“Catching Up With Jon Spencer
By Adam Rathe
Over the next few months, a large amount of the music that Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has recorded over its 18 years is going to be re-released—from the just-out compilation Dirty Shirt Rock ‘N’ Roll: The First Ten Years to reissues of 1996’s Now I Got Worry and the unreleased-in-the-U.S. live album Contro Negro. But tonight, the Blues Explosion will be playing a set at Brooklyn Bowl and we talked to Spencer about what to expect.
Over the course of this year, all of the band’s albums are going to be re-released, but what about new material?
Not all of them, but a lot of them. We started with this compilation, which is an overview of the first 10 years of the band. In a couple months, we’ll release Now I Got Worry and Contro Negro and a couple months after that will be Year One, all of the records released in the band’s first year. All in all, there will be six albums.
You’re also releasing a best-of compilation. Is that the material we can expect to hear at the Brooklyn Bowl show?
We’ll definitely be pulling from all six albums, all of the albums really, and maybe some new stuff. I’ve been meaning to think about what’s on the compilation and maybe hit those songs. We never use a set list, we just get up and do it, so what we’re going to do is not know until we get there.
Was it tough to choose what to include on the comp?
The compilation wasn’t that hard to piece together, because we wanted to keep it a single disc. I didn’t want to pack it full, but I wanted to make it a good album from start to finish. It wasn’t to turn everything upside down and shake it all out… There are only so many songs that can fit on there and there are definite hits, for a lack of a better word, that people would want to hear. I also tried to include songs that illustrate the different sides of the band. We did a lot of different things… over those 10 years, we worked with a lot of people and I wanted to represent that: Money Mark, Beck, Calvin Johnson, there are a lot of guests on this record. At the end of the day I had to try and make an album that was enjoyable. The really hard work has come with the reissues, trying to find all of these tapes and bits and pieces. All of the albums are being expanded and some of these reissues are going to be two-disc affairs because we were a very busy band. For almost all of the albums, we recorded two albums worth of material. There were a lot of b-sides and things that never came out, and I am trying to be very complete with the reissues.
Boss Hog has also been playing around town, you’re playing in Heavy Trash and you’ve released an album with Solex. Any other reunions up your sleeve?
Heavy Trash released an album, Midnight Soul Serenade, in the fall and we’ll be playing at Mercury Lounge on the 29th of this month. We’re starting a tour on the day after the Brooklyn Bowl show. This week I’m practicing with Blues Explosion and Heavy Trash and working on the reissues.
You and your wife also have an album with Solex coming out, right?
The album is Solex vs. Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer, and the title is Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown! Cristina and I were fans of Elizabeth and Solex and we were both on Matador back in the day and in the past few years, she DJed some Heavy Trash shows in Amsterdam… at some point I got to talking to her and I encouraged she and Cristina to try working together, then I got pulled into it as well. We recorded this a few years ago, but it’s taken about three years for it to come together and come out.
The rock-blues hybrid seems to have cooled down in recent years. Are there any New York bands who you think are doing it right right now?
What about John Mayer? I’m joking… The thing for me, and it’s a bit of a sore point, is I think Blues Explosion got lumped in with groups that were reviving the worst of the ’70s-era rock bullshit which I couldn’t stand as a kid and I still cant stand.
We were not about Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith, we were and are a very forward-thinking band and a lot of bands that sprung up after us sort of didn’t really do a good job. As far as local bands, I do really like The Fiery Furnaces, but they’re not a new group. There’s Bloodshot Bill from Montreal, a one-man rockabilly band, and he is one of the few people really doing something with roots music in a unique way. That’s what’s important with any kind of music, doing something new with it.
Are you planning on bowling tonight? How’s your game?
It’s going to be a busy night, there’s a burlesque show afterward hosted by Harvest Moon and comic book genius Paul Pope. It should be a great night.”