There are a few music festivals with lineups I start out the year already stir crazy for, checking their Facebook event page waiting for the moment those names are dropped. Some Kind of Jam is one of them. It’s a known fact that Jibberjazz events are among my favorite of the season; Some Kind of Jam was my first ever festival six or so years ago.
It didn’t take long after diving into the Jibberjazz community to run into The Big Dirty, a four piece band made up of Mike Barata (drums), Nick “Muppet” Merena (saxophone/vocals), Russ Nahodil (bass/vocals), and Todd Troutman (guitar). Their sonorous jams swell with dark, dirty notes as guitar and sax bend and warp to create yang that grounds itself with the yin of drum and bass. Described by some as “sonic funk,” what these guys have going on is unique, and on top of that, very fun to dance to.
Scanning the 2019 Some Kind of Jam lineup, my heart jumped when—for the first time in three years—The Big Dirty’s name laid there in the print, bold and magnificent. The last time they had played an event was Madsummer Meltdown 7 in 2016. And although Merena continued to entrance fans with his spacey saxophone loops in his side-project Titanium Stardust Machine, anyone who’s been on the Jibberjazz scene since, well, basically the start of Jibberjazz, knows the reunion of the Dirty is a special event.
I got to catch up with Barata, who had a lot to share with where the band is and how it feels to come together again, especially at such a nostalgic event as a Jibberjazz production.
“There’s no doubt that The Big Dirty in terms of our music, our following, and the whole vibe around it was born in Jibberjazz. I feel like it’s difficult for people who have been with Jibberjazz since the beginning to think of them apart, because we never really were a bar band… When we first took bar gigs we didn’t have four hours of music—we hardly had four songs—so we would improvise the entire night. I mean, I as the drummer had no idea [where we were going]. To me it built a trust… but, you know… we’d have people tell us we were too loud, or that our songs were too long.”
This was back in 2006, when The Big Dirty began to take shape. Lucky for us, that improv was the driving influence developing their style, and they were well equipped for some really weird sounds to pair with it.
Barata laying down a beat. Photo by Karl McWherter
“I think improv has always been a big part of The Big Dirty, and I think this time around we kind of have that in our back pocket where when we know if something isn’t feeling good we can just shift. It’s not like we have ever consciously sat down and asked ‘how do we want this to sound?’ It’s always been let’s just play and see what comes out of the playing.”
“I mean to see what Todd and Nick can do with their pedals… they put thought and heart into what to loop, what to stretch, and what to break up. They can manipulate sound to where it’s going to really push your senses—and I love that—but then Russ can come in with his bass lines that are sweaters [that tell the crowd] ‘don’t worry, you can still get down, you’re good.’ So Russ and I will fill that lower end and give them a nice beat that Todd and Nick can just dance and do what they do.”
Their extended absence from the Jibberjazz bill does not seem to intimidate the band. Although there is a new wave of Jibberjazz fans, plenty of dedicated patrons remain. As much as Barata is excited to see some familiar faces in the crowd he is “interested to see the younger festival-goer, what brings them [to their set], and what keeps them there.”
But more than anything else, Barata is excited to come together and perform again as The Big Dirty.
“I’ve never been so deeply involved with making music as I have with The Big Dirty. I’ve played with other bands and musicians but… once we get together there’s a familiarity because I know these people, but there’s still this uncertainty [with regards to their improv]. It’s not scary. It’s discovery: What are we going to come up with? Where is this going to go?”
Coincidentally enough, I have written this story before. Interviewing The Big Dirty at the 2015 Late Winter Jibberjam, it was published in a commemorative newspaper for Some Kind of Jam’s 10th anniversary.
“Even though we’ve taken breaks, we’ve never said that this was it and we were done with each other. That’s why when we got this opportunity, we didn’t even think about it. And when we got together for that first practice it was just like hugs, laughs, and music.”
With hiatus announcements of bands like Cabinet, Dr. Slothclaw, Still Hand String Band, and, most recently, Hayley Jane and the Primates, emotions run deep. It’s hard to remember that touring bands are humans with personal lives too, and sometimes those lives like a precedence. It’s always a treat when they come back to the surface of our mirror.
I’ll write this story again and again if it’s the precursor to getting down to The Big Dirty in the oh so near future.
Come out to Some Kind of Jam and witness yourself the dirty funk of The Big Dirty this April 25-27, 2019. Their set kicks off at 11 p.m. Saturday night in the Indoor Jam Barn!