Interview – Jackie Mohr of The Mohrs
– by Shawn Conner
As a wise man (and, later, a wise woman) once said, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Tell that to The Mohrs. Fronted by whiskey-and-ginger-voiced Jackie Mohr, the band is on a tour with Calgary’s HighKicks that is taking them deep into the heartland of this vast nation, into the parking lots and onto the stages of the Flying Steamshovel in Rossland and the Dirty Jersey in Kamloops.
But that’s what you gotta do when you’re a rock band in an FKA Twigs world. Fronted by Winnipeg natives Mohr and guitarist Marc Girardin, the group is touring in support of their just-released debut, Kings of Nowhere.
The Runaways and Heart are obvious touchstones, and Mohr’s love for AC/DC is tucked away in the songs’ riffage as well.
Produced by Hawksley Workman, the album captures the band searching for its voice, and on its best songs – “Better”, “Youth”, the sugar high that is “Cassette Tape” – finding it. (Look for some stealth hooks in other tracks, like “Won’t Be Going Home” and the title song.) And you just know that they bring it live.
Which is why you’ll see them when they play the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver Thursday night (March 26). Or when they play Lucky in Victoria March 24, the Queens in Nanaimo March 25, or, yes, the Dirty Jersey in Kamloops March 28… (More tour dates at theMohrsBand.com)
Shawn Conner: I’m guessing from your tour schedule you’re somewhere in B.C.?
Jackie Mohr: We’re actually in Vancouver right now. Our label’s out here, and we’ve been writing in the studio for a couple of days. We’re heading to Victoria tomorrow.
SC: How did you arrange the studio time?
JM: Light Organ [the label releasing Kings of Nowhere] built up a brand-new office. Jonathan [Simkin, label head and lawyer for Nickelback] has been trying to get us in here for awhile now. He’s built a bunch of studio rooms here. No one was using it, so I said Hey, can we just pop in and out for a few days? And he said “No problem.”
SC: So party at Chad Kroeger‘s tonight?
JM: For purposes of this interview, let’s say yes! The last time we were out here we were supposed to meet Chad but I actually haven’t met him yet. I’m hoping too. Although, we’re working on his [mixing] board, it’s this crazy board that “Livin’ on a Prayer” was tracked on, and Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me”. A ton of bands have worked on this board.
SC: You have some songs you’ve written that you want to get down?
JM: Yeah, we just released Kings of Nowhere on February 10th. And it’s been so exciting for us to have that record out. But we’ve been sitting on it for awhile, a couple of years actually. There are a lot of ideas that we want to get down. And then I think it’s us wanting to stay on top of things and always be writing and be creative. It’s kind of like a muscle and we are gearing up to write the second record and track it probably sometime late in the summer.
Listen – The Mohrs, “Youth”:
SC: Any of the new songs in the set?
JM: No, it’s all just the record and a few covers. Like we do an old Michel Pagliaro song that we did for this seventies CanCon compilation that the label’s putting out.
SC: Which Pagliaro song?
JM: “What the Hell I Got”. It was so much fun! We just picked it and we didn’t know anything would turn into anything but everybody’s really enjoying it.
I don’t like doing covers unless it feels like we do them really well. A long time ago we talked about doing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ “Maps”, we did it at one of our earlier shows a couple of years back and it’s just stuck. It’s so much fun to play. Not that we outdo them in any way but we do our own thing to it.
SC: You must be the only band out there doing covers of both the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Michel Pagliaro.
JM: Probably! We heavied up the Pagliaro song a bit.
SC: Speaking of heavying it up a bit, one of the things I like about this record is that it doesn’t sound like Purity Ring. I like Purity Ring, but I can only take so much of that sound. It’s nice to hear rock guitars.
JM: I feel the same way. I have nothing against any kind of music at all. But I was at the same point when we started it. I know that there are some women out there, and people out there in general who are doing the rock thing, but that’s where my heart always lay. I’m hoping it’s coming back.
SC: Maybe you guys can bring it back.
JM: That’s what we’re hoping. I don’t know if that’s too bold of a statement to make.
SC: What did your parents listen to? Or parent? Or guardian?
JM: I couldn’t ask for better folks. I think we all feel that way in this band. My father loves music, he was the biggest music fan, he had hundreds of record. He’d play Led Zeppelin to Gloria Estefan to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, the Gypsy Kings, the Ramones – it was all over the map.
SC: Did you listen to a lot of female rock ‘n’ roll vocalists growing up?
JM: When I first started playing in bands I really only listened to male singers. I really like ’90s rock, like Our Lady Peace was one of the first bands I got into.Big Wreck. And Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger I really really loved. It’s only from my early twenties until now that I’ve been listening to female singers. Chrissie Hynde and Stevie Nicks are huge.
SC: Do you remember the first music you purchased on your own?
JM: Yep. Sure do. I picked up at a garage sale at my cottage, it was a cassette tape, The Razors Edge  by AC/DC. I listened to it the whole summer with my cousin. “Thunderstruck” was my favourite, favourite track. It blew my frickin’ mind.
It was around that time that I picked up the guitar because a friend of mine out at the cottage started playing this fire-red Ibanez. After that summer I went home and my dad found me this old Fender Bullet that was the same colour and I started taking lessons. I was about 13.
SC: Black leather, jean jackets, T-shirts – you guys rock the rock look. Who’s got the best collection of t-shirts in the band?
JM: I would say that it’s me, by far. But recently my guitar player and I were shopping – I’m not going to say I made him by it, but he just bought an insanely cool Pink Floyd shirt from nineteen-seventy-something, seventy-eight. He spent seventy dollars on it. So maybe Marc now.
SC: Whose idea was it to make a rather provocative video for “Better”?
JM: The director’s. We worked with some friends of mine, Aly Pankiw, the director, and production company was Young Astronauts. They’ve always been supportive of the band, and they were fully on board. Then we read that treatment from Aly, so it was her idea.
The woman who plays the lead, apart from me, is a burlesque dancer from Toronto, Laura Desiree, who I’m friends with. I asked her to be in the video because when I read the treatment I said, Hey, we need a bombshell who can carry this role. I couldn’t think of any one better than Laura to do it.
So it was really Aly’s vision. She does a lot of great videos but I don’t think she’d ever done anything like rock and she really ran with it. She was like, “I want nipples, I want all this stuff.” I wasn’t super-comfortable at first. But I think she makes beautiful videos so I trusted her.
SC: But the guys in the band didn’t have any problem with it.
JM: Yep, nope. Not one.
Watch – The Mohrs, “Better”:
SC: You mentioned that you’ve been to Vancouver before. Have you played here?
JM: We have. The only other tour we’ve done is out west, around this time last year when we were supporting Electric Six at Venue.
SC: They always play there when they come to town, which is weird, ‘cos Venue doesn’t do a lot of rock shows.
JM: I think they like those [LED] lights behind them, because they put their logo and lightning bolt up for them.
SC: You’re playing deep in B.C., places like the Flying Steamshovel in Rossland and the Dirty Jersey in Kamloops.
JM: This is a tour where we’re hitting a lot of markets. I think it’s partly due to the High Kicks boys, they have a lot of fans in these small towns.
The Flying Steamshovel was awesome, they treated us super-well. The sound guy in particular was so pumped to mix the show. He did a great job. It was the best show on this run so far. The people have been amazing.
SC: I hope you can get the same reception in Vancouver. I feel like all the rock ‘n’ roll fans have moved to the suburbs.
JM: That’s what it feels like. But we get a mix. When we played in Rossland it was a bunch of bikers. I didn’t know how that was going to go, but they loved us.
SC: For me, the poppiest song on the album is “Cassette Tape”. Do you think that’s the direction you’ll go in for the next record, or will you be getting harder?
JM: It’s something we’ve thought about. I wasn’t sure I wanted it on the record, but live it comes off a lot heavier, and it’s one of my favourite songs to play now. But it kind of was more of a fun, one-off kind of thing. Which we may do again.
But when we think of the second record it’s definitely going in a heavier direction, closer to what you see onstage. Taking away the bells and whistles, more stripped-down rock, cutting it back to the songwriting and heavy sound.