Jon Spencer’s back with a bang
The colourful Jon Spencer Blues Explosion frontman reveals the story behind his debut solo album
18 October, 2018 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Jon Spencer will support The Melvins at Koko on October 30
IN a Michigan junkyard in January, an unlikely figure could be found digging up old scraps of metal from the snow.
On closer inspection, rock ’n’ roll icon Jon Spencer was working away, excavating vital instruments for his debut solo album Spencer Sings The Hits.
“I’m always trying to make a good, proper rock ’n’ roll record,” said Spencer, speaking from his New York City home on Sunday.
“I knew I wanted to be very nasty, [make] a strong garage punk record, with very simple rude guitar lines, sounds and layers of feedback. I knew I wanted to have bass but I didn’t want it to be a traditional rock ’n’ roll record electric string bass guitar, so I wanted instead to use a synthesiser and metal percussion, which is again a nod to my history.”
Recording the album at the Key Club in Michigan, the colourful Jon Spencer Blues Explosion frontman was searching for the missing element.
“I went back to do the overdubs and mix the record, that’s when I needed materials to bang around so I needed bits of metal,” he said.
“To get good sounds I had to search out different types of shapes and sizes, so me and Bill Skibbe, the engineer, who is also the owner of the Key Club, made a trip to a couple of local scrapyards. It was a cold winter in Michigan so we had to go out in the back of the scrapyard and dig up some of the pieces from underneath a lot of snow.
“It’s all a big effort, a big sacrifice, just to get the right sound to make a good record.”
For the curious, the excavated items can be seen on the Shove Records Instagram.
“There’s some photos of different pieces of metal all laid out on the studio floor, so it was nice, we had a great array of junk. It’s something I enjoy very much, not just playing the metal but also finding it,” said Spencer.
Now in his early 50s, Spencer has had a long career in various bands including Pussy Galore, Heavy Trash, Boss Hog and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the latter of which seems to be no more – and with no apparent plans to reform.
“Never say never, who knows what will happen? But it seems very unlikely at this point,” said Spencer.
He and his new band, featuring Sam Coomes, M. Sord and Bob Bert, support The Melvins at Koko on October 30, and play their own show at Rough Trade East on November 2, the album launch date. Expect to hear tracks from the new album plus a selection from Spencer’s extensive back catalogue.
While the Blues Explosion have disappeared, the band’s music was more recently thrown back into the spotlight when track Bellbottoms was used for the opening sequence of Edgar Wright’s movie Baby Driver.
“Edgar had been talking about that scene ever since I first met him. He mentioned he wanted to use the song and talked about a chase or getaway, so I kind of heard about this for a long time,” said Spencer.
“Many years ago, when he asked about it, I said ‘yes, you could use the song’ but when Baby Driver came close to production there had to be proper licence for usage of the song and Edgar was very…I mean he sent me a script, so it was not a surprise.
“I knew what was going to happen but I still was not prepared for what a powerful opening sequence that was. It really was a terribly exciting opening, the whole sequence, and the fact that the whole time it was our song was very strange – wonderful but it was a bit strange. Ed’s a very clever guy.”
Does Spencer, who had a cameo in the closing scenes of the movie, have plans for any future Edgar Wright collaborations?
“No, but that would be great, nothing planned,” he said.
In his explosive, self-penned press release (edited by a good friend, he divulges), Spencer refers to coming in from the wilderness. Does he feel like he has been out in the wild?
“Sometimes, yes. There’s a song, Wilderness, on the record so that’s referencing a song from the new album but also that this album Spencer Sings The Hits and the upcoming live shows come after a period of time where I didn’t really have a band. It’s true that recently Boss Hog, which is a group that [Spencer’s wife] Cristina and I have that’s a long-running project, put out a record last year but as far as my own band is concerned, it had been some time.
“Making this album was a way of trying to start something new, I guess, to come back from the wilderness, come out of the wild. I spent a year or two really wishing that I had a group and could be out working, so instead of forming a new band, I went about it the other way, I just made a record and sorted the band out later.”
He added: “I thought I’d just go ahead and make a record that would enable me to start playing some shows, so I wrote the songs all by myself here in NYC, which is a little atypical for me. I usually like to write with other people.”
For today, now Spencer has his Sunday morning grocery shopping and cleaning out of the way, he has a low-key evening planned.
“There’s going to be a new episode of Doctor Who tonight, so we might watch that,” he said.
“It’s a big deal over here as well. When I was a kid, they started showing it on public TV stations here in the US, so my doctor, the one I got to know the show through, was Tom Baker. She (Jodie Whittaker) seems okay so far. It’s only been one story so far, but I’m not very impressed with the scriptwriting, but the guy who took over the show, the guy who took over writing the programme, was not somebody I had high hopes for.
“She seems fine, she’s doing a good job, my wife loves [her accent], she’s always going on about it.”