Bassist and composer Billy Mohler graduated from the Berklee College of Music and then proceeded to join the Monk Institute, as one of only five musicians, where he studied and performed with jazz superstars Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Clark Terry, and Jimmy Heath, just to name a few. But jazz wasn’t in the cards for Mohler who found unexpected success with rock band The Calling launching him into a career in pop and rock music. He went on to tour and record with soul superstar Macy Gray and to work with singer-songwriter Aaron Bruno on the band that would become Awolnation. He’s co-produced songs featuring Lady Gaga and Aimee Osbourne in addition to having worked with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Jon Brion, Steven Tyler, and Liz Phair. After all these years, a Top 40 hit and a Grammy nomination, Mohler has decided to return to his first love, jazz, with the release of his long-delayed debut album, Focus, on his own imprint, Make Records.
“I’ve made a lot of records and did a lot of songwriting for other people,” Mohler says. “Now I’m ready to strike more of a balance; I want to stretch my own musical abilities and play the music that I want to play, with musicians that I’ve always admired and have long wanted to play with.”
Joining Mohler on Focus are trumpeter Shane Endsley and drummer Nate Wood, both of Kneebody, and saxophonist Chris Speed, a founding member of Human Feel and Claudia Quintet.
Wood happens to be a childhood friend of Mohler’s. As he recalls: “It was common practice for us to jam at Nate’s house after school, which always meant switching instruments back and forth. We would jam on heavy metal tunes and then work out reggae breakdowns. I didn’t realize that was something unique until I was an adult.”
According to Mohler, his motive to return to his jazz roots was in part due to the birth of his three young children. “I started thinking about the bigger picture of life in general, about leaving something behind for our kids,” he says. “I always liked that in the jazz world, no matter how successful you become, you’re able to build something that gives your name as an artist merit and weight.”
Focus is a testament to Mohler’s passion for jazz and features a stellar cast at the peak of their prime. Mohler’s bass is constantly at the forefront pushing and propelling the quartet in what amounts to an incredibly free, unconstrained and inventive record filled with exciting twists and turns and constant detours. All in all, Focus represents a solid debut for someone who temporarily shied away from his jazz roots and leaves us wondering what mark he would have left on the music had he never left.
Stream Focus below, which is available now as a digital download and May 1st as a limited edition, signed and numbered, vinyl via Mohler’s Bandcamp.
Focus, the debut by bassist and composer Billy Mohler, is out now on Make Records.
Billy Mohler – Bass
Nate Wood – Drums
Shane Endsley – Trumpet
Chris Speed – Tenor Sax and Clarinet
All Compositions – Billy Mohler Music BMI
Dan Seeff – Producer
Husky Hoskulds – Mixer
Steve Wood – Engineer
Recorded at Benaji Studios, CA
Mastered at Kerseboom Mastering
Cover Photo – Eron Rausch