Russell Simins – Russell Simins Talks Touring, Tinkering & Tex (PRESS, AUSTRALIA)

22 December 2004
Article on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and interview with Russell Simins from 2004.
“Feature by Trakka 22nd Dec, 2004

When Oscar Wilde made is his famous quote that “the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about” he must have foreseen the coming of rock and roll. No other art form creates such passionate feeling amongst such a large section of the population.

What other artistic expression allows people to bandy about words like ‘love’ and ‘hate’ so inappropriately? Where else can a casual conversation turn into raised voices and finger pointing at the mention of a name? What else could make the media dedicate vast resources for critics to draw a line and risk upsetting delicate, thin skinned fans?

Modern art can certainly pit attitudes against each other, but it’s more likely to elicit responses draped in wankery about the nature of art and the role or the artist in society. I’m sure discussions about the merits of various performances of opera and ballet inspire passionate debate too, but probably with less use of the word ‘fuck’ and a lot fewer glasses of beer. In jazz circles when opinions differ they simply straighten their berets, pour another glass of red wine and have a poetry slam.

Of course there can be no accounting for peoples taste, so if an artist draws a vitriolic response, well at least that means someone has been listening, right? There just can’t be anything more offensive to an artist, no bigger slap in their face, than ambivalence.

Few artists have polarised both fans and critics alike as much as the band formerly known as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX). Complaints of style over substance, po faced post modern irony, a lack of actual songs and the substitution of “Blues Explosion” and “Dang!” for lyrics litter the serious glossy publications, while rabid, salivating fans lap up every release, every solo project and every guest appearance band members have expressed even a passing interest in. To coincide with the release of their seventh album Damage they have shortened their name to the Blues Explosion (BX), less an indictment on Jon Spencer himself than a nod to the band dynamic that has driven them to an amazing career of filtering soul, hip hop, funk and rock and roll through their buzz saw punk guitar attack.

This begs the question, seven albums in, what’s changed in Blues Explosion land to facilitate the name change now? “Nothing,” says disgustingly punctual drummer Russell Simins down the phone from Ngoya, Japan where the band are touring. “Nothings changed, so why wait any longer? We’ve always been the Blues Explosion.” Fair enough.

Formed in New York in 1991 after legendary sleaze punk rockers Pussy Galore went splitsville Jon Spencer started jamming with Russell in his basement studio, doing what he does, deconstructing rock to it’s primal, abrasive and raucous elements and then putting it all back together, Dr. Frankenstein style, as he sees fit. Soon joined by Judah Bauer they settled on their two guitars, drums and no bass line up and set about pulling rock music apart.

Blues Explosion are making their fifth visit to Australia for the 2005 Big Day Out, and for Jon it’s been even more times if you include tours with Boss Hog, the band he formed with his wife and former Pussy Galore partner Cristina Martinez. After so many tours, Australian citizenship must be coming through soon right? “We love coming down there.” says Russell after a brief pause and bubbly inhalation. “Especially after touring in Japan which is so structured. It’s such a relaxed vibe down there. It’s a really nice place to play.”

One of the great contradictions of the Blues Explosion has been the raw, aggressive nuclear melt down live shows compared to their eagerness to work with name rock nob twiddlers the likes of Steve Albini (Nirvana and P.J. Harvey) and Steve Jordan (The Rolling Stones), and electronic artists like Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow.

So who is the real Blues Explosion, the artful studio savants that have fused hip hop scratches and the sound of a funky drummer with bleeding guitar noise? Or the sneering, four on the floor stage animals that come on going 100 and leave at 110? “Working with those producers, you know it’s never been about high end production, it’s always been about a punk rock aesthetic. They want the band to be who they are, no over production, just working with the band. That’s why working with DJ Shadow was so great because he’s got like a punk rock attitude to what he does, so while our music is very different, we approach it the same way.”

The DJ Shadow collaboration on Damage, Fed Up and Down Low, while not being for the faint hearted, is simply one of those all star pieces that usually turn out like shit but occasionally come up as something special. It’s punk and hip hop and blues and funk melange is something that lesser bands will spend a career trying master and make into a new sub genre called blinky plonk or flues honk or something equally as stupid. Then Blues Explosion nail it with a single track and move on. It’s that good. But of course not everyone will like it, or should that be, not everyone will get it? “Well, that’s real respectful of you to say that. Some people who don’t like it just don’t get it. I mean, everyone has their own thing, everyone is into their own thing. We’re don’t care if some people don’t get it”

Five years ago the band played the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival with RL Burnside, the man for whom the title blues legend for once is no exaggeration and who’s 1996 album A Ass Pocket of Whisky album they recorded together. This collaboration not only once and for all ended the dull purist argument that the band weren’t playing the blues, but that they could do raw delta blues, and old freak as respected as Burnside sought them out. “Yeah, working with RL was an amazing experience. They were some great, great shows. We enjoyed that a lot.” Russell says almost letting a smile break into his voice at the memory. With the line to work with the BX already extending out the door and around the corner, surely it’s only a matter of time before they hook up with Kylie or Robbie. Right? “No, I don’t think so.” Damn that little ray of sunshine I swore I heard dried up fast. “You know who I would like to work with? Tex Perkins. I’m a big fan of the Tex, Don and Charlie album. I’d love to do something with him.” And Kim Salmon is supporting on the BDO side shows? “We’re all huge Scientists fans. I’ve never seen The Beasts of Bourbon live, but I like their records.” Well, it so happens I caught them this very year doing the reunion thing, only with Charlie Owen instead of Kim Salmon obviously. “Oh yeah, why doesn’t Kim play with them any more?” Probably best to ask Kim that one. Or Tex when you work together. Or something.

Catch the Blues Explosion here:

The Big Day Out:
Auckland, Friday 21st January, 2005
Gold Coast, Sunday 23rd January, 2005
Sydney, Wednesday 26th January, 2005
Melbourne, Sunday 30th January, 2005
Adelaide, Friday 4th February, 2005
Perth, Sunday, 6th February, 2005

Blues Explosion with special guest, Kim Salmon
Sydney, Saturday 29 January @ The Metro
Melbourne, Thursday 3rd February @ HiFi Bar