Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Convulsion: John Spencer Blues Explosion [1994] (PRESS, UK)

1994 Convulsive #4
1994 interview with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from Convulsion fanzine.
John Spencer Blues Explosion

by Keiron Mellotte

The Blues explosion roadshow hits Edinburgh at 5 O’clock sharp. Judah Bauer, Russel Simmins and the usually unruffled Jon Spencer emerge looking suitably saddle sore. Introductions are made, coffee is brewed and the cud is chewed. Jon looks every inch his stage persona, but the off-stage Mr Spencer is shy, retiring, eloquent and decidedly well mannered. Hard to believe this was the same strutting rock star, the tortured screaming ghost of Elvis that terrorised the world with Pussy Galore and recently been seen at sell out venues near you!

But even calm and subdued the man exudes charisma. You can’t help but notice him as he walks into the room. Women swoon and men hate him, the bastard. Each question is contemplated, each answer carefully considered in a way that would make anyone believe, no matter how cynical, that every single word was important.

We talk about their Matador released LP “Extra Width” (one of the highlights of last year), an impending tour of America with the Breeders, the Strangely named Theramin, their musical cv’s and despite not having a bass player, The Blues explosion are a proper band!!

“I guess we just started playing around and the sound we were going for was quite blues orientated. It sounded right with out a bass player. So we just said okay. Its quite gutsy and virile, don’t you think?’

But usually with bands without a bass player are a disaster, Sprawling all over the place. With no backbone and no framework things tend to fall to pieces, weren’t you frightened it was going to sound rough?

`Well, yeah, we thought it would be rough/unpolished but not weak. If you listen to old blues records a lot of the bass is played on the guitar and almost all the records are scratch, sharp almost dangerous.”

Do you identify more with the blues side of things that with the alternative rock stance?

`Oh yeah, most definitely. But I think that there is no real difference between blues and Rock’n’Roll. Except maybe blues is older more interesting. There’s a real schizophrenic thing going on there. That’s what we tried to do.’

And they do it so fucking well! Compare the two Jon Spencers we’ve met off and on stage. His blistering performance takes in the whole stage, violently lurching around, knee dropping wildly and kicking out like Nick Cave on Acid – not the kind of person you’d want dating your kid sister. Then the tempered mild mannered janitor he is off state.

`I guess it must seem kind of deranged, but I don’t think we’re aggressive. I think its just when you’re up there you kind of need to be larger than life. As long as its not distorted, or ugly and our personalities are there. To be honest it not something I analyse too much. I don’t want to get into it.’

The personalities on display are what makes the Blues explosion a not-to-be- missed experience The relentless twin guitar attack(sic) combines with Russells even more relentless drumming. Even though all three are roaring in different directions there is some kind of weird focus. But as Jon points out – its not an aggressive thing like the hard `male’ funk of fugazi and the Jesus Lizard. It’s more a latent, almost female power. The tangibility of their songs, more implied than actually threatened. Take the scorching guitar line in `Afro’. It still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand out even though I’ve heard it a million times. But it is so far removed from the redneck rock that emasculates the current crop of testosterone fuelled MTV Grunge. When performed live recently on the Word Jon pushed things even further with the introduction of the Theramin probably the most un-rock instrument in the world. I asked him where it came from and what is was.

`’I found it somewhere back home. It’s Russian I think. It makes these great noises and distorts really easily.’

I found out later that it was invented by a Doctor Theramin. Two arm like aeriels stick out, on each side. One controls pitch, the other volume.

`Unfortunately it’s broken right now. But when we get back home I’m going to get it fixed, so we can use it on the next record.’

So there is going to be another record? I ask because there are rumours that once the tour was finished you were hanging up your spurs to concentrate on the other band in your life, Boss Hog.

`No, after this tour we’ve got a pretty extensive tour of America with the Breeders. That’s going to be a lot of fun, I guess. Then we’ll record the next LP. But the Blues Explosion are going to run and run’

But aren’t Crunt touring with Russell on drums in the near future?

`No, I guess, he’ll be too busy for that. But Crunt are just a side project anyway”

There were rumours that once the tour finished Jon was going to hang up his blues explosion spurs and return to Boss Hog. These rumours are strengthened by Russells involvement with Crunt, the side project of Babes in Toyland’s Kat. Jon denies this but seems reluctant to talk about it. Russell explains further.

“Man, Jon hates talking about Boss Hog. Everywhere he goes people want to talk about them. He kind of gets pissed off by it. There not even a proper band!”


“Yeah, Kristians got a job editing some magazine back home, Gets payed a shit load for doing it too.”

So the Blues explosion are going to run and run then?

“Oh, yeah, we’ve already go stuff for the next LP and it’s going to be much better. Plus we’ll probably write a lot more on the tour with the breeders.”

The 1993 model Spencer is clean cut, drug free and chain smoking, his precious long hair has been shorn for a slight elvis quiff and he seems remarkably happy.

“Sure I’m happy, I’m having a great time touring Europe, singing with the band – it’s great fun.’

Do you yearn for the old Pussy Galore days?

“No, I think I had a lot of fun at the time, but things were messed up at the end and it seemed like they couldn’t get any worse.’

Are you still in touch with your old fellow band mates?

“Sure, when we’re all on town and I’ve got time I meet up with them. But I’m kind of busy right now’.

As the night rolls on, and the drinking continues, plans are made to conclude the interview (sensibly) in the morning. But the time we get back to the flat Judah crashes out immediately, Russell more than a little the worse for wear plugs in my acoustic guitar and regales in to the small hours a large repetoire of Neil Young and Breeders covers. Music has never been so entertaining and Jon it would appear has never (on this tour!) been so drunk.

In the morning after Russell does his washing, a plan is hatched to go to Burger king. On arriving we join a large queue of people. Judah complains loudly, nursing his hangover. Jon walks past, heads to the front of the queue get served immediately with the kind of effortless cool normally attributed to the Johnny Depp’s of this world (bastard). By the time we finally get served and head towards the table Jon sits oblivious of the fact that practically ever eye in the room is turned on him.

Russell just laughs at my reaction

“I guess when you tour with Jon, you just get used to it.”

So the Blues Explosion roadshow exits town as slickly as it arrived. Jon turns in parting and asks if I need anything else for the interview. I tell him no.

“If you do”, he says,”Just make it up man. I don’t care”