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After 4 years, JJ Grey & Mofro return to Castle Theatre with a new record in tow

A rock band plays live on a stage with magenta backlight.
Tom Britt
Alligator Records
It took nearly 10 years for JJ Grey to write Olustee. The band returns to a sold-out Castle Theatre this weekend.

JJ Grey & Mofro is on the road promoting their first album in nearly a decade — with a stop this weekend at the Castle Theatre in Bloomington.

Olustee’s title track refers to the northeast Florida enclave near Grey's rural homeland outside Jacksonville. And the album represents all of it — from Grey's backwater upbringing near his grandparents' chicken farm to the juke joints he frequented while culling a soulful southern rock sound.

“It’s one of those things,” he said of the delay between records. “Life happens while you’re making other plans. It just took time, and I’m not sure why.”

One reason could be moving his home studio to a new spot, though he said his treehouse-styled studio — a leaky work-in-progress with panoramic views — is an easier place to work than the stuffy “egg room” on his late grandparents’ estate.

“The egg room is an old cinderblock building,” Grey said. “It’s still there. When you walk in the room, it still looks like a studio. It’s maybe 13.5 feet by 13.5 feet with no windows. It was stifling in there. In this new place, suddenly I could breathe. I could stay in there all day. That could just be good old fashioned feng shui or something like that.”

Grey’s music is a picture of his homeland, a biodiverse place boasting pecan groves and swamps with the Atlantic to its east — and an eclectic populus that includes everything from the Allman Brothers to Ron DeSantis. Olustee is both hyper-local and relatable, delving into universal memories and themes: the sea, the wind and the stars, for example —maintaining Grey’s career-long reverence to the place he comes from.

Surrounded by a keyboard and recording equipment, a musician sings and plays guitar.
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Alligator Records
JJ Grey in the studio

Olustee and Rooster are two tracks designed to be top of mind in a journey that spans both ballads and bangers, party vibes and big feelings.

“One of the driving forces behind [Olustee] is my grandfather telling me a story about when he was muddying ponds with his brother and it was super, super, super, super dry,” Grey said. “Muddying a pond means the water’s so low you can just walk into the pond and grab fish. And then a fire came and he had to run. That was part of it.”

The other part is a pair of incidents in 1998 as northeast and central Florida were ravaged by wildfires. Grey found himself staring down dangerous, out-of-control conflagrations on two occasions.

Olustee’s cover art is a rooster, after the funk-forward track — and accompanying bourbon crafted with St. Augustine Distillery — honoring the men in his family.

“My dad was never my buddy until I was grown,” said Grey. “He had this strength in him that I wanted to be. It was in my grandfather, too. There was a strength in my Uncle Shorty, my Uncle Marcus — all of them. They exuded this strength. When I see that little rooster Jim Jim and how he was, he took care of everything.”

JJ Grey and Mofro with opening act Cedric Burnside play live at the Castle Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 21. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show is sold out; waitlist sign-up is available at thecastletheatre.com.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.