Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

The album, produced by Steve Jordan (whose work includes everyone from BB King to Billy Joel, as well as being paired with Keith Richards in the X Pensive Winos), features appearances by Dr. John and Bernie Worrell. Before you start worrying that JSBX, with all this production value, might start guesting on the soundtrack of Ally McBeal (oh, that’s right, it’s deceased), calm yourselves; the album is, from beginning to end, a relentless gush of blistering, funky rock.

 

They take a big glowing voodoo skull, shake it in your face, and let it all hang loose on their new album, Plastic Fang. The album, released in March, is drawing favorable reviews both here and in Europe. It is a throwback to a rock past that was all gut and aggression. The album, produced by Steve Jordan (whose work includes everyone from BB King to Billy Joel, as well as being paired with Keith Richards in the X Pensive Winos), features appearances by Dr. John and Bernie Worrell. Before you start worrying that JSBX, with all this production value, might start guesting on the soundtrack of Ally McBeal (oh, that’s right, it’s deceased), calm yourselves; the album is, from beginning to end, a relentless gush of blistering, funky rock. Still need some reassurance? Best rhyming from a man in the spasm of rock ecstasy, from “The Midnight Creep”: “Right now go ahead baby, I’m gonna stick my head in gravy.” Screamin’ Jay would be proud.

JSBX came out of the demise of Pussy Galore (providing Spencer) and Honeymoon Killers (Russell Simins and Judah Bauer) in the early ’90s. Over the last ten years, they have released several albums, including Crypt Style, Now I Got Worry, Acme, and Acme Plus, which featured radical reworked versions of Blues Explosion favorites by Beck, Moby, and Mike D of the Beastie Boys. Also during the last decade, Spencer has been performing on and off with Boss Hog, which he formed with Christina Martinez, also ex-Pussy Galore (and also his wife). Recently, we caught up with guitarist Judah Bauer, who had just arrived back from Europe and was still fighting the effects of jetlag. He filled PlaybackSTL in on the making of Plastic Fang and also what it is like to be part of the touring “Vatican of Rock” that is Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

PS: How long did it take you to make the new album, Plastic Fang?

JB: Probably like six months, on and off. I think we wrote for like three or four months and then we recorded it in about two weeks, then took about a couple weeks for mixing. It’s not like we do it all in one shot, so it’s hard to say. I think we started last year, or maybe even over a year ago, writing songs and playing them out.

PS: I’ve read that you tried out the new songs on your tour last year. What’s it like to build an album on the road?

JB: It’s a luxury; usually you don’t get to do that. You can kind of see what’s working and what isn’t that way. When you play something on stage, you really get to live in the song. It’s a better way, kind of a deeper way, it’s good for working things out.

PS: Where do you get the ideas for your songs?

JB: Just getting together and playing with a band. The interaction of the three of us, that would be a big part of it, and then it would be all the music that inspires us, which is a lot of blues, rock ’n’ roll, and hip hop. That’s the musical part of it; lyrically, you’d have to ask Jon, because he writes the lyrics.

PS: Do you have a specific songwriting process?

JB: It’s a band thing. Music’s always first, the jamming situation.

PS: JSBX is always expanding musically. Is it hard to keep making albums that are new and innovative?

JB: That’s a hard question. Are we evolving? I don’t know what kind of evolution the band’s in. I guess we keep evolving as musicians because we keep doing it, we keep playing on the road, so I think we’re still evolving that way, but I think this record is not a huge change stylistically or anything. It’s rock ’n’ roll, it’s what we’ve been doing for a while.

PS: Do you see Internet radio and MP3 sites as a help or hindrance to JSBX?

JB: I’m sure it’s helpful. The more avenues for people to hear it, the better it is. I like Internet radio better than the radio. You can be a little more selective about what you want to hear. I mean, where can you hear exclusively bluegrass for five hours?

PS: The live show is so energetic and frantic. Does being on tour wear you down?

JB: This phone battery might die any second, and that’s what touring is like. So I’m just saying, if the phone cuts out, it’s nothing personal…Yeah, touring is pretty grueling, especially the way we do it: we never take a day off, unless it’s like some incredible drive that you can’t humanly do. It’s pretty burnout, man, being on the road, because most of your energy just goes to trying to keep your equilibrium so you can play a show. While I was in Europe, I found out I couldn’t sleep on a bus. For two weeks I couldn’t sleep.

PS: Jon Spencer did an album and tour with Boss Hog in 2000. What did you guys do in your time between the last album and this one?

JB: Lots of stuff. “Stuff.” [laughs] What a dynamic interview. Anyway, I’ve got a band called 20 Miles so that’s what I do; we’ve got three records out and we tour. I don’t think Jon’s doing anything besides JSBX…I don’t even know if Boss Hog’s a band anymore. Jon’s got a kid, so that’s what he’s doing when he’s not doing Blues Explosion, and Russell’s got some other projects, so it’s usually something music-related.

PS: Do you find it hard to maintain your focus with so many projects going on?

JB: Yeah, but once I get on stage, I leave everything out. I just get focused and play.

PS: What’s your guilty music pleasure?

JB: I don’t know, I guess it would be classical music. I don’t feel guilty, it’s just no one ever seems to want to listen to it in the band. I think they’re missing out, but whatever. Those people put us in our place, you know? We’re all a bunch of amateurs. We just add a little night music, or whatever it happens to be, you know?

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