A chat with Jon Spencer of Blues Explosion

JSBX (left to right: Judah Bauer, Jon Spencer and Russell Simmons)

Last week, Madison Music Review had an opportunity to interview indie punk-blues icon, Jon Spencer. He has fronted The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for nearly 25 years now. They’ll be unleashing their New York City, dirty swagger to the masses at The High Noon Saloon and bringing along supporting act, Daddy Long Legs on Saturday June 13, 2015. Both acts are not to be missed.


FS: Jon, you guys toured extensively for Meat+Bone, then went into the studio early in the year. Could you tell us how recording process came together for Freedom Tower?

JS: Yes, so ‘Freedom Tower’, our latest Blues Explosion record was tracked at Daptone. Daptone, is of course, the famous soul and funk label. Their studio is a funky, homemade thing, built into the parlor floor of a house. It’s a pretty basic set up – and the engineer, Wayne Gordon did a fantastic job. In my mind, I was thinking about doing a kind of “dance party” record, so the band figured that Daptone Studios (House of Soul) in Bushwick, New York would be the ideal place. You only have to listen to any of the records that they’ve done (Sharon Jones or Charles Bradley to name a couple) to know that they can come up with a great drum sound and they really know how to work with live musicians; that’s where we recorded for about four or five days. Then, we mixed the album with my friend Alap Momin (of alternative, underground rap group Dälek) at his studio in Harlem. So we had two different flavors coming together, two rivers joining together, and we’re very pleased with the way the record turned out.


FS: The new album is focused on NYC and pays homage to your roots and the genre of music which you respect.  Could you ever see applying this concept to another musically rich region or sound?

JS: Well we’ve kind of done that way back in 1992, when we tracked Extra Width, (our second album) in Memphis. Part of the reason we went down to Memphis to record it was because we were in love with the music that came out of Sun Studios, Stax and Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios. We’re sort of like a garage band, total music fans and we definitely go through phases where we become obsessed with a certain scene or certain city, studio or producer. We’re trying to keep this music alive, keep our heroes proud and go about it with a great deal of respect.


FS: Are there any artists with which you could see yourself (or Blues Explosion) collaborating?

JS: We were very happy with the collaboration with Gordon and Momin during the recording and mixing of Freedom Tower. Some people may not consider that as a true musical collaboration, but there’s a lot that goes on in the studio when you’re making a record. As far as teaming up with another musician, we certainly had great luck in the past  and we were extremely fortunate to meet some of our heroes such as Rufus Thomas, RL Burnside, Andre Williams, and the Beastie Boys. I don’t have a laundry list or bucket list of people, maybe it’s because I’m older now or I’m waiting for the “knock on the door” or the “phone call”, for the younger people to come search out the Blues Explosion.

There were a few people that we were interested in (collaboration); we tried to make something happen with Ike Turner, but that never came together. One that pops in my mind is Kid Koala (the great turntablist from Canada). He’s someone that we’ve always talked about collaborating with but it hasn’t come together.


FS: What has been driving your passion to stay relevant in this ever changing music industry?

JS: It’s the love of music, the love of new artists and getting excited about discovering a new record…and really, just playing in this band. I love to make rock-n-roll with the Blues Explosion, with Judah Bauer and Russell Simmons. It feels good, so I keep doing it.
FS: One last question, what’s next for Jon Spencer?

JS: I’m home for about a week, then we start the third leg of the US tour, and then in the summer we start going overseas in Europe and New Zealand, Australia, Japan and in the fall, we will go back to Europe. We’ll be touring probably until 2016.


Interview by Fred Simani :: June 3rd, 2015.