By Nikki M. Mascali
John the Conqueror was a folkloric slave hero, an African prince sold into slavery in America who never let his enslavement break his spirit. John the Conqueror is also a root usually used in sexual spells that can also be an item of luck for gamblers. Both of these inspired the name of a Philadelphia-based blues-rock trio made up of Mississippi ex-pats singer/guitarist Pierre Moore and drummer Michael Gardner and bassist Ryan Lynn.
John the Conqueror the band released its sophomore album, “The Good Life,” Feb. 25, and recording this time around was quite a bit different than the process for its 2012 self-titled debut.
“Oh, shit, the first time we recorded, we were new to what we were doing,” Moore said during a call with Highway 81 Revisited in late January. Gardner, he explained, had moved from bass to drums when the two joined forces with Lynn, so he had only been playing drums for about a year and a half. “So, we have a lot more experience. Lyrically, you can see a change to more contemplative introspection from trite bravado.”
As far as the recording, the band didn’t change much, “we just got better at our instruments,” Moore said with a laugh. The singer did end up recording his vocals at home this time around, though, not in the studio. “I realized that being comfortable was real important.”
Moore’s comfort can be heard throughout “The Good Life” — an 11-song outing culled from his growing up in Mississippi, his new hometown of Philly and life on the road — which is gritty and soulful while paying homage to old-school blues as it throws in a sharp left-hook of rock. In a press release about the album, Moore said that he completely devoted himself to becoming a better writer, so H81R asked him to elaborate on what that entailed.
“I quit drinking for the first half of writing that album,” he began. “I spent pretty much 20 hours a day writing about different things that I’ve gone through in my life.” Some of the songs had up to 20 revisions. Changes on “Daddy’s Little Girl,” for example, took four or five months, while opening track “Get ’Em” had four or five different sets of lyrics, though “the final version was written in, like, eight minutes,” Moore said.
The album also includes a searing cover of Randy Newman’s “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield.” The track wasn’t originally going to be on the album, but “after we recorded it, we begged to have it on. We picked this song because we ran across a Lou Rawls version. I love Lou Rawls.”
John the Conqueror, which will play a hometown release show March 7 at MilkBoy Philly, spent most of January on its first European tour. When we spoke to Moore, it was just days before the trio headed out to the first show in France. “Me and Mike have never been outside the U.S., so we’re excited to see something outside of here,” he said.
Though this is the group’s first trip overseas, John the Conqueror is no stranger to touring and has logged a lot of miles the past few years. When asked how he stays sane on the road, Moore’s reply was refreshingly frank.
“When we’re on the road, it’s been hell. We definitely end up dying a little on the road,” he said. “The first time we played an out-of-state show, we drove straight there, 21 hours, straight to the festival, and we partied with a bunch of bands and ended up sleeping 10 hours total for a five-day span. Hopefully we learn to be sane,” he concluded with a chuckle.
Moore and Gardner have been settled into the City of Brotherly Love for several years now and find it doesn’t quite live up to its nickname, which is more than fine with Moore.
“To be honest, its phrasing is quite funny,” he said. “The thing that draws us mostly is that it’s not a very loving place. I t’s a hard place. People are assholes, but being an asshole is kind of a form of honesty. There’s too much fakeness in some of the places we’ve been before. If people scream, ‘Fuck you!’ at least they’re being honest.”
John The Conqueror album release show, w/ Blayer Pointdujour & The Rockers Galore, Thee and Idea Men, MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut St., Philadelphia), Friday, March 7, 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $8-10, 21 and over. www.milkboyphilly.com