Percussionist Jim Loughlin is hitting on all cylinders late. His band, moe., kicks off their end of summer run with a trip to Japan before returning to the States for a tour-launching Red Rocks double bill with Gov’t Mule, before a run of shows that culminates in their return to the scene of last year’s memorable Star Wars-themed Halloween show. Loughlin just finished a run of shows where he faced off with the master of mallet insanity, Mike Dillon, for some percussive performances that were truly inspired. Both moe. and Dillon’s band will be performing at the Mustang Music Festival in Corolla, NC from October 7-8, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a jammed out sit-in! Find tickets and more information here.
Riding a wave of mallet madness and preparing to travel to the other side of the world, Loughlin sat down with our own Rex Thomson (aka the current elected “Mayor” of moe.down) for a look at the recent fun with Dillon, the view from his perch onstage and more in a fun “Jimterview.” Enjoy!
Live For Live Music: We’ve talked about the wide variety of instruments you use to impact and accent songs before. Quick guess, how many toys do you have in your little onstage area?
Jim Loughlin: Now? At this point… jeez… something like three.
L4LM: Sounds like you’re a boy scout…always prepared.
JL: I was a scout for a short period of time, but I am one of those prepared kind of people. I have a backpack that is usually full of emergency gear. I travel a lot. And when I’m home I spend a lot of time in the woods. I tend to be a “Carry everything you might need” person.
L4LM: That’s good to know. The fans can turn to you when they need an Allen wrench or a quick snack.
JL: No, no…I carry everything I need, not everything EVERYONE needs man. But I normally would have an Allen wrench.
L4LM: No one can accuse you of taking it easy. You’ve become known for your more melodic percussive endeavors, like your xylophone, vibraphone and the Mallet Kat. You haven’t been playing these all that long, correct?
JL: Compared to everything else, no. I started really serious playing, and owning them in 2002. That was when I bought the Mallet Kat. In 2005, I bought the xylophone. So they’re newer, compared to the bass and drums which I’ve been playing since I was thirteen. They do take up a majority of my practice time. I’m still learning, like everything else.
L4LM: Was your inspiration to take on such an immersive instrument an effort to challenge yourself, to emulate your Latin Jazz and funk tastes or some other reason?
JL: It’s a mix of all that. I enjoy challenging myself. When I take up new things, whether in music or outside of it, it has to be something that is challenging to me. Something I need to work on and practice. That is the kind of thing I enjoy.
The mallet stuff is something I’ve always enjoyed from afar. They’re pretty expensive to own, and they take up a lot of space. For a long time I just couldn’t afford a vibraphone, just a vibraphone and not all this other stuff, like a xylophone and a marimba. Once I was able to acquire one and actually play it, I just loved it.
They’re so fun to play, and what they can do is so amazing, the sound you can make from, how you hit and everything. It’s just challenging and rewarding at the same time.
L4LM: You drew the attention of the master madman of the xylophone, Mike Dillon. How did your friendship with him begin?
JL: He and I just did six shows. and we were talking about that. We met on the tour we did with Les Claypool and his Frog Brigade. I’ve always been a huge Primus fan, and Les has always been a inspiration for me as a bass player. And as a drummer, Tim Alexander was a huge influence on me. I stole so much of his stuff.
It’s funny…I eventually ended up telling Alexander that backstage in line at for catering at a show. We had hung out a few times before and I was like “Man, I gotta tell ya…so much of my drumming came from you. I stole so much from you. Sorry.” He laughed.
I was just blown away by Mike. We started hanging out and talking on that tour. It’s rare to get two mallet players together on the same rock and roll tour. We’re both big Milt Jackson fans. We both came to the mallets the same way. Add to that that we both play congas and timbales and stuff. That’s where it started, but ever since that tour we always stay in touch.
Any time we are in the same area, I try to get him to come up with moe., he gets me to come up with whoever he’s playing with at the time. Over the years, if I get stuck, like, mentally, with something I’m working on I’ll just call him or text him. I’ll text him and he’ll just call me right back and be like “Look man, this is how it is!”
He’s a great friend and a great teacher, as well as a gifted player. He’s not one of those players who can’t explain what he does. He’s always well thought out in everything he does, musically.
L4LM: When you say well thought out, that makes me wonder. His sit ins with moe. are legendary. Do you work out any sort of direction in advance, or are they just free-for-alls?
JL: That is all completely in the moment. That is just Mike being Mike and me trying to keep up. At least from my point of view.
When he comes to play with moe., we try and find a song that has a section that we can really open up and jam. The first time he came out with us was for “Happy Hour Hero,” which worked better than I would have thought. The next couple of times we completely opened up tunes like “McBain” and “Meat”. At moe.down one time, we brought both our rigs to the front and did a wild “Buster.” That was cool!
We always pick a song we can really stretch out and explore. When he and I get going…there’s just no limits to where we can go, and that is what makes it so much fun.
L4LM: You and Mike Dillon are on the upcoming Mustang Festival line-up. We’re all hoping for a sit-in.
JL: Oh definitely! We already talked about it. He’s there with his band, though I’m not sure what day. If I can I’ll go sit-in with him. But he is an artist-at-large at the Mustang Festival, so he will be there all weekend. Really looking forward to it!
L4LM: A few weeks ago you broadened your musical partnership with Mike on a mini-tour fans dubbed “The Monsters Of Mallets.” What was that experience like?
JL: Most of it was arrangements of Elliot Smith songs that he did instrumentally. In essence, it’s him taking Elliot Smith songs and arranging them for mallets. It’s amazing. Obviously Smith had problems. He had a hard life. But he was such a beautiful songwriter, and Mike really loved his music and did a great job arranging these songs.
A lot of the reworked tunes were played by Mike during his Punk Rock Percussion Consortium. One of the guys who played in the Consortium, Otto Schrang, also joined us on the tour we just did. He’s a phenomenal, phenomenal mallet player. He took all the arrangement that Mike had done and charted them out. Most of the songs were from Mike’s new album, Functioning Broke.
Here’s exclusive video of Jim and Mike Dillon facing off and having some wicked fun during a rainy 3 am. set at Summer Camp 2016:
L4LM: Mike Dillon records like twenty amazing records per year. What are the chances we can get something from the two of you?
JL: Yeah…it is crazy the way he doesn’t stop. Yeah, we really want to. It has been about five years now that he and I have been talking about it. That was initially what we talked about doing this year, this run. Then he got the opportunity to book that run of shows to support the album and it just became this tour. Hopefully the two of us can get into a studio and record some of that energy.
We definitely need to do it. And like we said…Mike doesn’t stop. It’s hard for him to fit in anything else. Everybody wants him. He’s the first person anyone calls. And he loves playing with his home band, the Nolatet.
L4LM: Besides the many instruments you keep stashed up in your onstage area, you have a not so secret weapon that you sometimes bring to the front of the stage… dope mic skills.
JL: You mean my singing or my rapping?
L4LM: Has anyone ever been talking about singing when they used the phrase “Dope Mic Skills?”
JL: Ha. No, I guess not. When I was drumming for the band back in the early nineties, I think it was during “Long Island Girls,” there was a breakdown and I would do “Bring The Noise,” the Public Enemy song. Then I wrote “Farmer Ben,” and that’s a rap styled tune. Anything we want to do that has a hip hop or rap flavor to it…that just goes to me now. I’ve been a huge hip hop fan since Run-DMC.
That was actually my first MCing experience. For a high school talent show two friend of mine and I did the full crossover version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” the Run-DMC version.
Here’s Jim and moe. making the 21 Pilots song “Stressed Out” their own after a rocking “Billy Goat” from Summer Camp earlier this year:
L4LM: You and your partner on the beats Vinnie (Amico) have an incredible view of the proceedings from your spots on high, but you’re standing up most of the time. I know you’re working, but do you do any people watching up there? Do you have any special insights you can share?
JL: A lot of general stuff I guess. Like, if you want to get a whole crowd to cheer, just turn the lights on for a few seconds. But honestly, onstage I’m either looking at what I’m doing or trying to make eye contact with the rest of the band. I can hear the crowd, I can hear the excitement. I don’t need to look out to see it. I can feel it. It becomes the world.
I just want to be there with the people I am playing music with. To be connected to them. That is my goal every time I step on a stage.
L4LM: Anything you can report on the status of a new moe. record?
JL: We’re working on it. We haven’t picked studio time yet, but it is definitely on our minds.
L4LM: This year was a bit light on shows. Are you guys looking to increase your presence next year?
JL: Oh yes. Next year is going be a touring year. But we’re getting ready to do our busiest part of the year. Friday we start our tour by flying to Japan and do the Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo. Then we hit the road for a couple weeks, take a little break, then play straight through to Halloween. Like a week of that will be getting the Halloween stuff ready, rehearsals and stuff. But we’ll also practice the tunes a bt on the road.
L4LM: This is the part of the interview where I use my cunning interview skills to try and trick you into revealing the Halloween theme. Are you ready?
L4LM: So…What are you thinking of dressing as for Halloween, Jim?
JL: I don’t know. Barney The Dinosaur. Or maybe Grimace. I want to be purple. Really, I don’t know yet.
There is a theme that has been chosen, but we haven’t stared working it out yet.
L4LM: The band has decided to make the New Years Eve shows a winter wonderland in Missoula, Montana. Are you a big winter sports guy?
JL: Not sports, but I love the winter, personally. I snow shoe. I want to learn how to cross country ski. It’s hard on you though. Just going out and switch-backing a half a mile will make you lose six pounds. I pack my bag, I bring my camera out and I go out for a few hours and enjoy the air.
L4LM: moe. has a legendarily dedicated fan base, and a history of looking for fun ways to interact with them. I do want to suggest a “Band vs. the Fans” snowball fight after the big show! It’ll build rapport! Trust me!
JL: I don’t know man.. .we’re way out-numbered. That’s like the Spartan Battle of Thermopyla all over again.
L4LM: Speaking of building rapport, the band has always been known for their tongue-in-cheek attitude with life in general. How important to you is keeping a smile on your face?
JL: That’s everything man. Seriously, if we didn’t have a good sense of humor, this wouldn’t have made it past 1994. It’s a hard way to make a living. Everything about it relies on you. And everything you do is under the microscope, in front of an audience. If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I just couldn’t do this.
So many things go wrong every day. Any touring musician will tell you this. From the smallest thing, like they screwed up your lunch order, but that’s just how it starts. Then they say “Oh hey man, we left your congas in the last city.” Not that our guys do that, but you know what I mean.
A lot of times when I walk on the stage and we’re about to start the last thought that goes through my head is “I can’t believe the crew pulled this off.” Watching all the things that go wrong, and seeing the guys make this happen…it’s inspiring. Gear problems. Logistic problems. Everyone being healthy,. No one being hurt. The litany of stuff that can go wrong is incredible.
If you can’t have a smile on your face and laugh at the world, I don’t know how you would survive.
L4LM: Well thanks for taking a few minutes before life gets crazy again to chat with us! Looking forward to seeing you guys all around the world!
JL: Thank you man. See you soon!
If you’re hungry for more Loughlin words of wisdom, check out this longer form video he did with Rex a while back where he breaks down the toys he keeps in his percussion kingdom: