Song and Style with Musician Mojo Juju: The dapperQ Interview

Mojo Juju is a guitarist, singer, performer, artist, songwriter, and presenter from Melbourne, Australia. DapperQ has had her self-titled debut album, released last year, on repeat for the past few months. It’s catchy, raw, and and fun. Her energy is infectious and her style is impeccable. Mojo Juju charmed the freaking pants off of dapperQ with her sexy accent and pink suit jacket while we talked Elvis, Boardwalk Empire, OutKast, and Bruce Springsteen. 

dapperQ: What projects have you been up to lately?

Mojo: I just finished doing a run of Elvis tribute night, where a bunch of female artists all did different years of his career. It wasn’t so much impersonation as it was interpretation. Before the show I did a lot of reading about Elvis and the cool thing about his sexual energy was that it was very bisexual. It wasn’t just women that stopped and looked at Elvis, men looked too. He was quite effeminate in certain ways but he had this great masculine energy too. That was probably part of what was so confronting about him at the time. It was a massively daunting task to undertake the responsibility of doing justice to his work on stage. You really don’t want to fuck up Elvis songs. People are precious about him.

I went straight from that into a show called Project Awesome, where we did a Twin Peaks tribute. It was all popular culture stuff from 1982-92. That was really cool. Now I’m getting back into gigging with my band, and doing my music in a more regular sense.

dapperQ: The Elvis thing makes a lot of sense. I get a rockabilly vibe from your music.

Mojo: I understand why people kind of go there. There are elements of rockabilly in lots of different things that I do. I’m not trying to replicate any particular sound. I get distracted pretty quickly, and I like a lot of different music, but there is a distinct kind of nostalgia to what I do. I love the blues and rock and roll and jazz, soul and do-wop, a lot of that Americana school of music. I’m okay with people recognizing elements of that. All of those genres have inspired me to do what I do but I kind of wouldn’t categorize.

Mojo Juju 1Suit from Antons

dapperQ: Your partner, Taryn van Kan, is a costume designer. How does that influence your style? 

Mojo: It’s amazing. I feel like I’ve lucked out, being a total self-confessed dandy. I’m a sucker for some good threads and I’ve pretty much found a match made in heaven. She’s such a talented designer and seamstress that what I want to have made usually falls to the bottom of the list, but most recently she made this jacket that I wore in the Elvis show. I’ll show you (pulls out a pink jacket with black lapel). A pink suit jacket! That’s pretty special. I don’t think you’d be able to find that in many places. Also a lot of linen suits – I really like 1930s era scooped neck waistcoats and high-waisted trousers with a much wider cuff, so you get a baggy kind of look. Unlike the later zuit suits, where the trousers were cinched in at the ankles, these are straight in the legs. They give you great movement when you’re dancing on stage. Sometimes I start by picking out fabrics and slowly convince my girlfriend to make something out of them for me.

Mojo Juju 3I also have a good friend, Anton, who has a store here in Melbourne as well as one in Sydney, who makes suits for men and women inspired by 1920s-40s fashion. Really beautifully made 100% wool suits that play with modernizing different colors, waves, and prints, as well as the cuts and lines of the era. I’m a little bit short and a little bit round so it’s really hard to find men’s clothing off the rack that fits me.

dapperQ: What does that word mean to you, “dandy”?

Mojo: I’ve just loved dressing up ever since I was a kid. There are photos that my grandma sent me where I’m eight years old and I have my hair slicked back and I’m wearing a tuxedo jacket sitting at the piano, playing, looking like a mini Fats Waller.

dapperQ: (Cracks up) Holy crap, please send us those pictures.

Mojo: I grew up watching old movies. My heroes were Humphrey Bogart and Elvis Presley. When I was a kid I had a picture of Elvis next to my dresser, so in the morning I’d get up and brush my hair back and look at the picture of Elvis and think, “I want to look like that guy!” Then I became a teenager and I went through the punk rock thing and had forays into different fashions and genres of music. Eventually things came full circle and I got back into jazz and the blues, when there was that whole revival in the 1990s where swing bands came back into fashion. I would see these guys get on stage and rock out and realize this music really isn’t just for old people – it can be for young people who like to go out dancing. You shouldn’t be afraid of going out, suiting up, and looking good.

The more I got into that nostalgia, the more I started looking at details. Like, how are the ties shaped, with that small knot, and wide at the bottom? How do they combine colors? Why is the collar on his shirt so long? Now I do the same thing while watching period shows like Boardwalk Empire. I’ll watch it over and over just to look at the details: the weaves, the fabrics, the windowpane checks that aren’t in fashion anymore, I seek that stuff out. I also love contemporary artists like Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo, who are really well dressed all the time, and who also apply a pop/soul sensibility from the 1960s to the modern R&B sound. I like those guys ‘cause I think they keep that nice balance between the old and the new and are really evolving a sound.

Mojo Juju 2

I produced a show here with my partner called the Jitterbug Club, which was all live music, where we drew on that era of entertainment in New York City: the Cotton Club and the Savoy where it was live music and live dancers. We kept all the music contemporary but styled it very much in that 1930s fashion. We got to tour the show around quite a bit for a couple of years. It’s a charmed life when you get to do that kind of stuff, living out fantasies.

dapperQ: I love watching videos of you playing live. Do you see your stage personality as a character?

Mojo: I’m definitely in a heightened, exaggerated version of myself. It’s just me, I’m telling my stories. But it is definitely an extension of myself. I feel less inhibited. If I was just sitting in a room talking with some people I wouldn’t be busting out the kind of dance moves I do on stage. I’m an entertainer. It went out of fashion for a while, to be an entertainer, when live rock music became all about presenting this raw honest thing. And I am raw and honest but like, I also don’t want my audience to be bored when they’re watching me. I like telling stories and jumping around on stage. It’s not about just pouring my heart out: it’s not therapy. I mean, I feel like unless you’re making an effort to connect with your audience and create a show for them, live performance can be self-indulgent. I think the songwriting process is more cathartic, when you’re writing all this shit out on paper or recording it in a studio, it’s this personal thing. But when I get on stage it’s about the audience. It’s just me, I haven’t created some character. Though I’m definitely there to entertain. Otherwise I wouldn’t feel okay about getting up and singing my stuff.

dapperQ: I was wondering, about the outfits you wear on stage…do you wear them in real life? Whenever I try to do fancy throwback outfits in my daily life I always feel awkward or like I stand out in a weird way.

Mojo: Every day! It started out as something that I did tentatively. I would do little things six or seven years ago like start wearing braces [SIC: it took this dapperQ a long time to figure out that “braces” is the Australian term for “suspenders”]. Then I’d decide I like button braces better than clip on braces. So all my pants have to have buttons now. Then I’d decide I liked high-waisted pants. It was this process of slowly transitioning my fashion and becoming more and more obsessed with detail. And I probably am that weird eccentric person that you see walking down the street wearing a ridiculous getup, but anyone can pull off any kind of look as long as they wear their clothes and the clothes don’t wear them. You’ve got to have confidence. If you believe it everyone else will believe it. But you’ve also got to be realistic about what suits you as well.

dapperQ: What are some other vintage clothing details that you’ve come to wear?

Mojo: I like tie pins, cufflinks, and collar bars. I’m a sucker for hats and shoes as well: snake skin boots, two-tone spectators, Cuban heels. I like a good pair of spats. I really like shorter silk ties, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top. That 1940s look. For ages I always admired people that could wear bowties but at the time I thought, “I could never wear a bowtie.” Until one day I decided, “I can wear a bowtie!” It felt so uncomfortably loud at first. But then I realized, I probably already stand out quite a little bit, this isn’t going to really make a difference. So I should just wear the damn bowtie if I want to wear a bowtie.

Or a pink jacket! (points to pink jacket again and laughs). Pink has become my favorite color! There’s this weird thing that’s happened where I’ve recently realized I’ve become so comfortable as a masculine-presenting female, that I’ve gone all the way around now to where I want to wear masculine fashion in feminine colors. It’s been an interesting journey.

mojo juju2

dapperQ: Can you tell me a little bit about the music scene in Australia?

Mojo: There are a lot of musicians here. I think the unfortunate thing is that there isn’t really a population big enough to sustain the size of the industry. So a lot of artists end up having to go overseas in order to forge a career. But because the scene is so fragile, everyone is really supportive of one another. There’s a lot of solidarity between musicians and venues, regardless of genre or whatever. It’s still an industry, but it’s a community too. We’re happy to help each other out along the way.

There’s also a lot of blues and country here, and there has been for a long time. That type of music is timeless, and I think anyone from anywhere can relate to it. But particularly, for some reason, listening to blues just kind of makes sense when traveling the Australian landscape. Springsteen’s Nebraska is the perfect soundtrack for driving around Australia. You have all these vast open spaces. Really harsh desert climate with long stretches of highway and nothing in between. There’s this meditative, trance-like sort of thing that happens.

mojo juju2dapperQ: That’s what I think when driving around Texas.

Mojo: I guess for me, I’m a visual person. Every time I’m writing music or listening to music my mind is filling it in with images. Those stretches of highway are the landscapes I see. I’ve been playing with this idea of going out into the desert here…there is so much desert here…and going mad a little bit. Dive into the isolation and oppressive heat, the intimidating nothingness that is out there and write an album. I’ve also got the Charles Bukowski fantasy, where I want to take a bed in some hotel, upstairs from some shitty bar, and write about the people fucking in the room next door.

dapperQ: Will you be touring in America anytime soon? We’d love to see you play!

Mojo: I’m definitely making plans to come to the states. We just released my album in Japan recently, so we’re probably touring Japan first. I believe I’m touring in Europe at the end of 2013, and I’m hoping to make the U.S. part of that. Either later this year or early next year.

dapperQ: I think they would especially like you here in the south!

Mojo: It’s kind of scary for me. So much of the music that I love, the roots of the music that I love, is from the American south. I’m afraid to go there and be told that I’m not doing it right (laughs).

dapperQ: Any final words of fashion advice for our readers?

Mojo Juju 4

Mojo: Paying attention to detail is important. You don’t have to have a million things in your wardrobe, you just need to have the right things. And be realistic about what suits you. You don’t have to be in touch with the biggest trends in fashion, just be realistic about what suits your body and if you can wear it with confidence, than you’re going to look smart (makes the “okay” sign and winks).
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