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Interview: Jenny Don't and The Spurs - Debut New Zealand Shows

Interview: Jenny Don't and The Spurs - Debut New Zealand Shows

Kit Walker / Tuesday 8th November, 2022 10:44AM

Your intrepid UTR interviewer Kit Walker caught up with Jenny Don't (also of of garage punks DON'T) and Kelly Halliburton (Pierced Arrows, P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S.) from Portland's Jenny Don't & The Spurs last week before they headed off to Australia, where they will perform before coming to NZ later this month...

UnderTheRadar proudly presents...

Jenny Don't & The Spurs

Thursday 24th November - Whammy Back Room, Auckland
Friday 25th November - Kumeu Live, Kumeu
Saturday 26th November - Piha RSA, Piha

Tickets available HERE via UTR

Kit Walker: Hi Jenny & Kelly — how's Portland today?

Kelly: Hello! It’s grey and rainy – a typical autumn day in Portland, and to top it off it’s HALLOWEEN! Not much of a holiday for us, though, since we’ve got a live show tonight (more on that later), and we’re scrambling to get everything pack for our tour. We’re leaving tomorrow, as I write this, and we’re all looking forward to flying to sunnier antipodean climes!

Jenny — I have to ask — were you really a rodeo rider at one stage? How long did that last?

Jenny: Yes! I was in rodeos from about age 9 to 12 I think. I was almost Miss Sumas Jr Rodeo Princess, but I lost by one point (Sumas is a small town in Washington State by the border of Canada). I also competed in fairs and won grand champion one year riding bareback (without a saddle). Then my family kind of split up when I was about 12 and we sold our horses and became a disinterested teen... ha ha...

Aaaand do you really sew your own stage outfits?

Jenny: I do! I love making my own western wear. It’s really satisfying knowing that there are no other outfits like mine — and that I made them myself vs. paying someone else to do it. I’m too broke for that anyway! I also recently learned how to do chain-stitch embroidery so I’ve been getting the rest of the band guys’ outfits decorated up too, in the classic Nudie suit style.

Portland? I've been lucky enough to travel there a few times and it must be the US city that feels most like NZ... we've had many a visitor from Portland including Dead Moon, and in the '90s you would see a lot of Poison Idea t shirts, and now you see A LOT of Wipers and Dead Moon t-shirts, not to mention one of our favourite bands here The Mint Chicks moved to Portland and broke up soon after — but Ruban Nielson the guitarist stayed on there forming Unknown Mortal Orchestra. What's the common thread you reckon?

Kelly: I don’t know... I guess Portland has always had a vibrant music scene, going back to the big-band jazz era and before, but more recently it was right there with the rest of the world when punk rock broke in the '70s. Building on what had already been a thriving garage rock scene, the new punk stuff kind of blew up and set the stage for what later became a pretty open and welcoming place for interesting musical styles. It didn’t hurt that we were exporting such underground heavyweights like the bands you mentioned — Dead Moon, Wipers, Poison Idea — which helped to advertise Portland as a place that produced some pretty great music and reinforced the image of the town as a place where the independent, DIY ethic was alive and well. Along those same lines, I think it’s always helped that Portland ISN’T one of the accepted “music capitals” like LA, New York, Austin, etc, and people always like the scrappy underdog. Portland’s been “discovered” in the last decade or so — (formerly) cheap real estate, mild (albeit usually rainy) weather, and ample opportunity to play live — so it’s definitely found its place on the world’s musical map, but it’s still retained some of its slightly backwoods grit and shabby charm.

You guys got married recently — was Jerry A (from Poison Idea) your marriage celebrant? How was that?

Kelly: We did! We finally tied the knot after 13 years as a couple — an auspicious number! The wedding was an amazing blowout party, with friends attending from as far away as Europe and Australia. We’re lucky to have such an incredible group of very supportive friends — an extended family, really, and they helped us create a really fun, memorable day... live bands, food, booze, and the obligatory awkward speeches. Jerry A, who got his mail order minister’s card specifically for the occasion, added the final touch to the festivities. He’s an old friend of ours (he even made a guest vocal appearance on the first Jenny Don’t & The Spurs LP, singing a duet with Jenny!), and we were honoured that he agreed to be a part of the ceremony.

Both of you and Kelly - do you get many people asking you about your punk rock past? I know Bruno from local band Ratso is keen to see you play — he says you were a big influence on him when you played in Severed Head Of State?

Kelly: Well, it’s all part of our history as a band and as people — I toured for decades in hardcore and punk bands, and, in a way, I see the Spurs as a continuation of that lineage. I mean, it’s basically the same spirit and energy, even if the music is a bit different. I feel like a lot of the early country players (emphasis on EARLY — most of our musical influences stem from the '50s and '60s and barely anything later than that creeping in) were channeling the same kind of frustrated energy and passion that the punks do, and the genres have more in common than they do differences. I may have traded my studs for rhinestones these days, but I still bash away the way I always did!

That’s great that Ratso likes my old bands — the times I spent playing with Severed Head Of State were incredible times, and our trip to New Zealand in late 2007 was a memorable experience. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, and I consider myself lucky to still be able to make music and tour like I’ve always done!

Kelly, you're also a bit of a record fiend — any records you're looking for while you are here?

Kelly: Yeah, it’s no secret that I have a really bad record habit. It’s basically my only real indulgence — I wear mostly second-hand clothes, I drive outdated vehicles, and I’m a cheapskate when it comes to almost everything else, but I can find a million ways to justify splashing out on vinyl. One of my favourite things to do when I tour is to rummage through record bins, and I had a great time doing so when I was last in New Zealand. I picked up some great records, but I know there’s a lot more out there just waiting to jump in my suitcase and fly home with me. If ANYONE wants to help me in this endeavour, feel free to come say hello! I’m looking mainly for '70s / '80s NZ punk, as well as good '60s garage and surf (I’m a sucker for instrumental surf stuff — I picked up a Tony and the Initials 7” when I was last in NZ, and I need more of their instrumental stuff!). Some wants, if anyone wants to help: No Tag, Toy Love, Proud Scum, Suburban Reptiles, Scavengers, that sort of thing. Originals, preferably...

Kelly — in various clips you have what looks like cool old department store basses — what's the story there? What will you be bringing to NZ?

Kelly: I spent decades playing what I consider to be the best, all-purpose bass ever, the classic Fender Precision. It was great for my punk and hardcore bands and had that timeless tone and playing feel that made it perfect for what I was doing all those years. Since we started the Spurs though, I wanted to go for a more vintage sound and aesthetic, so I started looking into old basses, especially old Japanese ones. I fell in love with the stylings of these old, neglected and much-disparaged instruments with their sometimes-excessive numbers of switches and knobs and cool takes on Western body shapes. I also loved the challenge of taking old instruments that everyone else seems to have written off as being of poor quality and wrangling what I feel is a great tone out of them... one of my favourite adages in music, as well as in my day job as a builder is this: “it’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools!” The way I see it, is if you can’t pick up a fifty-year-old Japanese guitar and make it rock the way it was built to do, then the problem probably isn’t with your instrument — and there are plenty of awesome bands from around the world that were rocking in the '60s, and who were doing it in parts of the globe where nobody could afford the latest Gibson and Fender models, that prove this.

So, yeah – I guess besides records, my other indulgence is oddball musical gear. I’ve got vintage guitars from Japan, Brazil (Gianinni), Czechoslovakia (Jolana), Yugoslavia (Melodija)... I’d LOVE to add some cool basses (and six-string) guitars to my collection. Anyone have any dusty old Jansen or Commodores out there that they want to send home with me? Or any crappy Japanese '60s basses? Bring ‘em on!

For this tour I’ll be bringing a Lyle bass from the mid-'60s. Lyle was the house brand of a long-running Portland music store that went out of business in the '80s. During their 65+ year existence they imported thousands of instruments, including a lot of unbranded guitars from Japan back in the '60s. Most of these guitars were made in the same factories in Japan that made Kent and Teisco guitars, but the Lyle Heater Music Company imported them they’d put their own 'Lyle' badges on the headstocks. So, the bass I’m bringing is one of those... it’s my current favourite of the bunch.

Are there any NZ groups you are aware of?

Kelly: Sadly, I really don’t know many current NZ groups, but I’m looking forward to discovering some while we’re down there!

Got to ask — do you guys cook on tour? What's your favourite meal?

Kelly: We usually don’t have time to cook when we’re on the road, but we definitely love to eat! Here in the US the pickings are pretty slim out on the road, especially if you’re a vegetarian like me and our drummer, Dean. We love touring in Europe for a lot of reasons, but the home-cooked meals at a lot of gigs is an important one. And, even though I don’t eat meat, one of my favourite things about traveling is the opportunity to try local cuisine. I’ve never felt that being a vegetarian has restricted me from enjoying food around the world, and I’m looking forward to sampling whatever presents itself when we’re in New Zealand. And don’t tell the Australians this, but, as I discovered when I was on tour in the region some fifteen years ago, I vastly prefer New Zealand Marmite over Australian Vegemite — and I plan on bringing some home with me!

Some bands don't eat anything before a show — some not at least 3 hours before one... then some have to eat all day and get hangry when they can't (talking about you Pat Beers!). How about you guys?

Kelly: Well, we don’t have any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to that... generally we don’t like to eat much right before we play, we tend to get sluggish and tired if we do, but breakfast and lunch are on!

What's been your strangest show? The Piha show (hopefully won't be your strangest!) is right on the beach — and it's black sand... will you try the waves?

Kelly: I feel like we played right on beach when I was there with Pierced Arrows, when we played the Kuaotunu Hall, and I hope this is similar. I grew up on the Oregon Coast, just a few minutes walk from the Pacific Ocean, so I have a real affinity for beach towns and I’m really looking forward to Piha. Will we jump in? Well, I guess that all depends on the weather! But yeah, probably!

As far as strange gigs go, we’ve played almost every kind of venue and environment you can think of — restaurants, middle-of-nowhere honky-tonk bars, even on one bizarre occasion a retirement home where the average age of the attendees was well over 80! We’ve played everywhere from the Swiss Alps to the Mojave Desert, from the steamy jungles of Florida to the arctic tundra of Alaska, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean... and now we’re adding New Zealand to that list! We can’t wait!

Tell us about your Halloween Danzig (tribute?) show please?

Kelly: Well, just for fun — and to earn a bit of much-needed pocket money for this tour — we decided to resurrect JENZIG for a few Halloween gigs. We’d done this a few years ago for Halloween, but we’d always been too busy to practice the songs. It’s pretty fun — although I have to admit that my knowledge of Danzig’s music doesn’t extend much past the first couple of Misfits records, and I think everyone except Jenny is in that boat! She’s a real fan, though — she likes anyone with a strong vocal style like he’s got, and I feel like she does an amazing job of channeling him! A real 180-degree shift from what we usually do, which is part of the reason it’s so much fun.

Thanks for chatting — now do you have a Jenny Don't & The Spurs quote for the day?

Jenny & Kelly: See you on the road!


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Jenny Don't & The Spurs
Thu 24th Nov 8:00pm
Whammy Backroom, Auckland
Jenny Don't & The Spurs
Fri 25th Nov 8:00pm
Kumeu Live (at Kumeu Arts), Kumeu
Jenny Don't & The Spurs
Sat 26th Nov 8:00pm
Piha RSA, Auckland