Jon Spencer Blues Explosion | Interview
The blues-punk pioneer talks Steve Albini, Andre Williams and Hurricane Irene.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion pioneered the punk-blues genre in the ’90s with a string of hard-hitting albums for Matador Records. After fizzling out in the mid-aughties, the trio, otherwise known as JSBX, reunited in 2010 for a run of dates including a stop at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Spencer and co. return with Meat and Bone, a raw comeback recalling those seminal, early releases. We reached Spencer on tour at a gas station in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he opened up about meeting Andre Williams and braving Hurricane Irene.
You’ve been quoted as saying you don’t have anything to prove.
The Blues Explosion has been playing together for more than 20 years. We’ve already made a mark, and we’ve made a lot of good records. Of course we wanted to make a great record, but we weren’t rushed. We weren’t stressed.
I’m curious about the artists you name on Meat and Bone’s first song, “Black Mold.”
Hurricane Irene was predicted to hit New York City last summer. I have a storage space in my apartment building that’s in the basement, and the Blues Explosion rehearses in the basement, and both places were predicted to flood. In the process of moving things I found boxes of old LPs. The jackets were damp and moldy and were just a big mess. I guess it’s a classic blues song. It’s about a storm. It’s about high water. And it’s about the loss of those records. The list of artists are some of the records that were ruined.
Let’s talk about some of your Chicago connections. You’ve recorded with Steve Albini a couple of times.
We tracked Acme at Electrical, and he came to New York City for some of our first sessions. I worked with Steve before that with Boss Hog and Pussy Galore, so my relationship with him goes way back. Another important one is the Jesus Lizard, a great Chicago band. They took us out in ’92 or something. That was a big deal for us. We really learned a lot watching them work. Also Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers, a blues trio who recorded for Alligator, they were a big influence.
You’ve also collaborated with Andre Williams, who’s a fixture around here.
We’d heard his records, things like Bacon Fat and Jail Bait, and incredibly strange and exotic old singles. We were in Chicago tracking Acme at Electrical with Steve Albini, and someone told us that Andre was playing at a bar in the neighborhood, so we went down there. I invited him in [to the studio], and that led to us doing the song “Lap Dance,” and that led to all kinds of touring together and other collaborations. We never in a million years thought we’d ever get to meet the guy. We didn’t even think he was alive anymore. Those records were sort of like a moon rock or something, a meteorite. They were so wild.
What’s your opinion on the wild popularity of contemporary blues-rock bands like the White Stripes and the Black Keys? It’s been said that your work in the ’90s paved the way for those groups.
Perhaps the Blues Explosion had something to do with them. I don’t know. I don’t know those people. It’s not really my bag. To my ears, that music, I would guess it’s popular because it was popular once before. A lot of that stuff reminds me of what was on the radio when I was a kid in the ’70s. It’s a tried-and-true formula. The Blues Explosion, on the other hand, has always been very much a punk band, and quite adventurous and experimental and in some ways confrontational. We’ve always been pushing ourselves.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion plays Bottom Lounge Sunday 21.