The Blues are still No.1
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
"Not in my mind," drawled Jon from New York City, from where he's been carving out the unmistakeable rock/blues schtick of the JSBX for over 20 years.
Over the phone he's calm and considered, a far cry from his onstage pastiche of James Brown, Elvis and Iggy Pop. The Blues Explosion combine art-rock noise, hip-hop rhythms, and crazed howling; a postmodern take on the blues that offends purists and makes for one of the most exhilarating live acts in the world.
Without a bass player, Jon's fuzzed out pawn-shop guitar provides the raw grinding rock'n'roll heart, while guitarist Judah Bauer stays clean and cool, ripping out blues licks alongside Russell Simmin's furious snare attacks.
Siezing on their notoriety and Jon's onstage histrionics, artists as diverse as Beck and bona fide blues artefact RL Burnside did remixes and sang on their records in the 90s. Their elusive zeitgeist was defined in Australia on their legendary performance on the ABC Recovery program in 1997, where during a frenzied medley Jon abandoned his guitar and tore around the set demolishing their back-drop, tackling cameramen and climbing over the audience screaming "I gotta do it!!!" between assaults on the theremin and host Dylan Lewis.
They stopped doing it in 2002, after which Jon hooked up with Heavy Trash, a slick, alternate-reality rockabilly outfit. He was also making waves with Boss Hog, featuring his wife, Cristina Martinez, and garage-rock outfit Pussy Galore while Judah Bauer recorded with the notoriously fragile Cat Power and Russell Simmins with various other outfits. In 2010 the band reformed.
"We revisited our back catalogue and that was a source of power and energy," Jon said. "It felt so good we thought we'd make another record. We did it ourselves on our own time, saved up our own money. We had no contract, no-one in the studio telling us what to do, so we made exactly the kind of record we wanted to make and things felt fresh and exciting as if it were our first record."
The new album Meat And Bone is vintage JSBX.. The subject matter maintains the surreal cut and paste bohemian bombast that kept them out on the edge of the mainstream.
"I'm writing about anything that might happen. Breakfast, personal relationships... Of course, this is a very personal project - a vehicle in which I can give voice to different thoughts, feelings, emotions - but it's also a partnership. You couldn't make any substitutions in the way the three of us bounce off each other."
The driving force of the JSBX is quite simply a love of good music.
"We are voracious consumers of music. We're so in love with this record or that record. Our music is like a homage - like a history of music."
In fact it was Jon's reverence for old vinyl records that spurred the first single and video off the album - Black Mold.
"Black Mold was about Hurricane Irene in NYC two years ago - while getting ready for it I discovered a box of vinyl I had in storage getting wet. The jackets were all covered in mould and part of the lyrics is a check-list of records that were destroyed. One line makes reference to climate change - in the past we've done some political songs, but it's a tricky thing to write about things tied to specific causes or events, they can quickly date."
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion play the Great Northern in Byron Bay on March 8. Tickets are $44 from oztix.com.au.