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Interview:
Squirrel Nut Zippers at the Magic Bag, 5 things to know
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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James "Jimbo" Mathus does not consider himself a sentimental guy. But the 20th anniversary of his Squirrel Nut Zippers' breakthrough album "Hot" was too good not to indulge in a bit of nostalgia.

To a point.

"Hot," SNZ's second album, was a platinum hit that gave the group standing in the new swing movement of the mid-90s. SNZ broke up in 2000, after three more albums, and reunited between 2006-20110. Now Mathus is back with a new lineup and a resolve to relaunch SNZ yet again.

And to hear Mathus tell it, this are just as "Hot" now as they were two decades ago...

Mathus, 49, was approached to celebrate "Hot's" anniversary by a publicist from the group's former record label. "He mentioned it was 20 years coming up and I was like, 'Jeez, really?'" Mathus recalls by phone from Nashville. "I thought about it a lot and thought, 'Well, now might be the time to not just do a reunion but do a reimagining, a relaunch. So that's how I approached it. A lot of the other cats have gone different directions and some have totally retired from show business, so getting the original cats back together was not an option. I felt like it was on me if I wanted to put the perfect Squirrel Nut Zippers together, and that's what I went about doing."

The different between SNZ then and now, according to Mathus, is experience. "We were a pretty scrappy band of, quite frankly, some amateur musicians who I had just brought into this band," he explains. "We were supposed to just be for-fun for the summer, so I never expected it to be something that would still be around 20 years later. With this band now we've got 100-plus years of show biz experience on stage, a lot of people who are band leaders in their own right. And there are a lot of younger cats in the band who grew up listening to (SNZ), so it's a thrill for them and something they take very solemnly, very seriously. It's just been a dream come true to hear those songs played the way they are, with the energy and the attitude that takes it to a higher level and really fulfills its potential."

Mathus isn't surprised that there's still some, er, heat on "Hot," even 20 years later. "I know that the songs are timeless and they resonate with people," he says. "You can't pick any one song that's everybody's favorite; There's somebody who every one of those songs is a favorite for. So it's not just like the Box Taps going out and singing 'My baby wrote me a letter.' There's a lot of feeling for those songs, so I'm quite proud we were able to capture that momentum and energy we had at the time."

Though Mathus is the only SNZ founder still with the group, his relations are not bad with the former members -- at least not all of them. "Some people were asked (to come back) and weren't interested. Some people I'm not interested in working with anymore," he explains. "There's people in this band that have sued me, dragged me through living hell on Earth. It took all I could to not worry about that at the time and stay focused on creativity and my art. There's no way I'd be on a bandstand with somebody like that ever again."

Mathus is also ready to get going on the next SNZ album. "I've written a new record," he reports. I'm not trying to break the mold; I'm trying to continue in the template we established but add to the body of material. I've got some great stuff, and I'm really looking forward to getting in the studio with the group. I intend to keep this band together for as long as I humanly can, and I'm happy to perform this kind of music 'til the cows come home."

Squirrel Nut Zippers

Tuesday, Oct. 11. Doors open at 8 p.m.

The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale.

Tickets are $30.

Call 248-544-3030 or visit themagicbag.com.

Web Site: www.themagicbag.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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