After spending several years playing rockabilly with the band Heavy Trash, veteran blues singer, guitarist, and prolific hype man Jon Spencer has returned with his longtime group the Blues Explosion and wants to remind everyone that the Blues is Number One.
“We’re still Number One. We’re gonna be Number One here in Austria tonight,” Jon Spencer tells Rolling Stone from the city of Feldkirch, Austria before the band plays the Poolbar Festival alongside Sick of It All and Mogwai.
“It fits in with a grand tradition of showmanship in rock & roll,” Spencer says about his noted slogan. “There’s a lot of people before me that have gotten up on stage and claimed to be something special, so I’m just keeping a tradition alive.”
Meat and Bone, due out September 18th on Boombox/Mom + Pop, is the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s first album since 2004. Recorded at the Key Club in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the record brings back the raw and chaotic sound of the early Blues Explosion material.
“I think that perhaps we’re feeling our oats,” Spencer says. “We’re not kids. We feel we’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think we feel very strong and very confident about what we’re doing. And also, I think we maybe had something to prove.”
Coming off some 2010 reissues of Blues Explosion material from the Nineties, the trio, including Judah Bauer on guitar and Russell Simins on drums, started to tour together and decided that the chemistry was still potent. With blistering songs like “Danger” and “Black Mold,” the band hasn’t lost their penchant for dangerous riffs and rhetorical broadsides.
“The aggression or rawness has always been part of the Blues Explosion,” Spencer says. “I enjoy playing a very nasty style of electric guitar. I really am into blunt force and not into fancy fretwork or anything – I’m very much a primitivist.”
Premiering today here, “Bag of Bones” was mixed with Alap Momin of the hip-hop group Dälek. The song is a harmonica-driven clarion call, asserting that the Blues is back and challenging their contemporaries with lines like “too many slogans” and “too much mediocrity.”
“I’ve always felt like Blues Explosion was much more innovative, much more creative, much more punk in a way, and more confrontational,” Spencer says. “So I think that’s a little bit of what the song is about.”
Working with artists such as Beck and the late bluesman R.L. Burnside in the past, the Blues Explosion has a rich collaborative history. Some of Meat and Bone was mixed at the Beastie Boys’ Oscilloscope Studios in lower Manhattan. As both a collaborator and tour mate of that band, Spencer remembers his relationship with the group and the spirit and generosity of the late Adam Yauch.
“It’s just so sad. He was such a sweet guy,” Spencer says. “The Beastie Boys have been very kind to the Blues Explosion. It’s really unbelievable that Yauch is gone, a real loss, a real shame.”
Outsize personas and stage swagger may be reserved for rap artists these days, but Jon Spencer credits his reverence for acts such as Little Richard and Howlin’ Wolf for informing his style. He also emphasizes creative expression over empty bravado.
“Ideally I’m hoping to just get into some crazy new shit,” he says about his live performance. “It’s an opportunity to lose yourself. I try to push my mind and my body to a point where anything can happen. I don’t wanna become a cartoon or a cliché, but it may well be too late for that now.”