For 20 years, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has aggressively fused punk noise with R&B, hip-hop, and soul and seasoned the pot with screaming electronics and Stones-worthy riffage. Meat & Bone, the trio's latest studio effort, calls to mind all the best of everything that came before, but don't call it a throwback. "We're not rehashing anything," Spencer insists.
Flyer: Meat & Bone is the sound of a mature Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, but there is nothing Adult Contemporary about it. What's the secret?
Jon Spencer: We took a break and didn't play for three or four years. In 2008, we started playing live again, because we wanted to. It felt good to play again, so we started looking for more concert offers. Same with Meat & Bone. We didn't make this record because we owed somebody a record. We weren't under any contractual obligation to anybody. We didn't owe anybody any money. So when we made Meat & Bone it was kind of for us, you know?
You've experimented with a lot of sounds over the years, but this is a leaner project. Or it feels that way, anyway.
We didn't have any plan or design or scheme. We wrote the songs then went out to this studio in Benton Harbor, Michigan. You can't see the whole shape of an album. It doesn't come together until some of the songs are recorded. Takes awhile for things to gel.
Do you always get out of New York to record?
It can be nice. One of the big ones for us was when we recorded Extra Width. We tracked most of that at the old Easley Studio in Memphis. For us that was a huge deal, because there were so many great records being made at Easley, and we were such great fans of Memphis music.
Was there a similar personal connection in Michigan?
I'd worked at the Key Club in Benton Harbor six or seven years ago on an Andre Williams record. I'd been wanting to get back there. It's a great studio with a great collection of old gear and good engineers. And it's cheap compared to a studio in New York City. We camped out there. We lived above the studio for nine days or so doing nothing but getting good sounds and recording songs.
You can tell that there was a lot of attention paid to tone and the sounds you wanted from your instruments.
We're just a trio and kept things simple. We didn't bring in any guests this time. We added a few things after we got back to New York. Judah Bauer did some particularly lovely work overdubbing extra guitar sounds.
How much does Meat & Bone owe to the re-release of your back catalog?
In 2010, we released everything we'd done in the first 10 years. And I didn't want to put the records out exactly the way they'd been. I wanted to tell the story of the band. So I tried to be complete and include anything and everything we recorded around these albums. And we were a busy band, so there was a lot of material, a huge project. Preparing all those recordings for reissue and reviewing all that music and history, I do think it was an influence on where we went with the new studio album. We took some inspiration and some energy from what we'd done in the past.
If there was a theremin buried in the Meat & Bone mix I couldn't hear it.
We still use it live and I'll have it at the show, but I didn't use it on the record.
I missed it but liked the more stripped-down guitar and drum sound.
Well, we definitely used some electronics. We're into old gear, and in the studio we may be a little old-fashioned. But we're not sticklers or Luddites.
In the '90s, you were caught up in a ridiculous conversation about irony vs. authenticity.
That was kind of a drag. For us, we're basically a garage band at heart. We're playing in this band because we're so in love with a lot of these records. Jim Dickinson always said something like, "It's music. It's not property. It's not land." I always took that to mean that it's open. It's free. Rock-and-roll has always been a mongrel art form. And what we do in the Blues Explosion has always been true to the original spirit of rock-and-roll.
When I first heard you, about the time you were recording in Memphis, I thought this is what rockabilly would sound like today, if it wasn't kept pristine, if it was allowed to evolve naturally.
It always baffles me that people make these knuckle-headed remarks. I'm not in this because I want to make fun of Little Richard or Junior Kimbrough. Sometimes what I do may be crazy and it has a lot of spirit and joy. It's still serious art.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Friday, January 25th, 9 p.m., $15