Out Of Hand: In conversation with The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow

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The Jesus Lizard | photo by Joshua Black Wilkins | courtesy of the artist

“David, very nice to talk to you.”

“Oh, well, you say that now.”

When I think of the days of the so-called Alternative revolution, memories of a musical underground poised to take center stage after Nirvana’s major label colossus Nevermind finally cracked the very polished veneer of the 1980s, I remember being in a state of constant epiphany. Entering relevancy were bands that had been working tirelessly throughout the prior decade, stretching their music across the country via a self-made and self-sustaining network of venues, fanzines, and record stores, and the record labels that saw fit to produce their music. Around this time, The Jesus Lizard was one of the era’s most threatening rock bands.

The Jesus Lizard, whose origin can be traced back to Austin, Texas in 1987, were nihilism personified, a beautifully antagonistic and often vulgar foursome who, in their early days as artists for Touch and Go Records, earned the title of Best Live Band. Unfiltered, blistering, and energized, it was vocalist David Yow who matched every decibel that the other band members (guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Wm. Sims, and drummer Mac McNeilly) could conjure with sweat and (likely) blood, his clothing-optional and confrontational style the stuff of legend. “Well, I like it when things get out of hand,” Yow explains. “I always hoped that things would get out of hand because it’s a lot more fun that way. I mean, pretty much for everybody except David and Duane. Other than maybe dressing up in a funny costume or something like that, I rarely if ever had a pre-conceived notion of what I was going to do other than just play the show.”

Following a successful run of performances last December, and an invitation to perform at this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago, The Jesus Lizard decided to hit the road again, adding eight more shows to the series — including one tonight at Union Transfer. Prior to December, the band hadn’t toured since 2009.

When asked about the December tour, Yow said, “It was a blast. I mean it was great to see the other guys in the band. I love those guys. It’s just really fun to be around them and play these shows. More often than not it looked like a small sea of smiling faces. And it makes me feel really good when these people spend their hard-earned money and seem to enjoy it.”

Prior to The Jesus Lizard’s formation, Yow and David Wm. Sims belonged to the Texas noise band, Scratch Acid. When I asked him about influences, Yow detailed how he developed as a vocalist. “Well, really early on I think that with a whole lot of artforms, it’s very normal and sort of almost expected that you kind of mimic the things that influence you,” Yow explained. “So, certainly, during the beginning of Scratch Acid and stuff, I would find myself doing a lot of sort of Nick Cave kind of stuff, Birthday Party stuff, or Lee Ving from Fear, Lux Interior [of The Cramps], David Thomas [of Pere Ubu]. But, then as you grow, hopefully you shed that and make it your own and I hope that’s what I did.”

Yow and Wm. Sims went on to work with Denison, forming the core of The Jesus Lizard and relocating to Chicago. Finding a creative partner in producer Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac), the band recorded their first EP, Pure, which was anchored by a drum machine. The trio later acquired drummer MacNeilly, who cemented their sound. For Touch and Go Records, the band released four albums: 1990’s Head, 1991’s Goat, 1992’s Liar, and 1994’s Down. In 1995, as the major labels continued to hunt and gather indie talent to capitalize on Nirvana’s success, The Jesus Lizard signed to Capitol Records.

“Other than recording with someone other than Steve Albini, creatively there was no difference,” Yow explained. “I mean we still wrote songs the same way, we still practiced at the same place. All that stuff remained the same, so creatively there was no difference. Mostly, the biggest difference was the name of the label on the record.”

He continued, “I don’t think they really had any good ideas of how to market us, or any kind of good ideas about how to deal with a band like us. I mean I told… when we were going to sign to Capitol, we had several meetings with Gary Gersh, who was running the company at the time, I told him, ‘We’re not going to sell any records.’ And, he seemed to disagree with that. They let us out of our three-record contract after two records (1996’s Shot, 1998’s Blue), so there you go.”

Following their dismissal from Capitol, The Jesus Lizard disbanded in 1999.

While the aforementioned 2009 tour and a solo release, (Tonight You Look Like A Spider, released in 2013 via Joyful Noise Recordings), kept Yow involved with music, he plans to focus on acting. “Directly after the Philly show, I’m flying to Detroit to shoot a movie for a couple days,” Yow reported. “I have a tiny little part in a movie called Dinner in America. And then this December, there’s a movie by David Robert Mitchell, who did It Follows, coming out called Under the Silver Lake and I have a pretty cool role in that. I’m really excited about that. So, I’m not getting to do as much acting as I’d like, but that’s what I want to be doing.”

The Jesus Lizard will be performing for a sold-out audience with Southern California’s All Souls at the Union Transfer on Saturday, September 8th.

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