Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Hones Its Fangs

"Last year we toured all over the world," says Jon Spencer as he relaxes at home in New York City. "So this year, we are not touring as much. We have this little string of dates and are trying to work towards another record. Hopefully, by this summer, we'll be back in the studio."

This next trip into the studio for the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX) will to be to record a follow-up to 2002's Plastic Fang (Matador).

Plastic Fang may be the band's best album to date in a career spanning eleven years — a true manifest of the band's long journey to reconcile itself with it's inner hellhound. The struggle is almost palpable when Spencer wails, "I gotta get right with God!" on "Mean Heart." But this isn't the by-the-numbers "bluez" the band has, at times, flirted with on albums past.

It's more Stones than Junior Kimbrough, yet rife with the rave-up sexuality of The Cramps paired with the white hot intensity of, say, the Flat Duo Jets that blasts viscerally away at the gooey insides of the meek and timid. It is dangerous and fun because JSBX drag you through the gutter while poking you in the side to see if you get the punchline.

"I think the shocking quality (of rock) is a bit menacing, certainly sexual, even a bit irreverent, and certainly full of life," explains Spencer in a measured tone that belies his larger than life visage on stage. "It's what makes rock'nroll what it is. And, I think, unfortunately, that's confusing to people."

Yes, confusing, and maybe a little uncomfortable as they try to digest something that isn't immediately familiar to them.

But at least this much should be clear, JSBX was able to capture on wax, with Plastic Fang, the massive energy of it's live show — something many bands attempt, yet often fail miserably at achieving.

"It is us playing live in the studio," says Spencer. "We've pretty much have always made our records that way. I mean, not every song, there are some songs that stray from that, but pretty much everything we've ever done starts with us playing live together in a room."

But, the difference during these sessions was that, for the first time, JSBX didn't produce the album themselves. The eye in this storm of raw power was producer, Steve Jordan (Stones, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, Dylan).

"We made a bunch of records a bunch of different ways, and we wanted some help this time," Spencer admits. "And, we were curious to experience that for ourselves. We're students of music, and music history, and I think it was attractive to us — the idea of working with somebody, and doing that thing."

Jordan whipped the band into turning in the best performances they could, and Spencer seems grateful for that and happy with the results.

"What Steve was trying to do with this record was to capture what the band was doing," he says. "I think, initially, Steve had some different ideas, but after the whole record was all done he revealed that he had come to see us play live in concert, and changed his plan. He wanted to capture and present the band, which is what I think he did."

Using a producer also signaled another shift in the inner dynamics of JSBX.

"Certainly, over the years, things within the band have become more democratic, and, yeah, I think using a producer had something to do with that," says Spencer. "It's better to have somebody else in there than having me running the show. Plus, I think we certainly felt like we weren't above saying we could use some help."

JSBX have been favorites at college radio for years, but, so far, commercial radio support has been limited. The band has found much wider acceptance in Japan and Europe. And that is reflected by their touring schedule.

"In the past year we've been to Europe about five times, we've been to Japan a couple of times, and Australia — all over the place," Spencer says. And while JSBX fills 1000 + seat clubs here in the states, the situation is both frustrating and perplexing to him.

In an interview that appeared in the May 2002 issue of CMJ, Spencer said that he felt like JSBX was being treated with more respect in the months since the release of Plastic Fang.

"Gosh, I don't know if I still feel that way," he says with a faint wry chuckle, and I quickly realize I've struck a nerve. "Um, I don't know if I ever said that, but for me it's always been kind of a struggle, especially in the United States. But, I certainly don't feel that way now. At times I can be a bit bitter, I suppose. I think the band has been largely misunderstood here in the United States. It's a drag.

"I think it might have something to do with what we were talking about earlier about the true elements of rock'nroll. I don't think rock'nroll has ever gotten a whole lot of respect in this country, and I think true rock'nroll is unsettling for a lot of people. I mean the strangeness, the sexual aspects, the menacing part, and the shocking part of all that. For some people it's hard to take, and they dismiss what is confusing to them. You know, I think there are a lot of things about the Blues Explosion that aren't easy to swallow. It's not pop music. It's rock'nroll, and, at the same time, that may be the mark of our greatness, but that also may serve to hinder us at the same time."

He catches himself though saying, "But, hey, we're still very lucky. We've been doing this for a very long time. We're doing it without the benefit of some major company, or a guy with a checkbook, or commercial radio support, or television. We've been able to do it, and do it on our own terms and call all of the shots — totally do our own thing. And, to be able to do it and get by and continue to do it is a great thing."