Greg Loiacono is a twenty-five year veteran musician most known for his long and storied career as co-front man and songwriter for vaunted Bay Area band, The Mother Hips. In late September Loiacono released a stunning solo record, Songs From A Golden Dream, that has both long time fans and newcomers to his sound buzzing. The record is a breath of fresh air, a departure from the sound of The Mother Hips and a brilliantly crafted document of a man and his music that weaves the listener, thread by musical thread, through blues, rock, psychedelia and acid-tinged country. The Marin Vibe, once so prevalent back in the day, is strong on this record and it is with eager ears that that vibe is welcomed.
Glide writer and photographer, Andrew Quist, recently sat down with Loiacono to discuss this new album ahead of his cd release show at San Rafael’s, Terrapin Crossroads this Friday night (10/21). This not to be missed, landmark show is not yet sold out with a few tickets remaining. Loiacono has been on the road touring the record to phenomenal reviews over the past few weeks. His band, composed of some of the best players in Marin County: Scott Thunes on bass (Frank Zappa), Todd Roper on drums (Cake) and Alex Koford on backing vocals, guitar and percussion (Colonel and the Mermaids, Terrapin Family Band) all gel to elevate these unique songs to heights beautifully unfamiliar and exciting. Understand, these are not acoustic/songwriter shows, Loiacono and his band will bring the rock and leave audience members dancing around the room!
Why a solo album now?
It’s been brewing for a while – something that has been inside of me for some time that I needed to put out into the world. Finding time to actually get into the studio for something other than The Hips has been hard. There are many pieces to the life I live that need attention. It is a constant balancing act. It is beautiful but it is challenging. The opportunity to get back into the studio with David Simon Baker (co- producer and engineer) came up in May of 2015 and I seized the moment. I consider having an entirely completed and released project a year and a half later a great success.
How was it to work with David Simon Baker on this record? That guy is amazing. Any quick stories come to mind of working with that guy?
I have been working with DSB for close to ten years now. I consider him a good friend and a master recordist. He and I worked very closely together on this record. He was with me every step of the way. Once Todd and Scott laid their basic tracks and went home for the day, David and I got very focused on every detail. I trust when he thinks I have done my best vocal takes. And he makes me laugh…a lot. His interpretations of some of my lyrics would crack me up…and were spot on in ways that I hadn’t realized. And I trust him with my guitars
This is a largely disparate collection of songs written at various periods in your career. Can you talk about the idea behind sewing them together with “The Red Thread” concept? Why is the thread red?
The first time I heard about the red thread was from my son, Noah. He had brought the story home from school. It was something from Chinese mythology regarding the Red Thread of Destiny. Around that same time I was working on what would eventually be called The Red Thread Part III “The Day’s Long Wind”- trying to write a lullaby for my daughter, Ella. I loved the image of a red thread being tied to people destined to be with each other. But in the song, when the subject goes to sleep, the thread is severed. It’s as if all things destined or assumed in day to day life get forgotten for a while in dreams.
The first song on the album is “The Red Thread Part I (The Gloaming).” It is the newest song of this batch. I wrote it as an invitation to the listener. The red thread concept came up again while I was tracking the vocals to “The Day’s Long Wind” and I thought it would be neat to incorporate it into the lyrics for this opening song. I already knew that “The Day’s Long Wind” would close the album. Then I had bookends.
Once I decided to go all “prog rock” with some Roman numeraled song titles, my son Noah said that there had to be three parts – there couldn’t be just two. When he heard the instrumental song that became “The Red Thread Part II (an interlude)” he said “there is your missing piece”. He gets full credit for completing the trilogy.
“The Red Thread (An Interlude)” is as glorious an instrumental as has ever been put on a record. It’s this greasy sorbet of a jam that perfectly splits the album. There has to be a session story about that right?
That riff had been floating around in my “riff cloud” for a while. I have a super funky recording of it from a Hips demo- I believe for the Pacific Dust sessions. When Todd, Scott and I were tracking the basics I started playing the line. I gave DSB the nod to keep recording. Todd and Scott were unimpressed with my riffing but I wouldn’t budge. I kept playing until they started playing along. I made sure we had a good five minutes of it before I stopped. The next session was about a month later and I asked DSB to find that jam. I knew I wanted it to be cross faded into Please Let Us be Friends. I let DSB have his way with those five minutes and he condensed all the toughest bits into a nice, little package.
How did the song “Away From the Stones” come to be?
Homer’s The Odyssey was the best piece of literature I read while in college. So much so, that it was one of the only books I held onto. I picked it up years later and had left some book marks at particular bits that I liked. The story of the Sirens was one of them. It has been written and sung about a million times. But I was compelled to do my own version. What stands out to me is the unwavering support he had from his crew to help him achieve this dangerous and absurd task. I feel like I have that support from family, friends and fellow musicians- to lash myself to the rock mast and experiment with music and where it might take me. And I hope that I support those same people in that same way.
Tell me about “I Can’t Be Your Anything.” It’s this incredible love song that so many can connect with lyrically but the instrumentation on that song is amazing too. Can you speak to lyrical inspiration and the fantastically psychedelic instrumentation?
It’s a powerful song for me. The concept for the lyrics came about when I was spending a lot of time reading Zen books and studying Buddhist psychology. I was very taken by the concept of being responsible for one’s own happiness and what that meant to me and my relationship with others. My instigating the The Hips hiatus in 2003 created a lot of emotional turmoil between the band and I and I think with a lot of the fans as well. After some time of feeling personally responsible for people’s anger, I reflected a little further back on why I really stepped away. And at the core of that was unhappiness. The band was miserable – constantly complaining about all that was wrong and was unable to see what was right, myself included. So the opening verse to this song became like a mantra to me. Fortunately, the hiatus only lasted a little over a year and we came back with our eyes focused on the wonderful things about the band and what we had created over the years. As soon as I let go of feeling responsible for the band’s happiness I felt a great sense of musical freedom. Reminding myself of this concept is a big part of why I am still able to be in a band. It wasn’t until last year while recording the album that I finished the lyrics to this song.
I use an open C tuning (an alternate guitar tuning). It gives it the droney, raga-like feel. It is my favorite open tuning. I put harmonium on the track and Lefty Knight played sitar and dilruba. These elements really took it took the song to another place.
What is it about live performance that keeps you motivated to continue get out there after so many years? Have there been any specific moments in this run of shows that have been examples of that stoke?
Carey Wilson wrote this about our show in The Chico News and Review last week “The audience was part of a living, breathing happening rather than attending a rote performance of pre-scripted set pieces. The shows have been feeling like this to me, too. It’s something that the band and audience is doing together rather than the band doing it to the audience and the audience passively receiving.
You have played with Todd Roper and Scott Thunes for a while now. Why did you add Alex Koford (Colonel and the Mermaids, Terrapin Family Band) to the mix with the live band? What does he bring to the table?
I added Alex mainly because of his singing. He has a great voice and he can sing high parts above me. I am usually the male, high harmony singer in most settings and now Koford takes that role. He has been playing guitar and some percussion as well and he is adding a lot to the live show.
You’ve been touring the album now for a few weeks. How will it feel to bring it home to Marin County and Terrapin Crossroads? You’ve been a regular musician over at Terrapin for the last few years and it has stretched you musically. This must surely feel like a homecoming of sorts right?
I am very excited about the Terrapin Crossroads show. Yes, I have been playing there a lot over the last few years. I have participated in happy hours, improvisational bar shows, singing kids songs with Phil [Lesh] in the backyard and Phil Lesh and Friends shows in The Grate Room. It is like Disneyland for musicians and music lovers. I even officiated the wedding of two very good friends out in the TXR park this summer!
But more than that, I grew up in Marin County. I have family here that will be coming to the show. Friends I’ve known since grade school are making plans of it and newer friends that I have met through my kids’ schools are rallying. I feel extremely supported…and fired up to share a musical experience with them.