|Test pressing for the tour edition of Jon Spencer – Spencer Sings The Hits.
This album is available on CD, CD in Japan, black vinyl, orange vinyl, purple vinyl and there are two numbered editions of the album in black ink limited to 300 copes and a second gold / orange ink version in an edition of 30 copies which were sold on the 2018 tour dates.
“Sam is someone with whom I have crossed paths many times over the years, I have always been a fan of his wild keyboard style and twisted tunesmith-ery,” Spencer said. “In fact we kicked around the idea of a collaboration way back in the early Aughts. I got to know Sord from many projects done at the Key Club (Andre Williams, JSBX, & Boss Hog), he was the handyman and assistant engineer that turned out to be a great drummer.”
– Rolling Stone
In an interview with LouderSound.com Jon Spencer discussed the artwork and recording process:
“The cover of Spencer Sings The Hits does seem to be at odds with content. The cover is a slightly goofy parody but lyrically it’s more than a little savage and lacerating.
It’s certainly trading on a tradition, or referencing something that it’s not, mostly so with the title. It’s not a collection of standard hits, not by a long shot.
I was reminded of the contrast between the cover of 20 Jazz Funk Greats and the actual Throbbing Gristle album, which contains 11 songs that obviously aren’t jazz funk greats.
That was not in my head. I dig Throbbing Gristle and I dig the contrast, but Spencer Sings The Hits has a picture of me holding a guitar and it’s a record of me playing guitar. It’s not like a 180. Throbbing Gristle: that was really extreme music and to see them posed and happy-looking was a much more contradictory thing. I don’t see the cover of Spencer Sings The Hits as being that.
You are wearing a monster hand on the cover. Was the hand a special purchase for the photo-shoot with Michael Lavine?
Yes! A very important, considered, and much researched purchase.
I wore the monster hand because I didn’t want the photo to be too straight. I don’t think this is a very straight rock and roll record, much like some of the records I’ve made in the past; it’s a little bit bent in some ways. And I think it is a little, if you want to say, ‘goofy’. I’m somewhat reluctant to use that word because in the past it’s got me into trouble: “Oh, everything you’re doing is just a joke, you’re not serious about it.” But I still like that kind of playfulness – or goofiness – in my work.
The inner sleeve has a different style of artwork.
There was a period of time when I was considering using that drawing [by local comic book artist Katie Skelly] for the cover – the image of a woman superhero-figure listening to a hi-fi. At one point I even appealed to Larry Hardy at In The Red because I was torn. I gave him the two options: the Michael Lavine photo of me and the drawing by Katie. Larry thought the photo of me was perfect because it encapsulated what was in the record, especially the monster hand. He made special note of the Monster Hand.”
“Are there specific musical influences on Spencer Sings The Hits?
The biggest reference to me is Pussy Galore – the garage punk influence. When I was writing the songs, almost everything with the exception of I Got The Hits was just single string notes on the guitar. There’s no rhythm chords; it’s super-simple caveman, super-60s punk-style. That was my MO. I wanted it to be super garage-y, super-nasty, a lot of feedback, fuzzy. I wanted to have metal percussion. I wanted to have bass, but I didn’t want to have a traditional electric string bass guitar. I wanted a bass synth. The sound was in my head before I started to write. I like to think that Spencer Sings The Hits has a definite nod to my past, but I hope it’s not some kind of rehash or re-tread. It’s a modern record and something new, while also looking to my past.
The early Pussy Galore records were written by myself but ever since then I’ve mostly favoured writing with other people, collaborating with people in my bands. But I didn’t have a band and I really wanted to be playing and working. I had tried getting a couple of things going with a couple of different people, but it hadn’t worked.
Could you explain?
I don’t want to mention the false starts. But I eventually got fed up and figured, “I’m just gonna make a record. That will get things going.” So everyday I would go down into my basement rehearsal room with my guitar and record bits whenever I hit on something that tickled my fancy. This was last summer – 2017. Then I fleshed the ideas out at home. I made demos with Garageband on my iPhone along with some simple hardware to enable plugging in a microphone & guitar. There was also the bass synth and percussion. On the demos, I just used programmed beats, but I would double things up to try and give the extra clatter – I wasn’t actually beating on pieces of metal in my apartment.”
“How did you use the demos when making Spencer Sings The Hits?
I don’t think I ever played the demos to Sam or Sord – maybe once, for one song – but I would just describe the parts. With Sam – because he was playing my bass-lines – I would have to be a little more specific because I had particular lines written, whereas with the drums, there was a little more room. Both Sam and Sord add so much character to the record. Sord has a very unique style of drumming. He was leading the charge on this album.
Making records is often about attention to details. What are some of the minutiae of Spencer Sings The Hits?
About half the songs on the album were recorded with a weird slack guitar tuning. This was done because of the early Pussy Galore records, which were made in a similar way – but done unintentionally. For, the first couple of Pussy Galore records we didn’t own a guitar tuner; we just tuned to each other and so most of the time we were playing in some weird loose, slack tuning, which gives a strange feeling to the songs. That was something that I was interested in recapturing.
I don’t know if I listened to Groovy Hate Fuck to try and figure out where we were in pitch and tried to match that. At the Spencer Sings The Hits sessions I ended up with two slack tunings: one was ‘very slack’ and one was sort of ‘medium slack’. And for every song we would do a straight take and then I would retune the guitar. Sometimes it sounded good and worked, sometimes it didn’t.
The actual recording sessions at the Key Club had to be cut short, I believe.
When we were doing the session last fall, after 2 or 3 days I got a phone call that my father-in-law had had a massive stroke. He was resuscitated and kept alive, but he was gone. There were these 6 or 8 hours where we didn’t know what was gonna happen, but it was pretty obvious I would be leaving soon to be with my family. We attempted to keep working but it was a very miserable day. I kept having to stop to take a phone call and figure out what was going on with the family and making travel plans. So, I had to leave early but we had gotten the basics of the record, all 12 songs, from start to finish.
Sam Coomes, instead of changing his flight home, stayed there and hung out for the remaining two or three days. There were some songs he fixed or replayed, and for every song he added something. He fleshed out the sound and added extra layers and voices and keyboard sounds or effects. I called and checked in: it seemed like he was having a pretty good time because the Key Club has so many cool old instruments. When I mixed the record it was a very pleasant surprise to sort through the extra Sam material.
Tell me about the other sessions needed to complete the record.
I went back to the Key Club to do vocals, overdubbing, add extra percussion and mix in January 2018. It was very cold, an Arctic hell-scape: snow, bitter wind, ice everywhere. When we tracked, it was still warm, you could still go swimming in nearby lake Michigan.
At the session in January, both Bill Skibbe and I we’re both struggling with our lives. For me, Cristina (Martinez, Spencer’s wife and lead singer in Boss Hog) and I were contemplating buying an old house in upstate New York and moving out of New York City. For Bill, he had had an offer for his old Flickinger console – the one custom made for Sly Stone – and he was weighing whether or not he should sell it.
We were both in the throes of some kind of existential freak-out. There were a lot of long discussions about future plans and possibilities.” – LouderSound.com
11 June 2018: Details and video for ‘Do The Trash Can’ are announced by Rolling Stone.
28 June 2018: Artwork posted on the Shove Records instagram page.
12 July 2018: “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.” – Jon Spencer interview with 100% Rock Magazine
25 July 2018: New track ‘I Got The Hits’ can be streamed via Uncut.co.uk
25 July 2018: Album available for pre-order via Rough Trade.
09 October 2018: Video for ‘I Got The Hits‘ by Alex Italics posted online.
17 October 2018: Interview with LouderSound.com in which Jon Spencer discusses the album and artwork posted online.
31 October 2018: Jon Spencer & The HITmakers perform live on the Marc Riley BBC 6 Radio show.
2 November 2018: The official UK release date of Spencer Sings The Hits and Rough Trade East host a performance and signing by Jon Spencer & The HITmakers.
9 November 2018: The official US release date of Spencer Sings The Hits.
SPENCER SINGS THE HITS!
JON SPENCER, THE BLUES EXPLOSION MAN who put the BELLBOTTOMS on BABY DRIVER!
The Top Cat who spread the Secret Sauce in BOSS HOG!
The Rockabilly Right-Hook from Heavyweight Outlaws HEAVY TRASH!
The Swank-Fucking Master of PUSSY GALORE!
Jon Spencer is back! Often imitated, never duplicated, the original NYC underground-rock legend returns from the wilderness with twelve red-hot hits, each more powerful than the last!
This is Garage Punk for Now People! A wizard’s brew of rhythm & blues and subversive dance grooves, weaponized with sci-fi skronk and industrial attitude, calibrated for the Revolution, a ball-peen hammer of sound guaranteed to destroy any post-modern hangover!
Pulsing with energy, clanging with excitement, and dripping with radioactive soul and raw emotion, Jon Spencer opens up his heart like never before, exploring man’s modern condition with caustic guitars and outerworld crooning, asking and answering the musical question, “Is it possible to torch the cut-throat world of fake news and pre-fab, plastic-coated teen ennui with the cold hard facts of rock’n’roll?”
THE ANSWER IS YES!
SPENCER SINGS THE HITS!
This is the truth serum America has been craving, the beginning of a rock’n’roll special counsel that takes no prisoners and puts the squares on ice!
Recorded and mixed with Bill Skibbe at the Key Club in Benton Harbor, MI.
Featuring the talents of Sam Coomes (Quasi, Heatmeiser) and M. Sord (M. Sord).
Thanks to Johanna for the photos.