Rock Documented: Palestine, Texas has a long history of producing diverse musicians, from Cowboy Smith Ballew in the ‘30s, pop singer Gene Thomas in the ‘60s, country sensation Gene Watson from the ‘70s through the ‘90s, jazz musician Art Sherrod Jr along with southern rockers Whiskey Myers in the 2000s, and now Blacktop Mojo. How has the city of Palestine supported the group?
Matt James: The city of Palestine has been good to us, man. We played our first show in 2012, the night the world was supposed to end, in a hometown bar there in Palestine called the Shelton Gin. They’ve been around since the beginning.
RD: What is the backstory behind how you came to collaborate with Dylan Wheeler on your cover of “Getaway Car”?
MJ: Dylan has been a buddy of ours for a while. Our producer, Philip Mosley, who has helped us do all of our recording, all of our records, is his producer as well. So, we just kind of linked up. Dylan and Nathan had been talking and he was like, “Man, we should do a cover of “Getaway Car” by Audioslave. That’s one of our favorite songs.” And we had just actually, we had been playing that live. We just started throwing that into our live set right when he said that, and we were like, “Dude, no way!” It was very serendipitous and it kinda worked out that way.
RD: You have a pretty big YouTube presence. How do you feel about the popularity of your YouTube covers?
MJ: Man, they’ve been awesome. A lot of times we’ll meet people at shows and they’re like, “Man, I saw ‘Dream On’ or one of the covers and then I listened to the rest of all your stuff.” So, that’s been a huge blessing to us; people getting introduced to us through something that they know and then kind of diving into something that they don’t, and then sticking around.
RD: You started a new video series, “Tour Diaries” this summer. What motivated you to do this?
MJ: We had never really put out any weekly stuff on our YouTube and we had all these old videos that we had been putting out on Patreon years prior. I thought it would be cool to kind of make a little travel show out of the old videos and it’s just something that we just started trying out here recently.
RD: If you could change anything about the music industry today, what would it be?
MJ: How expensive the price of diesel is. That’s pretty much every industry though I guess.
RD: You have been touring almost non-stop since the beginning of July, first with the Blacktop Mojo Goes West tour and now with the Summer 2022 tour. What have been some of the highlights of this summer of touring so far?
MJ: Going out West. We hadn’t been out West since before Covid happened and we went out West and I think we had, on average, just about double the amount of people we had before we left for Covid. So, I feel like we didn’t lose anybody in our gap year that everybody had. So that was pretty cool.
RD: If you could tour with any musician(s) living today, who would it be and why?
MJ: Gary Clark Jr.
RD: What are your thoughts on joining the Shiprocked family and what was that experience like?
MJ: Shiprocked is absolutely amazing. It’s such a cool family of people. The coolest part about it, I think, is once you’ve been on that boat, everywhere you go in the country there’s somebody from Shiprocked. People come from all over the place, and everywhere we go on tour there is someone from Shiprocked there. It’s really cool.
RD: Speaking of festivals, you recently performed at Welcome To Rockville, in Daytona Beach, FL. Aside from the weather, how was the festival scene, and do you find yourselves being drawn more to those big stages or the smaller, more intimate venues?
MJ: It’s always fun playing festivals. In a way, it’s almost easier to play festivals because there are so many people out there, it’s kind of like Shiprocked. When you get on Shiprocked, everybody’s there to have a good time. They’re there to rock out, they’re there to be loud, it’s easy. So as soon as you walk out, it’s a pandemonium; people go crazy, right? In the intimate venues it’s more of a challenge sometimes. There might not be people there that have even heard you. Maybe they’re just drinking by the bar and you have to kind of win them over because they were just like, “I’ll just see what’s going on tonight,” type of thing. But, that’s fun too because that makes you better.
RD: What is next from the group after this tour is over?
MJ: We will be going home for a little while. We’ve all been having babies this year. Our guitar player has a baby due in October. So, will be going home and taking a little break for a bit. We’ll be writing some new music for the rest of the year and kind of spending some time at home because we’ve been on the road for quite a bit for the last few months.