By: Brian Bavosa
In every aspect of his existence, it's nearly impossible to not like Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and Tea Leaf Green bassist Reed Mathis. His persona is intellectual, enthusiastic and extremely kid-like, much like his playing and stage antics, where he flashes a contagious Cheshire grin with eyes often closed, tossing his reddish-blond locks with reckless abandon.
Mathis and JFJO co-founder, Brian Haas' plan for 2007 and early '08 was to take a year or so off and chill out in their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As Mathis explains, things don't always work out the way you plan, as is the case with JFJO's latest release, Lil' Tae Rides Again (released by Hyena Records on April 8).
"About a year and a half ago, Brian and I took six months off the road. We took a long break, and it was really good. We still played together almost every day, but then we went to our houses and stuff," Mathis says with a hearty laugh. "We played locally a lot, which was like a fucking revelation! It had been ten years since I was part of my local music scene, so I got to know all of the new, awesome players, and was going to see my friends' bands and sitting in. It had been so long. So, that was our plan, and finish up the Lil' Tae record that had gone over so many waterfalls by that point we were amazed it hadn't capsized."
One such waterfall Lil' Tae had to plunge over was the mutual realization that longtime drummer Jason Smart would be departing. His replacement would be 22-year old Josh Raymer. Mathis has nothing but positive accolades for both of them.
"Jason was the perfect drummer for Jacob Fred for those six years. All the drummers were exactly right for the time they were in the group. It was time for a new drummer. In Jacob Fred we don't tell the music what to do, the music tells us what to do. That's kind of our mission statement. The music told us that it was time for a new drummer. The music told Jason Smart that it was time for a new drummer. The music told us to make a change. The fact that it was during the process of making this record, it would be an accurate statement to say the record told us it was time for a new drummer, too," offers Mathis. "We're all listening to the same inner-voice. We're all listening to the same muse. We're all taking dictation from the mysterious Jacob Fred and he's the one that brought this record about. He's the one that brought this change about."
JFJO (Raymer, Mathis, Haas) by Eric Dunn
Another unexpected hurdle was a call from some friends across the country. "We were going to mellow out. Then I got this crazy call from Tea Leaf Green, from out of the blue [to replace bassist Ben Chambers]. I was planning on staying home until Lil' Tae came out in April. I thought I was going to be home for six months [laughs]. But, who can say no to Tea Leaf Green?"
When asked how he will balance his time between the two bands, he replies, "Jacob Fred has gone from six years ago doing 250 shows a year to last year doing like 50 or 60 shows. And all 60 of them were slamming! Fucking The Blue Note, the Fox Theatre, Yoshi's. It's like the hippest fucking rooms and great turnouts and killer music. So, JFJO has just scaled itself back, like we've pruned the bonsai tree to the point that there's room for other shit. As far as it all shaking down and everybody getting what they need, that's my fervent hope [laughs]. But, we've put ourselves in a position that we can do other stuff."
He says that JFJO will be putting out another album or two later this year, and mentions he's played on Marco Benevento's new album, Invisible Baby. Mathis' "time off" has turned into a dizzying schedule that one has a hard time following. He sums things up by simply saying, "So, six months at home has turned into, 'I don't get to go home in 2008 [laughs]."
Continue reading for more on JFJO...