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Jon Spencer of the Blues Explosion: My Life in 10 Songs

From Pussy Galore to ‘Freedom Tower,’ the combustible blues-punker looks back

Jon Spencer

Jon Spencer performs in London on May 9th, 2014.

Robin Little/Redferns/Getty

For 30 years, rock & roll powder keg Jon Spencer has been a flailing, wailing presence in the American underground: from the transgressive noise clang of Pussy Galore to the high-octane avant-blues of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, from Boss Hog's major label dirt-groove to Heavy Trash's rockabilly rumble. Once again — alongside drummer Russell Simins and guitarist Judah Bauer — his most acclaimed band, the JSBX, is returning with their 10th album, the Gotham-ist Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015 (which you can still hear in its entirety before its March 24th release date). We caught up with Spencer to ask about some of his most well-regarded recordings.

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Jon Spencer performs in London on May 9th, 2014.

Robin Little/Redferns/Getty

Blues Explosion, “Hot Gossip” feat. Chuck D (2004)

Working with Chuck D. Who would have thought? What a sweet guy, what a nice guy. At that time Russell Simins had a studio on West 28th St., I think it was. It was in the Flower District, which is no longer even the Flower District. But he had a studio, it was on the 15th floor or something and from one of the windows you could see the Empire State Building. Damage [from 2004] was written there and there's a lost album between [2002's] Plastic Fang and Damage. And we're gonna try to put this out. We always call it "the black album." A tribute to Prince's Black Album. We wrote tons and tons of stuff and it was a proper studio, so it was all being recorded

You know, it's one of the few overtly political songs [in the JSBX catalog]. This was after 9/11, we are a New York band we are residents of New York City. That song was coming out of a great frustration and horror, not so much with the events of September 11th, but with seeing how the rest of the country. . . You know this was something that happened to us, in a way. That morning I was taking my son to school. I'm on the M14 bus going crosstown and looking down 6th Ave, you could see fire. The first plane had just hit so it was something that was very, very personal to all of us in the band. And then to see how things went down following that and the ways in which the government and this country used something. . .Maybe this is entirely naïve or I'm oversimplifying it, but I was in the middle of this thing. We all lived through this you know, and it felt so bad to see all this wrong done afterwards, in our name.

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Jon Spencer performs in London on May 9th, 2014.

Robin Little/Redferns/Getty

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Do the Get Down” (2015)

I had had the title Dance Party in my head for months, and then one morning it kind of hit me: I don't even think they use the term "Freedom Tower" anymore. They kind of backed away from it. But that seemed to be a very apt title for this record and what it's about. . . I mean, who would have thought there'd be a hole in the ground for how many years was it? That it took that long, it's just shameful. So, the new record turned out to be very New York-centric. A theme emerged and it was something that kind of happened, organically. When I sequenced the album I purposefully went for the songs which worked together on this theme. I lived in New York City for 29 years or something, I've lived here most of my life — and I still don't really feel like "a New Yorker," but at this point, fuck it. I'm gonna claim something.

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