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Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Thursday 30th July, 2015 2:54PM

New York trio Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are en route to New Zealand to play four shows off the back of releasing their tenth studio album Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, released earlier this year through Mom + Pop Records. A ferociously dynamic album, Freedom Tower was recorded at the ramshackle Daptone House of Soul in Brooklyn and takes its inspiration from the city that never sleeps - the city that has been home to the Blues Explosion for nearly quarter of a century. Despite the album being described by critics as an "eulogy" for a New York that is becoming increasingly gentrified, Jon Spencer told UnderTheRadar he sees it more of a homage to a city he loves...

UTR: Hi Jon, how are you? Are you in New York at the moment?

JS: Hi, no I’m somewhere else with my family.

Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. To start with I wanted to talk about your new album Freedom Tower. I was reading the Pitchfork review of it, and the writer called it a “eulogy for the seedy New York” where you first gained notoriety as a musician. Do you think a eulogy is an accurate description?

Well, you know Freedom Tower is about New York City, which is the home of The Blues Explosion and has been for almost 25 years. And over that time we’ve taken great inspiration from musicians, band and artists that have lived and worked in the city alongside us and before us. In addition we’ve taken great inspiration from the city itself, you know, just even riding the subway train in New York city. It’s a great big place and it’s almost overwhelming. So, Freedom Tower, I don’t think it’s meant as a eulogy. There are songs about the city today, there are songs about the city 10-20 years ago, places that are gone forever. And then there are songs about places that never existed except for within my own head, my heart or imagination.

It’s not meant to be a nostalgic trip. It’s not meant to be a lament. I don’t think we should try to reverse the progress or turn back the hands of time. You know, New York City has changed a great deal, probably everything I feel in love with about the city is gone. But you know, a city has to change. Not all of the record is about “ what happened to the city I loved? where did this place go?”. Not at all.

The album is so incredibly energetic and dynamic, it certainly doesn’t sound like a eulogy…

New York City has a lot of energy [laughs], it’s definitely on the move.

You guys laid down the album at the Daptone’s House Of Soul, which is a ramshackle looking place in Bushwick. What made you choose that studio?

Well, Daptone is a label based in Brooklyn and they are famous for artists such as Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, you know, they are putting out great soul records. And they have a studio in their headquarters, which is a house in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s not a fancy studio but it’s a very functional and great studio in that they know how to make great records there. And whenever we make a record we always start by playing live in the studio, there is always a live performance with the band playing a song on the studio floor. And was to be a kind of dance record, so I thought Daptone would be an excellent choice for a recording studio, there’s good facility and people who know how to record this kind of music, so I was confident we would walk away with a good sounds tape, and an especially great drum sound.

Daptone is an analogue studio, was that especially important to you?

We’ve recorded in many different studios, but if we have the money we’d prefer to work in an old fashioned way and prefer to use older analogue equipment. But I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to make a record, if a machine or piece of technology will help you translate an idea then why not, go ahead, use it.

You mentioned about playing the songs live in the studio. Is that how you manage to retain such a dynamic sound, gunning through them live rather than piecing them together?

We don’t set up and play all the songs bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. We’ll work though one song at a time, and we might play that song three times, maybe six times, we play until we are satisfied with that performance and we are satisfied with the recording of that performance. And for each song we will adjust things, as far as the way the sounds are going to tape. We might change the equipment, maybe change the snare drum, maybe we change a guitar part. And this is all done to make sure the song is being served, because that’s what most important. We are trying to capture this creation - the song. And rather than each member playing individually we play together, because it’s the communication and interaction between the three members, this kind of telepathy or ESP, the groove, the bond that exists between the three of us. For us that what’s interesting. And those are the kind of records we write and that we find interesting. There is some evidence of an ebb-and-flow, a back-and-orth, a dialogue.

That’s cool, I like that. A band is a next level relationship isn’t it? Somewhere between family, enemies and friends…

It can also be nightmare, you know [laughs].

Are you pleased with the outcome of the record, now that it’s out there in the world?

Yes very much so, I wouldn’t out the record out if I didn’t like it. I am very pleased with the way it came out.

Do you have a preference between live performing and being in the studio?

I guess if I could only do one thing I would choose live performance. But I do enjoy both a great deal. And it should be noted that we don’t approach both things in the same way. When we are playing the song in the studio for a record, we are playing it in a slightly different way. They are different experiences, listening to an album and attending a concert. We don’t try to recreate one in the other.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have four New Zealand shows lined up, however due to illness Friday night's Auckland show had to be rescheduled. The dates are now as follows:

Saturday 1st August, Bodega, Wellington
Sunday 2nd August, Allen St Rock Club, Christchurch
Tuesday 4th August, Chicks Hotel, Dunedin
Wednesday 5th August, The Powerstation, Auckland

Head over here for more details and to buy tickets


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