Friday, 25 January 2013

Profile - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Published in the January issue of Rhythms.

Like a swift kick to the groin, the Blues Explosion leave you breathless, a little disoriented. Like a car backfiring on a quiet street in the dead of night, the Blues Explosion jolt you into the now, whilst still lingering in the past, an odd noise that could be something ominous but is actually familiar and true. Never before has such a hybrid – the warped reconstruction of the blues, the rock ‘n’ roll swagger and swill, the suss face of punk – been brought on with such aggressive aplomb. It’s the Blues Explosion, that’s just how it works.

Formed in 1991 in the simmering cauldron that is New York City, the Blues Explosion (fronted, of course, by Jon Spencer and backed to the hilt by Judah Bauer and Russell Simins) burst from the blocks and over the ensuing two decades, have built for themselves the most solid of underground followings, based on their incendiary live performances, their vicious, guttural records, their ethos toward making music and the experiences it brings.

Despite their underground success however, JSBX never broke through the pond-top scum to hit the mainstream, and so their music inhabited the murky depths instead, perhaps almost invisible to music fans who came along after the tail end of the ‘90s. But then in late 2010, the band reissued four of their, arguably, best records (1993’s Extra Width, 1994’s Orange, 1996’s Now I Got Worry and 1998’s Acme), preceded by a Best Of, Dirty Shirt Rock ‘n’ Roll: The First Ten Years.

After a hiatus that had lasted from 2004 until shortly before the release of Dirty Shirt…, JSBX had announced they were back, and you’d better believe it, perhaps rekindling an interest in the band, bringing new fans in. Perhaps even reigniting an interest within the band. “Well I guess so,” Spencer himself muses. “I think you’d have to go back further than that, to 2007 to the compilation of some of our singles… (Jukebox Explosion Rockin’ Mid-‘90s Punkers, on In The Red Records).

“We’d been on hiatus for about three yeas, but when that compilation came out, we got a lot of concert offers.  And so the three of us talked about it, and thought, well, lets give it a shot… and we could still do it and it felt good, and ever since then we’ve carried on, and it has picked up speed since the reissues.”

By the time Dirty Shirt… and the reissues hit the streets, it was fair to say that JSBX was back once more, which of course, brings up the inevitable – were they going to record new material? Spencer has been quoted at various times over the past few years as saying that is was certainly a possibility, and he wasn’t jiving. Meat & Bone, the band’s first record of original material since 2004’s Damage, is the result of the band being back together, rekindling their connection, and truth be known, it’s like they never left.

“I was a little nervous before we started playing again, and similarly, I was a little nervous about working in the studio again with Blues Explosion,” Spencer admits on the first time the band have been into a studio since they were last in Australia, where they recorded a version of ‘Black Betty’ for a television commercial in 2010. “When we did go into the studio, we already had all the material written, so the big thing was getting big performances down on tape. And the songs [then] dictated what we did in the studio… I’d like to think we all sorta thrilled to the raw power of the rock ‘n’ roll we were playing – that’s how we wanted to make it.”

Meat & Bone doesn’t so much as follow on from the band’s past two releases (the slightly reigned-in Damage and 2002’s Plastic Fang) as it does from the towering records that they recently re-released. This is a record which is old school JSBX – the punk is high in the mix, and despite the fact there’s obvious blues influence, this is whiskey-drunk rock ‘n’ roll, early ‘90s style.

“[The Reissues] reminded us that this is something special, it is something important,” Spencer says on that hard and gritty early sound which seems to have informed this new one, “but while we do cast an eye to what’s happened, I think it’s important to mention that this new one could only have been made by the band today… it’s the product of a band that’s been playing for 20 years. It’s kind of like a new start, something fresh, kind of like another first album.”

Samuel J. Fell

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