Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Band Width: Jon Spencer Talks Nirvana, ‘Black Music’, and Why He’s Not Bruce Springsteen (PRESS, US)

16 October 2010 NME
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Band Width: Jon Spencer Talks Nirvana, 'Black Music', and Why He's Not Bruce Springsteen (PRESS, US)
Interview with Jon Spencer by Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman.
“He’s been called a “scuzz-blues pioneer,” a “scuzz-rock hero,” an anti-rock visionary, and “Elvis on acid.” Now, two decades after he reinvented garage rock, Jon Spencer and his blues-rock band, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, are reissuing their newly remastered catalog, along with rare and unreleased bonus tracks.

Whether you owned a copy of “Extra Width” in 1993 or missed them the first time around, it’s a treat to listen to albums like “Dirty Shirt Rock N’ Roll: The First 10 Years” (a compilation of the band’s best recordings released in March), even if just to try to pick out the group’s wide variety of influences.

We talked to Spencer about how the music scene has changed since the ’90s and how he came to create his punk-blues sound.

Why are you re-issuing so much of your music right now?

The albums have all gone out of print — they’re not really out there anymore. I think they’re great records and I want them be available and enjoyed — some were never digital.

Why did the band go on hiatus for six years?

We worked very hard and very steadily for a very long time — we wanted to do different kinds of music with different people. Personally I just wanted a change — I wanted something else. But we never did call it quits, we took a break.

How would you say the music scene has changed since the ’90s?

It was a huge gold rush following the success of Nirvana — there was a lot of money being thrown around by the record labels, and I think it probably wasn’t the best thing for a lot of people. I think ultimately the major labels were bad for the indie rock scene. I come from underground. I believe in punk rock. I came out of the hardcore scene. I didn’t and still don’t believe in a record label opening a door for you. If you want to do something, you do it yourself.

Were you more inspired by the ’80s?

The ’80s were an incredibly exciting time — I felt very much a part of the indie underground. By the time Blues Explosion started [in the early ’90s], I’d already begun to feel kind of disconnected — some of it had to with the kind of music Blues Explosion made.

Things definitely changed with the whole Nirvana thing — people were trying to make money off of this whole thing. I think the bands that were successful like Nirvana had an odd combo of luck and other factors. Nirvana was a bit scruffy and rough-sounding, but they were still mainstream pop rock. People started to think, “We can make money off these bands.” I didn’t go into music as a career choice — it’s my passion. I’ve been very lucky to be able to support my family doing this. The business stuff poisoned and encouraged a lot of bad behavior.

What were your musical influences growing up?

I came out of hardcore, which showed me you can do it yourself. You don’t have to be Mick Jagger to make a record — anybody can make a record, even if you may have to work at the 7-Eleven.

Bands like Black Flag, Gun Club — those are two which pop to mind that had an impact on me. Also just local bands, like your friend’s band from your hometown.

As far as The Blues Explosion’s influences, our contemporaries and peers at the time, we learned a lot from Jesus Lizard. We took a lot of inspiration from older acts, people like Hound Dog Taylor, Howlin’ Wolf, James Brown, as well as rap and hip-hop.

A lot of what we were doing was kind of reimagining — listening to and reading about all these R&B and soul music acts and reimagining in our own way. We were into showmanship and entertainment — not many bands were doing that. We came out in a big way, giving everything to our live concert.

One thing I’ve never understood is why people will criticize Blues Explosion for drawing influence from black music. Music is not real estate, it’s free for everybody. There is some play to do what we do, and a lot of joy and a lot of life. It’s not done as a joke or a piss-take or to make fun of the music that has inspired us. When people start writing that, I can only think they don’t enjoy what I like.

Listen to Little Richard, Jay Hawkins… that’s crazy music. Rock ‘n’ roll is a crazy kind of thing — that’s why it appeals to me. Unfortunately in the U.S., people seem to think rock ‘n’ roll has to be really serious, like Bruce Springsteen or something. I don’t know why so many people are ashamed of it.

What do you think of allegations that the White Stripes “stole” their sound from you?

I’ve heard it before. I think there are some definite similarities, superficial things in common. I think there are also a great many differences, so it’s not really fair to them.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have also been compared to you.

They’re a great band — another band without a bass player.

Of all of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion songs, which one is your favorite?

The song “Bellbottoms” from the album “Orange,” the recorded album, I still enjoy listening to that. Playing live, “R.L. Got Soul” is always a treat to play.

Does it still feel the same to play the live show?

Well, I’m a lot older now — but all kidding aside, it’s still incredibly exciting, an incredible moment of concentration. It’s very intense — the music still moves me in a very deep way, allows me to escape to someplace else, a higher level.

Does the band have any plans to put out a brand-new album?

There’s totally a chance. We’ve been playing concerts, touring and playing live because these records are coming out again. It’s been very, very enjoyable. We have been talking about the possibility of something new.”

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