Jon Spencer talks heavy hogs and explosions galore
Jon Spencer is a unique individual in the world of independent music. While it isn’t uncommon for a well-known and prolific musician to have multiple projects during his or her career, it’s rare for more than two of those projects to be hailed with critical affection. Typically the cap is two, for example, Kim Deal with the Pixies and then the Breeders or David Lowery with Camper Van Beethoven and later Cracker. Spencer has managed to pull it off four times to date. First with mid-80s anti-rock band Pussy Galore, then fronting alongside his wife Christina Martinez (who was also a member of Pussy Galore) in Boss Hog, then most famously to date with the influential and genre-defying Blues Explosion, and now, and most likely not finally, alongside Matt Verta-Ray (of both Madder Rose and Speedball Baby) with the rockabilly influenced Heavy Trash.
Spencer and Verta-Ray brought Heavy Trash to the High Noon Saloon on Monday, September 25, 2006 with the garage-country-rock infused The Sadies opening and acting as backup band. Dane101 spoke with Spencer about Heavy Trash, his other side projects, and the future of the Blues Explosion.
Originally posted to dane101 September 20, 2006.
Dane101: The Heavy Trash album came from a love for rockabilly music shared between yourself and Matt and you took your time putting the first album together – about a year. How was the process for Heavy Trash different than when you go into the studio to make an album for the Blues Explosion?
Jon Spencer: With Heavy Trash, Matt’s a producer, he owns a studio on the Lower East Side. So making that record we could work at our own pace and we didn’t have to worry about a clock on the wall or how much the time was costing us. So the whole process was spread out over a long period of time. We had the room to experiment and try things out. The other main thing with Heavy Trash we never played out live, it was just me and Matt. We had a lot of friends help us with the record, like different guest musicians, but it wasn’t like there was ever a real band. That just made for a different approach.
Dane101: Do you think you will release a second Heavy Trash album?
JS: We’re already underway with it. This one’s going to be different because since we released the first album we’ve started playing live. Here in the United States and Canada, we play with the Sadies, who are a great band from Toronto and will be with us in Madison. Over in Europe, we play with some friends of us from Denmark who are part of the Crunchy Frog label. We’ve had a great experience with two really great bands and its been really nice for me and Matt to show up someplace, just meet our friends and play.
So for this next record, we are going to have the two live bands as well as a third New York City group that we’ve been playing with. So this new record the basic tracks will be rather than built up piece by piece, but be more of a full live band performance recorded in the studio. So some of these songs will feature the Sadies. We did a session with them back in May in Boston.
Dane101: …is there more pressure this time around?
JS: Pressure? Only from ourselves…no, I wouldn’t say there is a lot of pressure. I would hope we would be able to top the first one or at least do something that is a little different, I don’t see a point in making the same record again.
Dane101: Do you have a sense for what the next album will sound like?
JS: It’s still coming together. I have a lot of songs that we’ve written and we will probably record more songs then what we will use on the album. I think this record will be a little less rockabilly than the first one. I can say that, but you know, I don’t really know what will end up on the record.
Dane101: You always seem to be working on multiple projects, is there anything you are currently working on besides Heavy Trash?
JS: Well I just released this record on Yep Roc under the name of Spencer Dickinson. It was an album I made with Cody, Luther, and Jim Dickinson. Cody and Luther are famous from the North Mississippi All-Stars and Jim Dickinson is a legendary Memphis musician and producer. So this record was made back in 2000 and was released on a Japanese label. And now its finally coming out for the rest of the world. So that’s something else.
Dane101: I remember reading in an interview last year where you said you were working on finally getting that out.
JS: Yeah and it came out and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Dane101: How to your collaborations come together, is it something you seek out or something that just comes together?
JS: I guess it’s a musical attraction. Seeking out people who turn me on or inspire me, whose music I like. The All-Stars, the thing with Cody and Luther, I’d known them for a couple years before the turn of the century, Luther had come around to Blues Explosion shows and he had given me some cassettes of early North Mississippi stuff. So I had known those guys and we had played together a couple times – the Blues Explosion and the North Mississippi All-Stars – and at one point I had just said, “why don’t we make a record together.” I asked their father to come in on it because I had been a big fan of his.
As far as Matt I think it was, I had known him for many years, we had both been around New York City and I had always been a friend of the way Matt played guitar and we shared the rockabilly thing. SO we just started hanging out and playing.
Dane101: What’s the state of Blues Explosion now?
JS: We’re just kind of asleep.
Dane101: More in the future?
JS: Well see. We don’t have any plans right now, but we’ll see what happens.
Dane101: Do you and your wife Christina ever talk about breaking out the old Boss Hog songbook?
JS: No, we don’t. I think that’s pretty much finished. We did set-up a project recently with a woman from Amsterdam who goes by the name of Solex. We recorded a bunch of stuff with her…I think it was in February? I don’t know, it was a while ago. But I hope that comes out someday because that was very good.
Dane101: I’ve heard a couple of tracks from her, she does some really interesting work.
JS: She’s great. She is definitely worth checking out.
Dane101: With your connection to blues you must have a big connection with New Orleans, do you have a sense for what the state of music is down there?
JS: I haven’t been down there since the Hurricane. That was and continues to be a very sad thing. I’ve heard people talk about it but I couldn’t really talk about it first hand.
Dane101: What can we expect to see when you hit Madison?
JS: The last time I was in Madison was the night George Bush was reelected. it was the start of the Blues Explosion tour. So the whole first week of that tour, man, I tell ya, everyone was depressed and pissed off. You could feel something in the air. But I remember we were heading out at the same venue and we flew out of New York City into Chicago. When we had got on the plane we still had not known who had won. Then by the time we had got there, Kerry had conceded and that was pretty…it was raining to…and there was all of this construction going on around the High Noon.
So, I think that there is a lot of bad stuff in the world today and George Bush is still in office, but I hope that this show with heavy Trash and the Sadies will be a little bit more of a good time than the last time I was there. The Sadies will do their own show and then take a little break. Then Matt and I will join the Sadies and perform as Heavy Trash. You know the Sadies are great. We’ll play probably most everything off the album. Those guys are so good they can reproduce most of the sounds on the record. We have a lot of new songs to play and a few covers, its going to be just a really great night of rock-n-roll, blues, country and western, and rockabilly.
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