When drummer Rory Dolan described Fackn’ A, lespecial‘s new side hustle with lauded percussionist Mike Dillon, as a “jam band” during an interview with Live For Live Music on Jam Cruise 19, Dillon was incredulous. “What the Hell are you talkin’ about, son?!” he demanded in his grizzled growl. Rory had been kidding, of course, and Dillon knew it, but in this family there are some things you just don’t joke about.

The “son” at the end of Dillon’s faux-indignant outburst was telling, too, whether intentionally or not. Mike Dillon is in his mid-50s, though the decades of road warrior mileage on him seem to add even more generational contrast between him and the three members of lespecial—Dolan, Luke Bemand (bass), and Jon Grusauskas (guitar, keys, vocals)—all of whom are 20+ years his junior. They’re in on the joke, too: to them, Mike D is “Jazz Dad.”

A round of laughs from the guys in lespecial quickly coaxed Jazz Dad to finish reprimanding and get to the truth of the matter: Fackn’ A is a rock and roll band, he maintained, though that answer came in shades of grey.


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“It’s definitely the harder side of all of our elements,” Dillon explained of the punk-leaning Fackn’ A, which features him on lead vocals and vibraphone alongside lespecial’s full, three-man lineup. “I mean, these guys are crushingly hard, lespecial. I started off in jazz world, then I discovered the Bad Brains in 1986, and ever since then it’s been part of the vocabulary. So, I’ve always been in bands that have been, like, too jammy to be in the punk-rock scene, or too punk-rock to truly be embraced by the jam-band scene in totality. Been in the grey area. But all along the way, there’s always been some punk-rockers at my shows, or guys with tie-dyes on.”

lespecial operates in that grey area, too—in the jam scene, but not necessarily of the scene. “We grew up listening to Umphrey’s [McGee] and s—, and the jam band world kind of embraced us when we started playing festivals,” Bemand said. “I think we used to be maybe more in that scene musically, but we’re embracing more of the heavy s— over the past few years because that’s where our roots are.”

“But the jam band scene is also a super open-minded scene,” he added, “and at the music festivals you have music lovers from every corner of the music world. … It’s easy after everyone’s been listening to guitar noodling and jam bands all day, we just go in with, like, distorted rock riffs and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, f—n’ sick…'”

“There’s a riff, yes!” Dillon interjected, emphasizing his final word with a viking roar. “A unison riff, finally,” Bemand deadpanned.

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[Photo: Chris Biekirch – Fackn’ A performs on Jam Cruise 19]

You can’t have just one flavor. There are different moments, different moods that require different things—and new wonders to be found when you start to mix and match. “That’s what Bill Graham was doing back in the day,” Dillon offered. “When you play The Fillmore [in San Francisco], you see those posters. It’s very, like, Led Zeppelin with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, you know? Grateful Dead and Miles Davis. … Genres are meant to be destroyed. Thelonious Monk, a long time ago in an interview I saw on TV, back before YouTube, he was asked, ‘What kind of music do you like?’ He goes, ‘Good music.’ And the guy was from Paris, he’s like, ‘What do you mean? What kind of music?’ He’s like, ‘I like good music.’ I think that’s what we are here. I like these guys because they’re good music and we like good music. So anything that’s good, I like—whether it’s good jam bands or good rock bands or Elliott Smith. I mean, that’s a big name between Jonny and myself. We’re like, ‘Hey, you like Elliott Smith?’ ‘Yeah. I like Elliott Smith.’ We have this Elliott Smith fetish.”

“It’s kind of like Rory said in an interview back in high school, in the newspaper.” Grusauskas recalled. “I was actually really impressed. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty precocious statement.’ Rory said, ‘Well, genres are really more for just marketing.’ He said, ‘We don’t really pigeonhole ourselves into any one genre.’ That was like 2006 when he said that, and I think it still rings true.”

“We’d like to invent our own genre,” Mike proposed. “That’s what the real goal is. Because there’s so many. If you’re going to have the genre mindset, you might as well be like, why just do this genre or this genre? It’s like, let’s take some hardcore metal and put it over Brazilian groove. That’s why I like being around lots of music, because you can see what isn’t being done. Because you see everything that is being done. Then, you look in the cracks, the grey area, and that’s what these guys do really well. I was drawn to them. I was like, ‘Oh, they’re f—ing getting in to some weird spaces. I dig it.’ And that’s what our spiritual granddaddy [Les] Claypool has been doing for a long time. Before him it was [Captain] Beefheart and [Frank] Zappa, and the Butthole Surfers were getting weird. Mr. Bungle, come on. They mix every genre and then reinvent 40 more all in the space of a three-minute song. And of course, Ween. I mean, there’s all these people that make a conscious effort to demolish genres…”

“…and have, like, a sense of humor about it, too,” Bemand added. “All those guys do. … With lespecial, people are like, ‘Hey, you guys take a lot of right turns…’ I’m like, ‘You should fackn’ hear Fackn’ A.’ … Fackn’ A embraces the f— out of all those different genres and smashing them together. It’s f—ing awesome.”

Dillon’s most popular project in the late ’80s and early ’90s was Billy Goat, in which he served as the lead vocalist. “It was more like Fishbone and [Red Hot] Chili Peppers,” he said. “We played Chili Peppers after-shows and those guys would come and show up. I didn’t think it was a big deal. It’s like, of course Anthony Kiedis is hitting on my girlfriend, that’s just the way life goes. And of course Flea is biting my guitar player’s guitar.”

In the years after Billy Goat disbanded, Mike said, “I rediscovered my vibraphone and ever since then I’ve just been obsessed with it. And because vibraphone is associated with jazz, it put the word ‘jazz’ into my bio, and it pretty much ran off all the women from my shows. And then I started playing with lespecial and they got the finest women on the boat at their shows. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, Jazz Dad is happy!'”

Rory, Jonny, and Luke all laughed at that one, maybe even blushed a bit as they registered the fact that the Mike Dillon was gushing about how cool he thinks they are. After all, their interest in Fackn’ A comes as much from their fandom of Mike D as it does from their musical compatibility.

That dynamic, in part, helped determine what music Fackn’ A would play. As Dillon explained, “We’re on tour, and we’re doing shows, and I’m like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And Jonny’s like, ‘Dude, I want you to get on the mic more.’ … I got three million songs since I’m the old guy in the band and my songs are easier to learn than their songs. So we did my [Billy Goat] songs just by default.”

“They’ve re-inspired me to embrace that s— I was doing when I was in my mid-20s,” he added. “This has been awesome.”

It’s not unusual for individual members of touring bands to start up side projects. It’s far more unusual for an entire touring band to start a side project, as lespecial did with Fackn’ A. They weren’t necessarily aiming to do it, either. As Dillon explained, Fackn’ A came together out of spontaneity and chemistry—”and those have always been my favorite bands.”

“We all just wanted to go see Primus and Ween play the South Park 25 [shows at Red Rocks] last year,” Mike explained. “We had the same booking agent and I had some offers for my band [Punkadelick], and [keyboardist Brian] Haas couldn’t do them. [Our agent] was like, ‘Well, these guys want to go see Primus play.’ And we just did it. … And then we toured, and I think we went into the tour like, ‘this is going to be fun,’ but I didn’t think we’re going to have a band out of it. And all of a sudden after the first few songs, people are going ‘Fackn’ A!’ Just saying that after every song.

“The energy was there. And next thing we know, my wife was there selling merch, watching it. And it was like, wow, this is something. ‘Cause we’re all really busy, and now it’s to the point where I’ve told my management, I’m like, ‘Well, I got two bands that tour. Punkadelick and Fackn’ A.’ And of course I’ll do things with Claypool. We’re doing the [Fearless Flying] Frog Brigade this summer. I’m excited about that. But as far as my bands, I’m like, ‘I’m in it. I’m in with these cats.’ And even if there’s only ten shows a year, that’s going to be ten shows a year that are going to be epic.”

“What I want to do, and I’ve already started… we’ve got two songs that I’ve written just for this, and I want to make a record,” Dillon said. “I just love hard music, and these guys love it, too. … Y’all understand the power of a riff.”

To illustrate his point, Dillon recalled Fackn’ A’s set the previous night, which had featured a sit-in from his jazz-focused Punkadelick bandmate, pianist Brian Haas. “Remember when Haas [was playing with us], at the end, when we got into that Stooges riff? There’s nothing more powerful than a rock and roll piano, just playing eighth notes on the chord. And Haas, I’ve told him a million times, ‘Just play with everyone else.’ ‘Cause we’re all, like, [mimes playing eighth note chords], chunking, rock and roll, and he’s like [mimes playing jazz solo]. … I just, I’m like, ‘Haas, no! Rock and roll!”

“I see [Mike during the Haas sit-in] and he’s like, ‘Just play the f—ing riff!” Bemand recalled. “I was trying to tell [Haas], too. I was showing him the chord, like, ‘Come on, stop soloing.’ I just burst out laughing.”

“He’s just gotta solo!” Dillon roared, lovingly ribbing his jazz cohort in the company of his punk children.

“I can’t wait to record with y’all, and write music,” he mused. The lespecial guys’ eyes widened as they listened to Dillon casually laying out a framework for making a Fackn’ A album—pre-production after Claypool tour, initial demos and fine-tuning at his friend’s studio in the States, cutting the final tracks in Iceland. It seemed they were all hearing these plans for the first time.

“So, yeah. That’s where my head is. I don’t know… We never talked about it,” Mike admitted. “Where is y’all’s head with it?” His query was met with a chorus of laughs and all-in “f— yeahs” from the group.

“Let’s f—in’ do it,” Bemand confirmed. Fackn’ A…

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[Photo: Chris BiekirchLive For Live Music‘s Andrew O’Brien (far right) interviews Fackn’ A on Jam Cruise 19]

For a list of upcoming lespecial tour dates, head here. For a list of upcoming Mike Dillon tour dates, head here. For a list of upcoming Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade tour dates featuring Mike Dillon, head here.