Mike Dillon has announced his new album 'Rosewood' will be released July 17 via Royal Potato Family. Recorded intermittently between January 2018 and September 2019, its 13 majestic tracks were created solely with vibraphone and percussion instruments. Dillon, in fact, titled the record 'Rosewood' for the type of lumber used to make marimba bars. The album's first single "Hurt" is out today and pays tribute to the Johnny Cash arrangement of the classic Trent Reznor / Nine Inch Nails' song. Listen here: smarturl.it/MikeDillon-Hurt
For Mike Dillon, ‘Rosewood' musically signifies transition and transformation. It was written and record during a period where Dillon was in the midst of leaving a long term relationship, followed by the beginning of a new relationship that would result in marriage. Dillon also found himself relocating from his longtime home-base, New Orleans to his current residence, Kansas City.
"I fell in love with my dear friend, Peregrine Honig, in the midst of break up turmoil. I started spending time in Kansas City in July 2017, a city where I'd previously lived and had first met Peregrine in 1997," explains Dillon. "She invited me to see her beautiful art studio converted from an old church building called Greenwood Social Hall. By December, I brought my marimba there and would play for hours. The songs on this record wrote themselves in that sonically sacred space."
'Rosewood' also finds Dillon, a musician who's been hailed "a punk jazz provocateur," shifting from the freewheeling, anything goes aesthetic of his primary touring unit, The Mike Dillon Band, to a more conceptual and compositional approach. He'd hinted at this side of his musical personality with the 2016 release 'Functioning Broke,' as well as a series of yearly performances at Music Box Village with his 30-plus piece New Orleans Punk Rock Percussion Consortium. However, the prior album relied heavily on outside material, including songs by Elliott Smith, Neil Young and Martin Denny, while the latter performance experiment required the massive energy generated by three dozen musicians on percussion and mallet instruments. On 'Rosewood,' Dillon boils down the essence of those two projects into a focused auditory journey, drawing almost exclusively on his own compositions with exception of two more Elliott Smith songs, "Talking To Mary" and "Can’t Make A Sound," along with the aforementioned ghostly reading of Trent Reznor's "Hurt." Dillon performed all of the parts himself with exception of contributions by drummer and frequent collaborator Earl Harvin and the guiding hand of Dillon's old friend, recording engineer Chad Meise.
“When I decided to record in Kansas City, I immediately recruited Chad. He and I made several Malachy Papers' records, the Go Go Jungle album 'Battery Acid’ and the Mike Dillon Band record 'Urn.' Our chemistry in the middle of a really bittersweet time for me simplified the process. We layered the songs on 24-track, 2-inch tape. Some songs I would start on the vibes, other times I put on a marimba first before fleshing out the rest. My old pal, the incredible drummer Earl Harvin, visited KC from his home in Berlin during the summer of 2018 and played drum kit on several of the tracks. By recording to tape, we captured the warm relationship of the percussion/mallet family."
All of the sounds on 'Rosewood' are from Dillon's collection of mallet instruments ranging from the rare Deagan Electric Bass Marimba to the Deagan Electro Vibes, a 1942 Leedy Marimba to his primary touring instrument, the Majestic Electric Vibraphone, running through a collection of analog peddles. The only non-percussion sound was a synth on "Bonobo" that was triggered by a MalletKat. The crescendo of timpani and tabla pulsate beneath the Sonic Youth-like layers of vibes on "Drone" set against the Kraut rock drumming of Harvin. The ambient Steve Reich-inspired pulsations of marimbas on "Vibes at the End of the World" capture the feeling of being in New Orleans when the Hurricane Gustav evacuation order was given to Dillon back in 2007. There are also several moments of joyful percussive optimism with tracks like "Rumba for Peregrine" and "Beignet’s Bounce." "Sober on Mardi Gras" was composed in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day 2019 before Dillon marched behind Big Chief Monk Boudreaux alongside Stanton Moore and Joe Gellini. "Tiki Bird Whistle" and "Earl's Bolero" were also composed in New Orleans in an apartment that was home for many NOLA musicians, including Brian Blade, Doug Belote and John Ellis.
"Much of the feeling of this record is dealing with the sadness of moving out of a great city like New Orleans, but with the optimism of a fresh start in Kansas City," explains Dillon. "To this day it's hard for me not to say I live in New Orleans. However, in reality, prior to the pandemic, I lived a nomadic lifestyle in my Chevy van going wherever the next gig leads me. And yet now, in the age of Covid-19, we’re faced with change again. It is the only constant."
Mike Dillon has been an integral member of bands including Garage A Trois, Dead Kenny Gs and Critters Buggin. He's served as a key sideman to artists like Rickie Lee Jones, Les Claypool and Ani DiFranco. He's amassed an extensive catalog of genre-defying recordings. He's taken to the road relentlessly, building one of the most loyal underground fanbases on the contemporary music scene, while being invited to share bills with bands including Clutch, Dean Ween Group and Umphrey's McGee. For nearly three decades, Dillon has played exclusively by his own rules. With his latest work, 'Rosewood,' he plays the sounds of change and once again embraces the philosophy of becoming.