Jackson Mud is a newly-formed blues band that’s fronted by Smoking Popes singer/guitarist Josh Caterer. Their lineup also includes bassist Ray Somera, keyboardist Renaldo DeSouza and drummer David Benkert. Last month, they released their debut EP via Artistic Integrity Records, called Down Time Blues. We spoke with Caterer and discussed how the EP was written and recorded, as well as what some of its songs are about. We also talked about his early exposure to the blues, how Jackson Mud formed, the origin of the band’s name and more.
Bill – When did you first discover a fondness for the blues?
Josh – I have had a fondness for the blues ever since I was a little kid. My dad was a blues fan. He was a fan of all kinds of music and had a very extensive record collection. He had hundreds of albums, was constantly listening to music in our house and he would let us listen to his records too. So, we got to peruse his collection. He had some Muddy Waters albums and some John Lee Hooker albums and some Stevie Ray Vaughan albums that I used to listen to. The seeds were planted pretty early.
Bill – At what point did you realize that you wanted to start a blues band?
Josh – It’s been percolating for years. We’ve always played the blues when we were warming up at Popes practice or at soundcheck when we were on tour with the Popes. It’s a fun style of music to play and it sort of helps get your hand loosened to do some of the bluesy-type of solos. I never had the opportunity really to play the blues seriously in front of people, because our career just kind of took us in other directions. My brother Eli, (Smoking Popes guitarist Eli Caterer) and I, we traded leads and have a similar style and it’s very rooted in the blues. You can even hear that in the Smoking Popes stuff. We love to play guitar solos, I think we love guitar solos more than our fans do. I think it’s something that most Popes fans have been politely enduring for most of our career. I was excited about working in a genre where people want to hear guitar solos and they’re actually into them.
Bill – How did you go about assembling Jackson Mud’s lineup?
Josh – Jackson Mud consists of guys that I’ve played with before, particularly our drummer David Benkert. He and I have been playing at church together for many years. That’s also true of Renaldo DeSouza, the keyboard player. The three of us have recorded together on a couple of my gospel EPs, so we’d worked together a lot in a church setting. And it’s the same deal there; we would often play the blues to warm-up before a church service. It’s always kind of been this side thing that we do for fun, but we love it so much. For a long, long time it was just sort of a dream or a bucket list thing, but now kind of seemed like the right time. Both David and Renaldo were very excited about it when I suggested actually getting a blues band together. The bass player though, I haven’t known him for long. His name is Ray Somera and I saw him play earlier this year at a blues club in Palatine, IL called Mac’s on Slade. I went there to see the Bill Thomas Trio, which is a great blues band from around here. They were a solid band and I became friends with Bill and ended up borrowing their bass player and asking Ray if he wanted to join us. He’s been playing in blues bands for a long time, so that’s really helpful. What the Popes would do, we’d play all original stuff and if we’re headlining we might play for an hour and a half, and that’s including the encore. But, these blues bands, the kind that are playing in bars, they’ll play like three one-hour sets, which is a really long time. They’ve got to know close to 40 songs. There’s a kind of endurance there. Once you’ve done that for a while, it takes you to another level of versatility. With Ray, anything you can throw at this guy he can play.
Bill – Where does the band’s name come from?
Josh – I thought we needed to make reference to a geographical location in the south and then combine that with a gritty, bluesy-sounding word. This was, to me, is what seemed like the formula for a good blues name. And so the first location that I thought of in the south was Jackson, Mississippi because of the Johnny Cash song. And I’m a huge Johnny Cash fan. I also like Jackson because it sounds like it could be a person’s name. Jackson Mud makes it also a reference to Muddy Waters.
Bill – Where did you guys record the EP and how would you describe that experience?
Josh – We recorded at our drummer’s house, he has a home studio and he’s quite a talented engineer. We were able to record it piecemeal over a period of time. It’s not like we went in for three days and pounded the thing out. It was more like I would go over to his house in the evening and I would lay down a guitar track and a vocal track and then I’d go home. And then he would lay down a drum track on it and then send me an MP3 and be like, “What do you think of this?” The following week we’d have our keyboard player come in and lay down his tracks, so we kind of pieced it together that way. A couple of the songs, we had never played all together live, even in a rehearsal. “When You Kiss Me Like That” was a song that I came up with the idea for and went over to Dave’s house and started tracking it, and we had never all played it together as a band. We just kind of pieced it together in the studio, which is a dangerous thing to do because then you could play it and discover that it doesn’t really work or it gets morphed into something else based on what it feels like to play it. Thankfully, once we did start playing that one we found that it seems to work as is and we haven’t really altered it.
Bill – What transpired that led to Jackson Mud partnering with Artistic Integrity for the release of the EP?
Josh – I just had friends who had worked with Dan, (label owner Dan Wallach) and I had met Dan a couple of times and knew that he was a good guy. I had talked to some of the artists who he had released. As a matter of fact, the Popes drummer Mike Felumlee had released a split with Dan Andriano on Artistic Integrity. I asked Mike what he thought about being on Artistic Integrity and he had nothing but good things to say about the experience. I’ve had the opportunity to be on several different labels, large and small, and sometimes it’s been a good experience and sometimes it hasn’t. I’ve found that the best way to ensure that it’s going to be a positive thing is just to get a sense of the character of the guy who’s running it. Our longest working relationship has been with Mike Park at Asian Man Records. He’s put out a lot of stuff for the Popes and Duvall over the years. He’s just a trustworthy guy, a genuinely good guy. That’s not the largest label we’ve been on, but he’s always our first choice to go with because we trust him. That was also the sense that I was getting about Dan Wallach, that this was a guy that you could count on to be fair in his dealings. I thought for this being a blues project, it didn’t seem like Asian Man would be the best fit. Asian Man has a pretty distinct catalog and identity as a label, and it didn’t seem like Jackson Mud would fit with that. But Artistic Integrity, having a smaller roster of bands, it’s not as well-defined. It gave us some leeway to sort of not be a traditional punk band and to fit-in there. Plus I like the idea that it’s local and we can work more closely together.
Bill – What was the inspiration behind “Can’t Nobody Love Me,” the EP’s fourth song?
Josh – I wrote that song for my wife. I’ve always enjoyed writing songs for my wife and about my wife. I’ve been doing that ever since I was a teenager and she was breaking my heart back there in high school. A lot of the most heartfelt Smoking Popes songs are about her. So, with launching a new project, I wanted to include something about her to carry on the fine tradition of making her my muse.
Bill – How would you say that your relationship with religion impacts your songwriting?
Josh – Well, I think that being a Christian puts everything else in my life into perspective so that I’m able to enjoy things in a much more healthy way. Before Jesus was part of my life, I used to think of art as something that had almost a transcendent, spiritual kind of importance. Like that was what was going to save me, so to speak, and give underlying purpose and meaning to my life. When you’re looking at music or songwriting that way, you’re putting this burden on music that music cannot support. You’re setting yourself up for frustration and you’re encouraging your own depression if you do that. So, with knowing Jesus has set me free from that sort of thing and I’m able to look to him for the fulfillment of the thirst in my soul, music can go back to being what it is meant to be, which is something beautiful for people’s enjoyment and for the expression of feelings and a way of communicating personal things to other people. You’re not trying to get blood out of a stone when you’re writing a song.
Bill – You can kind of just enjoy it more for what it is…
Josh – Yep. And I’ve definitely taken that attitude towards this blues project. I’m really, really enjoying this. It’s just pure fun, not only for me, but for all the guys in the band. It’s even free from some of the pressures that surround the Smoking Popes. We have fun in Smoking Popes, we enjoy what we’re doing, but we’re doing things on sort of a larger scale with the Popes and there’s always kind of an expectation of you have deliver. I don’t know. There’s something liberating about a new project like this that’s free from any of those sorts of pressures. You can just do it for enjoyment, let off some steam, have a good time and play as many guitar solos as you want, (laughs).
Bill – What does Jackson Mud have planned in terms of playing shows or recording new music?
Josh – I’ve got several more Jackson Mud songs written. In fact, we’ve got enough for another EP right now. I’m toying with whether we should do another EP or try to do a full-length. That’s an ongoing debate in my mind. I really like the format of an EP. It just seems somehow more palatable than an album. The thing that appeals to me about it the most is that your songs don’t get lost on an EP, whereas if you have ten to 12 songs on a record, some of those in the middle are going to get lost in the shuffle I think. So, I think the EP format, it takes us back to the old days in the music industry. There was a time when people were only releasing singles. Back then, if you were going to release a song it had to be really good. You didn’t release filler as a single. It wouldn’t have worked. It ups the ante a little bit. Your songs had to be strong enough to stand on their own and I feel like an EP kind of does that same thing and I like it. Plus, this might be just about momentum if we can keep cranking out the EPs. Show-wise, we’re confirming more shows all the time. We’ve got a couple shows, one in the city and another one out in the suburbs that have been booked, but they just haven’t been announced yet. Those announcements will be coming soon. Our plan is to play Chicago, the surrounding suburbs and then maybe forays into the surrounding states. We might go up to Milwaukee or Madison or something like that. There are no plans for us to hit the road and do a national tour. All the guys have jobs and families and mortgages and things. We’re not like the 22-year-old kids who can just throw caution the wind, climb into a van and live on the road. If you want to see Jackson Mud, you’re going to have to come to us.