In the Philly indie-rock scene, Jamie Mahon is one of those perennial all-stars. From his stun-gun six-string prowess and plucky bass lines to his hurt-hollered vocals, the Oxford Circle native has been rocking this town since 1989.
His latest band, the black-and-bluesy psychedelic soul organ trio St. James & The Apostles, enhances Mahon’s reputation with a new studio debut, Baphomet (Ghost Imprint), a follow-up to last year’s self-titled live album.
But first, let’s rifle through his band-history catalog. He helped found or played in: the weird-wired Dizrythmia (with Shawn Kilroy, 1989), the kitschy Mondo Topless (1995-’98), the garage-popping Three 4 Tens (1995-2008) and the spacey Asteroid #4 (2003-’08). “We’re digging up them ol’ bones,” says Mahon. And that’s not even all of them. “I played with Marah in 1999, again in 2000 to 2003 or ’04, but it felt much longer,” he laughs heartily. “I have great memories and love for those bands.”
Though he’s a solid multi-instrumentalist, Mahon was best known as the bassist/vocalist in the seminal, always well-dressed Three 4 Tens. Looking back, he believes that quartet brought fun and a snazzy fashion sense to the scene. “Back in ’95, kids dressed like shit and were mopey,” he giggles.
The Three 4 Tens’ rugged distortion and heavenly harmonies made them a charmingly toxic cocktail with an uneasy sound you couldn’t ignore. The raw-silken sounds of 1997’s Throwback Move with the Three 4 Tens EP and their gutsy album debut Change Is on Its Way (2001) were gleefully obsessive works.
So whatever happened to the Three 4 Tens?
“Honestly, drugs,” says Mahon. “The love was gone and the drugs had won. We recorded a great album in 2011 that’ll never come out. The label we were on, Rainbow Quartz, owes us money and wanted the entire back catalog to re-sign. That, in combination with the drugs — hammer time.”
Mahon cleaned up and drew closer to family. He opened the awesome Green Rock Tavern on East Lehigh Avenue in Kensington with his sister.
“I love having the duality between music and being a bar owner. Besides, I get to work with Nicole, who co-owns the bar and is very understanding when The Apostles hit the road.”
St. James & The Apostles came about last year. First it was an extension of the Three 4 Tens’ harmony-filled noise, and then it morphed into the blues-psych-jazzy joy it is now. The grueling, gutsy trio features Mahon’s Hammond-slamming first cousin Mike Kiker (who was in T4T toward the end) and Mahon’s drum-punching second cousin Jeff Castner.
“Besides being monster talents, there’s an unexplainable bond that comes from family bands. Take the Mansons or the Osmonds,” Mahon jokes.
Mahon’s shift to all guitar, all the time, was bold. There’s an Albert King-like force to his dusky psychedelic blues. “Looking back to high school, while kids were listening to punk and hardcore, I was jamming out to Screaming Lord Sutch, Pink Floyd and The Doors.” There are a lot of spiky punk licks to be found in Mahon’s guitar style, as well.
“Caveman-like” is what Mahon calls that noise.
“Being I’m a Capricorn and a Freemason, there’s a dark vibe to Baphomet. Close friends passed away during its making, many from drugs and suicide. I’m not much of a wordsmith, but I’m trying to deal with their loss in song.”
To Mahon, St. James & The Apostles is no Three 4 Tens Part Two. This band is better and more brutal. A machine to exorcise his old demons. “Gone are the party drugs, death and bullshit stories,” he says. “It’s time to escape forward and never look back.”
St. James & The Apostles, Fri., Sept. 7, 9:15 p.m., $10, with Shawn Kilroy’s Weird Hot and Arctic Splash, Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684, johnnybrendas.com.