Published on December 9th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Jon Spencer On New Album “Spencer Sings The Hits,” His Upcoming U.S. Tour & More
Following work with Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer first turned heads on an international basis as the leader of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Beyond his work with the Blues Explosion, Spencer notably was a part of Boss Hog — alongside wife Cristina Martinez — and Heavy Trash. In turn, Spencer has been a consistently inventive, interesting and prolific artist for several decades.
2018 has brought Jon Spencer’s first-ever solo album, Spencer Sings The Hits!, which was released last month through In The Red Recordings. On Sings The Hits!, Spencer worked with Sam Coomes (Quasi, Heatmeiser) and M. Sord, who are two-thirds of his touring band The Hitmakers; Bob Bert (Pussy Galore, Lydia Lunch, Knoxville Girls, Sonic Youth) rounds out Spencer’s backing trio.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Jon Spencer by phone, and below are the highlights from that chat. Audio from this chat will be played on Episode #011 of the Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz, as co-produced with PureGrainAudio. In the meantime, more on all things Jon Spencer — whose upcoming U.S. dates include Washington D.C.’s Black Cat, Brooklyn’s Rough Trade, Atlanta’s The Earl, Houston’s House Of Blues and Asheville’s Grey Eagle — can be found by following Spencer on social media.
Jon Spencer: As a matter of fact, I made up the title first. A friend of mine, a local writer guy by the name of Todd Hanson, he’s one of the guys that started The Onion newspaper. He, a couple years ago, told me that he had an idea for an album title and that I should do a record called Spencer Sings The Hits. He even described what it should look like, the cover and everything, but I think his concept was that it would actually be kind of like a crooner record, like a genuine pop hits or something.
So I liked the title and I used that, but I didn’t take the cover concept or the actual concept for the content and the album itself. But yeah, the credit goes to Todd Hanson, that’s why he’s the executive producer of Spencer Sings the Hits. So I had the title first, that’s correct.
How long did you spend actually making the album? Did you write any of it in the studio?
Jon Spencer: No, I wrote the songs by myself, which is not typical for me. Usually I write with other people. I like to collaborate. But when… I didn’t have a band. The Explosion was kind of stopped, Heavy Trash had kind of stopped, and I wanted to have a band. So instead of trying to find people and put a band together, I figured I’ll just make a record, do that first. So I wrote the songs all by myself last summer and then we tracked the record out in Michigan at the Key Club Recording Company in Benton Harbor…
Sessions were in October of 2017, last fall. Those sessions got cut short ’cause my father-in-law passed away, so then I had to go back out in January to finish the record. Didn’t take that long to make, and it’d actually been in the can for some months before the record was released.
Are you the kind of guy that writes every day or every week? Or do you just need a project to write for?
Jon Spencer: I’m not the kind of guy that’s writing every day and every week. I used to be kind of always keep notes about some idea that hit me, I’d make some kind of record of it, scribble something down, or even try to make an audio recording. But I stopped doing that. I kind of figure if the idea’s good enough, it’ll come back again.
Jon Spencer: Well, you know, there are songs which I definitely really liked when I was making the record, when I was writing and then the change for when I was mixing the record, and then it’s changed since we started playing the songs live. Yeah, I think that I feel happy with the way say, “Beetle Boots” came out. And since we’ve been touring and playing the circuit live now, a song like “Ghost” is very satisfying to play live and always seems to strike a chord with the audience. That’s kind of par for the course. You have things go in and out of favor.
But I should stress that it’s not like there are songs which I’m unhappy with. I wouldn’t put them on the record if I didn’t think they were up to snuff.
Did you entirely make the album independently or do you have a record company or somebody that you knew was gonna put it out at some point?
Jon Spencer: I just went ahead and did it. I didn’t have any deal with any record label or company beforehand. I just did it, paid for it myself.
Having made a solo album like this, do you now want to make a band album? Or are you just taking things as they come?
Jon Spencer: This is, Spencer Sings The Hits, is not me all by my lonesome in the studio. I didn’t want to have it be something like that. I wanted to have some other players in there. So there are two guys that are on the record with me. Sam Coomes, who’s from Portland, Oregon. People know him most of all from the band Quasi. Sam plays the keys, he plays the synthesizer bass. And the drummer’s a Michigan guy by the name of M. Sord, and Sord lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. and he’s somebody I got to know from previous sessions at the Key Club. I’d done a couple other records at that studio and Sord for a period of time was sort of working as the studio handyman. So he’s someone I got to know and got to learn that he’s a great drummer.
So, when I was making plans to go out to the Key Club to record this album, it seemed to be convenient, made sense to hit up Sord to see if he wanted to play on it. So, Sam and Sord, even though songs were already written, everything was kind of in place before the sessions, they bring a lot of character, a lot of personality to the record and are responsible for a good chunk of why the record sounds the way it does. Sam and Sord are playing with me live in the live band. Forgive me, where are you calling from?
I’m calling from Long Island, New York.
Jon Spencer: We have a tour starting January 11th. We’re playing in New York City at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on the 31st… We have a tour all through January and then February. So the reason I was bringing that up is Sam is sort of our, part of the live band as well, and we’re joined by a fourth member, my old friend Bob Bert who was in Pussy Galore with me.
This is kind of like a new project for me, a new band, and I guess you asked what I’d like to do next. So yeah, I guess I’d like to make another record with this new project and I’d like to continue working with these guys. We have, as I mentioned, the tour dates in January and then we have more stuff overseas coming up later in 2019.
Jon Spencer: Yeah, that was the concept in my head before going into this, yeah. I wanted to have bass, but I didn’t want to have traditional rock and roll electric string bass guitar. So I wanted to use synthesizer. That was something made up in my mind beforehand. Also, I knew that, had the concept or the desire if you will to use metal percussion. That was something that was formulated in advance. And I think the general vibe of the record as far as kind of a ’60s punk sound with the electric guitar, a lot of fuzz and very simple lines, very crude. So all of that stuff, it was in my head, I could hear it. So, it was thought out in advance.
For somebody coming to see you live on the upcoming dates, are you playing anything besides tracks from the new album?
Jon Spencer: We’ll play everything from the album. In addition to that, we will play a couple songs from some of my earlier groups, a couple Pussy Galore songs, some Blues Explosion songs, Heavy Trash songs. We have a few covers we like to kick around.
Going back to my question where I asked how often you write, if you’re not writing that often, do you have any other creative outlets?
Jon Spencer: I suppose music is the main thing. That’s really the main one. You know, I design… If we need a shirt design or if the album jacket design, I take care of that stuff. There’s some graphic stuff, graphic work that happens occasionally. But no, I suppose music is the main outlet.
For somebody that’s even been following you for 20, 25 years, all people pretty much know about you is the music. Is there something that you wish more people knew about Jon Spencer?
Jon Spencer: No, not really. I’m sort of a reserved person… I guess I’m even a little bit shy. I’m really happy just being a private individual… When I started playing in bands many years ago, we didn’t have the Internet. Now these days, everybody, social media’s such a thing and it’s… I try to promote tour dates and putting out a record through things like Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter. It’s okay, but for me it’s just a means to an end. It’s not like I really want to share my day to day activities or my innermost thoughts to strangers online through these social media platforms.
I suppose maybe it would be good as far as promoting a brand, but I’m just not really into that… I don’t really feel the need or have no desire to share information such as oh, what kind of waffles I’m having for breakfast or what’s my opinion about this author’s new book, or you know, the weather today. There’s not really anything that I want to get out there, no.
That makes a lot of sense. In closing, any last words for the kids?
Jon Spencer: For the kids? Well, vote. As soon as you can, vote. And be kind to people and try to take care of each other. Let’s try to make things better, ’cause we only got this one chance and this one planet. Let’s not screw it up. How about that?
That absolutely works.