2018 Belongs to JJUUJJUU

By: Brody Coronelli

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.

Phil Pirrone of JJUUJJUU.

Phil Pirrone of JJUUJJUU.

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 Liarsloud, 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.

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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.

-Brody

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

Taught By Members of The Flaming Lips, The So Help Me's Are Existential Rock For Your Soul

By: Hannah Oreskovich

Taught by members of The Flaming Lips and best budz with Denver’s Tyto Alba, Oklahoma City’s The So Help Me’s are rolling through Denver this weekend for a performance at The Underground Music Showcase. Slated for a 2PM set Saturday, July 29th at the Hi-Dive, this neo western shoegaze five-piece plan to shower you with plenty of dream pop and existential rock tunes. We recently chatted with the crew to talk about their trek here and all things summer. Read on:

We noticed you came together in 2014 at the Flaming Lips’ Academy of Contemporary Music in OKC. Talk to us about that experience.

John, our guitarist and main songwriter, was studying music education and jazz at the University of Central Oklahoma, along with three of our other members. We wanted to step out and start writing our own music, and The So Help Me’s really developed in garages and living rooms between college orchestra and jazz ensemble rehearsals. In these spaces, we felt free to write weird music and explore sounds and compositions in a way we couldn't in our school ensembles.  

When John transferred to the Academy of Contemporary Music for music business, we were just starting to establish ourselves as a band, and the school welcomed us with open arms. It was really crazy to learn from members of the Lips. We look up to them a lot and it’s an amazing opportunity to get to learn from a band we grew up listening to and really love. It’s almost impossible for me to see our band without the school. It’s a really tight group of world-class musicians and artists there, and everyone’s pushing for each other. There’s a beautiful thing happening in OKC.

The So Help Me's.

The So Help Me's.

Since your inception, you’ve released an EP, 'Relativity' (2016). What are your plans for future recording/releases?

We are putting out a single in the next month, as well as finishing an EP. We’re also in pre-production on a full-length album slated for release at the end of the year.

Listen to The So Help Me's Relativity:

We noticed you’ve had a couple of festival spots this summer. Tell us about those!

This year’s spring festival season in Oklahoma was bananas. We normally play 3-5 festivals in the spring, and this year we were rained out of three in a row because the weather in Oklahoma sucks. At one of the festivals we did play, some dude wandered onstage menacingly and looked like he was going to stab our singer Sophia. This dude got escorted off the stage by security and we were not even halfway through our set.

Whoa. What should Denver know about the OKC music scene?

OKC had a big influx of money due to Thunder basketball and some people are saying the city is going through a sort of renaissance. This being said, it still seems pretty evident to bands that you can't sustain a career in OKC. We know a lot of bands who have relocated, or focus a lot of their time and efforts on touring out of state, and it’s hard to blame them. Even the Lips only play in OKC once every five years or so.

We know you’re friends with Denver’s Tyto Alba- how’d you meet?

I think Tyto Alba were touring through to SXSW and we ended up being booked to play with them twice in one week somehow. They have this huge wall of sound guitar tone that blew us away. We hit it off immediately and became close friends- since then we've played several shows with them in Denver and had them out to OKC.  Our personalities vibe well, and we all share a really intense passion for guitar pedals and making music.

Cool. We’re excited you’re playing Denver’s The UMS! What are you most looking forward to about the festival?

We’re most looking forward to the weather not being a hundred billion degrees like it is in July in OKC. We’re excited to see Tyto Alba, Male Blonding, and The Velveteers play specifically, and we all plan on seeing as much music as possible. Huge festivals like this are amazing because you can walk a few blocks and see different genres and different bands everywhere you look. It’s a beautiful thing to have that many people together who share a common love for playing and listening to music.

Anything else in store for The So Help Me’s in 2017?

We plan on touring regionally several times in the middle of recording our album, and we have shows and festivals booked through at least November, so we’re definitely charging ahead full force.

Make sure to check out The So Help Me’s at The UMS this Saturday- tickets here. Keep up with The So Help Me’s on their website.

-Hannah

Follow Hannah on Instagram and Twitter.

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

The Flaming Lips + the Colorado Symphony = Is Love

By: Claire Woodcock

Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips put on a fantastical show at Red Rocks last week with the Colorado Symphony. 

I went to a small liberal arts college in western NY, where everyone was either in the music program or wanted to be in the music program. Fredonia housed the musicians and everyone else: those who turned teacher or activist or acid head. But one thing we all had in common: we knew of Wayne Coyne. His presence in the local Starbucks or downtown on the weekends generated stories. Coyne sightings were frequent because longtime Lips producer Dave Fridmann hosts the Lips at Tarbox Road Studios up in the wilderness, where Coyne and friends have cultivated everything from Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots to The Soft Bulletin and beyond.

Last Thursday night, The Flaming Lips joined the Colorado Symphony in a special recreation of their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. A crowd made up of Lips fanatics and orchestra-goers alike found equilibrium in a lively collaboration of music, art, and quality. While I replayed elusive Wayne Coyne sighting stories with another Fredonia alum, the Colorado Symphony executed a stunning rendition of the 1910 Igor Stravinsky masterpiece “Firebird”, recreated by conductor André de Ridder. Around us, audience members were either taking in the classical sway of the strings, or yelling about getting drunk. I don’t think anyone in the crowd was ready for the transcendence that was about to go down.

The suit. Photo per Erina Uemura.

The suit. Photo per Erina Uemura.

The orchestra played a glimmering intro into “Race for the Prize”, the opening track on The Soft Bulletin. Coyne sang from a pedestal, draped in an electric dress with pulsating lights that flooded him in a glowing aura. As different color streams poured off the stage, Wayne awkwardly adjusted the light dress. He did this frequently throughout the first few tracks off the album. Though it was clear he was uncomfortable in the light creation, the show pressed on, and as “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” began, a choir of what sounded like mermaid-calls seemed to lift up and rescue the audience from any uneasy vibes.

Rainbows and magic. Photo per Danni Lanni.

Rainbows and magic. Photo per Danni Lanni.

The Lips and the Colorado Symphony performed a beautiful arrangement of “The Spark That Bled”. Coyne held his hands over his chest (and underneath the space dress), repeating "love" for minutes, or what felt like minutes. I don’t actually know. Coyne was really feeling what Ridder and the Colorado Symphony were putting down, referring to them as “a badass group of musicians who absolutely love this music”. The choir added layers of harmonies that hardcore Bulletin fans could only have dreamed of up to this point.

Buggin” was Coyne’s best use of the orchestra and audience. He instructed the orchestra and choir to make a buzzing sound, like bees, and to watch his hand gestures for volume. “All those bugs, buzzin’ round,” Coyne sang, lifting his arms higher and higher, bouncing from forte to fortissimo to fortississimo. He instructed the audience to buzz too, creating a musical round that invited us participate, rather than leading a sing-a-long.

Coyne and the Colorado Symphony. Photo per Erina Uemura.

Coyne and the Colorado Symphony. Photo per Erina Uemura.

Throughout the show, Coyne repeatedly stated that the Lips had never done anything like playing with the Colorado Symphony before. Although the two parties did not rehearse the sheet music and orchestral arrangements for The Soft Bulletin written specifically for Thursday night’s show together until the few days leading up to the show, the Lips performed The Soft Bulletin in 2010 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. For the Colorado Symphony, the collaboration with the Lips stems from an ongoing effort to work with popular musicians across genres. Over the past few years, the orchestra has performed with DeVotchKa, Kishi Bashi, The Lumineers and Nathaniel Rateliff, among other well-known artists.

The Soft Bulletin is largely considered The Flaming Lips’ masterpiece. The album’s original string sounds were recorded using synthesizers and samples. But at this show, cold wind brushing by, the band’s 1999 release was played the way Coyne and the audience realized it should be. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra filled in for the samples, making it an undeniably magical, galactic, and complicated joint performance.

The crowd felt unity when the musicians performed “Waiting For Superman”. The band and orchestra played through the song with a softer side not typically heard on the album that still has relevance today. “Suddenly Everything Has Changed” was a tearjerker for Coyne: “There’s moments within this song that we try to overcome this peak of sadness. And music will help us get there.” he said.

Confetti-boom glory. Photo per Addy James.

Confetti-boom glory. Photo per Addy James.

For their encore, The Lips and CSO played through “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” and “Do You Realize”. Coyne then broke off and went into his space bubble while the band played a late David Bowie tribute cover of “Space Oddity”. Finally, the band ended on a high note with “Wand”, from the 2006 release At War With The Mystics roaring through on a blaze of confetti-boom glory.

It was undoubtedly the best way to experience The Soft Bulletin. Especially for a Fredonian.

-Claire

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.