Review Fix chats with Second Hand Mojo’s Vern Springer and Chuck Riepenhoff, who discuss their origins in music and upcoming EP.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Vern: When I was growing up my Uncles and Grandfather all played guitar. My one uncle was in a band during the ’60s that had some regional success and the younger one was actually a lounge act on the weekends. When we would get together on the weekends for family dinners, birthdays, and holidays, at some point the guitars would come out and I was hooked. In my house, there were no musicians but rather music lovers. My dad turned me on to most of what you can hear in the Mojo stuff. The Stones, The Doors, Pink Foyd, The Moody Blues, The MC5, Motown, etc. While my mom trended to more of the Pop stuff of the day like Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles. So the house I was raised in had a really good variety. The Blues stuff comes more from an Uncle on My dad’s side. He turned me on to Ray Charles and that kinda got the ball rolling for me.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Vern: I find that most of my ideas come from happy accidents while practicing or noodling around. The best part of being in a band as a writer (in my humble opinion) is what happens when all members of the band put their stamp on a tune. It’s that growth that makes the tunes become whole. One of my favorite things about all of our guys, is that there is no shortage of ideas on how to improve a song. It then becomes a process of trial and error to find what works for us collectively. This is probably a cool point to call out Chuck (Vocalist) for his writing prowess. He was immediately from the first time we met, ready to create. That struck me right away. The guy is a fountain of ideas for songs. James (Bassist) is the uber talented cool guy with a more sophisticated lean musically. Scott (Drummer) is the only drummer I have ever worked with who knew what I was hearing in my head when I wrote the riff and can bring it right away. He and I have been working together for more than ten years. Scott is also the guy who form the very beginning was full speed ahead. Marq (or “Q” -Keyboardist) is sublimely talented and has a ton of ideas for finishing and adding to the songs.
Review Fix: How did this EP come together?
Chuck: Vern and Scott had a batch of musical ideas put together and were searching for a vocalist to help turn those ideas into full songs. At the same time I was searching for musicians to put the finishing touches on some song ideas that I had myself. Throughout that mutual search, Vern, Scott, and I connected, and soon after, I was creating and recording melodies on top of their ideas. Once we brought in James and Q to round out the lineup, those ideas became Second Hand Mojo tunes.
Vern: The recording was done at Plymouth Rock Recording Studio in Plymouth, Michigan. Ryan “Toby” Hyland engineered and helped produce. I personally love the place as I had an existing relationship with them. Marq and I have rehearsed and recorded here on other projects. It also has the added benefit of being around the corner from the “Mojo Dojo”, our rehearsal space. The bed tracks took about a day and a half, and were done essentially live in the studio’s big room. After that we moved on to Vocals in their new studio downstairs. Including overdubs for vocals it took roughly a full day. I should mention that everyone in the band sings. I took about half a day on guitar overdubs. After the live tracks were recorded, Q recorded his tracks in his studio (Nightcrier Studios), and we flew them into the mix. The funny thing is, the solo in the title track, that is his original take while we played it live. Mixing took a lot longer. This was a scheduling thing more than a volume of work or difficulty thing.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Chuck: From a lyrical standpoint, the biggest influence of the words I start singing is most commonly from the feel of the song itself. Then once I got a word or phrase locked in, I build the lyrics up from there. I draw the topic in from personal experience and observations at times, but then other times from really nothing at all. Sometimes it’s as simple as a theme gets started, and then I do my best to add in phrases and words that aren’t too corny – and if I get lucky, they actually rhyme where needed!
Vern: Family and Friends, the other guys in the band. I am very fortunate to work with some awesome guys. They all have their own approach to what we are doing and it makes me want to work harder so as to not be the weak link or let them down.And the chance that a total stranger will hear something we did and it affects them in some positive way. Most of my memories are connected or at least cataloged in my brain to music in some way. It’s an instant recall sort of thing that can transport you. It’s getting to fulfill that need to share the experiences. The inspiring way new music takes form when you add the other guys. It is really the greatest thing to start with an idea and see it take form and then to share with others outside the band and get a response. That really is the drug that keeps this thing moving.
Review Fix: What does this band mean to you?
Vern: It’s just a great bunch of guys to hang with. It’s like our bowling night, but instead of bowling, we get to make music and share with the outside world. Oh and we can still have beer as well.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Chuck: It’s gritty, swampy, bluesy, melodic rock n’ roll. We take pride in writing classic rock songs, today
Vern: Midwest Classic Rock.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Chuck: I think our live show represents very similarly to what you hear by listening to our songs through your speakers at home. “Saturday Night” is afun, anthemic rocker, and I make sure to bring out that same crowd participation in the club by going out into the crowd and literally pulling people up closer to the stage to dance and sing along with us. On the other end of the spectrum, “One Last Song” is a tender ballad that captivates your ear when listening. In our live show during that song, Scott comes out from behind the drums, Vern straps on his acoustic, we all line up together on stools, and give it an old school “unplugged” feel to match the tenderness of the tune.
Vern: There is just an energy when the lights go up and you are in a room with people. It definitely fuels the live show. Plus, If you have never seen a Mojo Show, you are missing out on Q’s performance. It is a show unto itself. The recordings bed tracks were all done live and then we did the vocals and solos later. The one exception to that is Q’s awesome Organ solo on After Midnight. That was the take he did live in the room. I loved it then and it’s still one of the highlights of the recordings.
Review Fix: What inspired your latest single?
Vern: This one was just a syncopation exercise for my right had to finger pick. After that, I wanted a change of feel for the Chorus section so it was big chords. After playing it with the group for a while we stumbled upon the solo rhythm while I was trying to change it up a bit between the two. Once Scott (Drummer), James (Bassist), and Myself locked in to the simple movement between the chords, it had a cool feel.
Chuck: A story is told there, but no particular event inspired it. Vern started playing the opening riff in rehearsal, and I quickly came up with a melody to go on top that riff, based simply on feel when I heard the riff. For whatever reason, I kept singing, “Whoa oh, After Midnight. That’s the only time you lose your mind”. Once I wrote the first line “You sit there in the morning with your coffee cup in hand, scribble on a sticky note all the things that you got planned”, then I envisioned this Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde type story of a mild mannered secretary by day, rock n’ roll party girl at night, and the story just kind of wrote itself from there.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2020?
Chuck: So far we’ve been able to build a pretty solid following in Detroit, Toledo, and in between since that’s the core area where all of us are from. Our goal for 2020 is to branch out a bit to solidify a more Regional presence throughout Michigan, which is our true home state as a band. Our immediate goal for the Summer is to become part of the festival circuit throughout Michigan. We were just able to secure the Dunesville Music Festival in Interlochen towards the end of July, so we like where that’s headed.
Vern: Also, our songs are starting to get radio airplay nationwide, so if our tunes catch on in a particular area, we would love to bring The Mojo out to anyone who is digging what we do, if the right opportunity presents itself. I guess what I am saying is we are trying to build it the right way and have as much fun as we possibly can. We haven’t ruled anything out, and there are no immediate plans to “hit the Road for a year.”
Review Fix: What’s next?
Vern: Well, the EP is out now. We have some shows booked. The radio promotion has started and we are starting to see our recording get added to Radio Stations Playlists. Really just letting it come to us. Ideally this project can generate enough income to perpetuate the project. We have had some great traction with the single on the streaming platforms. Looking into licensing this music for other media (TV, Movies, Commercials, etc.). It is rally an exciting time to be a Mojo.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Chuck: The EP is already climbing the charts! “After Midnight” debuted January 15th at #289 of #745 on College Radio Charts, then jumped to #254 of #818 on January 22nd. So we’re off to a great start!