From the late-’80s through the early-’90s alt-rock boom, the Jesus Lizard rose to the top of the Midwestern “pigfuck” punk scene with a dazzlingly precise combo of sludgy grooves and psychobilly swagger. Yet the band remains best known for the goofball antics of singer David Yow, who often spent more time surfing the crowd than on stage. Ten years since their last show, the original four members have regrouped for a tour that includes a Friday 7:20pm set at the Pitchfork Festival.
From the late-’80s through the early-’90s alt-rock boom, the Jesus Lizard rose to the top of the Midwestern “pigfuck” punk scene with a dazzlingly precise combo of sludgy grooves and psychobilly swagger. Yet the band remains best known for the goofball antics of singer David Yow, who often spent more time surfing the crowd than on stage. Ten years since their last show, the original four members have regrouped for a tour that includes a Friday 7:20pm set at the Pitchfork Festival. We dialed Yow at his girlfriend’s digs in L.A. to revisit some of the famously brazen band’s most memorable lessons.
Time Out Chicago: How’s it going?
David Yow: Oh, I’m hungover. I met Matt Cronk (the guitar player from Qui) at a bar near my girlfriend’s place. We had some drinky-poos there, and then we went to a men’s golf club thing and had some drinks there, and then I came home to my girlfriend’s house and she wasn’t there—she was out with three girls and I met them, and we went out and had some drinks. [Yow’s girlfriend laughs out loud in the background as if that’s an understatement] Then we came back to her place and smoked some pot and went to bed. And neither of us really smoke pot, but we did it just ’cause we’re crazy.
TOC: How’ve the reunion shows been so far?
David Yow: They’ve been great, really amazing. I was honestly terrified at the very first one [All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead, U.K. in May]. I was so nervous I couldn’t believe it. I was all pukey I was so scared, but we just blasted immediately. I don’t know what the deal was, but it was really great, really fun. It was kind of magical.
TOC: Most said it was like you hadn’t missed a beat.
David Yow: Aw, that’s nice. Well, except I’m fat and Duane’s got white hair.
TOC: But I read that you’d been working out?
David Yow: Yeah, I’ve been going to the gym and stuff. We had about two weeks off between ATP and the London shows, so my girlfriend and I spent some time in Northern Italy and, uh, I got fat. So, yeah, I’d worked out, gotten into real good shape and everything, and then we played those three shows, then I go away for two weeks and get fat.
TOC: Have you played any more gigs since then?
David Yow: We played in Paris and Barcelona. Pitchfork is the next one, then a few days later is a Seattle festival.
TOC: Are there any Chicago dates other than Pitchfork?
David Yow: Yeah, we’re gonna finish up in Chicago around Thanksgiving.
TOC: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that the Jesus Lizard’s decision to reunite after ten years is largely based around drummer Mac McNeilly [who left in the late’90s after the band signed to Capitol Records]. What changed that you’re doing it now and not three years ago for Touch and Go’s epic 25th anniversary party?
David Yow: God, that’s difficult to answer. I don’t think that we were really asked to do the Touch and Go thing because David and I were already doing the Scratch Acid reunion and, logistically, it would’ve been really difficult to do the Jesus Lizard as well. It may be my fault that we didn’t do the Jesus Lizard, because I talked to Corey (Rusk, Touch and Go proprietor) about it and I said that even though the Jesus Lizard sold a lot more records than Scratch Acid, I thought that it would be better for some reason or another if we had Scratch Acid play, and not the Jesus Lizard. So there’s that. And as far as why we hadn’t done it before—because there have been offers off and on for years to have us play again—none of us wanted to do it unless Mac was doing it. I can’t speak on his behalf, but as far as I know he didn’t want to do it back then, but when this came about, I think that he and his wife were just going, “Yeah, go ahead and do it. It’d be cool.”
TOC: What’s the biggest difference between playing now and playing back then, other than being older?
David Yow: The internet—YouTube and shit like that. When we broke up there was no YouTube and now, just the fact that we’re headlining so many of these festivals and playing places that are way bigger than we would have played before. And the guarantees, the money is huge compared to what we used to make. I attribute that to the internet and kids who were too young to see us or know anything about us that know about us now. I don’t understand why we seem to be more popular now than when we were a band, but it seems like that’s the case.
TOC: How about regaling us with a few memorable war stories?
David Yow: Don’t fool yourself, it’s all boring. There were no adventures and there was nothing fun or funny. We pretty much ate sandwiches and played some rock shows. Well, okay, so we were scheduled to play on this tugboat in the Hudson in New York, probably in ’93 or ’94, with the Didjits and Urge Overkill. A friend of mine showed up, this German guy Christoph Ellinghaus. I didn’t know he was gonna be in town, and I got all excited and I jumped over the side of the boat, intending to hang on to the railing, sort of showing off for him. My fingers slipped and I lost my grip on the railing. I swear to god it seemed like slow motion. I was sliding down the side of that tugboat thinking, “Oh fuck, I don’t wanna go into the Hudson, man!” It was just really nasty. I swam around the side of the boat to where the dock was and climbed up on the rocks. I got to our van and Mac was laying across the bench with his head out the door, vomiting like crazy. That had never happened before. He had never gotten so drunk that we couldn’t play. But we didn’t play that night because Mac was too drunk and I was disgusted with having been in the Hudson. I think the problem was that it was sponsored by Jägermeister. We were getting free Jägermeister all day. So, it’s kind of easy to imagine that someone would be puking from drinking glass after glass of Jäger. And John Rowan [Blackie Onassis], the drummer for Urge Overkill, was very upset that people were talking more about Yow falling in the Hudson than Urge playing their little shitty rock show.
TOC: This band, Portugal. The Man, told us about seeing a memorable Lizard gig in Alaska back in the day. How many times did you make it up there?
David Yow: Once. We played two shows in Anchorage. There was one that was sort of a punk rock show, it was at a punk rock dive and there were a bunch of kids with mohawks and shit. The other one was at a place called Chilkoot Charlie’s. After soundcheck I hung out, and there was this Eskimo guy playing pool. He asked if I wanted to play pool with him. I said sure. He was a tough looking motherfucker, man. He really looked mean. He was a really good shot at pool. He was pulling some real rabbits out of his ass. At one point he asked me if I was scared of him. I said, ‘Yeah, I am a little bit.’ He said that he wouldn’t hurt me and we got along. I told him that I’m in this band playing here tonight and that I’d put him on the guest list. He said that’d be great.
Right before we went on, I went to go try and find him. The club was throwing him out. These two huge security guys were tossing him while this other guy videotaped it. So I said, ‘What’s the deal?’ They said, he’s a drunk Inuit. I said ‘Yeah, but he’s my friend, on the guest list and everything.” They said, ‘We don’t care,’ and threw him out. They videotaped it is so they’d have it on record, because he’s never allowed in there again.
And then that show just fuckin’ sucked. I don’t think anybody there knew who we were. Nobody cared, and there were, I dunno, maybe forty people. So I got pretty rowdy. I was knocking everybody’s drinks over, knocking tables over, going through women’s purses and stuff like that.
TOC: Find anything good in the purses?
David Yow: No, some money. But I wouldn’t take their money, or their keys or their tampons.
TOC: What’s the story behind the “Tight N Shiny”?
David Yow: The first real show that we played—when I say real, I mean open to the public, because the very first show we played was a dinner show, invitation only, and then we played at a record store and then we played at a friend’s house—but the very first real show was at the Edge of the Lookingglass in Chicago with Eleventh Dream Day [September 16th, 1989]. The song at the time was called “Metropolis,” and it was instrumental and I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I lowered the mic stand and pulled my balls out and smoked a cigarette with my balls up to the microphone. Steve Albini was at the show, and he said that he thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. So I said, ‘Well jeeze, if you think it’s that funny, then I should probably do this every time.’ And there you go.
TOC: Have other interviewers been asking about that?
David Yow: Not so much, but they’ve been asking if I’m gonna get naked. I don’t think I’m gonna get naked. I’m almost 50 years old. Nobody wants to see that. And honestly, I don’t know what the hell was going through my mind back then when I got naked so many times. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. Say I was playing guitar in a band, and I look over and there’s my best buddy standing there naked with his ass poking out. I don’t wanna see that. I don’t regret it, but I almost do. Who the fuck did I think I was?
The Jesus Lizard plays the Pitchfork Music Festival Friday 17 and will return in the fall. Touch and Go reissues four Jesus Lizard albums on September 22.