Stuck Mojo – Declaration of a Headhunter – Interview

Stuck Mojo

Declaration of a Headhunter (Century Media)
An interview with guitarist Rich Ward
by Martin Popoff

It’s getting harder to separate politics from the musical juggernaut inherent in a slammin’ Stuck Mojo record. That’s a good thing if you chew tobacco alongside the band’s right-wing message of empowerment, self-reliance, and basic all-round libertarianism. Add some pro-gun ownership and anti-government interference messages, and the band swings (like Ted Nugent on a vine) even further to the right.

But even though full cadres of groups of chunks of special interest packs of liberal types might now vehemently reject Stuck Mojo forthrightly, you’d kinda rather be buddies with a church-going, non-drinking, police-respecting, 28-ounce steak-eating, weight-training guy like Rich Ward versus some scumbag rock hedonist who’ll leave your head pounding and wallet lighter. Admit it. Right wingers are generally pleasant, honorable folk, even if you might have to politely tolerate their views (except that one about no beer) to keep the evening moving along.

Which is why the positivity of Stuck Mojo’s Declaration of a Headhunter, even if it is in a certain haranguing direction, is so refreshing and inviting, especially given the fact that the band’s chosen weapon — rap metal (and they are way better than those two words) — is one of the most negative, self-bemoaning genres going.

And such motivational positivity, alone enough to get you to recoil that hand-out hand in shame, is set to the band’s patented, highly rhythmic metallic slash’n’burn, rappy only due to vocalist Bonz’s rich hip-hop heritage, moreso metallic given that guitarist Rich Ward wrote the entire record: words, guitars, bass, drums, everything. Ingredients abound, it’s the songwriting that pulls you in like a vortex, especially come the band’s legendary live shows.

Declaration of a Headhunter is a honing of the core tenet, a collection of songs that picks up where the gorgeous metal majesties of the two studio tracks on the live HV1 album of last year left off. “We used the same formula,” Ward said, “which is the big Stuck Mojo groove, the rap vocal, and the use of melodic vocals as a juxtaposition to the rap. But we used the melodic vocal a lot more and we used a lot more guitar harmony textures, more keyboards — not traditional keyboards but more for orchestra sounds like strings and cellos. And we even use the occasional drum loop, a total hip-hop style drum loop. So it really has an eclectic sound, just as far as the ear candy goes.

People who listen to the record, right off the bat they’ll recognize it as a Stuck Mojo record, but it’s the little things that separate it and make it more of a dynamic album. When I set out to write this record, I tried to do what some of the more classic albums that had influenced me had done. I’m a big Pink Floyd and Queen fan, so I wanted to include a lot of the little details you hear in those bands when you listen under headphones. So not only did we want to make a great song-oriented record, i.e. not just big riffs with aggressive vocals, but songs with melodies that people can take home with them, the big hooks that hopefully will stick with them.”

The comment about the twin leads is one any listener of this band’s unique components can take to heart. “I can tell you that my favorite bands of all time are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Scorpions, Accept, and bands like Boston and Queen. I’ve always been a fan of that style of guitar playing, especially Boston,” offers Rich on this thankfully ever-present characteristic to the Mojo sound. “And people are like, ‘Boston!?’ They can’t stand them because every time you turn on a classic rock station, you hear them. But the first Boston record is my favorite record of all time. Just something about it speaks to me, and because of that, I wanted to include some of the things I liked about Tom Scholz’s guitar playing on this new record. And then I felt, you know, this is my record, and I think the fans feel that the band has always had a good sense of integrity. When it became hip for all the guys in long hair to cut their hair and make it spiky and wear eyeliner, we didn’t do that.

When everybody started wearing shiny silver and black glitter shirts, we didn’t do that. We never really changed with the times. We just are who we are. I think the fans respect us enough that if we do a little experimentation, they’d respect us even more. That’s where integrity is. Integrity isn’t just being a sheep and grazing with the rest of them.”

Lyrically, well, we’ve gone over that. But here’s Rich’s take on things. “I think the theme to the record is fairly conservative and political. There’s a lot of sociology on the record with respect to the workings of American culture. That was another thing that was very important to me, because we’re all fairly conservative in the way we vote and the way we think politics-wise. And I can’t say we’re all Republicans and we all vote straight down party lines, but we certainly have some conservative economic views. And the main reason for that is that in the event that any of us became wealthy, we don’t want to be one of those wealthy people who’re bitter because they’re overly taxed and watch other people live off those tax dollars. We live in one of those societies that the only legal entity that can go into the pockets of someone else and give that money to somebody else because they feel they are more deserving is the federal government. We find ourselves a lot more libertarian in that we say ‘do whatever you want to do as long as it doesn’t affect someone else’s life, liberty, happiness or pursuit of freedom.’ We’d like to have as little government intrusion into our lives as possible. We don’t feel that the government has to be a babysitter. If we don’t want to wear seatbelts or we don’t want to wear helmets when riding a motorcycle, or if we want to obey the laws and be responsible owners of guns, then we should be allowed to.

But we should also be held accountable for our actions. And that’s the main thing. I think this record is a record that encourages people to become involved in politics and hopefully find a strong base of personal accountability and pride and self-esteem. We didn’t take the easy road and talk about smoking pot or racism. That’s just a beaten horse. And every time I read some lyrics about ‘screw the police,’ I’m just like, ‘who are you!?’ The first thing you’re going to do if something happens is you’re going to call the police. Are you saying ‘screw the police’ then!? It’s such an easy thing, the lowest common denominator place to go for lyrical content.”

So until Stuck Mojo decide to swarm your town, muscle down with this fifth album from these self-described ‘headhunters,’ a term Ward takes to with pride. “We’ve always considered ourselves the headhunters of the industry. If you’ve ever seen our live show, it’s virtually untouched by anybody else in terms of sheer energy and sheer athletic stamina. We train like Rocky Balboa.”