interview with David Yow of The Jesus Lizard
originally published in Your Flesh magazine;
To get the ball rolling, David offered his number one personal tip on how to conduct an interview. Even if we were just basically hanging out after a show - there's gotta be a protocol, y'know? Okay, then, let's get on with it.
[David]: Okay, the trick to interviews is to try and figure out the good questions - not questions like, "What are influences"; fuck that - that's one of the stupidest questions, because you could just go forever. It's just a stupid question.
Unless you're talking about other types of influences than music.
Well, that's what I mean - your whole life, everything that comes in... you are an influence. Also, when it is a band question - "what groups influence you?", then it's really incomplete, because you say some names and then you end up with this one idea that's really inadequate.
As far as the Chrome cover, did that have anything to do with Rey being in the band, since he's been touring with Helios Creed?
No, because we decided to do that before Rey was in the band. It was kind of a weird coincidence too, because we played in San Francisco the week before Helios played there. When they were in town, Rey came to the show. He was late, he got there after we played - we were still in town when they played, and they played those same two songs back to back. I hate to be an asshole, but they sucked. I mean, Chrome was fuckin' great. Helios - live - is dogshit. He's just terrible.
It could be debated to death whether or not this band has taken a different approach than when most of the members were in Scratch Acid - what do you feel is the biggest change you've made?
As far as I'm concerned, I try to be a little less monotonous, as I was in Scratch Acid. I try to do new things that haven't been done before. I think the whole band is really quite different, as far as dynamics, arrangement... I think the quality of the music is a lot better.
It sometimes appears that your lyrical bent is toward social or moral decay - crippled emotions, behavior that is generally considered shocking or disgusting. Why is there such a fascination with such subject matter?
I know what you mean. I don't think I deal with as much as I did with Scratch Acid, lyrically. But then again, lyrics are complete bullshit. Lyrics are an excuse to have a singer in the band, so you don't have to be an instrumental band.
Why did you include a lyric sheet in Head, if the words carried no meaning?
Kind of a gag, you know?
Reading your lyrics does establish a sort of running theme in your songs, where bodily functions gone awry serve as metaphor for many social conventions. Do you consciously put that there?
That's weird that you asked me that, because the other day I was sittin' in the bath thinkin' about that; thinkin' about what the fuck do I say in interviews when people ask me that shit. I write so much about smells, shit, piss... I don't know why, I really like gross stuff. A lot of people think I'm a gross person.
Your "skinny friend Steve" once mentioned in an interview that he held a similar fascination, but that it functioned as communication with the largest common denominator. Do you feel that in any of your songs?
It's kind of a personal thing, but I guess it's not that personal. That's a weird thing to me, too... I wish I knew exactly why, but I don't.
Being as you are the singer and you do write the lyrics, do you see yourself as consciously trying to make any kind of specific statement about your life, or anyone else's?
No, I don't have a message, or anything like that.
Any conscious decision on your part as to what you do comment on, and what you don't?
It's kind of weird - I don't know why I write the way I write. I don't know if that sounds stupid, but I just write about things that interest me. Sometimes I get little ideas that sometimes expand into bigger ideas. Sometimes some of the songs are actual things that happened - sort of distorted, and then combining other actual things that that happened, to where there is no linear significance; it's just something that means something to me, and not neccesarily to anybody that hears it or reads it.
The band does an instrumental, Tight'n Shiny, which I've seen you accompany visually a couple of times onstage [actually, what David did was to play with his testicles, while the rest of the band played their instruments.] Was this a carefully choreographed stage move, or just something to do until the band stopped?
Essentially, first time I did that, it just went over really well. I didn't want to go sit down, or just stand there with my thumb up my nose, or something.
Just for objectivity's sake, do you give much thought to how an audience interprets something like that?
Oh, I love it, man, it's really cool! There have been people who have been really pissed off by it, there have been people who think it's really funny. There was one girl in Chicago, who called me a sexist because of it; she got down on me so fuckin' hard it was ridiculous.
There was a girl in Sacramento... it was packed up too this little stage - about five inches high - and while I was doing that, the mic stand was already broken, so I tried to hand the mic out to somebody, to hold it up to my nuts. I put it to somebody else, and she grabbed the mic and held it to my nuts, and started playing with my nuts - kinda caressing 'em - and the whole rest of the show, man... it just got haywire with this one girl.
Maybe she had her own idea what The Jesus Lizard was all about.
She was a pretty wild chick... some pretty interesting shit went on in that show.
While we're talking about the band's identity, can you shed a little light on the name itself?
I'll tell the truth this time; of course, we lie about it a lot. It's just based on this "Jesus Christ Lizard of Central America". It's actually a baselisk - a lizard with one of those weird-ass collar things. They run on water, you know, and they're called the "Jesus Christ Lizard of Central America. That's where we got the name. Again, I want to make clear - all these fucking "Jesus" bands that are around now... there's a goddamm million of 'em. We came up with the band name three-and-a-half years ago.
After Scratch Acid broke up and we started doin' this - then we stopped doin't it - Dave and I went to Chicago. Dave was in Rapeman, Rapeman broke up, and then we started doin' it again. I'm not tryin' to make excuses, but... it's really a drag to me that there's so many fuckin' "Jesus" bands - but what can I do? We're talkin' about changing the name.
Is there really that big of an affiliation with the Christ contingent?
There's a lot. We fuckin' played in Milwaukee, with... no, I don't want to name so many names.
We've got a few new songs since Head - we've got seven new songs. We're gonna write some more, hopefully this summer; record... I don't know - EP, LP, single... record something. Hopefully, work on a video, but it does seem like the budget is a little steep for that, from what we want to do. Some of the songs we've got - without sounding like an egotistical asshole - I think that our new songs are better than our old songs. I think we're getting better. I can't wait to get in the studio; I'm looking forward to that.
Are there new ideas you may have been wanting to try when you record again, that may broaden the Jesus Lizard sound, as we've come to know it?
Duane - the guitarist, has a whole lot of ideas. He does a bunch of shit with his guitar that we haven't really used on songs. I personally don't want to get much out of the guitar / bass / drums... actually, I have speculated how cool it would be if we had a piano player. I would love to be able to afford to have a piano player going with us - either a grand piano... of course that's impossible, so fuck it.
When we first recorded that EP [Head], without the drums, there was talk of samplers and all that kind of shit, but I don't think it fits, and I don't think it's appropriate.
I once spoke with you about Head, and you expressed a pretty low opinion of that record. Was that in retrospect, or was it unsatisfying from the start?
Those songs were written in Austin, without words; there were no words to those. Well, there were, but we dropped 'em, and then we quit doin' it [working as The Jesus Lizard, that is]. Dave moved to Chicago, and then when we started doin' it again, I wasn't really that into it. I had nothing to do with writing the songs. I wrote one song - I wrote the words to "Bloody Mary", but other that, I didn't write the words myself. It's hard for me to sing something the way I would like to, if I didn't write it.
What about songs like "Blockbuster"? That sounds right up your alley, so to speak. Live, at least, you put a lot into it.
Dave Sims sang Blockbuster on the record.
So was that record pretty much in the can before Dave left for Rapeman?
No, we recorded it after Rapeman, but those songs had been around before, with different words; I threw away the words, and then we had new words. At the point we recorded Pure, we didn't expect to be a real band. It was kind of... more of an effort to get those songs out, which was mostly backed by Dave and Duane - because they were their songs. Then, after the record came out - well, actually before it came out - we started thinking, "Fuck, let's make a real band." That's an old story, now - we called Mac up...
What sort of adventursome living has the band been up to, while on this tour?
We had some time off in Quebec City... the show we had in Quebec was really shitty. It was a last-minute setup, because the show that we had, had fell through, or something like that. The two opening bands were these death-metal thrash bands, and so all these French-speaking Canadians were not prepared for our kind of music. They all sort of stood there, picking therir noses, and shit. The promoter fucked us over - he didn't come through with any of the stuff we asked for... a lot less money, we had no place to stay, we knew no one there. We had finished loading out, and then this group of people came up, and there was this guy who heard us talking, and he said, "You speak English", because you know, it's 95% French up there.
It turns out, he was this guy that lives there. He used to be from Vancouver, and we stayed with him and his girlfriend - very, very cool people. At one point on Monday night, we were really bored... He had some drugs - I've never snorted mescaline before - I've never done mescaline before, and he had some. I did that, and he and I went to a strip bar. In America, I've never been to a strip bar where girls actually show their pussies; just topless bars where they dance, and shit. But these girls, at one single point when there were maybe seven people in the club... there were three girls up there - butt-naked, masturbating on stage. I thought that was pretty cool, I liked that.
For some reason, that kind of reminds me of your "Tight 'n Shiny" episode. Have there ever been any incidents after one of those performances?
On this tour, we got banned in Cincinnatti for doin' that. We played at Shorty's Underground, and the guy that owns Shorty's Underground also owns the club we played at before then. He didn't even see it - his wife didn't even see it - but they caught wind of it, and they got so upset, they pulled the plug on us. They never said a word to us; they threatened the soundman, the bouncer, the bartender... they threatened all these people, you know - "you're never gonna fuckin' work here again, because some asshole showed his nuts." I got such a big yuk out of that. After we finished loading up, I went up to the guy and said, "Thank you very much, I really enjoyed myself" No response, whatsoever. We got our money, but I thought it was pretty funny that they were gettin' so fuckin' freaked out by it.
That whole balls thing - I got tired of doin' it, and thought that it was too repetitive. There was no sense in doing it all the time - especially in towns that we had played before. But, because so many people wanted to see it, I started doin' the old "pussy" trick - you know, where you hide your dick and balls behind your legs - the back view's really hot. I enjoyed that in Boston - I gave 'em a really good back view. I think that's over... I don't think that we're gonna do that any more. I enjoyed it though, as a rest.
Have you ever run into any conflicts within the band, for pulling stunts like that without anyone else knowing about it ahead of time?
No, it's really cool, the way we all get along. This [referring to The Uptown Bar], is the club where Scratch Acid broke up. We played a couple shows after this, but this is where it came down to it. Rey and Brett had a lot of problems together, and shit. When we played here, Brett got pissed off, kicked Rey's drums, and they were callin' each other names. Later, after the show, they came down here and they were having a push-fight and stuff. The next day... oh, I can't tell this...
As far as us getting along, we've had people say that - you know, at houses we've stayed at - "Man, we've had other bands stay here, and they're all assholes - they hate each other, and shit... never seen anybody get along the way you guys do." So, it's really cool. We're all pretty easy going, willing to work together.
Is this band like a marriage to you? Is this basically, your whole life?
Well, that's one thing... before we even called Mac, and said, "Do you want to play drums?", we decided that we were giving up our regular lives to do this band. Since we first played with Mac, we've been on tour five months out of the seven months we've been a band. We recorded an album - and a single, in the two months that we had off. We really want to work hard at this.
© J. Free / Your Flesh; 1991