New England Music Awards Week: Jatoba

We caught up with John Samison, who plays mandolin and acoustic guitar in the Vermont trio

By: Tommy Verdone

February 13, 2014

New England Music Awards week continues with the three-piece Jatoba, a self-described “groove-grass” band that is nominated for Best in State: Vermont. The group combines traditional bluegrass tempos, bumping bass lines and an onslaught of other instruments including the sitar and the banjo. Jatoba has been on the local circuit since 2008 and released its first album Death, Fire & Picnic Tables in 2011. Here is what John Samison, who plays mandolin, acoustic guitar, sitar and mandola in the band, has to say.


DELI: How does it feel to be nominated for Best in State: Vermont?

JOHN: It feels pretty good. We’ve been working hard for six, closing in on seven years. We only play on weekends, so it’s hard to keep up the momentum, but over time people started to recognize us and the music started to spread.


DELI: Do you prefer playing shows or writing and recording?

JOHN: Well, they’re two very different beasts. Personally, I love the process of writing and recording. But, playing live you get crowd-band interaction. I live for that.


DELI: You have a unique sound – how would you describe it?

JOHN: The label we’ve given ourself is “groove-grass,” it’s like bluegrass meets beatboxing, electronic, strange improv and composition. When we started playing it’s just how we sounded – we didn’t consciously set out to sound this way.


DELI: What messages and themes do you try to include in your music?

JOHN: Every song doesn’t necessarily have a message – but, I’ve definitely written some of my best songs after being broken up with. It’s hard to put a theme, but I guess shit happens. We all go through times of hardship.


DELI: What artists would you say have influenced you the most?

JOHN: Personally for me, Chris Feeley, Tony Rice, Brian Sutton, the Raconteurs, Modesky Martin and Wood ... John McLaughlin, Irshad Khan, Ali Ackbar Khan. We really like Middle Eastern flare, and we want to do a lot of more interesting things like that. Our music is eclectic and unique because we’re not trying to be one specific kind of genre.


DELI: What’s next? A tour, or maybe some new music?

JOHN: Look out for Jatoba. We may be a little quiet on the scene because one of our guys is having a baby, but we’re working on our second album “Last Man Standing” which should be out by late spring, early summer.


New England Music Awards Week continues with another nominee interview tomorrow. The show takes place on February 22 at Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, MA, and tickets are available here.