Do you know that feeling? It starts with your smile. A smile so big that it takes over your entire face; so that your smile is not just your smile anymore, but it’s the muscles in your cheeks and the crinkle in your eyes. You feel it in your heart, in your soul, as if it’s something that could burst forth from you and out into the world beyond.
Well, that’s the smile I found myself experiencing after watching Miss Mojo take over the stage at Ivy City Smokehouse in Washington, D.C. last month. And, that feeling, that smile, is exactly what soul-pop band Miss Mojo hopes to convey with their music.
When I sat down with lead singers, Piper Browne and Jenna Winston, along with bass player, Leo Skovron, last month, I asked them how they would describe Miss Mojo using only one word.
“My one word to describe Miss Mojo is: fun,” Jenna says, showcasing a sly smile. They all laugh, something I’ll soon find out is a theme with them.
Piper goes next. Her word: friendship. Another round of laughter.
“We are so wholesome,” Jenna points out. “Leo,” (she motions to him), “make your word wholesome.”
But when Leo picks a word, he doesn’t choose a word handpicked from the SpongeBob Classic song “F.U.N..” Instead, he thinks for a moment.
“I think my one word is…undeniable.”
Undeniable. That’s what Miss Mojo has proven time and again, show after show. From their inciting sound, to their contagious dance-moves, to the boss lady energy that the two leaders of the band convey, this group-of-friends-turned-band sees their music as much more than a side-hustle or a passion project. They’re a force to be reckoned with.
It all started when a group of friends from Tulane University agreed to play a gig for a sorority on campus. But, alas, all of Greek Life got in trouble the week of the event and the party was cancelled. But the venue was still booked, and they had been practicing – it was, after all, their first gig.
“So, we approached the venue,” says Jenna, “and we said: “We’ll play for free, just let us play, please. We’re not a real band, we just want to play.”
The venue agreed and because all Greek events on campus were cancelled that night, their gig turned into the biggest party in town.
“We ended up getting like 600 people to show up,” remembers Jenna. Piper had been connected to the band through a mutual friend and had joined them for the show. “It was unanimous,” Jenna continues, “we were like “let’s ask Piper to join the band and also….let’s be a band.”
For Jenna and Piper, this was the start of a partnership that would turn into one of the most dynamic aspects of Miss Mojo.
Jenna and Piper, from an outside glance seem almost like opposites–Jenna with her propensity to crack a joke and pepper the conversation with her wit, and Piper with her peaceful demeanor and well-articulated stories. But that’s where their differences seem to end. What they have in common is clear: talent and an unapologetic ownership of their role as women and as leaders.
“I think something that’s really unique about Miss Mojo is that we do have two female lead singers,” says Piper. “You don’t really see that.”
“And people ask us all the time: “Well, which one of you is Miss Mojo?” and it’s both of us,” Jenna adds.
With these two leading ladies there’s not a hint of competitiveness. And it seems there is a philosophy among them that each member of the 8-person band should shine. Which is perhaps the reason that the other six-members of the band, all of whom are men, support these two women fully, even advocating for the “girl power” energy that Miss Mojo conveys.
When it comes to the "mojo" element of Miss Mojo’s name the reasoning is clear: for a band based in New Orleans, they needed a name that spoke to the energy of the city.
“And then with “Miss,”” Leo says as he explains the origin story of the name, “I think we wanted to incorporate a driving feminine element. So people know when they hear the name that it’s a women-led operation.”
Other Miss Mojo band members include drummer Mack Major, flutist and sax player Ari Kohn, guitarist Cody Greenstein, keyboardist Rob Kellner and trombonist Evan Oberla.
As you can imagine, eight people isn’t the easiest group size to manage. Especially when you take into consideration that all of the band members work different jobs or are in school in addition to their musical commitments.
“To be very honest, it’s one of the pain points,” Piper says, “We’re a big group and we all have to do other things besides music right now to financially sustain our lives. So that means a lot of conflicting calendars.”
For the band, organization, communication and collaboration are a huge reason that they are able to function as well as they do. They have a shared calendar where they track their availability, as well as a shared Google Drive where they store their song writing materials.
Songwriting for Miss Mojo happens in many different ways, but mostly it’s a collaborative process. Each band member is expected to contribute in one way or another, which can, at times, feel like a vulnerable thing.
“It can be uncomfortable and scary, when you’re trying to write from your heart and make it real, especially if it didn’t come out the way you wanted it to,” Jenna reflects.
“Or, even worse, maybe it did come out the way you want it and you really like it, but the group doesn’t like it.” Piper adds with a laugh. “That’s something we’ve stayed true to: we all have to feel good about the songs.”
“Well, except for this one song...we won’t get into it.” Jenna adds, the group looks at each other with knowing smiles, understanding the inside joke. Jenna continues, “And that’s where the friendship can be a vulnerability, too, because you don’t want to hurt your friend's feelings. It’s a fine line to walk, but I think we walk it well.”
“And we all love each other,” Piper throws in, just for good measure.
Miss Mojo’s catchy and contagious songs aren’t the only thing that makes this band an act worth seeing on
stage, they’ve also distinguished themselves with the choreography they bring to their performances.
At first, creating the choreography looked like Piper dancing in front of her mirror in her bedroom, filming what she would come up with. She’d send the videos to Jenna and ask her opinion. Over time, the choreography element has grown.
“When the whole band locks up in a move, even if it’s just a sway, it really elevates the experience,” Piper explains. “And the crowd loves it.”
And their choreography has more intentionality behind it than just a few sways and fun moves.
“We've been trying to make our onstage presence and persona a little more clean by directing the audience's attention to where it should be. Because if Jenna and I are vibing out in the middle of the stage while Cody is taking a solo, people will be looking at us when we really want them to be looking at Cody,” Piper elaborates.
“That was a dig, you don’t know, but it was,” Jenna adds with a playful nudge. “I get too lit during people’s solos and it’s distracting.”
“As we’ve gotten better as a band, we’ve expanded,” Leo throws his voice into the mix. “First, we were learning to play well enough that people really grooved to our songs and our set, but adding the visual element turned it from a live jam into a true show, where people are guided through the experience.” He continues, “you’re not giving people an excuse or a moment to look at their phones or go get a drink. The whole time their attention is on us, or, that’s the goal. I think the girls are doing a really awesome job of taking the lead.”
For now, the ladies have many pieces of choreography together, but Piper hopes that one day the whole band will have more dance opportunities. And the theme of everyone getting involved rings true not just on stage, but on tour as well.
“There’s no odd man out,” Jenna says of life on the road. “We spend a lot of time together by choice. It’s funny because on the road you hear a lot of “rock and-roll lifestyle" stories but we go on runs together and cook meals together and stay at everyone’s families house together. We like to be together.”
“We’re reflective of our generation,” notes Leo. “We are all about mental health and treating our bodies right on tour.”
“I don’t understand how other bands do it,” Piper looks at Jenna and Leo in wonderment. “Because it’s really physically taxing to be driving that much, changing where you sleep, eating healthy. It’s hard."
“We are a wellness band, we are,” Jenna says.
And it’s a good thing that running is something that the band members have in common, because it’s come in handy.
“On our Northeast tour in 2018, we had some down time en route. So we ended up getting this Airbnb in the mountains of Virginia for a few days,” Piper reminisces. “We had this beautiful little cabin in the woods and we practiced our music and cooked meals together and what not. But, at one point, we were going out to take a hike and our van broke down. And we were out-there, not close to other things.”
“Let’s just say you couldn’t call an Uber in this town,” Jenna adds.
“We ended up getting it towed,” Piper continues. “We found a ford mechanic in a neighboring town, but we were on a really tight time frame because we had a show the next day that we needed to drive to. So the next day we had to figure out how to pick up the van.”
With no form of transportation and no friends to call, they came up with a different plan. Leo set out to pick up the car on foot. What he thought would be a long, but manageable run, turned into a 13 mile adventure. Essentially an impromptu half-marathon.
“It said six miles on Google Maps, but that was the highway,” Leo says, shaking his head at the memory.
Running is one thing the bandmates enjoy together, but the “wellness band” theme comes into play in other ways, too. Namely, in the way the group chooses to take care of themselves while managing other life priorities. For Piper, who works full-time at a tech company in the construction industry in customer education, a busy life has always been a norm.
“I have always been someone who jam packs every second of my days. That’s something I’m trying to get better at–maybe saying “no” and giving myself some me time. Because I am very busy. I’ve chosen these two lives and they are the priority."
One of the ways Piper, and in fact most of the Miss Mojo band members, find balance is by taking care of their physical and mental health.
“I don’t feel good mentally or physically if I’m not exercising or eating well. So that’s a huge part of what I do to keep me afloat,” continues Piper. "And also Miss Mojo, they are what keep me happy and sane and feeling good.”
“I mean I think the challenges and the solutions are kind of one in the same for me,” Jenna explains. “And that is being present in whatever it is that I’m doing. Right now I’m in a doctoral program and it's pretty demanding. So there are days, maybe once a week, maybe two or three times a week where I’m busy from 7am - 7pm and then I go to rehearsal at 7pm. It’s a big challenge. But, in the end, I’m lucky because I’m doing the things I love. Overall, I think I’m a lot happier for having these things in my life than I would be if I didn’t.”
“I would just add,” says Leo, “that I think the pressure of Miss Mojo....and the rehearsals, booking, marketing, all of the extra elements, because we do it all ourselves...it’s a labor of love. It’s the fact that I’ve never given myself an option to not do those things and I’ve been forced to find ways to make it work. It’s expanding my capacity as a person.”
But finding the time and space to fit everything into their days, while still taking care of themselves isn’t the only challenge the band faces. Another challenge that came up for the band recently is the fact that Leo just made a move from New Orleans to Austin.
“That could sometimes breakup a band. But instead, he came to us and told us it was time and we all totally understood, even though it was very sad for us to admit,” says Piper. “But I don’t think there was ever a question of, “okay does this mean he’s out of the band?” It was more like, “okay, how are we going to make it work?”"
“And Leo’s been great. He’s come through. And it sucks. I mean, we rehearse multiple times a week and his absence is felt because he’s a really important part of our dynamic," says Jenna, "But I also feel really lucky to have a dynamic where everyone matters. For us it matters a lot.”
“There’s unlimited challenges,” Leo says, “but there’s not a question of: Are we going to proceed? It’s more like: Here are the challenges and here’s how we’re going to get through them.”
“The last two months I think have been a particularly challenging time for us. Because it has been such a significant transition for us. It also happened right after we were on tour together, which is always a magical time and then we got back and he left,” Piper says, and right at the very end, barely audible, you hear her voice break.
“It’s fine, we’re fine,” Jenna jumps in.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re fine,” Piper says, with a smile and a shake of her head.
Leo smiles a soft smile, too, feeling the impact of his life change, but perhaps also feeling the love so clearly emanating from these two women.
Challenges and all, the future seems bright for Miss Mojo.
So, where does the road lead from here? Well, they aren’t counting themselves out of any one thing.
“I want to be a TV band,” Piper proclaims. Jenna and Leo look at her questioningly.
“To be a TV band?” Leo asks, before something clicks. "Oh yeah..."
“We recently played on an episode of NCIS New Orleans and they paid very well, and we were like: Okay, we should just be a TV band,” explains Piper.
“We could be like the next talk show band. For the next Jimmy Kimmel. The next Roots!” Leo says to the girls.
“Yeah!” exclaims Jenna. “Let’s do that! I want to be a TV band. Write that down.”
They all bust into laughter as Leo continues.
“I’m really open to that idea, but I think touring the whole country, touring internationally, and having the resources to mold our material to be exactly the way we envision in it. I just believe in the creative ability of this group and the quality makeup of each person. I think we have a lot we can share with this music. I want to do that throughout the whole country, through the internet, through Europe and South America.”
“I want to do that on TV,” Piper and Jenna say in total unison.
“It really does feel like no matter where we go we get good feedback,” Piper says.
And that happiness, that feel good message, the creation of that smile I experienced while watching Miss Mojo live, is the point of it all. As we wind down, I ask Piper and Jenna what Miss Mojo’s message to the world is.
“Do what feels good,” says Piper.
“Proceed with happiness,” adds Jenna. “Do what makes you happy, do what feels good...and some injection of feminism in there.”
“Do what feels good, don’t overthink it, also women rock,” Piper plays off Jenna’s point.
“Do what feels good, especially if you’re a woman,” Jenna says, landing on the final answer.
By the end of the interview, they have all turned their bodies inward to face each other. As if the shared experiences that they have had together, the bonds that have woven between them throughout the years, have been remembered and tightened as they discussed their challenges, their favorite stories, and how they’ve managed to not only stay together but grow throughout it all.
There’s no question about it–with the incredible talent among each and every band member, their motivation, and the love they share for one another–the impact Miss Mojo will have on this world is, simply, undeniable.
Miss Mojo is a soul-pop band based in New Orleans, LA that moves audiences through its potent songwriting and high-energy live performances. The band’s creative strength draws from neo-soul and New Orleans’ extensive funk tradition, producing smooth and soulful original music in which “hip” and “pop” flawlessly coexist. Lead by the dynamic combination of lead vocalists Jenna Winston and Piper Browne, Miss Mojo also seeks to use its platform to highlight the power of women through music.
Keep in touch with Miss Mojo at the following links: Instagram / Facebook / Spotify / Website
Or, see them on tour this winter:
Photography credit in order of appearance:
Photo #1: Katie Sikora
Photo #2: Xistence Photography
Photo #3: Joel Delgado