Thirty years in, Colorado blues-rock group Big Head Todd and the Monsters has established itself as one of the state’s more successful, if not persistent, musical exports. And while other bands have blown up and died, Big Head Todd has steadily remained a mid-level band. As singer-songwriter Todd Park Mohr sees it, that’s a good thing.
“I’m enjoying doing what I’m doing much more now than I ever have,” Mohr says. “I think all of us feel that way, as musicians and as bandmembers. There’s a lot more joy in what we’re doing. I don’t know if it’s just experience or getting better. Aside from that, our career’s been remarkably consistent.”
The Monsters are admirably popular in Colorado, and they do well in pockets throughout the country, but they’ve hardly exploded in a Lumineers sort of way. Rather, they’ve built a loyal fan base that, as trends come and go, will always buy the records and come out to the shows. It’s the perfect long game.
“We’ve had a very financially and commercially even career,” Mohr says, “which has been pleasant for me as a singer-songwriter, because I feel like I’ve been able to focus on what makes the fans happy at our shows.”
Mohr formed the band in 1984 along with drummer Brian Nevin and bassist Rob Squires after they attended Columbine High School and, later, the University of Colorado together. The three have remained together ever since, with keyboard and pedal steel guitar player Jeremy Lawton joining the group later on. That stability in personnel is vital, says Mohr.
“It’s been very important for me, because we work very well together, both musically and as business partners,” he says. “I have difficulty imagining what the norm is for other groups with people coming in and out. It’s an incredible headache. Every once in a while, we do a project called Big Head Blues Club, where we have an augmented band with blues stars, and it’s great from a musical standpoint, but it’s quite a challenge when you have a dynamic that’s kind of radical.”
It’s natural for a band to be tight when its members have gone through puberty together. Growing up together as people and musicians breeds a whole different dynamic than that of a band whose members met on Craigslist.
When Big Head Todd and the Monsters formed in 1986, they were buddies playing tunes together, and their collective target was simply the next gig.
“When you form, I think your goal is to make it through the party on Saturday night,” Mohr says. “That’s still what the goalposts are for me. When we have a show that’s sold out or that does well, I always think that at least I’ve got another year, because I know they’re going to have me back. But as I’ve had a stable career, I think my goals have been more along the lines of, ‘How can I be the best writer that I can be? How can I make a viable contribution to my culture?’ I’m a big believer in the importance of culture in society, and I believe our political failings are really cultural failings. I take that part really seriously. In the back of my mind, that’s always there.”
The Monsters might not appear to be a political band, but for Mohr, politics and humanity are tied together, and that sentiment has informed his work from the group’s 1989 debut, Another Mayberry. Not that the frontman listens to that stuff anymore.
“I don’t listen to any of my music once I’m done with it, aside from referring to it,” he says. “I have to perform it, and that’s a lot. But I typically don’t listen to myself for pleasure. It’s not humility — I’m just not interested in myself, I guess. I don’t like hearing my own voice that much. I’m very interested in it while I’m creating it. That’s a really important thing, because to me you have one chance to make it as good as you can. I look at it critically and intensely for a while, and after that, I really don’t want to revisit it unless I have to.”
Currently, the band has eleven albums’ worth of material for him to avoid listening to, a body of work that has remained consistent in quality. Yet, while the band has kept on an even keel, the Denver music scene — inasmuch as there is one, Mohr says — has evolved beyond all recognition.
“There’s been a lot of incredible things that have occurred,” he notes. “There’ve been a lot of groups, like OneRepublic or the Fray, that have done really well out of Colorado, so I think it’s become a pretty viable place for music. When I started, you could barely get hired as a cover band — it was pretty dismal. It was a handful of groups not making money. I spent some time recently living in the Highlands area, and I’m really impressed by the amount of venues. There’s a lot of cool places to play now, and many towns don’t have that. So I think there’s a lot of momentum happening in Denver.”
Three years after the last full album, Black Beehive, there’s a lot of momentum going on with Big Head Todd and the Monsters, too. A full-length album has been completed for a fall release (no title yet), and the first single, “Damaged One,” is already getting radio play at KBCO.
Mohr encountered writer’s block while working on the album, and turned to traditional folk and blues to get through it.
“It put me in connection with traditions that I didn’t know much about,” he says. “I’ve taken a lot of the language and concepts of that into my writing. I would say my current obsession is conflict. I write about it in terms of human relationships, but that’s a triple entendre for me now, because I’m really talking about everybody.”
We’ll hear all about it when the band plays Red Rocks with Collective Soul this week. And while Big Head Todd and the Monsters do well in Chicago, San Francisco, and the Carolinas, there’s nothing quite like a hometown show at Red Rocks.
“Red Rocks is our biggest gig of the year,” Mohr says. “A lot of it is because I think our fans from other parts of the country ‘sojourn’ to that show. Obviously, this is our home, and this is where the majority of our fans are. We’re doing well everywhere, but Colorado is the king for us. That Red Rocks is home base is awesome.”
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The Red Rocks set will feature a blend of old and new songs — but Mohr will be adding a little edge for the sake of friendly competition.
“There’ll be a lot of guitar solos this year,” he says, “to be like Collective Soul.”
Big Head Todd and the Monsters, with Collective Soul, Saturday, June 10, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, 720-865-2494.