A Q&A with frontman Phil Pirrone on the band’s debut album, their upcoming shows, and how it feels to be on the cusp of their big break.
The Los Angeles psych-rock band JJUUJJUU has a sound that’s entirely their own. Harnessing the collision of psych and desert rock with the ambience of low-fi and a fiery undercurrent of metal that never overpowers the music, they’re one of rock’s most interesting and hard to pin down groups. They’re also on the cusp of a breakthrough.
The band- fronted by Phil Pirrone, the founder of the Desert Daze festival- released their debut album 'Zionic Mud.' The album is an atmospheric exploration of a number of different influences, each coming together to capture an atmospheric, psychedelic daze. A good deal of collaboration followed the release. The band released alternate versions of each single re-imagined by friends and supporters, which include Warpaint’s bassist Jennylee’s synth-driven and danceable take on the title track “Zionic Mud” and Liars’ loud, scuzzed-out version of “Camo.” They also released a music video for their own version of “Camo” directed by Flaming Lips animator Michan Burzan.
This summer, the band is set to play a number of shows opening for the heavy metal band Mastadon and experimental rock band Primus; two hugely high profile acts with the potential to send JJUUJJUU into the stratosphere. In between those shows, the band is headlining Lost Lake in Denver on June 19th with support from DeCollage and King Eddie. I had the opportunity to chat with Pirrone recently about the band’s new album and their upcoming tour dates.
You guys just released your new album 'Zionic Mud' last month. How has the rolling out and reception of that record been, and in what ways is it different from your past material?
This record was five years in the making. So it's good to have it out. We had only released an EP before this, in 2013, so in a lot of ways, this is the beginning.
Your songs are definitely more blissed out and bright than your counterparts; they aren't always aggressive, and instead, favor some ambience. How do you go about creating this sound live and in the studio?
Not sure how we get there- I guess it's just our collective influences and experiences informing how we approach a song or jam or what have you. Short answer: happy accidents.
What sound were you trying to capture on 'Zionic Mud', and is it going to send the band in a new direction, or expand on a sound you've already established?
I just wanted it to sound like something I loved, no matter what that ended up being. I don't know what direction we're going in or what we've established. Just putting down what comes out and going from there.
What inspired you to have friends and collaborators release their own alternate takes of the singles? What do these new versions have to offer that the originals don't? The JENNYLEE version of "Zionic Mud" particularly stands out to me; it brings out a danceable element in the song's framework that I didn't catch in the album version.
It was my friend Jason's idea who works at the label. And a great idea at that. These versions are some weird form of collaboration between myself and the remixer, without being in the same room or even talking about it. So, it's very exciting to hear what each of them come back with. Jennylee went the extra mile and reimagined the track through her lens and it's lovely.
What made you choose METZ and Liars to rework the songs? Are there any other collaborations in the works?
Part of the aim of this experiment was to find very different filters to mix these songs through and see what we end[ed] up with. Both seemed like total long shots, but they both said yes (surprisingly). Very happy with how both came out.
Your music strikes a really interesting balance between psychedelia, stoner-rock, desert-rock, and a cool, low-fi aesthetic. How did you come across this collection of sounds, and how do you go about synthesizing them into your live set?
We really don't talk or think about what we're going to do, we just go for it. Whether I'm on my own or with the group, we just jump into it and follow what comes out, or we don't if it's shit. Performing the songs live with a group is an evolution. It's difficult to replicate what happened on record because so much of it was improvised or literally a happy accident. So the live incarnation sort of evolves and the songs grow and change. I think that's totally a normal behavior for a group like JJUUJJUU.
How does it feel to be opening for Mastodon and Primus, two colossal names in the scene? How'd this opportunity come about, and do you have anything special planned for these shows?
Feel honored and excited and nervous, frankly. Touring with bands this good keeps us on our toes and forces us to bring our best. We've toured with Claypool Lennon Delirium before, so it's great to be invited back out. Les Claypool has some of the best fans in the world. They are there to enjoy loud music and have a good time. So, for that, among other things, we're very grateful. We're going to be playing nice and early, so we'll be having a BBQ nightly from stage. We might perform a few weddings (if needed). First 50,000 people in the gates get a free hot dog and t-shirt (if there's also a wedding).
What's next for the band after you guys finish your expansive touring schedule this year? Do you see the band continuing in the same sonic direction, or is there a new sound on the horizon?
We're playing Desert Daze in Southern California in October. We're working on LP2 right now (early stages). It's going to be different. But the same. But different.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.