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Mojohand was born in 2016 from the fiery remains of countless high school bands and side projects. Having played music together since the tender years of teenagehood, childhood friends Elijah Klein and Joe DiNardo tapped keyboard extraordinaire Ian D’Arcy and began gigging around the Garden State with a revolving cast of local musicians. When Elijah met Bay Area drummer Jasper Mahncke at The New School of Jazz, The group found their groove and locked in with a flurry of singles and shows around the Northeast – from the woods of Vermont to packed bars in New York City and everywhere in between. Playing over 70 shows from their formation of their current lineup in the lead-up to the pandemic gave the band an opportunity to find their sound and tighten up their audience-pleasing skills: “In the studio, you can do everything right and cut out mistakes… onstage is where you see if you can actually make people dance and have a good time.” says drummer Jasper.
Mojohand’s love of The Road is palpable. At the end of their set, you’ll often hear lead singer Elijah deliver an open invitation to the audience: “The best part of driving around and playing shows all over the country is meeting new people. So come say hi when we’re done playing! We’d love to shake your hand.” For a band from New Jersey, they spend as much time outside it as they do within, making stops in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts in just 2022. “The road is what it’s all about; meeting new types of people, seeing how they react to the songs. A crowd in Texas might feel a groove completely differently than one in New York City. And so every night of tour, we learn a little more about how to deliver a great show and connect with the folks in the crowd.”
The band released nine singles before their powerhouse debut album Songbook hit streaming in October 2021. With an ability to write both anthemic choruses and clever, listen-to-it-twice verses, Mojohand’s music keeps us wondering just exactly what decade this band is from – it’s hard to believe this band’s members are all on the lighter side of their 20s. Songs like “Time Catches Up With You” and “Somebody” give us fist-in-the-air hooks and rock grooves reminiscent of the best of Tom Petty’s hits. Ballads like “Why Oh Why” astound with their ability to fit so many tugged heartstrings in just four minutes. And Mojohand isn’t afraid to lean into their country side with tunes “Losing Hand” and “Right Outside the Gates” – if you weren’t listening to them on Spotify, you’d swear this was a lost band found in the back of a dusty Austin record store.
An aspect too-often under-discussed about songs – their arrangement – is where Mojohand again stands head and shoulders above peers in the genre. “We never want to have the lyrics and the chords, and say ‘That’s it, the song’s done.’ Deciding to put in hits, where to drop the drums out, switch from an acoustic to an electric guitar or organ or electric piano, or have it just be Elijah’s voice alone – these are the unspoken-of details that make or break a good idea for a song. Without the arrangement, a song with great potential can devolve into a boring slog that everyone’s sick of by the second verse,” says drummer Jasper. They’re not kidding – each track on Songbook clearly has been nitpicked with love, with a slight pedal steel lick fading in on just the third verse, or a tambourine pushing a chorus to even greater heights the second time around.
Recorded with Sean Walsh of legendary Brooklyn bar band The National Reserve, Mojohand entered the laboratory to bring the songs to life from their acoustic origins. “We would have the chords and lyrics, and a basic idea of the groove,” says Elijah. “But in the studio there’s so many different options and ways to layer instruments, the options are really infinite. Sean guided us in certain directions to really maximize the tension and release of these songs, to give the listener that palpable feeling of payoff within the song. All the little stuff matters, whether it’s adding in a little stop before the chorus or adding backing vocals that you might not even notice your first time around. Maximizing the song, making sure it reaches its full potential for the listeners – that’s what we’re all about.” Clearly. Even from the first track, the sizzling rocker “Highway Girl”, you can tell that the production and arrangement isn’t half-assed. If anything, it’s double.
Mojohand is perhaps most proud of the grassroots community that has formed around the band. As a DIY act, Mojohand has played legendary local venues like The Stone Pony and The Bitter End. They’ve opened for national acts like Whitey Morgan and Oteil Burbridge and have toured the country – all without a record deal, management, or even a booking agent. This is all thanks to the dedicated following that’s coalesced around the band’s music and their live shows. There is no greater example of this community than Mojofest.
Starting in a friend of the band’s backyard in 2017, Mojofest has grown into a full-fledged DIY summer music festival complete with 8+ band lineups, vendors, art installations, camping, and more. The institutional New Jersey music publication Aquarian Weekly was cited saying that, “Mojofest 5 resuscitated NJ’s DIY music scene post-covid”. The 6th annual Mojofest is taking place on July 9th 2022 in Toms River, NJ and it is set to be the biggest, most well-attended Mojofest yet.
Since the completion of Mojohand’s debut album, the band has been tirelessly workshopping new songs and taking them for a spin everywhere from the dive bars of New Orleans to the college basement venues of Philadelphia. It’s hard to know what the future holds, but it is easy to see what Mojohand’s looks like: more packing the car and driving insanity-inducing distances, more cranked amps, more packed rooms, more post-show handshakes and most importantly more serving the song.