Mohr and more: Big Head Todd in Aspen |

Mohr and more: Big Head Todd in Aspen

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Apart from being a songwriter of note, Todd Park Mohr, namesake of Colorado rock band Big Head Todd and the Monsters, is also a reasonably avid student of philosophy. For several years, Mohr kept a weblog, Mohr Philosophy, where he posted his reactions to the writings of Nietszche, Schopenhauer and others, and reflected on religious traditions and politics.Mohr isn’t sure how those two interests, songwriting and philosophy, intersect, or if they have anything to do with one another at all. He seems to subscribe to the notion that rock ‘n’ roll is, and probably should be, limited to the confines of the three-and-a-half-minute pop song, and not try to wrap itself around the big, eternal issues of the world.”I’m not into writing songs that have a philosophical point of view. My songwriting is more about relationships, everyday life,” Mohr said from Chicago, where he lives part of the time. Philosophy “is an area of my life that feeds my curiosity,” he added, as if to say it didn’t have much to do with his music.Mohr’s humble self-assessment might be more convincing if his songs weren’t so literate and far-reaching. It’s true that from his earliest efforts, Mohr has focused on the staple subject matter of rock ‘n’ roll stretching back to Buddy Holly: the dynamic between girl and boy. But Mohr’s songs reach for something beyond “Oh Boy” and “Peggy Sue.” “Bittersweet,” a huge hit from the 1993 breakthrough album “Sister Sweetly,” captured, in a way, the essence of his songwriting, that there is a complexity to things, an opportunity to consider things from various angles.Mohr says he hasn’t been reading much philosophy lately, as he and his bandmates – drummer Brian Nevin and bassist Rob Squires, Mohr’s buddies dating back to Littleton’s Columbine High School, and keyboardist Jeremy Lawton, who joined in 2004 – have been recording a new album. But that album, titled “Wipeout Turn” and due for release in June, offers a typically rigorous look at life.”The subject matter is about relationships. How relationships are very complex,” the 44-year-old Mohr said. “The lyrical ideas revolve around the difficulties of relationships, how you can love somebody and hate them at the same time.”Mohr wasn’t specific about whether that theme has been triggered by any personal event in his life. Instead, he noted that he’s addressing an issue that is always in the air; it is, in fact, an issue he wrote about going back to his earliest albums, the independent releases “Another Mayberry” and “Midnight Radio,” from 1989 and 1990, respectively.”I’m always going through it. I think we all are,” he said. “That’s always been the most interesting thing to write about.”Most of the 20 songs headed for “Wipeout Turn” are connected to the relationships theme. But Mohr mentioned two songs that were not, and both take on subject matter that is equally large in scope. One is “Muhammad Ali,” about the boxer who has gotten involved in politics, religion and social matters in a manner that is rare for a professional athlete . “I’ve always been interested in him, the complex nature of his career. He’s an extraordinary individual, very inspiring,” Mohr explained.Another song is “Everything About You,” which, despite the title, is inspired by outer space, and specifically, NASA. Mohr actually has an existing connection to the space program, having written “Blue Sky,” from the 2007 album “All the Love You Need,” at the request of an employee in NASA’s research and development department.Athletes and space are part of a long list of places, outside of relationships, that Mohr has found inspiration for his songs. A serious painter (though he has never sold or exhibited his work), he is influenced by Spanish art. The 2002 album “Riviera” had several references to politics, including the song “Freedom Fighter,” (though Mohr is quick to point out that the songs were mostly written prior to 9/11). The title track to “All the Love You Need” was inspired by Mexican writer Don Miguel ngel Ruiz’s novel “The Mastery of Love.” And for the 1994 album “Strategem,” Mohr went especially big, constructing the entire record as one connected piece, with the songs reaching toward the poetic rhythm of iambic pentameter, and the lyrics having the essence of koans, or unanswerable riddles. Mohr has also made repeated reference to two songwriters who have left their mark on him: Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.The lyrical content of Mohr’s songwriting is just one part of the equation. On the musical side, however, Mohr can be just as diverse and complex, if not more so. Each of the seven studio albums from Big Head Todd and the Monsters has been a far-ranging affair of soft ballads, gritty blues and pumping rock anthems. And flashes of the guitar heroics that Mohr is capable of. “Wipeout Turn” might turn out to have the widest sonic scope of them all.”I would describe this as a reggae-blues-punk rock record,” Mohr said. “It’s really fun, very rhythmic, upbeat, diverse. And it’s got an R&B element.”

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