Every band has a document of their dissolution. For the Mojo Wire, that document is You’re On Your Own.
When rock bands destroy themselves on record, it’s usually a group effort. The Beatles bickered like babies on Let it Be, the Eagles slouched into the sunset on The Long Run, and the Police drove each other crazy making Synchronicity. Some musical self-immolations, however, get sparked by one band member’s driven, monomaniacal fixation on Finishing The Project At Any Cost. Elvis Costello did it to the Attractions on Blood And Chocolate, and David Lowery did it to Camper Van Beethoven on Key Lime Pie. On a much smaller and justifiably ignored scale, I did it to The Mojo Wire during the making of You’re On Your Own, a slab of vintage indie-rock that would prove to be our final album.
In hindsight it was totally predictable, but I didn’t realize it during the summer of 2000, when we began recording again after a long layoff. The full band hadn’t been playing much because of jobs and school, but Bryn and I briefly filled the gap with two extremely low-profile releases: the first experimental Low Tide E.P. in July 1999, and Bryn’s all-instrumental solo disc in April 2000. You’re On Your Own began as a real effort at a new album, but soon devolved into an open-ended, directionless morass that veered from new songs to live material to remakes of old tunes. Real-world interference slowed progress, but band member interest faded in and out too, and what we finally released in June 2001 was more like an outtakes compilation than a bonafide new album.
You’re Doing It Wrong
The new Mojo music was strong, though. Our final lineup’s chaotic amalgamation of blunt force translated well to tape, and with real effort might have yielded our best release. Everyone was writing: Adam and Bryn continued the acoustic surf-noir of Seaside Hamlet Skids, churning out songs like “Happy Birthday,” “Breathe,” “Blue Lantern Cove” (all by Adam), “The Sandman,” and “You Let Me Fall” (both by Bryn). Adam tossed off another surf instrumental that I combined with my own latest narcissistic-messianic lyrics to make “Water Into Wine.” I finessed some obsessive-compulsive lyrics over one of Joe’s blistering, guitar-dominated tunes to make the “You’re On Your Own” title track. As for my own stuff, I added “One Last Hallelujah,” “Heart On A Platter,” “Fatal Flaws” and “The Peak Of My Career” to the new pool of material. The songs were there, but properly recording them all never seemed to be in the cards.
I scrambled to try anyway—first on tape, then digitally—since we had great songs arriving thick and fast, but I foolishly tried to hustle gigs at the same time. I pressured myself to finish something, anything—even as I ineptly tried gate-crashing a passively exclusive local Santa Barbara scene that couldn’t care less about us. The three other guys shared an apartment in I.V., but nobody seemed to be in the same place at the same time very often and I never bothered asking for help. We ended up putting on our own shows, which usually meant buying two kegs and destroying the backyard of 6710 Sabado Tarde with a party. Most of these shows were recorded too—a Mojo Wire first—and those tapes went into the pile with everything else.
Songs trickled out eventually, mostly in demo form. The first sessions I did with Joe and Bryn saw release as a single/demo for “Heart on a Platter” backed with “Water Into Wine” and “One Last Hallelujah.” The takes were crude but powerful; I mostly shouted over Bryn’s drum bashing and Joe’s dominating guitar, but the prevailing raw power didn’t bode well for the subtler songs from Bryn and Adam. The frontman dropped in for some vocals on “Shivering Sand” and “Water Into Wine,” but his heavy school and work schedule, plus the intense recording habits Bryn and I had assumed often kept Adam out of the loop. We even played two shows as a power trio without him, capturing live takes of “You’re On Your Own” and “Fatal Flaws” complete with tuneless yelling from yours truly.
Bryn and I were also keen to improve on the shambolic amateurism of Seaside, so we tried making another demo of old songs, starting new takes of “Run From Me,” “Pisces Lullabye,” “I Fly Free,” “How Far Away,” and “The Shivering Sand,” but only completed the latter two. More band apathy also kind of scuttled Bryn’s attempts to finish “The Sandman” and “You Let Me Fall” (though they rightly later graced the first Honey White release). The same went double for all of Adam’s songs, with two exceptions: the gorgeous solo instrumental “Blue Lantern Cove” and the token goofy novelty “Stuck On Chapter Nine.”
Joe and I didn’t get everything we wanted either; a semi-acoustic “You’re On Your Own” went nowhere, as did an echo-bass driven “Peak of My Career.” Any initial excitement we all felt for each others’ tunes soon dissipated. The downhill rush was halted for two great gigs in April 2001 and another, higher-profile show in June (to date, the Mojos’ last), but otherwise nothing was working and it was obvious. I hated that nobody seemed to put in as much effort as I did, Adam hated when we scoffed at his heartfelt lyrics, Bryn hated being unable to push his own songs from behind the drum kit, and sometimes it seemed like Joe hated to even be seen onstage with the rest of us. The operative word was almost always “seemed,” but young men are terrible communicators, and at the time I was probably the worst of us all.
Not With a Bang, But With a Whimper
I was desperate to promote in spite of everything, so I compiled nine songs into You’re On Your Own, scribbled out an album cover, pressed a handful of CD-R copies, and shoved them at anyone who got within arms-length at our final show. We played a six-song set as part of a huge bill, got offstage, and stopped doing anything Mojo-related for the rest of the summer and most of fall 2001. Bryn briefly went back to Orange County for work. Adam put his nose to the grindstone too. Joe left for two months in New York. I tried to keep momentum going in any direction anyway—this time by taking recording lessons and booking practice space in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Once again, though, not much happened apart from four or five rehearsals in October and November—and the whole band showed up for only two of those. The Mojo Wire immediately lapsed into a hiatus that became permanent when Bryn and I formed Honey White in early 2002.
When I listen to it now, the final Mojo album certainly sounds like chaotic implosion, but there are bright spots. Almost all of the eleven songs (two more were added to post-2003 pressings) ooze a wildly lurching swagger, topped with lyrics that sneer with revenge. Like all musical epitaphs, though, the hardest lesson learned was how good this thing could have been if we (or maybe just I) found a way to ignore every selfish hang-up and simply cooperated. It’s a lot to ask four smart, talented, twenty-something people to do, and this time, it was too much to ask.
Play this album: