such as Dayton’s Kroc Community Center, the Dayton Food Bank, and the Gateway Men’s Shelter. The organizers are really authentic people who just do so much for the community. We’re very excited to be part of Wham Bam. This will be our third time performing at the event.
Kendra: Other than touring and getting out on the road, what are your plans for the foreseeable future?
Jojo Stella: Well we’re recording a lot of our newer songs at this time. Hoping to release some of those soon. The new stuff is in a bit of a different wheelhouse. We’ve really started getting a certain sound for ourselves. Mostly just looking for shows and ways to increase the momentum. We’re working really hard to try and bring new elements to our stage show. Artistic collaboration and playing music as much as possible is always the goal for the most part.