Jimbo Mathus is known by many as a founding member, vocalist and guitarist of the popular band Squirrel Nut Zippers. The band, best known for a hit song called “Hell,” became part of a trend in music that reconfigured early American music for big bands.
After the Zippers went on hiatus, Mathus continued to write, produce and perform music solo and with a band. He’s performing two shows in Atlanta – Sunday, April 21, 5 p.m. at Grocery on Home in Grant Park and Monday, April 22, at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur – playing songs from his latest album “Incinerator.”
Hailing from the hill country of Northeast Mississippi, Mathus began his musical journey at age 6 when he took up the mandolin and joined the family band.
Mathus said his part of Mississippi was still so remote that the local people created their own entertainment. Music was a social experience and families often played music together for their neighbors. His family would play old fiddle reels and dance tunes and songs by Jimmy Rogers and the Carter family. Mathus said he always thought of songs as telling stories and that informed his own music, which he began writing as a teenager.
He says his songs are written in minutes, “kind of like a lightning strike.” He says sometimes a title will come from a conversation or a book he is reading and the song will be written in his head while he is walking or working on his farm. Mathus says he dreams a lot and sometimes a song deepens in his dreaming. The songs on his new album evoke strong memory of people who inspired him or crossed him. He describes the songs on “Incinerator” as tombstones and effigies.
Mathus owes his resilience as a musician and producer to his nonchalance about money. He says that when he lost money he “shrugged his shoulders.” He says, “I didn’t want to be bitter. I had my health, my talent and hid a few guitars in the wood so the lawyers wouldn’t get them.” He also gives lots of credit to Fat Possum Records where he records and produces.
But the best news might be for fans of Squirrel Nut Zippers. The band has reformed and Mathus will be touring with them later in the year.