Published on March 11th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
The Mike Dillon Band Bangs Out the Freak Vibes and Punk Funk
Percussion dynamo, singer, and bandleader Mike Dillon has been making living playing an array of weird, experimental, punk-tinged rock, funk, jazz, anti-jazz, and and more for over 25 years. Handling an unorthodox battery of hand drums, toms, vibraphones, cymbals, timbales, bass drums, and snares, he’s been rattling away since the late 1980’s.
Dillon is perhaps best known for his collaborative work with such acts as Les Claypool (of Primus), Ani DiFranco, Polyphonic Spree, Brave Combo, Sex Mob, Galactic, George Porter Jr., and many others. His own projects include Critters Buggin’, Garage A Trois, Billy Goat, Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle, Hairy Apes BMX, and the Dead Kenny G’s (featuring Critters Buggin’s sax player Skerik and bassist Brad Houser).
Dillon’s latest group — simply named the Mike Dillon Band — features a young trio of funk/punk scientists-in-the-making from the trippy/funky New Orleans-based combo Yojimbo. Trombonist/keyboardist/drummer Carly Meyers, drummer Adam Gertner, and baritone guitarist Cliff Hines, have been traveling and recording with Dillon since last winter.
They’ve hit the Pour House twice over the last few months — once in January with local oddballs Circus McGurkis and again in February supporting Fishbone. This week, they hustle back to their favorite James Island haunt in support of their dynamic, deeply groovy, slightly Zappa-fied new album Urn.
Dillon admitted to guzzling four shots of espresso before chatting by phone with Metronome Charleston last week. He had lots to say.
Metronome Charleston: This new four-piece seems like an eager group of skillful, open-minded musicians who are all on the same wavelength. How did you hook up with them?
Mike Dillon: I started the band with a bunch of young musicians who were already fans of Garage A Trois and the Dead Kenny G’s. They use to come to our all-ages shows in New Orleans. I finally said, “I like you guys. You wanna be in my band?” They knew where I was coming from.
Metronome Charleston: When we caught the band at the Pour House in January, Carly Meyer’s jumpy, energetic style and muscular trombone style totally knocked us out.
Mike Dillon: I finally saw Carly at a Yojimbo gig, and she was just dancing and shaking a tambourine. I thought she was fucking awesome. I invited her to sit in at my gig later that night with the Hairy Apes. That was the first time we jammed. We all got together and started playing shortly after that.
Metronome Charleston: On stage, the Mike Dillon Band strikes an impressive balance between tight and loose. Some things are carefully arranged and accented, but there’s also an aggressive improvisational side as well.
Mike Dillon: It’s dynamics and controlled chaos. I’m not into the long jams where you take a song and then search and search. Lately, I’ve been into stuff like old Thelonious Monk records where the songs are pretty succinct, at like three minutes.
Metronome Charleston: There’s seems to be plenty of room within the music to touch on some of the global/world music styles you’ve been driven to explore and experiment with in previous projects.
Mike Dillon: When I went to college, I discovered Afro-Cuban congas. I was already playing mallets, but I got really into congas through Afro jazz and Latin stuff like Tito Puente. I loved tablas, too, and I ended up studying Indian music for years. That stuff is so deep, you know? I consider myself a pretty decent drummer. I’ve been doing it for 37 years. But that’s what I love about music in general; I can get instantly humbled and get my ass kicked as I get deeper into it.
Metronome Charleston: The complex stuff is not just math rock for the sake of playing math rock.
Mike Dillon: Yeah. Underneath all this chaos and punk rock — which is a big part of our music in the new band — is an understanding of time cycles and the depth you can go to within the odd time signatures. That’s what Frank Zappa tried to do with a pretty good concept concerning odd times. He came to it from an almost Western classical point of view. I enjoy applying and subdividing four against three. That’s what’s cool about some Indian music. In the temples, the original time cycle is in five with a very natural rhythm, but other forms are in fours. I love the way they imply things and the way it’s broken down. They take it five levels deeper than most Western music.
Metronome Charleston: Between your auxiliary percussion on one side of the stage and Adam Gertner’s more traditional drum kit on the other, a wall of rhythm sometimes erupts — and some of it is exotically Latin. Where does that texture come from?
Mike Dillon: One huge thing right now for me is Brazilian music. I’ve been getting into Tom Zé and Bada Bada. The carnival stuff. I was into some Brazilian stuff when I first started playing bands, so it’s come full-circle for me. It helps me realize that if you do whatever your art is long enough, eventually you start sounding like yourself. I know what I do more now, and when I hear my music, I feel like it sounds like me. It takes some years to get to that place. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Metronome Charleston: Does part of the challenge of creating original music involve taking the technique of playing a specific instrument and applying those methods to a grander, fuller piece of music or and improvisational turn?
Mike Dillon: Well, I’m not the type to be clever. You have to do it as it naturally comes out of you. I don’t sit down and decide to mix this genre with that genre and that other genre. It’s more about letting it all come out of me. It might start some punk rock chords in my head, away from my instrument. It’s more about getting over an emotional point of view and an energy thing.
Metronome Charleston: There’s nothing very tedious about your live shows — at least the ones you’ve recently performed at the Pour House. But there is a lively exchange happening between bandmates on stage that looks like a genuine blast. The good time you have together translates well to the audience.
Mike Dillon: We’re definitely having a lot of fun. Man, just jumping in a van and driving and round and playing is a good time — like the jazz guys. Although, the old jazz guys used to play at a hotel for a month or two at a time and really get their sound together. We play and drive every night and day, so that’s a downside. But we can listen to music and discuss conceptual stuff. At soundchecks, we can try new things and tighten other things up. I’d rather do that than sitting around and practicing in a rehearsal room for a month.
Metronome Charleston: Do you laugh or wince when music critics try to define the Mike Dillon Band with a quirky phrase or an awkwardly hyphenated term?
Mike Dillon: The genre thing aggravates me sometimes. It can be a pain in the ass when you get thrown into something, but none of it really gets to me. This band can be just as punk rock as any band on the planet. When real punk rock people see it they live, they especially love that it’s not some watered-down bullshit punk rock — even with a vibraphone on stage. There’s some amazing songwriting in punk rock, but some bands can be full of energy while their songs follow the same formula. I love the bands where there’s no formula and it’s just badass — like Fishbone. The American music public seems to be addicted to mediocrity and they don’t have to think outside of their thoughts too much. That can be a drag and frustrating. But then you see bands who are very bizarre and original, and they pull off some coup d’état.
Metronome Charleston: You’ve been playing your own music with other creative musicians for quite some time. is it still just as enjoyable nowadays as it was in the earlier years?
Mike Dillon: I just love playing music, and I love what I do. I’ve been on this planet 47 years, and I don’t really know fucking shit. But I can’t get hung up on the genres, or how many people were coming to the shows, or how much money we making; I’d go crazy and be miserable. If you stay in the moment and stay in love with what you’re doing, then it won’t matter. You’ll be happy.
The Mike Dillon Band returns to the Pour House stage on Wed. March 13 at 9 p.m. Tickets are available for $8 in advance and and $10 at the door. Check out facebook.com/themikedillonband and charlestonpourhouse.com for more.
Top photo by Zack Smith.
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