Mike Dillon has spent the last three decades playing well over 200 shows a year with both his own band, as well as a vibraphonist and percussionist with artists including Rickie Lee Jones, Les Claypool and Ani DiFranco. So when the pandemic hit in early 2020 forcing Dillon off the road, he instinctively directed his perpetually restless creative energy to writing and recording. Recently relocating to Kansas City after spending 15 years in New Orleans, Dillon and producer Chad Meise would track a trilogy of albums: ‘Shoot The Moon,’ ‘Suitcase Man’ and ‘1918.’ In collaboration with his longtime record label Royal Potato Family, they would offer the records exclusively via Bandcamp just days after they were mixed and mastered. In 2021, those albums now receive the full vinyl treatment, as well as complete digital release across all streaming outlets.
The first of the three records, ‘Shoot The Moon,’ is a ten track collection, which Dillon describes as “Punkadelic-Funk-Psych,” focused heavily on the current political climate in the United States. Assembling an assortment of stylistically uncompromising musicians to contribute, its line-up features Matt Chamberlain, Steven Bernstein, Nicholas Payton, Robbie Seahag Mangano, Jean-Paul Gaster and Nick Bockrath among others. Highlights include the apocalyptic road warrior anthem “Drivin’ Down The Road,” a swirling New Orleans jazz-raga “Further Adventures in Misadventures” and the snarling punk rock diatribe “Quool Aid Man” with its indictment of the American right: “old men and their guns.”
The second recording in the series, ‘Suitcase Man’ is a nine-song cycle through which Dillon examine his life and choices made over the past 55 years. It’s a distinct entry in his extensive discography, notable for its strikingly honest lyricism and minimalist arrangements that incorporate sparse vibraphone and percussion with a handful of background vocals by Tiff Lamson of Givers and frequent collaborator JJ Jungle. Songs like “Empty Bones,” “Turkish Rose” and “Matthew” represent Dillon at his most creatively daring, while confirming his ascent into the upper echelon of cult music outsiders in the lineage of artists like Tom Waits, Harry Partch and Captain Beefheart.
Dillon completes the trilogy with ‘1918.’ The focal point here are Dillon’s instrumentals: the dank and dark Moog/tabla/vibraphone psych vibe of “Pinocchio,” the electro analog trance of “Pelagic” and the jungle groove, space rock of the title track. Dillon once again calls on friends like drummer Earl Harvin and guitarist Shane Theriot to assist. Thematically speaking, the material addresses the Covid-19 pandemic and recent social unrest. “The parallels between 1918 and 2020 are immense. We just have fancier toys, but the tunnel vision and mammalian tendencies are the same if not greater,” explains Dillon.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Mike Dillon got his start as a sideman, playing in such varied projects as MC 900 Foot Jesus, Brave Combo and Secret Chiefs 3. He’s also served as an integral member of bands like Critters Buggin, Garage A Trois, Dead Kenny Gs and Nolatet, while leading Billy Goat, Hairy Apes BMX and Malachy Papers. Under his own name, he’s amassed an extensive catalog of genre-defying recordings. All Music called his most recent release ‘Rosewood,’ recorded prior to the 2020 pandemic lockdown, “a hypnotic album that pulls you deep inside a percussive, sylvan-toned dreamscape.” Touring relentlessly, Dillon has built one of the most loyal fanbases on the underground music scene, while being invited to share bills with bands including Clutch, Umphrey’s McGee and Dean Ween Group.