Jon Spencer show at El Club, Detroit, 4114 Vernor Hwy, Detroit, MI, 48209, US with The Melvins (headline) on 3 August 2018.
nb. The band was later to become known as ‘Jon Spencer & The HITmakers’
Bob Bert (Gas Tank & Metal Percussion)
Soundcheck Photo: Brian Walsby
Poster Artwork: Dave Kloc
Interview / Show Preview Feature:
Todd: Yes, sir.
Jon: Where are you calling from?
Jon: Okay. How are you doing?
Todd: Good. Yourself?
Jon: Yeah, I’m all right. Thanks. Is it hot out there?
Todd: Yeah, it’s in the upper 80’s.
Jon: Oh. Are you from Detroit?
Todd: I actually live right in the city.
Jon: Ah, but I mean did you grow up there? Are you from there?
Todd: Born here, raised in the suburbs. Went in the service for a few years, and then came back home.
Jon: What’s your impression of your city and the changes that have happened the past few years?
Todd: Well, it’s funny my wife and I actually moved back to the city. I live literally three miles from the downtown. We love it. The way it’s coming around. The way it’s expanding.
Jon: Oh Good. Do you have children?
Todd: Well, we’ve got a 26-year-old. He lives on his own.
Jon: Oh, okay. When I talk to people… The impression I get is that if you’re just a single person, you’re childless, or you’re an artist, it sounds like, “Yeah it’d be really great.” But anybody who has kids, it’s like, “Sure I can find us an amazing house, but there is nowhere I can send my kid to school.” Things like utilities, trash collection, and things like that. That’s not a problem, is it?
Todd: Not at all. Even the club scene is coming back. I know that we’ll get to that a little bit because you’re coming to town August 3rd to play the El Club. You’ve played a lot of clubs in Detroit over your extensive career.
Jon: Been there a few times. One of my fondest memories of Detroit was getting shown around by Danny Kroha, and it was back when the Fortune Building was still there. You know – Fortune Record Studio. And I guess we were sort of breaking into abandoned buildings, but climbing the fence, and going in there. There wasn’t much to see, but it was still very exciting for us, me and my band mates. Danny would say like, “Oh, yeah, when I first went in here you could find old paper labels.” There were still kind of pieces there that indicated what the history of what that place once was. Detroit is definitely a very cool place. It’s interesting to see, I don’t know what you call it, the rejuvenation or the reinvention.
Todd: You’ve got a lot in the can, so to speak. You got a new record coming out on In The Red records, Spencer Sings the Hits. I’ve only been exposed to the first video and single, “Do the Trash Can,” but, what can you tell us about this album that your fans might not grab the first or second time they listen through?
Jon: Shoot, good question… I don’t know. I didn’t try to overthink things when I was making it so I think I tried to go with my instincts. It’s a punk record. I’ve always been a primitivist. It’s been a few years since The Blues Explosion kind of stopped. Boss Hogg had a record come out and we were doing some shows with Boss Hogg but we couldn’t do a lot because everybody had jobs. I was really missing having a band and being a part of that. So, I started thinking about trying to start something new. A couple false starts and I just figured out I’m going to do it by myself. So I wrote a bunch of songs and went out to Benton Harbor, Michigan to work at the Key Club, which is a great studio out there that I’ve done a few records at. It was the end of September. That was the tracking session. I used a local guy from Kalamazoo, M. Sord, to play drums. He’s someone that I’ve met over the years working at the Key Club. He sort of the studio handyman. He’s also a very good drummer. He played on the record and then my old friend Sam Coomes, of the band Quasi, he came in from Portland, Oregon. I had this batch of songs and we set things up and every day I would show them. We would just work through the songs, I would play it down for them and we would figure it out and just sort of bang it out a few times. It was certainly not over rehearsed. I taught the band the songs, we figure stuff out, we played it and got a good sound, and then we got a good take and that was it. We just kind of moved quickly through it. It was good that we did that because after a few days I got a call from my wife and her father had had an accident. He actually had passed away. He had a hemorrhagic stroke. He was technically still alive but for all intents and purposes he had passed quickly. So the session got cut short, I had to fly back East to be with my family. Thankfully we had gotten all the basics done but for a day there it was very uneasy, very tense, working because we’d still be trying to record but I’d have to stop because I’d get a phone call because everything was so chaotic. I didn’t know who was where and my wife was on the move. That’s something people might not know about the record when they listen to it. And then in January I went back and just by myself and did the overdose and mixed it. The whole record was recorded and mixed in Michigan. It was at the Key Club in Benton Harbor and working with Jessica Ruffins and Bill Skibbe, the couple that owns that studio and runs that place. And like I said it’s a punk record, it’s pretty simple, straight ahead. I guess maybe I didn’t agonize over, like “oh should I take a left turn or right turn… does this sound right or that sound right”. I just tried to keep moving through it and perhaps because I had been spending so many months and years sort of thinking about this. The pot had been stewing for so long that it was just ready to come out. So it’s a pretty straightforward type of record but that’s the kind of music I like. There’s a lot of percussion on the record and that’s kind of a nod back to my early start with Pussy Galore, that was my first band. Kind of industrial edge sort of thing. Other than that, Sam is playing, he is kind of covering the low end but he’s doing it with synthesizers. So it’s not that far away from things I’ve done in the past and I think it kind of falls in line with the rest of the stuff in my discography.
Todd: I’d agree with that. Again, I’ve only been exposed to the single, but it fit right in with other tracks from your discography. That said Jon, what was it like to put this out there, and I mean you’ve been doing this stuff a long time and for you to finally do a solo album.
Jon: Yeah, I mean, like I said I really missed being in a band and to be honest, using my own name did not really excite me. And especially now, I’m trying promote the album release and tour dates are coming up. So, I’d much rather hide behind a group name and yeah I like being in a band but I didn’t have a band. And also I think I figured, as uncomfortable as it might make me feel to do it as a solo album, using my own name, it was the quickest way to let people know what was going on and what to expect.
Todd: What was the biggest difference, retrospectively for you now, in recording this as opposed to doing something in a band situation?
Jon: Well, most specifically, I like to collaborate, I like to write songs for people and that’s what I did with The Blues Explosion for over 20 years and that’s what Boss Hogg does and that’s what I did with Matt Verta-Ray in Heavy Trash. I like to write songs for other people. It’s not always the rule, there has been times when I’ve written by myself. So this record was different, I wrote everything by myself in advance. This is not the first time which I’ve written stuff by myself but certainly this is out of the ordinary for me to not be collaborating with other musicians on the songwriting. I’d like to think that there was room for Sam and M. Sord to stretch their wings. It wasn’t like I was ” Oh you have to play it like this…” People had had a chance to add their own little touch or flare to things. I should add that when we’re going to be playing in Detroit and playing, well anywhere that we are going to be joined by my old friend Bob Bert who was the drummer for Pussy Galore. Bob will be coming out with us and playing percussion.
Todd: Oh cool. You mentioned the tour a couple times and you’ve got a date coming up at the El Club here in Detroit on August 3rd.
Jon: Yeah we are supporting The Melvins I believe. About half of the shows out in the Midwest are on our own and the other half supporting The Melvins. I’m very excited about that. I’m just excited to get out and play again and get working on this new project. Making the record was one thing but getting it together for the stage is a whole other ball game. So, I’m very excited about that and also a little bit nervous and I’m definitely excited about the chance to play with The Melvins who are… I think they’re such a great, unique band.
Todd: Well let me ask – what is it about The Melvins and your music that creates a perfect 1-2 punch in a live situation?
Jon: I hope this will be a pretty good 1-2 punch. I think that The Melvins, that Buzz and Dale, maybe the thing is that we have in common is, that I have in common with them, is that we’ve always just done our own thing. We’re punk in the true sense. That we’ve had long careers, if I can use that word “career”. But, we’ve been doing this for a long time and we always stuck to our guns and done our own thing. And, for me, those are the kind of artists I’m usually kind of drawn to, and definitely respect the most. People like Rufus Thomas or Charlie Feathers, people that had singular visions and pursued them no matter what.
Todd: That’s very cool. Jon, when you’re doing these dates booked with The Melvins and showcasing as a headliner, do you expect to hear some of those classics?
Jon: Yeah, definitely. I’m going to try to pull out a few old songs.
Todd: Thinking that through, are you going to approach many different live now that it’s just kind of you out there?
Jon: I think things will be a little different from the way that we did it on the record. Certainly if we do a Pussy Galore cover, a Blue’s Explosion cover, it’ll sound different. But I think that’s part of the reason I’m excited and mostly nervous, because it’s all kind of still forming.
Todd: Jon, looking back over your career, you really didn’t change anything. Is there anything that you’ve missed that you wish could take a second crack at?
Jon: Oh sure. Yes, there’s definitely a lot of things, which I think, “Ugh I wish I hadn’t done that.” The first thing I think of actually I was just thinking of this the other day but it was a song, a Blue’s Explosion song, that had a working title and then at the very last minute I changed the title of the song and looking back on it I was like, “Boy that was a dumb thing to do, I should’ve just used the working title”, because it was a better title and thematically worked a lot better for the album as a whole. It was some title. Yes, of course though, I can obsess over lots of things. Yeah, there are definitely things that I wish I’d done differently.
Todd: I’m just glad you admitted to it because most people respond “No, no, everything made me who I am today.” And that’s the easy way out.
Jon: I thought you were just asking about kind of the artistic decisions or aesthetic choices. I’ve done a lot of stupid things and it’s all part of growing up I suppose. One of the first times I was out touring, this was Pussy Galore. We were somewhere in Germany and we played our set, and our set was about 20 minutes, and mind you Pussy Galore was a very loud, very noisy, very aggressive band. It was a real assault. Our attitude was that 20 minutes was enough. So we did the show, we came off, and then a club person came and said, “Well you want to do another set?” We said, “Nope, that’s it. That’s what we do. That was enough. We’re done.” And when we left the venue, and went out to find that the windshield of our van had been smashed with a brick. I think that, yes, principles are great and everything. There are ways to stay true to yourself and your principles. And also sort of navigate through the real world.
Todd: Awesome. Jon, the first single “Do The Trash Can” off of Spencer Sings The Hits dropped, but have they given a drop date for the album yet?
Jon: We’re saying fall. I’m hoping it’ll be October. When we’re out on the road this July and August we will have the special pre-release tour edition for sale. So there will be vinyl copies for sale at all these shows.
Todd: You’ve collaborated with so many artists, some of them are friends, some of them family, even your spouse. That said, who’s still out there that you’d like to collaborate with in some fashion?
Jon: I’d still like to collaborate with Tony Joe White. And then a non-musical collaboration, Ed Piskor, a great comical artist from Pittsburgh.
Todd: Oh cool. Listen Jon, I know you’re busy, I know you have a lot to do getting ready for this tour that again you’ll swing through Detroit on the 3rd. We wish you well until the event and safe travels and I can’t wait to see you at the El Club. I’ll be there raising the roof. Thank you so much and yeah we’ll see you in a few weeks.
Jon: Looking forward to it. Thanks.” – Todd ‘ToddStar’ Jolicoeur / https://100percentrock.com/2018/07/interview-jon-spencer-july-2018/
HITmakers show #6