Jam bands aren't everyone's cup of tea. The name itself tends to conjure up images of directionless guitar solos and a general lack of musical stability. TryMore MOJO is not your typical jam band, but they've had to deal with the stereotyping before.
Keyboardist and vocalist Leland Kracher remembers one particular evening playing a Lock Johnson's Playground Presents event at Louie Louie's in January 2019, when the audience was just not feeling the groove.
"To be totally honest, we cleared the room," he says. "That's not what they were looking for. They wanted like gospel soul stuff and we played jam funk. It was kinda funny to watch. Like, everyone leaves."
But it was that very same night that the band got a little advice from host and former Snarky Puppy drummer Gino Iglehart.
"He came up to us after the show," Kracher remembers of Inglehart. "And he was like, 'Look, I absolutely love what y'all are doing. It reminds me of young Snarky Puppy whenever we would clear rooms because nobody understood our sound 'cause they hadn't heard it before. Y'all need to keep going. Let's work together. I want you guys to keep growing and doing.'"
When Snarky Puppy played their homecoming show for the Immigrance Tour in Dallas the following October, it was TryMore MOJO that played the official after-party.
Since then, TryMore MOJO has been putting the final touches on their debut EP First Contact, recorded at SOL Studios in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Dallas fans will have an opportunity to purchase the EP during their near-sold-out show at Sundown at Granada on Saturday, Feb. 1, before the official release date on the 17th. If the show does sell out (which it almost certainly will), it will be the first time a local band has ever sold out the venue.
As it turns out, the band won't be clearing any rooms any time in the future. First Contact is anything but singular in its musical vision. A hot mix of jazz and rock with hip-hop breaks and tight melodies, the album showcases the very best of everything TryMore MOJO has to offer.
"In the jam fusion world it's all about sharing energy with the crowd," Kracher explains as he puts the album's composition into words. "Every live performance is a give-and-take type thing, but with jam music, a lot of what we're doing — and this is really a pivotal for us — is that we're not just up there just jamming. We actually compose new music improvisationally."
Kracher and the rest of his bandmates pride themselves on being able to feel the vibe from the audience, an important skill for a band that is used to playing two 90-minute sets on any given night.
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"If we're playing for three hours ... inevitably you're going to want us to switch styles just to give people a different feel," he says. "That way they can appreciate the core of our sound and when we fall back to it — that's where a lot of the arrangement comes from. When we would improvise, we would end up falling in love with parts and take them back to a full studio arrangement at a later time."
Knowing how and when to switch up sounds is tricky business for a performer, but Kracher believes that it's all about paying as close attention to the audience as to your instrument.
"We are reliant on them to participate," he says about the audience. "If they like something in the middle of the song, whenever nothing big is happening, they may start kind of yelling to let us know that they're with us in that moment. Whenever they start doing that, we feel it onstage. If I feel it, I pass it over to Coty [Austin, bassist] and he feels it and, in turn, lets Evan [Lamb, guitarist] open up to a solo."
For anyone who may still be skeptical about what they are getting themselves into when they attend one of TryMore MOJO's jam funk shows, Kracher offers the following advice: "Don't let your mind stop you from having a good time," he says. "You may not understand, and it may be a lot at first. Don't let that overwhelm you. Come feel the freedom and the energy and the acceptance that we have on the stage and through every single person at our shows."