Interview via: Emily May
New York-based band Mama Juke combines a variety of influences, from New Orleans influenced blues, soul, funk and folk, to create a sound that is unique to them. Comprised of seasoned musicians in their own right, each band member brings experience and passion for music to the band. The band has held a weekly residency at East Village Social, in the heart of the East Village in NYC, since 2015. Having performed at SXSW, as well as in Europe, the band's popularity continues to grow. Although the band performs a mix of original songs and covers, they are currently working on a studio album of all original material to be released early next year. Band member Pete O'Niell recently answered a few questions for me on the recent release of their debut album, their weekly residency, their musical influences and what to expect from the new album. You can keep up with the most recent news about the band at http://www.mamajukemusic.com/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MAMABEMUSIC/.
Congratulations on the release of your debut album! You recently had your album release show at Rockwood Stage 2 in NYC. How was the show and the reception to the album?
Hey Emily! Thanks for taking the time! The show was amazing. It was a little on the late side, starting around midnight, but it didn't seem to hurt the crowd at all. We're still having people tell us how great the show was on Friday. It's an amazing feeling.
You guys have played a weekly residency at East Village Social in NYC since 2015. How did that come about and what has that experience been like?
Me (Pete), Amos, and Eli, had subbed together on random shows in Brooklyn before and put the lineup together subbing for another band we're friendly with, the Rusty Guns. We loved the combination, but didn't really find the Mama Juke sound until Jon Wert joined us about a month later. It's great to have a regular place to play, it's been our incubator for developing new repertoire, and now it's become a real community with lots of familiar faces.
You are all impressive musicians individually! How did you meet and what led to your decision to start a band together? Do you all still do solo projects on the side?
We hope someday soon to make Mama Juke the band that pays all the bills, but in this town if you wanna make it as a musician, you gotta wear many different hats. All of us are involved with many different projects together around town. Eli plays solo acoustic shows, Amos is also heavily involved in the Gypsy Jazz world, and Pete and Jon have become the rhythm section for many bands and singer/songwriters in Brooklyn and Queens as well.
You play a wide genre of music, from blues, bluegrass, soul, funk and folk. Who are some of your musical influences?
As a band, the two biggest influences are probably The Band, and the Beatles, but you can hear elements of old folk and blues, as well as bluegrass and even funk. We want to be able to rock as many rooms as possible not just in New York, but also around the country and even around the world, so each show can be tailored to an individual audience while retaining the rootsy Mama Juke Sound. Sometimes our sets will be more current, sometimes we'll do sets that contain more Jazz or even Brazilian music. I guess our biggest influence is whatever audience we're playing for.
With such diverse collective backgrounds as musicians, what influences and experiences do you draw on when writing and recording songs?
Most of the songs come from reflecting on life experiences, dwelling on the emotions and sifting through the specific memories. I think that's a pretty common and generic answer for songwriters, but that's really the bulk of it, just reliving or retelling memories through song.
What led to your decision to have your debut album be a live album as opposed to a studio album?
We were about 70 percent done with recording our studio effort when we played the show at Unit J that ended up becoming our "Live at Unit J" album. After listening through a few times, we just decided we loved it and wanted to share the experience of being with us at a show. With our Tuesday EVS residencies as well as all the other shows we play, we've probably got a few hundred shows we've played in the 2 short years we've been together, and playing live is some of the most fun that we have. Plus we had some incredible musicians sit in at the show and were proud to showcase them as well.
You guys did a tour this year that took you to Nice, France and also performed a showcase at SXSW. How does it feel to have such a sudden amount of success? Does it feel as though you've hit the ground running, so to speak, since starting Mama Juke?
I think once we found each other, we knew we would be able to handle most musical situations that came our way, and it's true. Sometimes Amos will call me for a Mama Juke gig where we play originals, as well as latin Jazz. Sometimes Eli will have Jon on a gig for soft acoustic music. This amount of versatility is one of the reasons we picked our name, but it also increases the amount of places to play, friends to meet, and audiences to entertain and dance with. We've even had situations where the band will split in half and do 2 shows in town simultaneously. Everything has really kicked into high gear this year, First with SXSW, then in NICE....we got a ton of love and support during our early September Mid-West tour, so it really feels like things have sped up this year. We do take moments to stop and enjoy the successes we have, but we're most happy when we're playing and writing. Plus, in this town, you're only as big as the last big thing you've done.
I read that you guys are over halfway done with a studio album of original material. What can you fans expect from the new album?
Unlike the live album, the studio effort will concentrate more on our original music. Everyone has contributed to the process, but there's still many songs that our audience hasn't heard yet, so expect surprises!
What's next for Mama Juke?
We're continuing to tour and promote the current album, but we're hoping to release our studio album early in 2018. Fans can also expect a music video in the next month or so. Next year, we're planning again on going back to SXSW, France, and hitting more of the US.