Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is Back (PRESS, US)

28 April 2011
Interview / article on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is back
Published Thursday, April 28, 2011

It should be said up front that, in spite of the name, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is not actually a blues band.

The New York City-based band recently reissued their 1990s albums – a mix of funk, hip-hop and early rock ‘n’ roll that introduced a generation of young listeners raised on punk, grunge and Brit-pop to raw, sweaty dance music.

The Blues Explosion had a string of minor MTV hits like “Bellbottoms” and “Flavor,” a collaboration with an up-and-coming Beck, in the mid-1990s.

They never sold a ton of records, but their lineup of two guitarists and a drummer was a precursor to later, more popular bass-less blues-rock bands like The White Stripes and Black Keys.

When called for an interview last week, Spencer was in a New York recording studio mixing an album for a Belgian combo called The Experimental Tropic Blues Band.

“They sound like they listen to a little bit of the Blues Explosion,” he said.With his penchant for shouting catchphrases like his band’s name and “Take a whiff of my pant leg!” – it smells like “lemon-fresh Tide … I put on a clean pair of pants” – it’s sometimes hard to tell whether Spencer’s music is a heartfelt homage to black artists, ironic or downright parody. His harshest critics have accused him of being a second-rate Elvis impersonator fronting a whiteface minstrel show.

“It’s just wrong, totally wrong,” he said. “This is music we love. I don’t see the problem with me, a white kid from New Hampshire, making a record influenced by R.L. (Burnside) or Little Richard. It’s all stuff we’re listening to.”

Spencer toured and recorded with Burnside, an experience he called the most fun he’d ever had in his career. In the process, he exposed the then-unknown late bluesman to a whole new audience outside his native North Mississippi.

In person, Spencer comes off as thoughtful and polite, a far cry from his wild, sneering stage persona.

“We’re presenting an ideal, what we believe is an ideal, of what rock ‘n’ roll should be,” he said.

After releasing and touring behind their most recent album, “Damage,” in 2004, Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins went on hiatus. Bauer served as a sideman for Atlanta chanteuse Cat Power, Simins played with side project Men Without Pants, and Spencer released three albums with his rockabilly band, Heavy Trash.

The six albums the Blues Explosion released on Matador Records had gone out of print, and Spencer decided last year he wanted to reissue them, but he said he made little progress on his own. Soon after, the label Shout! Factory approached him about releasing those records again, and Spencer jumped at the chance.

“I think they’re great albums,” he said. “I’m very proud of them. I wanted to have them out there for people to enjoy.”

Unlike most musicians, Spencer is lucky enough to own his own masters, and the band recorded twice as much material as they needed for each album, giving them lots of extra goodies for the reissues. The CDs also are packaged with a booklet containing photos and liner notes by Mike Edison, the former publisher of the marijuana culture magazine High Times and now the Blues Explosion’s “information minister.”

Putting together the reissues – 1993’s “Extra Width”; 1994’s “Orange”; 1996’s “Now I Got Worry”; 1998’s “Acme”; the 1997 Japanese live album “Controversial Negro”; and a compilation of early recordings called “Year One” – brought back memories for Spencer. He even had forgotten about some of the songs on the old tapes, he said.

“Oh, it’s a trip,” he said. “It’s not as close to me. It’s almost as if I’m working on another band’s catalog.”

Spencer said he also plans to rerelease albums by his first band, noise-rockers Pussy Galore, next year, though not their infamously sloppy remake of Rolling Stones classic “Exile on Main Street.”

At the 40 Watt Club show Saturday, the Blues Explosion will play songs from its entire catalog, as well as a few new ones, Spencer said. And when the tour ends, a new album might be in the works, he said.

“We’re taking things a bit slowly,” he said. “We don’t have any definite plans. We don’t have any studio time booked. But, yeah, when we come off tour, we’ll probably go into the studio.”

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