Jon Spencer Gets It Lit at The 13th Floor: Interview

Jon Spencer is back with his new band, The HITmakers.

The new album is called Spencer Gets It Lit and it was just unleased on Friday. The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda found Jon Spencer sitting in his car in New York City on release day no doubt looking suspicious to anyone passing by.

Fans of Jon’s previous bands…Pussy Galore, Boss Hog and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion will be relieved to know that Mr. Spencer has not mellowed with age. So, listen and/or read along as Jon Spencer Gets It Lit on The 13th Floor.

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MD: So this album is the first with the HITmakers, you did a solo album in between this and the last Blues Explosion album, so tell me how this record came together from your point of view?

JS: Well, I would really consider this the second HITmakers record. It’s true that Spencer Sings The Hits was credited to my own name Jon Spencer. But that record was made with Sam Coomes, and M Sord. And that, that I think this was the beginning of the project. We tracked that record in in the fall of 2017. In the summer 2018, we began playing concerts…playing some shows. And because there was a lot of percussion on the first record, specifically a lot of banging on pieces of metal scrap junk, I wanted to have that included as part of the show.

Jon Spencer

So I reached out to my old friend Bob Bert from Pussy Galore. And happily Bob agreed and joined us. So that from the very first show The HITmakers were Bob Bert, Sam Coomes, M Sord and myself. And probably within the first two or three shows I began referring to the band, from the stage, as The HITmakers.  It was a name that that came to me on the spot in the middle of a show and it stuck.

This second record, Spencer Gets It Lit, was was tracked in July of 2021. We were originally supposed to do it back in April of 2020 but the pandemic was going on and you know, we had to change our plans. So this is I consider it really the second HITmakers record. But yeah, it does have a different credit to a different band, I suppose. This is the first record  with the four of us though, that is one difference, Bob Bert plays on this studio album. So this is the first HITmakers record, featuring Bob Bert.

MD: Cool. And so tell me a little bit about the vibe in the studio. How do you guys all work together? Who was doing what? Who’s in charge? What was communication like?

JS: (chuckles) Well, I think the communication was good. I mean, we’ve been like I said, we started playing out live, performing live in the summer 2018. So we did a lot of shows through the rest of 2018 and all through 2019. And, you know, we, it clicked we got along well, everybody, you know, always fits into the puzzle and you know, there’s there’s a good vibe, good feeling, you know, travelling and working together and I think musically, you know, all those shows, definitely helped us when it came time to record the second record. We had a lot of a lot of wisdom, a lot of experience. We built up some good muscles from from playing, you know, spending a lot of time working as a band and playing many concerts.

Umm…how did it work? Well, I write the songs, both records, I wrote them all by myself. So I write the songs. With this record, I made very crude, very simple demos on my phone. And I shared those with the band and then we met up at the Key Club Recording Company in Benton Harbor, Michigan. And we we just set up and had at it.

Jon Spencer

We we kind of worked through one song at a time, You know, everybody get their heads wrapped around it. And we, we play it for a while and make little changes, as we saw fit for the, you know, you know, sometimes you got to change an arrangement or something. And, you know, we played each song till we felt good, and we got in a good place and then we, we hit record on the tape machine.

Everybody, you know, everybody has their own role in the band, you know, and everybody’s just principally looking after their own corner, their own part of the sonic landscape. We’re working once again with the engineer producer, Bill Skibbe, the owner of the Key Club. And Bill is has a lot to do with with the sound of the records. And he’s, he’s such a clever engineer. And it’s such a such a sympathetic person to work with, you know, and but he’s, he has a lot to do with the, the, you know, how things sound going to tape.

MD: Gotcha. So, you mentioned arrangements, how arranged are these songs, because it sounds like you guys are just like having a ball in the studio and kind of taking it where it feels but I I’m assuming that there’s more to it than that.

JS: Yeah, I mean, that the songs are written. You know, and I think at heart, they’re pretty simple, you know, rock and roll, garage, rock, pop-rock songs, you know, they’re, in a sense, most of them are quite traditional in a way, you know, verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge solo. So, yeah, the songs are written. But, you know, what, I think from there were instances where things got changed as, as we played them together as a group.

And mind you, this is the first time we had played these songs, ever, as a group. Sometimes it became clear that, you know, we should, we should repeat the chorus at the end, or let’s cut that verse in half. And, and also, with each member, I give them kind of a blueprint or a guideline of what their part is for the song. But then there is, you know, each person, Bob and Sam and Sord, they each individually brings their own, you know, their own flavour to the stew. And at this, also, I’m, giving each of them notes and suggestions and… it is the it is the sound of a band playing live on the studio floor.

Jon Spencer

So yes, there is…you know, the reason I like to make record sets ways, well, I like the way that sounds and I think a lot of my favourite records were made that way. It’s, it’s a group playing live in the studio. At the heart of the…you can add other things, overdub things, you can edit it later or mute some instruments if you want, but you start with a live performance that that’s at the very core that you know that that’s the meat of the song.

And so yeah, I mean, so there is some little spark, sometimes there’s mistakes. You know, there’s, there’s a little electricity in there. So I’m happy to hear you say that sounds like we’re having a ball. That sounds like some of that’s some of that electricity, you know, made it onto the wax.

MD: Definitely! And is there any kind of change in the songs once the live thing starts happening?

JS: Oh, there will be for sure. I’ve got to be honest with you, you know, we get to play a show since we made that record. Right. Our we have a US tour started on the 11th of April, and that that show will be the first time we’ve played these any of these songs from the album on stage.

Yes, of course, things…I imagine some, some things will change. You have to adapt, make little changes, you know, adaptations from studio to, concert stage.  One big change for us is that we’re gonna have a new drummer. Sadly, M Sord had to step down. He’s got to take a little break. And so we were very lucky to get Janet Weiss to fill in. And Janet is Sam Coomes, partner in the band Quasi. And she’s also she’s probably best known for playing with Sleater Kinney.

Yeah. So I’m really, really super excited to have this opportunity to play with Janet. And also when from now on, or our plan is for the foreseeable future, is that we’re, you know, we’re going to make it a kind of double bill that Sam and Janet will first play a full Quasi set and then HITmakers will do their show. So it’s it’s going to be a package tour.

Jon SpencerMD: Sounds like fun. You’re starting in Buffalo is that right?

JS: That’s correct, Marty. Yes.

MD: I’m from Rochester, New York. Just down the turnpike there.

JS: Oh, no way. Yeah. What are you doing in New Zealand?

MD: I’ve been here since 94. I got out. I used to work at the Great Great House Of Guitars.

JS: That’s a world famous place for sure. Yeah. Yeah. You must be familiar with the Bug Jar?

MD: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I haven’t been to Rochester in a while, but I’m sure it’s still there.

JS: I’ve heard it’s still around. Yeah.

MD: Now speaking of fun, I think you got a song called Strike Three on the record. With baseball season starting I assume it’s all about baseball. Tell me what, what your relationship is with the game.

JS: Ahhh…I don’t much care for it. (Laughing) But I don’t I mean, I suppose you know, I don’t I don’t like professional sports, organized sports. I’ve never I’ve never really been into them. But I guess if I you know, if I had to pick, baseball does seem to have be you know, there’s there’s some poetry in there, you know, especially compared to something like football. You know, they’re baseball’s? I got it. I grudgingly admit that that baseball does have something going for it.

MD: So why’d you write the song?

JS: The song’s not really about baseball, the song’s about America and and the problems with current day society. It’s it’s kind of more like a political song or a blues. And baseball is just a convenient, you know, motif, a stand-in for the US of A.

MD:  So the the songs that comprise the record, when you put it together, are you thinking in terms of one needs to follow the other? Is it kind of making sense to you in a certain way? Or do they kind of work individually for you?

JS: Well, I hope that they work can work both ways. Certainly, a lot of thought and effort goes into sequence in the album, but the songs are not written…they’re not written as part of a suite. Oh, it’s, it’s more, you know, I think at the time, it’s just focusing on one song at a time. But then yes, there comes a point when making the record that, you know, well, how’s how are these going to flow from one song to another. And for me, it’s, you know, I’m always thinking about a vinyl LP, you know. And that’s an even, you know, smaller chunk of time, but but then you have to put the, the two, the two sides have to work together.

MD: I see you got a few videos out for Junk Man, I think is is one of them, and was it Worm Town? How involved are you in the visual presentation of the songs?

JS: Oh, I’m involved. Yeah, I mean, it this is, this is all this is, this is a independent, you know, enterprise. It’s all all DIY. And so you know, I, I don’t do the videos all by myself, I have to find filmmakers to, you know, to actually do the work but, but I’m definitely involved with, you know, finding those people, you know, suggesting ideas, collaborating, and then I like to get most of all when it comes down to editing. But again, I’m not doing it. I’m just advising and collaborating.

MD: You’ve been making records since like, the mid 80s. That was a very different music business back then. And bands didn’t do all that stuff on their own. Do you like it better this way? Or is it just different?

JS: We made videos, I mean Pussy Galore, that was my first band, and that was in the 80s, Pussy Galore made videos…

MD: Yeah, but you know, but I’m guessing you had like record companies overseeing things and stuff.

JS: No, I’ve always been from the underground. I’ve always been independent. I’ve always been a firm believer in doing it yourself. So, I mean, yeah, there have been times when, you know, I’ve had enjoyed some level of success, but I’ve always, you know, looked after my own affairs as much as possible.

MD: Right.  And at this point in your career, are you looking back on your quote unquote legacy at all and thinking about what you’ve accomplished?

JS: Oh, hell no!

MD:  I thought that would be the answer.

JS: No, I don’t want to do that. I’m looking forward. I’m trying to look forward. I’m trying… I’m gonna keep moving.

MD: Okay, well, speaking of keep moving, the last track is Get Up & Do It. Obviously, kind of a reference to a little James Brown action in there. Tell me what’s going on there because it sounded pretty cool.

JS: Well, thanks. Again, this is maybe another of one of the political songs on the album. But tying it to, you know, it’s it’s in a great tradition of, you know, like you said, James Brown and, and, you know, dance as political action.

MD: And, and do you think about the status of rock and roll these days? Are you just doing your own thing and let everybody else do theirs? Are you kind of a student of it?

JS: No, I’m not so concerned about the state of rock’n’roll. I don’t I think, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s not going to go away. It’s like the cockroach. I think, you know, it’s gonna outlive both of us. Yeah. I mean, I am obsessed. And I’m possessed. Yeah. I mean, I have devoted my life to this. But most of that time, it has been with my, you know, kind of nose to the ground, and really just doing my thing and just working. Yeah.

MD: Cool. Cool. So you got shows happening starting in buffaloes? That’s going to be fun. Are you thinking about what you’re going to do next after that, even though the records just come out today?

JS: We have European tour and in June and then we’re going to have more, more more tours in the fall.

MD: Excellent. Well, hopefully come down to New Zealand. I know you’ve been here a few times in the past. I’ve seen you a few times.

JS: I would I would love to return to New Zealand. Yeah, that would be great to have to take the HITmakers down to New Zealand & Australia.

Jon Spencer & The HITmakers album, Spencer Gets It Lit, is out now.