Planet of the Apes
Demons keep popping up in Hairy Apes BMX vibe-master Mike Dillon’s professional life. From the pagan ones his former troupe Billy Goat embraced on stage to the dangerous ones that led him to relocate the band from Dallas to Kansas City, the man never seemed to escape constant questions and suspicion about them. Oddly, now that Billy Goat no longer romps among the living and life on the farm ostensibly has calmed down for the 34-year-old musician, demons once again figure to play a large role in Dillon’s life for the next year.
The first and most time-consuming fiend comes in the form of the Hairy Apes’ newest record, Out Demons, which was produced by former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese (also currently on tour with the band) and is awaiting a fall release on Abbruzzese’s indie label, Free Association. Dillon’s second love, the local free-jazz trio known as the Malachy Papers (with which he occasionally drums), will release an album titled Demons on Seattle’s Endless Records.
“This is the demon’s time, I guess,” Dillon says, attempting to explain how he happened to get involved in two nonmetal projects with such sinister titles. “I don’t know why, we just had this song called ‘Demons.’ No, you know, demons are these cute little guys that follow Mike around, and I’ve been keeping them at bay lately.
“Actually, they were just both titles, but everyone’s got demons on some level. Whether it’s excessive masturbation that keeps them from getting to work on time, or overeating, or compulsive retail therapy. These are all the demons of our age.”
True, and the Internet makes it all easier. But instead of finding asylum online, Dillon has found solace in throwing himself into a whirlwind game of musical chairs. In addition to playing with the Hairy Apes and the Malachy Papers, Dillon plays the conga with Austin-based Grammy winners Brave Combo and holds down the vibes with Critter Buggin, Seattle’s main vendors of costumed, jazz/funk fusion. But it’s still the Hairy Apes BMX that hold a special place in Dillon’s heart, mostly because of their beautiful “bastardization of musical styles.”
Not that those other acts don’t do that whole bastard thing. Brave Combo is renowned for its rock and roll polka show, and Critters Buggin’s studio work could put even the most grizzled acid veteran over the edge, but for some reason the man who was known more for showing skin than skill in Billy Goat is most at ease when his role is most traditional: manning the vibes and powering the Butt Moving Experience. His former band’s outrageous reputation might play a sizable part in his current desire to keep things relatively low-key.
“A lot of people thought we were just straight-up fucking losers and that we were sexist because we got naked,” he admits. “But it wasn’t like it is now with all those bands saying, ‘Hey, bitches, get up on stage and show us your tits.’ It was more like, ‘Hey, guys, anyone want to pull their dick out with me and do some male bonding?’
“One time this lesbian feminist came out to our show in Dallas, and she was like, ‘I don’t get what everyone’s trippin’ on. I think it’s great that a bunch of men are getting naked together and doing some bonding.’ But it was mostly male bonding with Billy Goat, and we were homoerotic, but not so with the Apes. You know the deal, we keep our pants on.”
Perhaps that’s for the best. Concentrating on groove, doing the pogo, and feeling the cosmic noodle are all popular pastimes at Hairy Apes shows, and all are considerably easier when naked folks aren’t bouncing up and down with you. These diverse crowd reactions reflect the unique ebb and flow of the Apes’ stage show, which features two drummers and a cohesiveness that verifies the hours logged in their new van. The group owes its eclectic take on rock, jazz, and Afro-funk to its members’ diverse backgrounds.
“Dave (Abbruzzese) comes from the tradition of Bonham and bong-hits,” Dillon explains. “He grew up on that shit, but he’s so much deeper than that. And Zach (Baird, organ) grew up playing piano and shit, and whenever I want to play a Monk tune, he’ll just come up and start messing with shit and fucking everything up because he grew up playing that. But that’s what I love, that he’s going to twist it and not play it like some guy down at Plaza III, where it would bore me to tears.
“It’s like John Zorn says: I practice be-bop, and I might even attempt to play it some, but that’s what I practice. When I perform, I want to take it somewhere else.”
And so he does. The music has taken him somewhere else — plenty of other places, in fact. From Denton, Texas, where Dillon first started with Ten Hands, whose members later joined Abbruzzese in the Green Romance Orchestra; to Dallas, where Texas-size habits almost got the best of the man; to Kansas City, where the members of Billy Goat regrouped after Hollywood Records had had enough; and ultimately back to a Texas farm his grandparents owned and he shares with his wife, Kim. Dillon’s current four groups keep him hopscotching across the country and even to other parts of the world, and all that has given him a bit of perspective.
“Those (jam) people support every project I do, God bless ’em,” says the man whose group flipped said people the lyrical bird with an anti-hippy chorus that went peace dude, fuck off! “Those people still buy music and go out to see shows, and we love them. But we get people who work 40 hours a week and pay their bills on time and raise their family all coming to see our shows, and I got respect for that,” says Dillon, acknowledging the rhythmic demon that keeps him on the road the better part of the year. “I’m too selfish for that.”