I want a pink Cadillac
Jon Spencer of the Blues Explosion! discusses their new album and how he'd like to be rich and famous.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! are by no means a band with "household name" status. In fact, even big rock and alternative music fans would be stuck if asked to name more than a few of their songs. Yet this trio from New York has been releasing material for over a decade and are largely influential in the sounds of artists like Beck, the White Stripes, the Vonbondies and pretty much all of the bands from the currently trendy New York scene.
This may be a well-known fact, but when I met Jon Spencer, the band's lead singer, before their gig in the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin, his infamously shy demeanour hindered him from any self-flattery on the fact. Their latest album, "Plastic fang" has been on release for almost a year now and this is their sixth visit to Europe. Jon places great importance on their live shows. "Playing live is a lot of fun. It is very important to us too, from the start it has been very important to us to put on a show. There used to be a lot of bands that just stood around and I think that we are very aware that people are there to see a show."
The JSBX deliver a very raw, vigorous and erratic self-styled rock n' roll. Their live shows are well known as some of the most wild, energetic and thoroughly enjoyable performances around. They draw influences from such eclectic areas as blues, country music, soul, punk rock and free jazz. It is difficult, thus, to understand why they have often been criticised for repetitiveness in the past. Especially when considering their back catalogue that includes an entire album dedicated to collaborations and remixes.
"Plastic fang" has been cited as a progression for the band, seeing a more structured approach to song writing and the rare inclusion of an acoustic track titled 'Mother nature.' Jon, however, is quick to add, "I guess it is a little bit different from 'Now I got worry'. That certainly was a nasty record in both the tone and the sound of it. I don't think 'Plastic fang' was so much of a departure, we wrote the album the same way we've always written songs. I think it fits in well with stuff we've done before. Perhaps the difference with 'Plastic fang' was maybe the production was such that it's easier for the listener to latch on to things and appreciate the song writing."
The production of the latest album saw the JSBX use a mix of modern production programs such as ProTools along with the famously retro Helios Console in London, which has been used to create some of the world's greatest rock n' roll albums. "We've used ProTools and other forms of modern technology, we've nothing against it. 'Plastic fang' was made in a much more old fashioned way, using the height of technology from the early seventies."
Indeed, technology has been something the JSBX have embraced in the past. On their album "ACME - Experimental remixes", the band collaborated with artists such as David Holmes, Moby, and Beck. Most recently they are working with Elliot Smith whom they performed with in New York last weekend. "We just did a few days in the studio in New York City and Elliot Smith was there hanging out. We just did a weekend of shows and Elliot played with us on both nights. So we're kicking around a few songs and we'll probably play some of those tonight."
Since the recent blues and rock n' roll revival the JSBX have begun to receive some of their well-deserved credit. However, Jon does maintain that it is still difficult for the band to be accepted. This is not something that worries him too much. "I think what we do is always going to be a little bit confusing for some people and, for me, that's a mark of greatness. I think rock n' roll is strictly something that is a little unsettling and not so easily digestible."
Always maintaining their very individual sound and never emerging from a particular scene they still encounter criticisms. "Yeah, we pretty much came out of nowhere. I think it's difficult and it continues to be difficult, but, y'know, we just continue to do our thing. I think people need to realise that the Blues Explosion has really triumphed and we may never have had a hit record, but we've been able to do this without the benefit of a major record label or radio or television."
Jon did comment that their dedication to their music and individual sound is not something they do consciously. It is simply their natural creativity that they refuse to stifle for the sake of dollar signs. "We don't do it to keep it in a corner. I would love to have a hit record and be rich and have someone buy me a pink Cadillac! The more people that want to get into our music the better. We're not elitist or separatist, but we try to please ourselves. It's not in our nature or plans to sell out."
Selling out is not something the JSBX will have to do to receive their well-deserved recognition. It may be a while coming, but, with many of today's greatest artists naming them as an influence, it will only be a matter of time before everyone will appreciate the guitar crunching, free-style warbling and adlibs of this unique and talented band. Then the world will be their oyster, pink Cadillacs and all!
by Bernadette Johnston