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Interview: Keb' Mo' - Reflections

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Interview: Keb' Mo' - Reflections

Click above to listen to the single, "The Whole Enchilada" from The Reflection
Three-time Grammy award winner Keb’ Mo’s latest album, The Reflection, is his first all-studio effort since the 2006 release Suitcase. Between albums, Mo’ had gone through several major life changes that would prompt some serious reflecting. He started a family, formed his own record label, and moved from LA to Nashville. It was in Nashville where he lost several prized instruments in the 2010 flood, including his Danelectro Select-O-Matic and Epiphone Sheraton. Mo subsequently donated several of his uninsured and damaged instruments, including a Will Hirsch mandolin and a homemade hollowbody Tele-style guitar, to an auction supporting flood relief efforts.

Despite his hectic schedule, Mo still manages to find time for side projects. He produced and co-wrote (with Gary Nicholson) “Digging in the Deep Blue Sea” for David Bromberg’s upcoming release, Use Me, and is currently working with Ronnie Baker Brooks, Taylor Hicks, and Mickey J. Crawford on separate projects while simultaneously getting ready for his upcoming tour.

Premier Guitar caught up with Mo to get the scoop on his new album, talk about winning and losing Grammys, and to see if he could get Gibson (maker of his signature acoustic guitar) to give him an ES-335 to replace his Epiphone Sheraton.

Why the long wait between studio albums?

I didn’t have a record deal and didn’t really know how to proceed without one. In the climate of independent record labels with a lot of people doing their own thing, the majors are in a quandary about sales being down, and the digital versus physical product. There were a lot of questions—when you put your record out, how do people get it? Record stores were closing daily, hourly [laughs]. No more Tower Records, no more Virgin, no more of these big records chains—they were just gone. So I told myself that maybe now’s not the time to put out a record. I took the time to get my family started, think about my life, and study the record business as it is now and where it’s going.


Mo' strums on his trusty Hamer Monaco.
Photo by Meghan Aileen Schirmer
When did you finally decide to go for it?

Once I got clear in my mind about how I wanted the record to be and clear on how I was going to finance it. I had to pay for it out of my own pocket. I formed my own label—Yolabelle—as opposed to a having record company that would front the money. It was a completely different animal.

And you have some big names on the record like India.Arie, Dave Koz, Marcus Miller, and Vince Gill. It’s not a small budget album.

Definitely. I went to my friends and they helped me out. I paid a fair wage, but they didn’t try to kill me like they would if a big record company was paying for it.

India.Arie lives in Atlanta, so I called her when I got to Nashville. She was four hours down the road so it was done by sending files back and forth over the internet. We didn’t even talk—we did it all through email and texting.

On the flip side, since it’s your record company, will you get a bigger cut of the profits?

Maybe, maybe not. When you become the record company, the game changes since you’re paying for your record. I made a co-release deal with Ryko New York, part of the Warner Music Group. I’m operating in partnership with them, so it is a bigger split. But come promotion time, there’s a lot of things I pay for myself. It could change and it could also not change.

Since you paid for it yourself, were you more conscientious of time in the studio?

Not really, but maybe in the beginning because I went to a studio and had all these guys recording there. In hindsight, I would have taken more time right there in the front end, because I ended up paying for it on the back end. For the better part of two years I was fixing stuff that, had I not been in such a hurry, I could have fixed on the front. Nonetheless, I got it done and I didn’t worry about studio time because I have a home studio.
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