Below The Surface, the second studio album by percussionist Jim Loughlin, is a far cry from the layered, percussion-heavy jazz-rock style fans have come to know expect from his band, the musical Swiss Army knife known as moe.
Rather, Loughlin’s eight-track record is a full-throttle metal assault that calls back to his earliest proclivities and showcases his newest talents.
“The first music I truly loved was metal and it’s always my “Go To” stuff,” Loughlin explained when he sat down with Live For Live Music‘s Rex Thomson to shed some light on the stories behind the songs. “Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of the newer progressive bands. When I first started recording, I put together a lot of songs that were… I don’t know… more of what you might have expected. Lotta mallets, percussion and stuff. I did a Latin Jazz song called ‘Lovely’ and then a 4/4 version of ‘Afro Blue’.”
“But about four songs in it came to me… ‘I have to learn how to play the guitar. Everybody loves the guitar. It’s not that I didn’t want to release an album that was all mallets, but I wanted something that was a little more accessible. I’ve always been able to play chords on an acoustic guitar, but now I had the time to sit down and teach myself electric guitar. If I was gonna learn how to play the guitar, it was gonna have that sort of tilt. These eight songs,” Loughlin added, “they’re the newest and best songs I wrote with that in mind.”
“I’m definitely old school metal.” Loughlin finished with a chuckle.
Track 1, ‘The Brass Ring” kicks everything off with a grandiose dose of speed and aggression. “It seemed appropriate,” Jim said of letting loose on the opening song after having been locked down. “Not getting to go out on the road… all the things that didn’t get to happen… all the lyrics and rocking were just a tremendous amount of catharsis for me.”
Track 2, “Beyond the Pale”, has several of what will probably become known as the “Quarantine Album” tropes for the music scene in general. Themes of introspection, questioning past choices, and the aforementioned pent up rage bubble up to the surface.
“Lyrically It’s just a stream of consciousness approach,” Loughlin explained. “The phrase ‘Beyond The Pale’ was in my head life, at that point… well, everything was beyond the pale. It’s hard to wrap your brain around what’s going on in so many facets of the world today. It’s amazing that it’s gone this far.”
“It’s like the disconnect you see in a drug addict as they push themselves down their destructive path,” Jim pondered. “It’s scary but obvious from the outside. The level of denial and self-justification that fuels the push into crazy. You’re the only one who can really do anything about these things and people seem to assume there’s no aspect of it we can control. I think people need to recognize and work towards taking care of the things they can control.”
“For the stuff you can’t just sit back and enjoy the show,” he added.
Track 3, “Equality 7-2521”, is lyrically representative of some of the more cloistered, bundled-up, and stressful times we live in, and the oppressive mood strikes listeners from the very first line. “There are songs on the album that, when I read the lyrics, I wondered ‘What are people gonna think about me writing this?’ I was worried my wife was gonna be like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Is everything okay?'”
“Once I got everything written for ‘Equality’, I noticed some similarities between what I was singing about and the themes of Ayn Rand‘s Anthem, so that’s where the name comes from. The main character in Anthem is named “Equality 7-2521.”
“Even musically, when I wrote this, I wanted it to have an ‘off’ feel to the timing and a bit of an industrial feel, as well. The bridge of the song has an industrial vibe. I wanted to bring that sort of manic stress… when you can’t vent and everything you see around you is just off. As a human being, you recognize there’s a problem.”
“It’s pretty unprecedented for a majority of the planet to not only go through sorta the same thing, [but] it’s really rare for it to go on for so long. When you’re talking about eight billion people going through the same thing, just seeing all the reactions to this ,all the different opinions on this… that’s just nuts.”
Track 4, “Te Amo”, works as both a love song and a thank you for the album’s producer, Brenda Loughlin. Though Loughlin played all the instruments, his wife stepped in to act as both a producer and an external viewpoint proving an invaluable asset when progress was stymied.
“She’d come down and see me just staring at the computer screen,” Jim explained. “She’d really help with transitions and vocal melodies… getting me to really sing rather than just ‘talk-sing.’ After I did some scratch tracks, she would hear and steer things in a direction that would enable me to get through the songs.”
Track 5, “Faithless”, has the most prominent echoes of the percussion work for which Loughlin is known. According to him, however, the album’s apparent lack of percussive tricks was not the result of a conscious effort.
“It wasn’t intentional at all. There’s mallets on every song with the exception of ‘Might As Well’. They’re just not as prominent as people might have expected, but they’re there. It wasn’t until a couple days ago, after I released [Below The Surface], that I realized how little of it there was.”
“I tried to get them in there because it was part of the writing process. They’re always a part of the writing process, but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit, y’know? They double the melody, but they’re overshadowed by the guitar a bit.”
Track 6, “The Rhythms”, has some Moroccan and Zappa-esque overtones that evoke a more “world music” flavor than most of the album. To hear Loughlin tell it, his inspiration for the track intentionally exceeded the bounds of our world.
“That tune was inspired by a book series called The Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson.” Jim said. “I wanted this song to sound foreign, not just to America but to Earth. It’s a sci-fi fantasy series and it’s meant to sound otherworldly. I’d be hard-pressed to play that song live.
Track 7, “Dissonance”, deals with some of the heaviest subject matter of the album, the internal struggles we all face.
“Honestly, yeah. It’s about depression and it’s something I have dealt with my entire life. That’s what the song means to me, but we’re all facing something different on the inside. There’s nobody out there who is completely well-adjusted. We all have an internal monolog, something we’re battling.”
“The two verses are the two sides of the issues I deal with,” Loughlin added. “I try to never let anything get too far in the bad direction… the diminishing spiral. Seems like something we are all dealing with more and more these days.”
Track 8, “Might as Well,” closes the album with an almost defeatist theme, an attitude of indifference as the world burns.
“Brenda wrote the lyrics for this song,” Loughlin explained, “and that’s exactly what she was thinking at the time. She was like, ‘Our hands are tied, so f— it, let’s have a drink and watch it all burn down. Just the concept of her thought process was fascinating to me. … She wasn’t saying this from a sad or desolate place. It was just, ‘Alright…I guess we’re drinking!'”
You can pick up Below The Surface on by Jim Loughlin via Bandcamp here, grab yourself a bottle of whatever pairs best with the apocalypse, and prepare to rock.