The namesake of power rock/blues/funk/soul trio the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, creator of some of the most fun-filled bass lines and chants in music history (“Bellbottoms! Bellbottoms! Bellbottoms!”), is sounding a little, well, phlegmatic.
Maybe it’s the ennui of answering the same tiresome questions from journalists, or the grind of being on tour, but the purveyor of party anthems, who’s bringing a new album of towering tunes to Australia next month, is taking a while to warm up.
Granted, he’s speaking by phone from the US late at night, but Spencer seems like he’s going through the motions, or just being polite – until he gets started on the fraternity between him and his bandmates, and their new album.
Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party is the 10th album from Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins and taps the somehow simultaneously retro and current sound the trio has such a knack for, with some electronica, disco
and glam thrown in. (Definite dance party fodder, as the subtitle implies.)
The trio came to particular attention in Australia with the outrageously fresh burst of 1994’s Orange, followed by Now I Got Worry in 1997 and Acme in 1999, before seeming to disappear, until resurfacing in 2012 with the album Meat and Bone and an appearance at Golden Plains.
“Australia’s always been kind, it’s home for some artists that I really like.” He rattles off a list of Australian bands that shows he’s not simply paying lip service: “Our very first trip we did a few shows … paired up with the Dirty Three. Even before I set foot in Australia I was a fan of the Scientists, Birthday Party, The Saints, Lubricated Goat, the Beasts of Bourbon. It’s been great to meet bands like that.”
For Spencer, also known for the bands Pussy Galore and Boss Hog (with wife Cristina Martinez), the dynamic with Bauer and Simins is one he clearly also really likes.
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“I just think it’s we’re lucky to have found each other,” he says of the pair, with whom he formed #JSBX in 1991. “The band really is about the communication between the three members. It wouldn’t survive without anyone else in the group.
“There’s some glue or bond or ESP or telepathy which allows us to write music and to play music. It’s also still our great love. We’re still very much obsessed with rock’n’roll and making music …
“The Blues Explosion is really just a garage band. We’re doing this because this is our passion and obsession, we’re in love with this kind of music and want to make it our own.
“Ultimately we’re making records we want to hear and shows we want to play. It’s a powerful thing, I think, rock’n’roll. For me, I find it quite life affirming.”
He’s modest, (perhaps that’s what I mistook for ennui), when I suggest the influence his trio appears to have had on other bands – the Black Keys, for example. “Perhaps, yeah, I think the Blues Explosion has touched some people’s hearts and minds, sure.”
It appears fitting, really, giving the trio is performing at Melbourne’s new Supersense festival – dubbed a celebration of the ecstatic – that performing is such a transcendent experience for him.
“I don’t mean to sound like a jerk … [but] for me, being on stage, the best shows are the ones in which I can really lose myself, not just worries about daily life or whatever but I can be stripped completely free and clear of who I am.”
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion perform in Brisbane on August 6, Sydney on August 7, the Supersense festival at Arts Centre Melbourne on August 8, Hobart on August 9 and Perth on August 11. Freedom Tower is out now.