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The Jon Spencer Blues Exlposion

The Jon Spencer Blues Exlposion

Interviewed by
Natalie Finnigan
Monday 4th March, 2013 8:30AM

A live Jon Spencer Blues Explosion experience is the real rock’n’roll deal – gritty, sweaty and relentless. When so many bands are trying to replicate the sound and ethos of what drummer Russell Simins would term a ‘genuine rock and roll lifestyle’, these guys are busy playing and living it. Their latest release, Meat + Bone (2012), was the first album from the seasoned garage-rockers in 8 years, and the second leg of their tour will see them stop over in Auckland and Wellington this week. Natalie Finnigan caught up with Simins last week and discussed New York, Japanese rock n roll and the new life of a single...

Hi Russell, how’s it going?

Good thank you.

So you’re at home in New York right now?

Yeah, I’m at home for a bit longer – we fly out on Friday.

Where do you live?

I live in Soho.

What’s it like living there – have you been there a long time?

It’s a great place to live – there are a great mix of artists and musicians, it’s a really diverse area because it’s smack bang in the middle of Lower Manhattan in between the Lower East Side and the Hudson. It was traditionally a warehouse district, so there are amazing lofts and large, warehouse type buildings which are great for artists and musicians to use as creative spaces. The architecture is really intact and the area just this great, arty, dreamy feel to it.

I’ve read a fair few opinion pieces in the New Yorker where locals have complained about Soho and other areas in New York being taken over by chain stores and struggling to retain their identity – have you noticed this?

Well when an area becomes popular, and people move in who have more money than most of the locals, it does start to change the character of a place. I wouldn’t say that Soho has become gentrified, because it still has great character, but the neighbourhood has definitely changed.

I think perhaps in New York, unlike other cities like LA, there is a real respect for the history of the city and landmark areas. There have been some instances where we’ve been guilty of shamelessly tearing down highly regarded landmarks, but generally I think we value that history and try to preserve it.

You started out making music close to 20 years ago in New York City and there was a pretty vibrant, collaborative underground scene – what do you think it’s like for young musicians now?

When I started making music there was a really run-down vibe to the city, which suited what we were doing because our music in the late 80s and early 90s was coming out of the punk-rock scene. There was so much on then – a big hard-core scene, alt-rock matinees… bands like Lubricated Goat and Naked City – it was really diverse and we were all constantly pushing the boundaries. In fact, ‘alt-rock’ as a genre didn’t really exist then, it was just one big underground scene and we were all very much on the fringe. Also, hip-hop was really starting to take off during the late 80s and early 90s and that added a really interesting dynamic to what was happening musically in New York.

I think it took ten to fifteen years for that music to become mainstream, and you can hear the influence of what was happening in New York during that period in the music that contemporary artists are making. Right now there is definitely a viable down-town New York underground music scene – there is so much music on every night – it’s alive and happening. Then there’s Brooklyn, which is a whole other thing.

So you’re touring Meat + Bone right now – it seems like it’s been a long tour…

I guess the idea is to tour the shit out it – we’ve been all over Europe, the US, Japan – it’s been great, we’ve played with a bunch of great rock bands and really enjoyed it. In this day and age I think live music is the only thing that will survive – it can’t be touched, regardless of what happens to your records.

This is a side note - you mentioned Japan as a touring destination – I’m kind of intrigued by the Japanese underground rock music scene because it seems a little bizarre. This band came to NZ a little while ago and I can’t remember what their name was but I wasn’t sure if they were serious or not…

I think in some cases they are almost mocking American punk rock – rock’n’roll music is a product of a lifestyle and if you don’t live that lifestyle, then of course the music is not going to be authentic. You can imitate the sound but it’s never going to feel quite right.

To be fair though, there are some amazing Japanese rock bands who make it their own, like the Boredoms – those guys are really fucking amazing. But yeah, it might be that it’s too conceptual for some of them and they’re not really feeling it.

Back to your point about live music, if live music is the only viable way to make a living out of your craft, then why is anyone still focused on making records?

Well, a lot of bands are actually focusing on licensing music for film and television – often you’ll hear singles materialize alongside an advertising campaign now – it’s kind of the new life of a single for many artists. And I think with records, they’re necessary because they’re an unavoidable consequence of being a musician. Writing and creating is an unavoidable itch and spark – that’s what rock’n’roll is – it gives us something to live for. Our records might not be a hit and they might not even sell much, but it drives you. All the while we have the live shows in mind, but writing is a very naturally occurring product of playing together as a band.

So are you guys writing new material?

We’ve talked about recording some new stuff when we’ve finished touring, but it happens very naturally with us, often while we’re focused on trying to come up with new ways of playing our songs for live shows, and putting together covers, that creative process leads to new ways of playing live and usually new material. We practice a lot before we go on tour and usually jam during sound check for each show so yeah… there’s new stuff.

You also work with a number of other musicians right?

Yeah I’ve done some producing and playing with other artists, but at the moment I’m pretty much exclusively focused on Blues Explosion and I think it’s the same deal for all of us.

Do you remember much of your last NZ show?

Not really! I remember that you’re all not Australians. People seem to take that distinction pretty seriously.

Well, you’re probably in a different place every few nights – I think aside from knowing where you are, no-one really expects you to know much that much about your audience.

I definitely try, where ever I am, to pick up as much as I can about the place while I’m there, but yeah, it can be difficult after so many straight weeks of touring.


The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Monday 4th March, Kings Arms, Auckland
Tuesday 5th March, Bodega, Wellington

Click here to buy tickets  online from here at UTR or head into Real Groovy in Auckland and Rough Peel Music or Slow Boat Records in Wellington.


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