By Eric Leaf
Athens was ready for JoJo’s return when he came riding through with his fellow Smiling Assassins on Tuesday evening. Most importantly, JoJo was also geared tight for Athens. On top of a performance at the legendary Georgia Theater (a room very familiar to him), JoJo also held a "jam session/meet and greet" across the street from the Georgia Theater, and welcomed 200-plus fans for a very intimate acoustic performance. This performance also featured other Assassins, all on acoustic weaponry.

It is not everyday that one can meet a guy as nice and as laidback as John "JoJo" Hermann. I had the pleasure of sitting down with this world-class musician before he played an acoustic set at The Nowhere Bar. This was more of a conversation than an interview, mainly because of the ease at which JoJo talks about his projects. The same mannerisms of ease are also evident in his approach to playing and writing music in general. This quality is a rarity among most talented musicians, and it's what sets JoJo ahead of the pack. The night was filled with great energy as the Assassins took out Athens in their assault on the Classic City.

EL: Since we sat down last February, it seems that you have been pretty busy...

By Eric Leaf
JH: Yeah, pretty busy. On the road with the Smiling Assassins.

EL: How long were you guys in the studio working on Defector?

JH: We did it over a three-day period. We recorded at the Moneyshot studios in Water Valley, Mississippi, which are the Fat Possum studios. We also did some overdubs in Nashville with the fiddle and mandolin. Kim Keys, a Nashville singer/songwriter, came in there to lay down her vocals and stuff.

EL: The album has a different feel to it than the last record. Was this something that you guys were going for, or was it just more of a natural change?

JH: Yeah, it was. It was just kind of natural. There really wasn’t a whole lot of thought put into it at all [laughs].

EL: I remember that the songs off of Smiling Assassin were tunes you had buried away. Were the songs off of Defector written in the same period, or were they written since the last album?

JH: Some were before, and some were later. I was caught a little shorthanded at the end. So I had to call Kenny Brown and Cedric Burnside [Fat Possum artists who appear on Defector], and they came up to Nashville. We laid a couple down real quick, so I had to write those at the last minute. I think "Mrs. Brown" was one of those.

EL: I remember "The True Blood Assembly of Ravensville" being played on your last tour. Didn’t you co write it with Daniel Hutchins [of Bloodkin fame]?

By Eric Leaf
JH: Yeah. I needed some help on words for another song, and I swear the next day Danny faxed me like eight pages or something. So I just wrote a whole new song of the music around "True Blood." He’s a prolific writer. He can crank it out and it's all great. I wish I could do that.

EL: This tour has covered some serious ground... and on its final stretch, how has it been?

JH: It’s gone by so fast. At the beginning everybody was like, "Man, a month," and it’s been almost every night with a few nights off. But now we are all saying, "I can’t believe it’s almost over." It’s gone by so quick. But I guess that is a good thing. It means we are having fun, right?

EL: I would assume so... On Smiling Assassin you featured the guys from Panic as your guests, and on this one you seem to have incorporated more of a Fat Possum vibe?

JH: Yeah. Kenny and Cedric definitely add that Fat Possum vibe. They were R.L. Burnside’s band. And Cedric is also his grandson. But they definitely add the distorted guitar and all.

By Eric Leaf
EL: And Luther and Cody Dickinson are still in the mix?

JH: Well yeah, they are the majority. They are pretty much the guys who put the album out with me. But Kenny and Cedric definitely helped out.

EL: Do you see yourselves recording another album?

JH: Not for a while. We recorded a bunch of this stuff live, so were going to throw this stuff out. But no, we probably won't gig or record for a long time. The North Mississippi Allstars are going to be really, really busy and Crumpy will be busy with Bloodkin. And I am going back to my world of Panic, I know I will really busy with that. So this is pretty much it for a while.

EL: What about Nichol and Cheese [another JoJo side project]? Are there any plans for anything new in this project?

JH: Nichol is making another record. So Cody, Luther and I will go down to Oxford, Mississippi sometime next year and do that.

EL: Other than the Smiling Assassins, a lot has been going on with Widespread. The band has dealt with a lot in the past year...

By Eric Leaf
JH: Yeah. It has been a very emotional year. And George and Randall emotionally and musically pulled us all through it. I can’t say enough about those guys. But it was tough recording. We just had to go in there for a week, the five of us, and just see what it was like to sit there in the studio. And it was really, really strange. But it's like he [Mikey] is there in spirit. We are playing a lot of his music that he showed us, and some of his riffs. He’s spiritually there. And that helps you get through it.

EL: You guys had a pretty short fall tour, but you all are really blowing it up with a huge spring tour...

JH: Yeah, we are doing a lot of theaters, and I guess the idea is to get George and go in some smaller venues and just kind of woodshed. I guess go somewhere, we don’t know where, but we figure we should go into smaller venues and figure it all out. We still haven’t figured everything out.

EL: Will Randall be out with you in the spring?

JH: He will be doing his own thing this spring. But I’m sure he will probably be sitting in somewhere. But no, he won't be touring with us.

EL: How long were you guys in the studio with the new album?

By The Kayceman
JH: Well, JB and George were in there for a long time [laughs]. But JB sings every song on this record, so I know he was working really, really hard. But I guess about four to five months.

EL: And that includes all the mixing?

JH: Yeah.

EL: I read that none of the tracks have ever been played live?

JH: Yeah, we decided to write all new songs. So that’s another reason for this taking so long, because there was a month of just songwriting. Like I said, we are just reinventing the sound, to see where it’s all going. And I am very excited about the record.

EL: This summer is beginning to look big for the band, as you are returning for the second Bonnaroo, and some newer festivals that look to draw large audiences.

JH: Yeah.

EL: Did you enjoy the Bonnaroo experience last summer?

By Eric Leaf
JH: Bonnaroo was just fantastic. It could not have gone off better. It’ll probably go off even better this year. I was just told that we are sharing the stage with the Allman Brothers this year. And that is a night, just for that, I think I will never forget. You know my old band Beanland, we wanted to do something like that in Mississippi and call it Beanaroo [laughs].

EL: And when will this go down?

JH: I don’t know, sometime in the next millennium.

EL: How important do you see the role of festivals like these?

JH: Well, as long as you have a beautiful feel and good weather you are going to have festivals. But it is very encouraging to all the bands, obviously, that we can be part of something like this. It means a lot to the musicians, and more importantly to the fans. It feels good that people can get along. We don’t take that for granted anymore.

Interview by Eric Leaf
JamBase | Georgia
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[Published on: 3/28/03]

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