By Alex Cason
February 1, 2018
Big Head Todd and the Monsters have been playing bluesy, soulful rock for 30 years. They went platinum with the release of Sister Sweetly and in 2017 released their eleventh studio album, New World Arisin’. It’s a rock-pop album with their signature soul sound. They embarked on a tour through the winter that extends to Charlotte on Friday night. Big Head Todd and the Monsters will play at the Fillmore for the second time in three years. Previous Charlotte stops have included The Visulite and Neighborhood Theatre.
We recently had a chance to catch up with frontman Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
CLTure (Alex Cason): When Giant Records went under, I guess about ‘97 or ‘98, you guys took about a five-year hiatus for studio albums. Were you guys just mixing and recording on your own?
Todd Park Mohr: Our label was preventing us from releasing music. What ended the dispute was them closing their doors; they went out of business. At that point was when we released Riviera.
CLTure: There’s a big difference in sound on that album. You were bigger, badder and louder, even more bluesy. It’s almost like you transitioned into the next phase of Big Head Todd. Did you guys feel like that was something different going on, something special?
Todd Park Mohr: It was a really difficult time. We fought about that for four years, that record with our label. It’s my favorite album to date. I like New World Arisin’ maybe as well for similar reasons. In fact, two songs from this were in that: “Glow” and “Mind.” If there’s a similarity to you, that’s one of the reasons.
CLTure: The last song on the New World Arisin’, “Room Full Of Mirrors”… Some of the songs sound like you just came out of a jam and some songs sound like they were really full of thought. What was the thought process on “Room Full Of Mirrors”?
TPM: We are big Hendrix fans, we play a Hendrix song almost every show. It seemed to be a nice touchstone both lyrically and [at] that phase of his career. It was a touch of psychedelia.
CLTure: I saw you guys in Raleigh years ago, where you played basically a whole set of just the entire album. Do you guys plan tours around albums like that occasionally, where you just say “You know what, we’re gonna bust out this classic album and just rock it out”?
TPM: For a while it was kind of a trend, certain albums you can pull that off. Generally speaking, albums are not good shows. Albums kinda start with a bang and end with a whimper; whereas shows have to be the other way around. If we get a great occasion to do that again we will, sure.
CLTure: That gated reverb, that awesome drum sound Brian Nevin has, I notice it really started with Sister Sweetly and sort of developed even more so in albums afterwards but it really was not in Midnight Radio or the early albums. When you play those songs now, do you just kick those songs up to the next gear when you’re playing?
TPM: We don’t go for that gated sound live. Our drummers present it pretty purely. He plays really loud, he has great tone to his drums. Mic’ing-wise and effects-wise, we just let him be who he is for the most part. Our sound man might use a little reverb here and there but nothing like the more processed songs in the ‘90s.
CLTure: I’ve read about the mystery woman, Catherine T., who influenced a lot of your writing. Does she influence your writing today?
TPM: I don’t know if there’s a mystery woman, I think that’s erroneous. Where did you get that? Did you ever see The Last Temptation of Christ? At the very end, the devils are telling Jesus “there’s only one woman.” I don’t have any secret women. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, I’ve been married three times now. I would say I’m inspired by romance and emotions and the drama of human relationships. I have to experience and live them just like you. It’s a good subject matter to write about.
CLTure: If there’s one place you could get away from everyone in the world, where do you like to go just to escape all?
TPM: I have a ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It’s adjoins a national forest. It is an escape, it’s marvelous.
CLTure: What kind of guitars are you playing with now?
TPM: I’ve been really fond of a guitar company called John Page Classics. John Page was a Fender custom shop guy who built Clapton’s guitar and jet bag and started his own company. He basically makes teles and strats that are clearly well designed but inexpensive. I play through a Magnatone Twilighter combo. I have a 4×12 head that I bought way back in the day through [ZZ Top’s] Billy Gibbons.
CLTure: Who have been your biggest guitar influences over the years? Who are your early influences up to the most recent?
TPM: Early influences are Albert King and B.B. King. Most recently, I’ve been an Eric Gales fan.
CLTure: “Poor Miss” off of Strategem is one of my favorite songs, or at least one of the most nostalgic songs for me. I never hear it live. Are there certain songs that you don’t play live for specific reasons? What is your feeling about that particular song?
TPM: “Poor Miss” is an interesting one. We all love that song, too, and we do play it live periodically. We have a lot of songs that tend to be stronger with audiences than others and that shows certain sides of the band that tend to edge some of the other ones out. I have a set list of 239 songs and we like all of them. Every once in a while we play them.
CLTure: How has Spotify changed your attitude toward music and music sales? Help or hurt?
TPM: I think it’s made music more singles-oriented. It’s helped boutique and niche artists and specialty types of music. It’s difficult to become a superstar these days with the way the music industry is splayed out. There’s not a lot of mid-size bands, which is my criticism of our business. It’s sort of like the middle class is gone. I love iTunes and Spotify and Pandora. I think people have just gone to listening to their music in a different way.
CLTure: If you could play with one living legend, who would it be that you haven’t played with yet?
TPM: Bob Dylan would be the one for me.
CLTure: Do you love touring? How does touring affect your life?
TPM: We’re very happy in the kind of career we’ve settled into. We have regular gigs every year in every city. We like traveling for the most part and continuing to make music. I don’t see us changing that up unless somebody wins the lottery and wants to move to Spain.
CLTure: Has there ever been a performance that you specifically remember as being one of the greatest things you’ve ever been a part of?
TPM: I had a really good night in Cleveland a few nights ago. We’re really on a roll now. I’ve been learning a lot as a guitar player the past five or six years, especially because of YouTube. It’s incredible fun, this tour especially in part because we have the album to support, which we love. I think the band’s better now than it ever has been.
CLTure: Anything you’d like to say to the fans in Charlotte?
TPM: We’re loving being in Charlotte. We love the Fillmore there and we can’t wait to be back.