“Mokomokai” By Dillon Collins
Rising up from Peterborough, Ontario, blistering heavy metal four-piece Mokomokai have put Canada’s metal scene on notice with their crushing debut LP Poison Whiptail, a white knuckle record that pays homage to the bygone rockers of old. Names like Dio, Judas Priest, Motorhead and Deep Purple are just a sample of influences that permeate the record, though make no mistake, Mokomokai may go to the well of their legendary metal forefathers, but the sound and scope of Poison Whiptail is a voice all of their own. The anthematic Heavy Metal Sky is a choice cut that could serve as one of the more addictive tracks of the summer. In the wake of the physical release of the record, and with a Canadian tour already in the books, vocalist John Ellis caught up with Metalheads Forever for an in-depth look into one of Canada’s most promising heavy metal outfits.
On a personal level, you guys absolutely kicked ass during your dates in St. John’s recently. How was your Canadian tour, and in particular how did you enjoy St. John’s?
John Ellis: Thanks! That was a hell of a way to end a tour that’s for damn sure, hahaha. St. John’s is party central! We’ve run the East Canadian circuit a few times but we never made it to the island. Really glad we did this time. It’s been about ten years but I used to live in St. John’s – not for very long – but long enough to completely fall in love with the place. I was pumped to see my buddy Harry Clarke (frontman for Emblem), wasn’t expecting that at all! The whole tour was amazing. It’s hard to beat traveling from one party to the next with your buddies.
To me Poison Whiptail is a type of metal reminiscent of early Judas Priest and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It’s a type of sound we don’t often see these days. Would you say you guys draw inspiration from guys like Priest, Angel Witch, etc? And if not who would you cite as some of your musical influences?
John Ellis: Priest is a big one for me personally, when I was a kid I was trained classically to sing but I only really started getting into it after listening to Sad Wings of Destiny. Soundgarden was a big one for me back then too, I definitely learned a few tricks from the late great Chris Cornell. Collectively NWOBHM is definitely a primary influence but I’d say the same for all the old guys. Sabbath, Motorhead, Deep Purple – what more do you want really?
What is your take on the current landscape of hard rock and heavy metal in Canada? Do you think we’re in a good place for artists such as yourself to showcase their talents?
John Ellis: So long as they’re ready to drive through every conceivable type of landscape for nine hours a day hahaha. But in all seriousness, Canada is a huge and wildly diverse music scene that is just packed with gems. We have the good fortune of blending into different bills with relative ease and so we’ve played with everything from country-rock to grindcore. Definitely no shortage of good bands!
I can attest firsthand that you guys absolutely bring the energy to your live performance. How high a priority is the live aspect of what you do? Do you make a conscious effort to melt faces?
John Ellis: Absolutely – it’s why I started smith’ riffs! I’ve been playing shows since I was 14 and the thing I realized early on was that there is a difference between playing songs and playing a show. Nobody wants to watch you dick around on stage, they want to be taken away to the riff filled land.
What do you think Poison Whiptail says as an album for Mokomokai? What do you want it to say?
John Ellis: I couldn’t be happier with an initial release! It’s got the grooves, it’s got the heaviness, it’s got the wales and the leads, it’s got a cool rehashed version of my favourite Deep Purple song on it. It was a lot of work and I’m pumped to see what people think of it now that it’s out there. If it only says one thing to anybody I hope that is to buy a leather jacket, listen to old heavy metal and hail Satan.
What are your intentions moving forward for Mokomokai this summer and fall? Are you laying down the groundwork for the coming months and year ahead?
John Ellis: We always try to be ahead of the game so we’re on the cusp of announcing a couple tours as well as finalizing an album to follow Poison Whiptail that features more amazing drum work by Adam Hay (he’s amazing), more Blurton honed riff worship and some brand new material that I think is going to cave people’s heads in.
What do you think it is about heavy metal that resonates with people? Why do you think fans are so fiercely loyal?
John Ellis: Metal, in my humble opinion, is an easy and healthy place for people to deal with negativity in their lives. Why do you think metalheads are so notoriously nice and high in openness? They have a secret place in their lives where they can realize their need for and attraction to epicness and glory that most people don’t get to have. Not only that but if you have a band that opened your mind or got you through a tough time in a weird way it’s like they’re your pals that you can always rely on. I’ll always be loyal to my boys in Judas Priest and Motorhead, and if anybody doesn’t like em their loss.
Any parting shots for our fans at Metalheads Forever?
Justin Ellis: Keep fighting the good fight, smith’ the good riffs! Check out Poison Whiptail on www.mokomokai.net where you can find links to all our social media and stay tuned for tour announcements coming to a greasy bar near you! \m/ \m/
Dillon Collins/MHF Magazine.