Just the name, Mike Dillon’s New Orleans Punk Rock Percussion Consortium, which performs at the Bayou Boogaloo on Sunday, is enough to arouse one’s curiosity. “Okay, what’s that about?”
To those who know Dillon, a native of Texas who has been living in New Orleans since 2006, it probably makes perfect sense. The vibraphonist, drummer, percussionist, vocalist and composer has a rep for stirring the musical pot to come up with a new stew. (Think one of his idols, the multi-dimensional, guitarist/vocalist Frank Zappa.)
In the case of the Consortium, Dillon’s aim is to create a percussion ensemble with over a dozen well-known local rhythm masters.“ The main concept is taking the percussion ensemble out of universities or the classical world and bringing it to the jazz/rock/punk world,” Dillon explains. “Bring percussion to the people!” (Dillon mentions thinking in terms of the legendary drummer Max Roach’s innovative M’Boom.)
As his current work history reveals—leader of his own band, a member of the Seattle-based group Critters Buggin, a sideman with Primus & the Chocolate Factory—Dillon lives in musically diverse worlds.
Many people in New Orleans also know him as a jazz guy often heard at Snug Harbor or Uptown at drummer Johnny Vidacovich’s standing Thursday night gig at the Maple Leaf. His latest release was 2014’s punk-driven, sometimes bizarre Band of Outsiders.
Those making up the Consortium also reflect Dillon’s, well, eclectic outlook. They include well-versed musicians from all over the New Orleans musical map—modern and traditional jazz, classical, funk and rock. Here are some of the players: Stanton Moore, Simon Lott, Jason Marsalis, Daria Dzurik, Jessie Paige, Otto Schrang, Aaron Walker, Paul Thibodeaux, James Westfall, Brian Coogan, Doug Belote and Terrence Houston.
So where does the punk in the title fit in? Dillon explains that the description shouldn’t be taken literally. It’s not about the musical genre.
“To me, it’s more state of mind and attitude,” he offers. “What I’m talking about is the mentality of doing your own thing, being yourself. Long before there was punk rock, there were guys like [jazz pianist/composer] Thelonious Monk and Mingus [jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus]. They did what they wanted to do—it wasn’t about the corporate thing. Those are all my heroes.”
Dillon, who gave audiences a taste of the Consortium concept during his residency at Freret Street’s Gasa Gasa, assures that the ensemble won’t just be jamming but primarily playing his original material. He explains that the difference between the Consortium and more standard ensembles is that instead of having a bass, it substitutes a marimba and/or timpani. “That’s the cool thing about it, we’re covering all the parts with percussion,” Dillon says enthusiastically.
Three full drum sets will grace the stage at the Boogaloo, providing the opportunity for the trap set guys to battle each other “in the spirit of Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton.” Four to five mallet players will be onboard at “all times” with Dillon primarily playing vibes and timbales.
Dillon’s travels have taken him from his home state of Texas, where he studied jazz and was classically trained on marimbas at the highly-regarded University of North Texas. After going off to “different worlds,” it was time spent in Kansas City, he says, that he really got back into playing vibes and jazz. “I said, ‘Alright, I want to tap on this vibraphone thing,’” he recalls. During his travels, he met up with saxophonist Skerik, who he’s performed with regularly, as well as drummer Stanton Moore who furthered his New Orleans connection. That link was strengthened when Dillon moved to Austin and frequently came to town.
Dillon’s first gig in New Orleans was in the early ’90s with a Denton, Texas-based group called Billy Goat. Earlier, he did visit New Orleans with his parents and remembers hearing Astral Project, which, of course, included Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton, two artists who have been central to his musical experience in this city.
“It’s been like a lesson every time I get to play with Johnny,” Dillon strongly states. “When I’d take a solo, he’d yell, ‘Take your time Michael.’ Then there’s the whole James Singleton influence. The depth of the musicality of those guys… and they’re so willing to share.”
“Living in New Orleans has taken my musicianship up more than I ever could have dreamed with all facets of music—even rock,” he declares. “What I try to do is study things and soak it up and absorb it and then twist it and put it in my musical blender so it comes out sounding like me.”
“I take the music very seriously and I get a guilt complex if I don’t practice every day,” Dillon says, chalking up that discipline to good music schools. “At the same time, I don’t take myself too seriously. By that I mean I’m not afraid to bring humor into the music—I’m making fun of myself or I’m making fun of the reality of my surroundings.”
“I want to make really interesting dance music,” says Dillon who, though he spends some 300 days on the road, describes New Orleans as the perfect place to find inspiration. “I want to mix it up and make it weird.”