Jason Elmore: The Vivascene Interview for ‘Rise Up Lights’

“This new album is by far my best work yet. I really made every note intentional on this album and I feel like my singing, playing, and songwriting improved significantly with this current batch of tunes.” ~ Jason Elmore

Interview for Vivascene conducted by Randall Parrish

Jason Elmore is the mastermind behind the power trio Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, a group based out of Dallas, Texas with a sound as big as the Lone Star State itself. Rise Up Lights, the new studio album by Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, is available worldwide for digital and physical release on October 31, 2023.    

All of the songs on the release are original compositions from group leader Jason Elmore. It finds the gifted power trio opting to showcase more of their hard rock leanings paying homage to those golden days of heavy rock music. The six year wait since the group’s previous album has resulted in a polished, well thought out project that ROCKS HEAVY.

“All the songs on the album were written after Eddie Van Halen had passed away, and I tried to pay tribute to him without ripping off anything.” ~ Jason Elmore

Jason Elmore is an excellent songwriter, singer and guitarist. The rhythm section of bassist Brandon Katona and drummer Mike Talbot complete the triumvirate with resounding earth-shaking power.

“This album is a love letter to the glorious eras of classic hard rock from the 1970s through the 1990s.” ~ Jason Elmore 

RP: Did your parents play music?

JE: Neither of my parents play music, but music was an important part of the household or on car rides when I was growing up. It seemed to always be on in some place or another. My stepfather and step-uncle both had guitars and they were the first to buy me guitars and teach me basic chords and little riffs like “Pretty Woman” and “Smoke On The Water.” From there I was hooked.  

What first got you into music? Did being in Texas inspire you at all?

It was just always something that I gravitated towards. I remember, even as a small child, listening to records in my room by myself and getting lost in this magical world of sound. I would stay with my father on the weekends and he lived in Dallas so he would always take me to whatever concerts were happening. Everything from Benson & Hedges Blues Festival to AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Pantera, Steve Miller, you name it.   

When there weren’t good concerts on any given weekend, he would take me to the local blues bars in Dallas. He didn’t drink but he enjoyed live music, and still does to this day. We would see close-up, intimate shows by Bugs Henderson, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Mike Morgan & The Crawl, all these legendary Dallas-blues guitar acts. So yes, being in Texas definitely helped me to be close to all this great stuff that was going down. I made my mind up when I was about 15 that when I grew up, I was going to be one of those blues cats on a stage in the middle of the night in Dallas, making the soundtrack to all of this joy that people all around me were experiencing. That was in the early 1990s. My dream came true in that I got to be one of those cats playing blues guitar in the middle of the night, but unfortunately the atmosphere and the audience reception for guitar-based music has waned since those glory days. I’m still trying to perform as though I’m at Madison Square Garden though, even if nobody is listening.    

Who inspired you to make music?

I would say those early influences like Bugs Henderson and Jim Suhler were my first sparks of “hey, what if I could do something like this?” 

I’ve always felt a closer connection, spiritually, to music than any other thing so naturally I spent a whole lot of time in my teens and early 20’s practicing and learning the instrument. The other part of this equation is my grandmother. She wasn’t a musician, but she was an internationally renowned oil painter and she helped raise me when I was a kid. So, I spent a lot of time with her when she was first learning to paint. She was in her 40’s at that time, which is rather late for someone to pick up new hobbies, let alone a difficult creative endeavor that was conquerable for her. She was very determined, and she worked on getting really good at painting EVERY day. When she wasn’t painting, she was reading thick books about the Master’s styles and watching art shows on public broadcasting channels. That did something to me and showed me that you can get really good at something if you’re devoted to it and obsessed about it like she was. We remained very close until her death a few months ago. I will always remember the lessons she taught me and the common ground that we shared with making art, even though we used different mediums to express our works. She was my biggest inspiration and always taught me, by example, that anything is possible if you just get off your ass and not only work at it, but completely immerse yourself and let it become part of your identity. I miss her very much, and I strive to carry on her perseverance and dedication to making the world a little more tolerable, if not beautiful, even if for only a moment’s time.  

What are the essential qualities that you believe make a good musician?

I think a good musician is someone who has mastered the basics of rhythm, timing, dynamics, harmony, melody, and who knows how to do disaster recovery in the moment if something doesn’t come out as planned. The one most important piece that any musician has and that can constantly be developed, is their ears.   

How would you describe the music that you typically create?

I think of it as American Music. It blends all the classic sounds of blues, country, and rock and roll into the same thing. That term doesn’t satisfy most people so I would probably describe it as “Blues/Rock” or blues-based rock. I utilize lots of different styles and genres and influences, but the way most people understand it and are able to categorize it is Blues/Rock. People seem to love to categorize music and know where to put it, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. 

Do you play other instruments besides guitar?

No, but I am building a studio in my house and one of my goals is to become adept enough at bass, drums, and keys that I’m able to record my ideas and increase my writing flow. I understand some bass, simply because it’s closely related to guitar, but I hope to learn more about the nuances and also learn some drum basics. Then again, I still feel like I have a LOT to learn on guitar and I’m obsessed with the instrument so I always feel like I need to be working on it and getting better instead of half-assing more instruments.  

Eventually I’d love to be like Prince and be able to play all the parts and record music by myself so that I can get my complete musical visions across. I have a lot of ideas in my head, but they’re impossible to communicate to someone else musically and not be influenced by the way they hear it and play it.   

Do you practice your singing and guitar much?

I try to practice every day. Some days life gets in the way and it doesn’t happen and on those days, I am physically and mentally not as healthy or happy as the days that I am able to practice for at least one hour. Lately I’ve been trying to get better at singing and I’ve learned some exercises and warmups. I work on that stuff when I’m in the car so that nobody has to hear me and wonder if they need to call someone for help. Practicing vocal techniques is one of the most irritating sounds you could ever imagine.   

Do you sing in the shower? What songs?

I do like to sing in the shower when my wife isn’t home. The reverb makes for a good vocal sound and the water vapors keep the voice from being dry. I usually like to get loud and really try to blow it out when I’m in the shower or the car. Usually I’ll try to sing something like Soundgarden because Chris Cornell had such a powerful voice and that’s something I want to be able to get close to. It’s great stress relief too, just to shout from the top of your chest. Sometimes I can get close to hitting those glorious notes, but usually I end up laughing because of how ridiculous I must sound and look, naked and screaming at the top of my lungs.   

What is your creative process like?

Not as structured as I would like, but that is something I’m learning how to be more mindful of. Usually I just end up writing songs out of the blue whenever the inspiration hits me and everything lines up just right. I record a lot of little ideas on my phone and then sometimes if I need a part or a lyric or line, I can reference that huge catalog of ideas in my voice memos on my phone. I have to be inspired and have peace and quiet and alone time if I’m feeling particularly innovative. When all of that lines up right, I often come up with a new song or at least 75% of one.   

Sometimes it just happens as if by magic, and sometimes it takes months of frustration and editing and searching for the right “thing” and then one day it just falls into place, or I have to make an executive decision to pick something that works. In that case, I end up continuing to work and edit on parts that are not as good as they could be, until I feel like the entire song is good enough to record or play live. And then, during those processes, it continues to change and evolve until the final recording is done and I have to live with it. Sometimes I’ll continue to tweak and arrange a song long after it has been recorded. When I play the songs that I’ve recorded on stage, I often play them differently than how they were recorded, sometimes drastically and sometimes with only slight nuanced changes.  

Are you able to choose what was the best concert you’ve seen and why?

Hands down the BEST was Pink Floyd on the Division Bell Tour in the ’90s. That whole experience was mind blowing. I’ve seen the band TOOL a few times, as my wife is a tremendous fan, and they put on a SPECTACULAR show, but it really turns me off to see so many cell phones being lit up in the audience and so many people not living in the moment. That’s why the Pink Floyd show will never be topped in my book. I saw Pantera a lot of times in the ’90s and early 2000s and those shows were always super exciting and inspiring.    

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

I really do my best work when I’m by myself and developing my own ideas to a point where they’re something that I would enjoy listening to. It’s nice to not have to compromise. Any time I’ve written music with someone else, I come away feeling less satisfied than if I did it all myself. I guess it stems from growing up as an only child. I don’t FEEL like my ego is too big for my own good but it sure sounds like that I suppose. Yuck!

If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?

Whoever’s audience would be most accepting of me. I’ve gotten to open for a lot of great artists and it’s often the case that the opening band is an annoyance to the headliner as well as their crowd. When that’s not the case, it feels really special, but it’s rare that it happens.  

What kind of singer would you classify yourself as?

I’ve always been more of a guitar player that sings until recently. In the past couple of years I’ve been really trying to find my own, more powerful voice and spend time honing it the same way I have done with my guitar playing. I would currently classify myself as a soul singer because I’m influenced by guys like Wilson Pickett, The Spinners, Brenton Wood, and those ’60s era soul singers. I’d like to be able to combine that with the power and range of someone like Chris Cornell or Ian Thornley or Richie Kotzen.  

What is the one thing you believe every song must have for it to be solid?

HONESTY. I need to be able to believe what the musicians and singer are telling me, whether that’s through words or just through the general vibe. I don’t get that feeling from a lot of contemporary music in any genre, though there are exceptions. The way music is made nowadays, with all the computers and auto-tune and making sure every note is lined up perfectly, just seems to feel a little bit empty and lacking ‘honesty’ of ‘authority’ as compared with stuff from the 1930s through the 1990s.  

What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?

Aw man, I’d probably not be doing well. My self-esteem might be better, having not spent so many years trying to make nightclub patrons want to hear music that’s important to me, and often missing the mark. I think music has kept me spiritually grounded and has given me a purpose and an identity in life. If I weren’t doing this I might be in prison by now!

In all seriousness though, I probably would have gotten into some kind of combat sport, either coaching or participating. I’ve been into martial arts since I was a young kid and I’ve always enjoyed learning and doing those kinds of physical things. I never wanted to commit fully to it because I don’t feel like I can do that AND music and give both as much attention as I would need to get good. Music business is gentler on the body, though maybe tougher on the soul.  

Where have you performed? Have your toured outside of Texas? What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

My band has toured quite a bit in the midwest U.S., Canada, the east coast, and even a trip to Belgium one time. I love any venue where people show up to LISTEN and not just as a social gathering. One of my favorite venues is The Kessler Theater in Dallas, TX. We are doing an album release show there on November 17th in support of my new record called Rise Up Lights.  

Do you have any weaknesses that you’re actively working to improve on?

I have many! The main ones that I work on are just personality issues and self-confidence. I’m learning to just be grateful at all times and to not dwell so much on things that I cannot immediately change. I don’t let bad gigs get me down as much these days. I have a lot of room for growth with my singing, which I don’t feel is very good yet. At least not as good as I hope it will be soon. Other than that, I’m constantly working on my right hand and trying to get my picking smoother and faster. Playing fast is not a priority to me but I do like to have more tricks in my bag than I need. I practice a lot of fancy guitar things but at the end of the day it’s more important for me to play melodically and with feeling than it is to be super flashy and technical. People don’t seem to be as impressed with flashy guitar as they used to be anyhow, which is fine by me because it forces me to focus on other aspects of the music which are more important.  

What is the first thing you listen for when listening to a new recording?

I don’t so much listen for any particular thing but I DO get a particular feeling that I can’t quite put into words when I hear something good that I haven’t heard before. It’s a kind of complete satisfaction inside. I don’t follow sports, but I feel like it must be a similar feeling to when your favorite team scores a win at an important game. It’s a feeling of victory for me. I find that little piece of sound that gives me that dopamine rush and it completely satisfies me. It is rare though, as I don’t get that feeling very often. When I do though, I completely obsess over the song for a while and then I end up obsessing over the artist’s other work, sometimes for years at a time. I want to know what it is that that artist does to stir my emotions with their music, and then I try to copy that and apply it to my own music.  

You once mentioned that your favorite album was Champagne Velvet. Does that still apply?

It was definitely my favorite of the 3 albums that I’ve put out previously. However, this new album Rise Up Lights is by far my best work yet. I really made every note intentional on this album and I feel like my singing, playing, and songwriting improved significantly with this current batch of tunes. I was able to spend more time on the recording and also I wasn’t trying to appease the blues community by making things stay within those parameters so that I would be accepted. I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider because I also like heavier music, yet I love the blues and I feel like I can do that style justice and play it with authority and conviction. Yet, the rock influence turns off a lot of the purists. So I decided to just completely go all in on the hard rock stuff for this album. Going forward, I’ll no longer try to stay within the boundaries of any genre. I will still play and record blues and blues-based rock but I will not hesitate to record a country album if I feel like it, or another hard rock album, or even a Christmas album. I plan to do all of those things eventually.  

On the new album, which songs are your favorites to play live? Which garner the best audience response? What is your favorite song to perform?

We haven’t played a lot of the new songs in the live set lately, but we will start doing so immediately since the singles are out and some people will expect to hear them. They will sound a bit different live than they do on the recordings because the band is a trio yet there are sometimes 5-6 different guitars layered on the record, as well as vocal harmonies and things that are impossible to replicate live. One of the songs, “Burning Bridge”, has been in the set for a couple of years now and it always gets a good response. It’s one of my favorites to play. I love playing the heavy stuff, but it’s not always possible if we’re playing a venue that is catered more towards blues or a nightclub that wants their crowd to stay on the dancefloor. We tend to cater the material to the venue and the demographic of the audience. I do enjoy the venues where we’re able to play a mix of sounds. It’s fun to play a hard rock number and then play a soul ballad or a Buck Owens tune right after. I really enjoy variety and would never want to be limited to playing one style all of the time.   

Was there a reason that impacted you to go into the heavier power trio?

The band started in 2008 as a trio. I’ve always loved power trios because it leaves a lot of space to fill, which is sometimes hard to do but it’s very rewarding. Also, it’s less people to pay! Many of my favorite and most influential bands were power trios. Bands like Kings X, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Pantera, Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Grand Funk Railroad, ZZ Top, were all power trios when they started out. To me, a good trio is very interesting to listen to and there is no room to hide because everyone has a job to do and if you mess up, everyone can tell. I love the challenge of having nowhere to hide in the music. You’ve got to bring it!

Do you ever play any cover material in your shows?

I play a lot of cover material, depending on the venue and what type of show it is. I never play anything exactly the way it was recorded though. I like to re-imagine songs and put my own spin on them. This usually happens with deeper cuts from an artist’s album that the casual fan is not aware of anyhow, so usually they just think that I wrote it. Of course some songs require you to play them exactly as they were written. “Sultans Of Swing” comes to mind. Or “Old Man” by Neil Young. Those tunes are not up for personal interpretation in my opinion, so I don’t learn or perform songs that require strict attention to replicating them exactly. I think that’s not much fun and besides, that exact sound and way of doing it has already been done on the album and it is far better than anything I could do to try and copy it. I’d rather take a song that I can take liberties with and try to meld it with my style and my influences and then let it translate that way. It’s more rewarding for me that way because anybody can copy something that’s already been done. That’s what plagiarism is.  

What is it about music that makes you feel passionate?

I’m not exactly sure but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that it’s always evolving and there is never a finish line or a place where I can say “Okay, I’ve arrived”. There’s always new sounds to make, or at least new ways of combining sounds that have already been done because there’s not really any way to completely revolutionize anything musically anymore. At least not while improving it. I just love the way that music moves me and seems to understand me like an old friend who is always there for me and who will always give me what I need. Music is very therapeutic for me. If I don’t listen to music for a couple of days, I start to get grumpy and irritable. It’s like a drug to me. And there’s no cost or hangover!

How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?

I was born in 1978 and I’m just so thankful that I was able to grow up and fall in love with music before the Internet was invented. I feel like it’s a very helpful tool for learning about things you didn’t know, and networking, and finding out about new music. Having said that, I feel like it has made music less special to the world. There is no more mystery about music or a band that you like.   

I really enjoyed the days of listening to a record or tape and only knowing as much about the people who made the music as was written in the liner notes. You usually didn’t even know what the musicians looked like!  

Nowadays it seems to be that society is focused more on someone’s superstar appeal and looks rather than about the actual quality of music that they make. The Internet has also made people have shorter attention spans, which means that most people no longer know the joy of listening to a complete album from start to finish, undistracted.   

I find that it has also affected the way that people experience live music. They rarely just put their phones or their conversations away and follow every note that the music makes and that makes me pretty sad. Not just for my own self but for the world. I would wish that everyone could be moved and affected by music the way that some of us are. At the same time though, the internet has allowed smaller unknown bands like myself to draw attention and to have a fanbase without having to have a huge management company and be a superstar. It’s a double-edged sword though because, although more people are making music now, there doesn’t seem to be as much quality as there used to be. We’ve traded quality for quantity and I feel like that cheapens the product a lot of times. Individual musicians no longer have to have a management team and the gatekeepers that let you in, but as a result, there are a lot of things that an artist has to do these days to stay on people’s minds because the public is quick to forget and to move on to the next 15-second thing. A lot of time has to go into maintaining social media, self-promotion, delivering new content, and just a lot of little things that add up to be a huge imposition on one’s time. It often cuts into the creative process and doesn’t leave enough time in the day to focus on making the actual art as much as I would have it.    

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Pretty much anything my grandparents ever told me has turned out to be true and right. My grandmother cut out a quote by Eric Clapton that I have taped to the front of my desk to this day. It reads “One of the most important lessons that I’ve ever learned is how to keep my mouth shut.” I have pretty strong opinions on things and also have a strong sense of humor and sarcasm and that doesn’t always go appreciated. I have had to learn to just keep quiet rather than get into trouble because of my big mouth. That goes for social media, personal relationships, family, business, pretty much everything. I’ve learned to think before I speak. And my life is much more peaceful as a result.  

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

Quality control. People seem to settle for a much more watered down form of art than they did in previous decades. I wish there was a way to control the quality vs. quantity ratio. Also, paying artists fairly for streaming and downloads would be a good place to start. Things are very askew in that regard and hopefully one day things will change so that artists can be fairly compensated for the work that they create.   

What is one message you would give to your fans?

That I really appreciate all the support and the love. It means a lot to me to be able to create music and have people want to listen to it, let alone buy it. Because of folks believing in me and liking what I do, it makes me want to keep getting better and better so that I feel like I deserve some of that praise and recognition. I hope people will continue to pay attention to the music I create. I’m going to be doing it either way, but it is nice to have some company along for the ride. The best stuff from me is yet to come! This latest album is going to be a stepping stone for me into more creativity and more output. And not at the expense of quality if I can help it.

Artist website and pre-order link

Jason Elmore: The Vivascene Interview for ‘Rise Up Lights’