Big Head Todd and the Monsters work hard on the road
Years after early successes, lead singer Todd Park Mohr helps keep band fighting for acceptance
Big Head Todd and the Monsters will perform at Rams Head Live. (C. Taylor Crothers, Handout photo / February 11, 2013)
Four Top 10 singles, including "Broken Hearted Savior," pushed album sales passed one million. An unknown at the time named Sheryl Crow opened some of the band's tour dates. That same year, the group made its network television debut on "Late Show with David Letterman."
Frontman Todd Park Mohr remains proud of the band's biggest — and earliest — accomplishments, but he doesn't sugarcoat their affect on him, even 20 years later.
"I've always struggled to keep my career moving forward because that album was so successful," Mohr said. "An enormously successful thing often stops you in your tracks."
While many bands from the '90s shun or bristle at the material that first made them famous, Big Head Todd and the Monsters embraced it long ago. For Mohr, who joins his bandmates for a headlining gig at Rams Head Live on Friday, it simply comes with the territory.
"I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm still going to play 'Sister Sweetly' tracks," he said. "I'm surprised how much I continuously enjoy playing that material. It still holds up."
But how does a band that released its most successful album two decades ago continue to attract large crowds?
Early on, Mohr says, he realized pursuing radio hits was a confounding and frustrating chase with no guarantees. Instead, he and the band hit the road for months on end, honing their skills and developing a loyal fan base. For its members, the shift in emphasis — from crafting hits to filling seats — has kept the band from becoming a forgotten rock relic.
"We've based our career on our live performances, and continuing to write great songs and perform them," Mohr said. "We've always had to keep scratching and crawling our way to the middle."
Fighting for acceptance is nothing new to Mohr. He is half-Korean (the other half is a "mix of white stuff on my mom's side"), which makes him an uncommon lead singer in the rock world.
"I've always been a little self-conscious about it," Mohr said. "Music has such strong ethnic attachments, especially blues music. I've had to work hard to feel like I deserve to play certain kinds of music, or had something to offer."
After mentioning a "certain ambiguity" to his face ("some people think I'm Hawaiian or Indian"), Mohr cracked a joke in true front man fashion.
"Hopefully they think I'm a good-looking guy," he said, with a laugh.
Mohr and his bandmates are finishing up their 10th album, "Black Beehive," this month, he said. It's a contemporary album that's been "heavily influenced by [Chicago] blues but it's not a blues album," according to Mohr.
Regardless of its sound, "Beehive" is another collection of songs and represents a new challenge to Mohr and his Monsters. The band's formula of tweaking and perfecting songs on the road has worked since the '90s, and Mohr sees no reason to change it now.
"We've always had to keep working at it to survive," Mohr said. "Hopefully that's led to better songwriting, and better performing and musicianship. Our fans continually have reasons to come back."
If you go
Big Head Todd and the Monsters perform Feb. 15 at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.