The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Keeps It Simple

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The tone in Judah Bauer's voice would have you believe that everything is just business as usual at the moment. At the beginning of his conversation with Ground Control, the guitarist is almost cavalier as he checks batteries and packs equipment for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's North American tour, but there's no doubt that cavalier attitude is really only a thin veil to diffuse the guitarist's excitement; he's finally going to get the opportunity to cut loose that, playing with Cat Power as he has lately, he just hasn't had in a while. “I'm not going to say that playing with Chan [Cat Power mastermind Chan Marshall –ed] doesn't have some great moments, but I was on a pretty short leash with her as far as guitar solos were concerned,” says Bauer, with just the smallest, early hint of excitement in his voice. “Like, I'd be limited to only a few a night so it's good to be back in the position where I don't get dirty looks if I bust out a good guitar solo. A Cat Power crowd is going to look twice and figure my guitar must be broken [laughing]. I could bust out the best solo ever at a Cat Power show and people aren't even passably distracted from what Chan is doing. With the Blues Explosion though, people know what that's worth; Cat Power audiences aren't necessarily huge technical music fans – they don't have the history of music that Blues Explosion fans do, so it's going to feel pretty good to get back into that atmosphere. It definitely started to feel pretty good after we finished the European tour and then went in to start recording Meat + Bone; it had been a while since we'd made a new record, but it didn't take us long to get back up to speed.”

As lightly as he might explain it now, there's certainly no question that the fire still burns hot in the Blues Explosion, as proven by the results in Meat + Bone. Songs like “Black Mold,”  “Bag Of Bones,” “Get Your Pants Off,” “Strange Baby” and “Bear Trap” all slice through the air and sear synapses with white-hot guitar tones throughout and long-time fans will be able to do nothing but smirk knowingly at the lean and mean assault which – like Extra Width before it – relies on nothing but two guitars and a drum kit to call out the magic. Here, JSBX begins on the ground level of their sound again to prove they still have the touch, and it really works brilliantly; drummer Russell Simins taps and destroys his drum kit with beautiful ferocity while Bauer channels the rock, blues, soul and punk gods with his Telecaster all at the same time and, on top of it all, Jon Spencer spits, savages and serenades listeners with the same charming howl he has sweet-talked them with for twenty-one years. All of the elements which have been the magic of the Blues Explosion are here, and together the bandmembers power through as if they'd never left and there's no question that long-time fans will be heaving pregnant sighs of satisfaction. There is no overstatement in that – it's just that good – but Bauer modestly explains that the overall 'return to basics' feel was very much on his mind when it came to recording the album. “I don't know if I can speak to the motivation that Jon and Russell had when it came to the sounds on Meat + Bone, but my plan was to do the record quick and do it cheap,” says Bauer with a laugh as he recalls the recording sessions which yielded the Blues Explosion's first album in eight years. “I didn't want to drag it out or over-extend anything about it because, when you do that, I feel like you're just throwing it away at a certain point. Some of that viewpoint may have had to do with the fact that I had been working on Sun with Cat Power album for something like a year before we made Meat + Bone and I didn't want to see this album end up in the same situation. I think Jon and Russell were both of the same mind too – although we didn't really go out of our way to discuss it. That was the vibe and that's what we ran with; we made a lot of this record following our intuition and going by feel – it's not like we had to talk about a lot of that stuff. We definitely didn't talk much about songwriting, that was just all about being where we've always been: down here in the basement rehearsal space, playing.”

As simple as the whole thing might sound coming from Bauer now with the benefit of hindsight, the plan now is (impossibly) even simpler; with the record out and garnering really positive response, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is getting back in the clubs to show it to people. According to the guitarist, sets will probably concentrate on Meat + Bone, but it's also likely that some of the band's older material will get some play as well, and there is the outside possibility that some brand new songs may appear too. “I'm not sure how far we're really going to go into the back catalogue, we're just going to play the hell out of these songs until they're as dead as the rest of our songbook,” laughs Bauer brightly. “Can you imagine playing “Afro” for twenty years? Now I know what it must be like for The Stones, playing “Sympathy For The Devil” for forty years. Even so, I mean, it's exciting because it is a new record and these are new songs and they're not settled yet; it's always interesting to see how the songs end up holding up and what kind of impact they have and how they can be tweaked. At the same time, I suspect it's likely that we'll end up doing some more writing while we're on the road because we always do during soundchecks and things like that, so maybe some of that will end up in the sets too – if we come up with something that we're excited enough about.”


Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine
Meat And Bone[CD review]
Ground Control Magazine Jon Spencer Blues Explosion [Discography Part One]  
Ground Control MagazineJon Spencer Blues Explosion [Discography Part Two]  


Meat And Bone
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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