Q+A with LEAF performer Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers

Photo courtesy of the band's Facebook page

Xpress is speaking with artists and performers in advance of the upcoming autumn LEAF festival, a weekend dedicated to art and music held Thursday, Oct. 20, through Sunday, Oct. 23. Tickets are available through Oct. 20, unless they sell out sooner.

The band, formed in 1993, got the name Squirrel Nut Zippers from the headline of an article about a man who climbed a tree, drunk off of a sort of bootleg moonshine known as “Nut Zippers.” Jimbo Mathus, the founding member of that Chapel Hill swing revival group, talks about his lengthy history with the band. Squirrel Nut Zippers perform Sunday on the Lakeside stage, 4:30-6 p.m.

Xpress: Squirrel Nut Zippers first got together in Chapel Hill. How was that area conducive to the spark that started the band?

Jimbo Mathus: I moved to Chapel Hill from Mississippi in 1989 for the very purpose of studying the roots of American music. I was able to use the library systems and university resources to piece together the full puzzle of American music, theater and the arts. I was also impressed by the opportunities for original music and art to be performed in the Chapel Hill and North Carolina area. The formation of the Zippers was the natural culmination of this interest and research.

Having been a band for over 20 years, how would you say your musical approach has changed the most?

I have been actively engaged in music performance and production for the past 30 years. It never ceases to amaze me how much more there is to learn.

With a new lineup for the 20th anniversary of your best-selling album, Hot, can we expect a newer sound for your live performance at LEAF festival this year?

I have been fortunate enough to recruit among the best of the best musicians and entertainers from the Southeast, particularly New Orleans. These players encompass the fields of jazz, vaudeville and burlesque. The new show is a realization of all of the potential that lay in the material that we wrote and performed 20 years ago. It is truly a dream come true.



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