Back in the Day 3:530:00/3:53
This interview was originally done for a music magazine in 2023. It was presented in an edited form. Excerpts may be used for promotional purposes without permission.
Can you introduce yourself and share a bit about your background as a music artist? How did you first become interested in music, and what led you to pursue it as a career?
My name is Jason Mitchell, and I'm the principal guitarist and studio bassist for Calumet. My musical partner, Eric Mobley, is the lead singer and keyboardist, and sometimes plays guitar and bass too. We started Calumet in 2001 as two kindred spirits with a love for classic funk, especially Sly Stone. I grew up in the 70's and 80's, and heard a wide variety of music from a young age. I was initially drawn to the guitar at 14 by rock groups like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, and later found my way to funk and soul through Sly, P-Funk, Tower of Power, and James Brown. After developing enough ability to play in bands, I never had an interest in doing anything else as a career. I taught guitar and bass lessons for many years and had my own music store for a while, but writing, recording, and performing music has been the most important thing to me.
Your music has a unique style. How would you describe your musical sound, and are there specific genres or artists that have influenced your musical journey?
Eric and I write individually and together, and we both draw from a long history of listening to artists we consider "the greats". We are influenced by Sly Stone, the P-Funk collective, classic 60's and 70's soul, and the jazz-funk fusion of Herbie Hancock. When it comes to our own music, we are not trying to recreate that era, but we do bring some stylistic elements in. As an example, "Save Us from Ourselves" has funk bass in the verse, bluegrass chord changes in the chorus, a slide guitar solo, a disco bridge, and some other stuff that I can't even define stylistically. We try to make every song different from what we've done before, while still keeping our unique identity. We like big soul harmony vocals, but also the occasional screaming guitar solo or horn section. We don't feel limitations on what a "funk" band can do, since every one of our influences had a mix of sounds going on.
Who or what serves as your biggest inspirations when it comes to creating music? Are there any personal experiences that have deeply influenced your songs?
We are most influenced by Sly Stone, but it goes beyond trying to sound like him. For a couple of years, in 1969 and 1970, he was one of the biggest artists in the world and featured a multi-racial, multi-gender lineup which sent a message to young people everywhere. His lyrics were insightful about society, while conveying humor and humanity. His approach of weaving a message in the music, which was common back then, has rubbed off on us.
Can you walk us through your songwriting process? Where do you typically find inspiration for your lyrics, and what themes or emotions do you enjoy exploring in your music?
I usually come up with music first, with a guitar or bass part over a beat leading me forward into a second part. As a product of AM and FM radio of the 70's, strong hooks are very important to me. I like stuff that's catchy, regardless of the genre. The sound of the music will inspire me to come up with a subject for the lyrics. I sometimes come up with a phrase, like "Save Us from Ourselves", or "This is How it Ends", which sends me in a certain direction lyrically. Inspiration comes on the personal level from feelings we all have of regret, alienation, and failure, but also larger societal and political issues. I am motivated to write about tolerance and equality, or the lack of, more than anything else. Occasionally, I'll try to lighten things up with some hope or nostalgia, like a recent single, "Back in the Day". Eric favors jazz chords and unusual chord movement. I can't speak to his process, but much of what he creates is very original and defies genre stereotypes.
Looking back on your music career, what are some of the most memorable moments or achievements that stand out to you?
We were invited to contribute soundtrack music and a tribute song to a documentary about a popular L.A. soul group from the 70's called Black Ice. Our music and video is featured in that movie. Also, we've played some great festivals and really enjoy the energy from a large crowd of people outdoors.
Performing live can be a powerful experience. Could you share a memorable live performance moment that was particularly special to you?
Much of our music has a visceral appeal due to the groove and Eric's voice. When I look out into the audience, I can see them getting into us, even if they've never heard us before. We've had some great moments at shows in Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Every artist faces challenges. Can you share some of the challenges you've encountered in the music industry and how you've navigated them?
When we started Calumet, we were much younger, and after a few years and lineup changes, the band broke up. After 9 years, we reformed in 2018 with a renewed purpose, older and more appreciative of how rare it is to have a good band. Just the fact that Eric and I got this thing back together is an achievement for me. We've learned that most problems are small, and can be solved with patience and respect for the other party.
What are your future goals and aspirations as a music artist? Are there any upcoming projects or releases that your fans can look forward to?
We're in a good zone right now, with continuous writing and recording mixed in with some festival gigs. Every new song is a chance to top what we've done before, and we expect to release new music every month or two for the foreseeable future. We do have a "Best of Calumet" vinyl record coming out soon, which features songs from our whole career. Overall, we have close to 70 songs on streaming platforms, including several albums, EPs, and many singles.