by Jeff McCord
Always an artist who sees the big picture, Mobley’s latest recording, Cry Havoc, literally explodes in your imagination. Even before viewing the provocative cover art or any of the imaginative videos, the EP’s eighteen minutes of compact aggro-pop conjure up widescreen images of the stage and screen.
“For the past few years I have been conceiving of my music as theatrical or cinematic,” Mobley explains, “particularly on this record because it’s so narrative.”
The album’s narrative centers on a protagonist, Jacob Creedmore, who goes through a lot over Havoc’s seven selections. Who is Creedmore; where did he come from, and why did Mobley choose to tell the story through his voice?
“I don’t know where he came from. If I knew, I would definitely bookmark that place and return to it frequently. He’s an archetype in my mind, a kind of, picaresque, roguish hero. He’s a dissident in an alternate past – early 1980s New York. The record is about his radicalization and the events happening around him, pushing him to believe that he needs to take more drastic measures to try to improve the world for himself and the people around him. In terms of how he’s different from me, I think he’s braver than I am. He sees these injustices and considers himself and his moral responsibility as transcending arbitrary things like laws and nation-state borders and follows his convictions to do the things that he and the people in the community feel are necessary to protect themselves and protect the earth. And I would say I am certainly in comparison to that, a bit more reined in, hemmed in by the systems that surround me, at least at this point in time.”
Creedmore’s actions don’t end well, yet for Mobley, this is only a prelude to a much wider tale, one that eventually finds his hero transported to the future in a time and place not his own.
“When I was working on pulling together the songs in 2021, I had this speculative fiction, epic story in mind. So I knew that I wanted to do a concept album, but I also knew that I didn’t want the pressure of rush[ing] it out that quickly. So I thought the cool way to ease into it would be to have this record be a character study; a gentle introduction into some of the main plot. Last year, I did a writer’s retreat at this remote little cottage in Colorado where I was completely alone for about three weeks, just writing. And all of it kind of crystallized there. So I’ve really conceived of this as a way to get my feet wet on the story of the larger album that’s coming next year.”
Creedmore’s anger is palpable.
You better pray, better pray, oh, Lord / Better pray, better pray we won’t / ‘Cause the prey don’t stay down long / Better pray (Better pray we don’t). – Mobley, “Lord”
If it all sounds like heavy going, somehow, it’s not.
The songs are taut and blistering; trimmed, reconstructed, and piecemealed from earlier writings, balled into hook-laden three-minute pop gems that actually have something to say. But here’s the thing: these songs never stop moving – you can dance to them.
Just ask Mobley, whose footwork dominates a remarkable string of videos that accompany the release. As imaginative as the record is itself, the videos are stunning, beautifully shot and edited (one of them takes place in Johannesburg). When I comment to Mobley they look like big-budget endeavors, he laughs.
“They were not, I can tell you. You know, my actual training is in film. I don’t have any training in music, at least nothing beyond some lessons when I was young. And so, I write and direct, and produce the music videos. And I think because of my knowledge of the craft, I’m able to conceive of stories and concepts from the beginning that keep an eye to the budget and to what’s plausible, feasible with the resources that I have in hand.”
“Basically it was me and a skeleton crew of really good and generous collaborators. I think the biggest crew we had on any of the videos was on “Themesong”, the one in Johannesburg. And that was like six people. The rest were as few as two or three people. A lot of it is just sweat, like literally in the case of “Stay Volk”. That video we recorded in the heat of the summer; it was like 103 degrees that day, and no AC in an old warehouse, me dancing for 13 hours with a TV on my head.”
In a way, the “Stay Volk” video perfectly encapsulates the project. The topic, delving into lifelong oppression, is deadly serious, as are the imagery and thematics. But the presentation is almost celebratory. It’s a juxtaposition Mobley successfully brings to the concert stage.
“I mostly at this stage [am] leaving it up to people’s curiosity. If you want to enjoy it as just this kind of high-energy rock show, then that’s there for you. If you can pick up the cookie crumbs and see that there’s something deeper there to be explored, then that’s there for you as well.”
Mobley – vocals, drums, guitar, key
Host: Jody Denberg; Producer: Deidre Gott; Words: Jeff McCord; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman; Rene Chavez; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Cameras: Gabriel C. Pérez, Stone Clemmons, Alyssa Olvera; Edit: Stone Clemmons