On the eve of releasing What Happened to the LaLas, the tenth studio album from jam band champions moe. percussionist Jim Loughlin sat down with HIGH TIMES to discuss what it’s like playing stoned during a gig, and gives a shout out to his favorite Dutch coffeeshop.
Interview by Jen Bernstein
Photos by Mike Hughes
Your roots are in improvisational music – and moe. is well known as a jam band. Do you like to go off on tangents?
It’s weird because it’s not a freeform situation and people think it is. There is a form in which we improvise. I don’t look at it the same way as jazz. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. There are sections that are free, but surrounded by form.
We write and play songs for a year [before recording them] and they tend to get long. Really long. Parts are repeated. It works for a live performance, but listening to it on a record can be like, ‘Oh my god. I know what the next part is, so why don’t they just get there already?’ [laughs].
So that’s what we did. We figured out how to keep the songs tight, but really make them flow.
LA LAs is a little different than past albums because for the first time you're working with Sugar Hill records.
It's the first time in a long time that we're working with a record company and producer. For me, it was great. In the studio you tend to over think things and when you have someone there with a goal, a direction, and an idea - it makes things a lot easier. When you're so close to the music, you don't have perspective. You take everything apart in these tiny pieces and just yell at one another.
So even though some songs on LA LAs are short, or they are songs that we already know because they've been road tested, there's a new type of freshness to it, given that they're tight?
Some parts have been tweaked, and it sounds great. Sonically the record came out really good - it's raw, but it's not this overproduced, affected thing. We just did a good job getting the best parts.
“Chromatic Nightmare” is your first writing credit. It has a very psychedelic feel, like a lilting circus type of sound.
I originally wrote the song as a rag. Xylophones were big in ragtime back in the day, and a lot of Scott Joplin’s stuff was played on xylophones. The idea was everyone was going to write a song for the Halloween show, which the theme was “Electric Lemoe.nade Acid Test.” So I was like, this has nothing to do with a rag and I made the song weirder and weirder until it morphed. Instead of it being in 4/4 it was in 3/4 and I kept adding lots of half steps to make it chromatic. So it had this weird “oom-pah” feel, and it got more Tim Burton-ish.
You nail the studio version despite what ended up being a challenging piece. Does smoking ever affect your performance?
It definitely comes up. We find a lot of professionals that don’t have a hard time doing their job and smoking weed. As far as playing music, I don’t think it makes much difference. I know I couldn’t play “Chromatic” drunk. But, uh, I’ve been smoking for awhile and I’m used to it. It does slow things down on stage to the point where I can control it.
moe. played the Cannabis Cup back in 2007. What was it like playing those shows and hanging in the coffeeshops?
It was fun, and the funny thing is...and this isn’t a plug or anything, but I spent all of my time at Barney’s. No joke, I ate every meal there. It’s where I had my morning coffee, and I wouldn’t leave until I had to take a nap. Then, I’d go back and eat dinner. I had already been to Amsterdam, saw the tulips, the museums and everything. So this time I had no schedule. They had a crazy G-13 strain that was really nuts.
Can you remember any other strains you liked?
Honestly, the best way I can explain it is like this: I only know of two kinds of pot – pot and no pot. I’m happy when I have the first, and not as happy when I have the latter.
Y’know, a lot of people know that I smoke and some people give me stuff and there’s always this explanation: the name, where it came from. I don’t mean to rude, but I’m not a connoisseur. To me, I like how it tastes and I recognize the difference, but I never keep track of what I have. These days, it’s all good! [laughs] and I haven’t smoked brick weed in decades, so I’m happy.
You play piccolo bass, wash board, guitar and you sing "Farmer Ben," are we going to get any more songs sung by Jim?
I've always wanted to write a sequel. Just cause he's a real person, the story's not real, but the guy is. He's my best friend and I grew up with him. Ben spent the summers as a farmer on a restoration village circa the 1600's on LI - it's called Old Bethpage and he was a volunteer. He would wear a wool shirt, wool hat, wool overalls, in the hot sun - and a pitchfork - which I thought was hilarious. And this was high school I mean, what kid spends his summer sweating and working?! He's always done strange things - unique things. And now he's mapping old growth trees in Colorado. Doing good things.
A Nightmare of a Song?
“When first playing ‘Chromatic Nightmare’ we sped up the song as it got to the end. It just got ridiculous, and Rob and Vin thought it was really funny that we kept going and going to the point where it was too challenging to even play.”
Watch moe. perform “Chromatic Nightmare” Live: