There’s something to be said for a band that knows how to ride the groove. In the belly of a revolving riff lies the secrets to the universe–provided of course that you see beyond the notes. That’s sort of the mantra of Phil Pirrone’s career, first as a musician, then as the festival founder of psych rock extravaganza Desert Daze. Staying the course, serving the groove which was bestowed on him during a lifetime in tour vans, hauling ass across the country most of his adult life, to deciding to create his own mark on the SoCal festival scene , it was perseverance that sustained his trajectory. These days it’s paying off. On the music front, his band JJUUJJUU released their debut album Zionic Mud, six years in the making, on Dine Alone Records. This year saw Pirrone embark on a nationwide arena tour with his band, opening for his childhood heroes Primus and Mastadon. At the same time, Desert Daze had it’s biggest year to date, again persevering it’s way through a rain storm on Day 1 that caused choas and the premature end of headliner Tame Impala. But the festival braved the weather and emerged on the other side for the rest of the weekend mesmerizing and spiritually aligned performances from the likes of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Mercury Rev.
Given the kind of year Pirrone’s had, he’d be forgiven for sitting out the remainder of 2018 to take a breather. But anyone who knows him understands that’s not how he operates. On a recent evening in Highland Park, we caught up with Pirrone in a dimly lit bar to talk about all that he’s got coming up right up to this weekend with his final JJUUJJUU shows of the year. Tonight, the band co-headlines at Zebulon with another of Pirrone’s all time favorite bands Lumerians and once more in San Francisco at the Rickshaw Stop. We talked about his philosophy behind JJUUJJUU that’s gotten him this far and got a little insight into the journeys he’s looking forward to next.
The band’s had quite a year so far, as have you. But Touring with Primus had to have been the highlight. How big of a dream gig was that for you?
It was a dream tour, big, big shows. We went out there with them and were happy just to be there. Then half way through the tour, Les Claypool’s wife let us in on a secret that we were Les’s favorite new band. I was like “What?!” That was a life affirming moment. In my mind I shot back to being 13 years old playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Primus coming on the soundtrack. My whole life growing up, Primus and Tool were the most important bands, so for us to get that tour was so significant in my life.
Zionic Mud your debut record came out six years after starting the band. Why did it take so long for you to release this record?
It took that long to get it recorded. After Desert Daze last year, I told myself I was gonna get this record done. Then Dine Alone Records wanted to put it out, we got lucky and got that Earthless Tour and then we got the Primus thing and we had a real record cycle. Now Desert Daze is over for 2018 and now I’m working in a new record. That’s probably gonna be my life for a few years: Desert Daze is over, get the JJUUJJUU record done, get it out before spring, tour a little bit and do Desert Daze. Like Groundhog’s Day. I wanna keep putting the records out and not worry too much about what’s happening and not happening, what we’re getting and not getting, just being a source of musical output. I started JJUUJJUU with zero expectations, was in other bands for a long time and touring most of my adult life, I didn’t wanna be in a band with JJUUJJUU. All we have to do is get what’s inside of us on tape. I just wanna get the music out.
JJUUJJUU wasn’t a band until more recently. How did it go from being mostly solo to a full time lineup?
Organically over time the lineup became more permanent. For a while it was always rotating and people would just switch out because everyone in LA is in three bands so that’s just how it was. But now somehow it all simplified where it somehow works where everyone is able to be part of this same band for two and a half years now. The record I’m working on now will probably feature some songs of me with them.
What’s your writing approach to JJUUJJUU songs considering the hypnotic vibe that’s a part of the sound?
JJUUJJUU is like a meditation. Whenever I sit down to play and I get into a trance is when I know I’m on to something. That’s all I’m really chasing–to more or less leave my body. I’m so in my body and in my head all the time, I’m wired in a way where I’m moving a mile a minute all the time and this sort of allows me to slow down to a non movement pace where I’m just being and that’s what I’m trying to achieve. If I can get the audience there too and we have a collective experience, that’s all I’m here to do. I don’t wanna be a rockstar, I don’t wanna pose on stage, I don’t care what I look like, I wanna turn my mind off, leave my body and connect with every soul in the room that’s left their body and we’re all just together.
What are a few of your goals with the band for 2019?
It’s hard to say because our record isn’t done yet so right now we’re taking things as they come we have a couple festivals on the books and I think the plan is to play one or two shows around those festivals but we’re not gonna tour, we’ll be doing mostly weekend trips, play the places where we’re invited to play. My whole attitude towards touring has completely changed, I’m a dad now, I’ve got a lot of projects. I’ve played the middle of the country a lot and I just know until we’re big enough to sell out bigger venues, we’re not gonna go out and run ourselves ragged.
Why is it significant to have Lumerians joining you on these last shows of your album cycle?
I met them in about 2009 when I was playing in Jeffertiti’s Nile and they’ve just been a really important band in my life ever since. They’re one of a small handful of bands that changed my life at that time. It was a big shift going from playing in A Static Lullaby to Casket Salesmen to Jeffertiti’s Nile. My exposure to things was rapidly changing, I was becoming enveloped in this LA scene that I’m very much a part of now and the seeds were being planted for Moon Block and Desert Daze at that time and I didn’t even know it. And The Lumerians were a big part of that. Tyler and Chris from the band helped me record the songs for JJUUJJUU and engineered a couple of the sessions, Tyler sat in on the mixing sessions. So it’s really special to play these shows with these guys at the end of our touring cycle. And it’s our first time co-headlining on this record with them and they’ll be very special shows.
JJUUJJUU performs tonight with Lumerians at Zebulon at 9 p.m. For more details, click here.