David Yow first blew my mind back in the 80’s when my roommate turned me on to Austin local band Scratch Acid‘s self-titled debut EP, and also their first full length album Just Keep Eating. A newcomer to drugs, UT, and Austin, Yow’s tortured lyrics and deranged vocals were the perfect accompaniment to Scratch Acid’s blisteringly noisy musical onslaught. Although they broke up after their second full length album / compilation, The Greatest Gift, Scratch Acid continues to be one of the most influential bands in my life.
While in Austin, Yow, Duane Denison and David Wm. Sims gave birth to the Jesus Lizard…another life-changer for me. Shortly after forming the trio relocated to Chicago where they added drummer Mac McNeilly and Touch & Go engineer extraordinaire Steve Albini. During the 90’s they dominated my turntable and I still have every one of their albums (although currently lacking a working turntable).
As a tribute to Jesus Lizard, some local musicians and fans formed the Jazzus Lizard, a Jesus Lizard cover band…but the jazz version. When I saw that the Jazzus Lizard was playing at the Lost Well featuring David Yow, I knew that this was a show that couldn’t be missed! Unfortunately, I did, in fact, miss the show as it was on a sold-out Saturday night, I work 10 hour shifts on both Saturday and Sunday (school night), and I’m old, and apparently LAME AS FUCK. Luckily for me David Yow strolled into Casino El Camino and I was able to escape from the bar for a quick interview opportunity. I lubed him up with a couple of Bloody Marys and we headed to the patio for a quick convo…
WW: So you’re still out in LA?
WW: I heard you’re pursuing an acting career now. Is that true?
Yow: That’s what I want to do. I really don’t have much drive to do music full time. But acting’s a blast. I just finished doing a movie (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) in Portland, Oregon with Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey , and I’m one of the main guys. It was just incredible. The director is guy named Macon Blair who lives here in Austin. It was really fun, and there’s a lot of stuff on the horizon.
WW: So when did you get into acting?
Yow: I did it in high school and college, but that was a long time ago. And then when I moved to Chicago in the late 80’s, there was a guy there named Jim Sikora and he had me in a couple of his movies. Then, when I moved to LA, directors just sought me out. I wanted to act, and several directors thought I would be good at it. I don’t really know why. They would see the band and think I could act, why? I don’t really get it.
WW: Well, you’re unique.
Yow: Well, yeah. So then I started taking some acting classes and started getting good at it. Now if you go to my IMDB page I think it says that I’ve done something like 26 movies.
WW: Is that how you’re making a living?
Yow: No, I do photo retouching for a living. I play in photo shop all day. It’s called key art. It’s in movies and television.
WW: So you’re just an artist all around. Are you still painting? I remember you used to do the pet portraits.
Yow: No I don’t. I got this job and it’s time consuming, with an adult salary. It’s good money, and I’m buying a house, and I don’t have much time at all. In fact, this trip is kind of awkward cause I’m just closing on this house. I get the keys on Monday. I’ve been dealing with contractors and whatnot, and I’m way too simple to have all of these things going on at once.
WW: So how did you get coerced in to flying out here to do this show with Jazzus Lizard?
Yow: Do you know Marcello? He kind of asked me out of the blue if I would do it. I had heard the Jazzus Lizard and talked to Snoopy and Ezra who are in the band and I thought it would be fun.
WW: So do you have a set list yet? Did you get to practice any?
Yow: Yeah, we got a practice in yesterday and the day before yesterday.
WW: I guess it’s different playing a jazz version of Jesus Lizard?
Yow: Yeah, it is. And some of these songs, some of these songs I haven’t done since 95′. I thought I could just jump in, but I couldn’t.
WW: Were you like, Oh shit! What are the lyrics?
Yow: Yeah, there were a couple of times I was just blank.
WW: So are you guys focusing on a couple of albums, or trying to include a smattering of all of it…cause you have a pretty extensive collection.
Yow: No, the whole catalog. We’re trying to do a little something from each record, plus a Dicks cover, and a couple of Scratch Acid songs. I think Brett Bradford (the guitar player from Scratch Acid) is going to get up and do a couple of songs with us. It’ll be fun no matter what. It may not be good but it will be fun.
WW: Have you been to the Lost Well?
WW: Yeah, I like it. You know most of the cool bars have had to move out of downtown and off of Red River in recent years…
Yow: Is Emo’s still around?
WW: Well they relocated to where the Back Room used to be off of East Riverside and barely seem to have shows lately.
Yow: Oh yeah, that’s right! I think Scratch Acid did one of the first reunion shows there and it was terrible. Well, the acoustics were terrible.
WW: And the old Emo’s on Red River has been for lease since they closed!
Yow: Really? That’s prime real estate.
WW: I know! So any chances of Jesus Lizard or Scratch Acid reunion shows any time in the future?
Yow: It’s very unlikely. I don’t want to say no, because I’ve learned not to say never. Cause we’ve done tours with both bands and I never thought those would happen. But they were a lot of fun. And the year that we did the Jesus Lizard reunions I think we did like 45 shows? And that’s the most money I’ve ever made in a year. But I don’t want to do it…I hope it doesn’t happen, haha.
WW: Are you getting too old for it?
Yow: Well I get hurt every show we play so I’m getting tired of that.
WW: So no more music in the future?
Yow: Well there’s always projects. My best friend in LA, Adam Harding, has a band called Dumb Numbers and I did a couple of records with him. We did 3, 10″ packages which were kind of cool. One has Adam and Numbers on one side and me on the other, then Dumb Numbers on another side and an album on the other, then Dumb Numbers on the other side and David Lynch on the other. So I got to do an album with David Lynch. That’s pretty cool.
So I think that kind of thing will happen forever…and that’s fine, that’s easy. I just have no desire to do it full time.
WW: Yeah, it’s a hard life…the musician life.
Yow: Yeah, it is. And traditionally I’m not a very good singer really, but I still don’t feel like I’m quite done with that.
WW: So are you married? Have kids?
Yow: No, I was married for 16 years and my ex is back in Chicago. And I have a girlfriend and we’re buying a house. And I don’t think I have any kids.
WW: How old are you now?
Yow: I just turned 56 a couple of weeks ago.
WW: Yeah, I’m right behind you.
Yow: Yeah, it’s weird isn’t it? I don’t feel old and I’ll never act my age. It’s just when I look in the mirror and wonder what happened. Haha.
WW: So what do you think about Austin when you come back to visit? I know it’s completely different than the old days.
Yow: Well now that I’m not in bands I don’t get back here as often as I need to. I wouldn’t want to live here. I-35 is a parking lot. You know people in LA bitch about the traffic but go to Houston, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, traffic in any big city sucks.
WW: Do you think we have hope for a music scene here? Giving the ongoing development, gentrification, etc.
Yow: Well, when I left here in 88′, the music scene had become like Peyton Place…everybody had fucked everybody, and the music scene was what it was. I was just ready to go.
WW: Did you see that throwback Thursday pic of a Scratch Acid show in 84′ that looked like it was in someone’s yard?
Yow: Yeah! I remember that well. I kind of went as Gibby, I put coat hangers in my hair.
WW: Do you keep in touch with any of the musicians from the old days here?
Yow: Yeah, I keep in touch with the Scratch Acid guys like David Simms…he’ll be here tonight. He lives in Manhattan so I probably see him once a year, that kind of thing. I kind of keep in touch with Bufx from the Dicks and some of the other folks. And Austin always kinds of ends up being a drag cause there’s a bunch of people that I want to see and want to see me but there’ not much time and feelings get hurt.
WW: It’s tough being a rock star. Haha.
Yow: No! Rock starts are rich! I’m not a rock star.
WW: So you didn’t make any money playing music? Surely you did with Jesus Lizard?
Yow: Yeah, I made some. I didn’t have a day job, and I bought a house outside of Chicago back in the old days. We did alright.
Have you seen The Jesus Lizard Book? It’s really really good. There’s bios on each of us, written by each of us, a ton of photos, and a bunch of pieces written by people like Mike Watt, Steve Albini, Alex Hacke from Einsturzende Neubauten...
WW: No I haven’t but that sounds cool as shit. I’ll have to check it out.
Yow: What about you, are you married? Do you have kids?
WW: Oh no. I have furry kids. I have one cat.
Yow: I love cats, I’m crazy about cats. I can’t live without them.
WW: David Meow! Hahaha!
Yow: Yeah, haha. When I was a little kid we lived in North Africa. My dad didn’t like cats but my sister and I found this kitten and begged my dad to let us keep it. And he was a Texas guy, he was from Commerce, said, Well alright then but we got to name it Meow!
WW: So why did you live in North Africa?
Yow: My dad was an air force pilot and this was back when we were allies with Libya so he got stationed there. So from like 2-6 I lived in North Africa. At one point the Mediterranean was in our back yard.
WW: That’s a trip. Did you live all over the place?
Yow: Yeah, England, Virginia, Africa…
WW: When did you end up in Texas?
Yow: My dad wanted to retire here and that’s when Bergstrom was here, the old Bergstrom Air force base and we moved here in 1975. I lived in England from 71′-75′ which was kind of cool cause there was T. Rex, Slade, and Sweet…all that stuff. T. Rex is good to have sex to. Haha
WW: What made you get into music in the first place?
Yow: Well I was a Beatle freak I was a little kid, then a Led Zeppelin freak, and then punk rock came and sort of took over and I decided that I wanted to be in a band.
WW: How did you hook up with Scratch Acid?
Yow: I guess Ray and Brett were in Jerry’s Kids at the time. And I had a punk band called Toxic Shock. And I was the bass player but I wasn’t any good. And we just started talking about, well I don’t really remember how it all ended up working out.
WW: Or how you ended up singing?
Yow: I ended up singing because my good buddy Steve Anderson who died a couple years ago was in the same art space playing bass and he had two guitar players, Brett and David Sims and we kind of kicked Steve out of the band cause he wouldn’t sing at practice, he wouldn’t, you know, whatever, and I love him to death but we kicked him out of the band and I went from playing the bass to singing. Our first show was at the Skyline Club and it was Scratch Acid, the Butthole Surfers, Big Boys and TSOL…and we gave away 80 hits of acid at our show.
WW: That’s a trip! So everyone was tripping their asses off! Including you guys!
Yow: I wasn’t tripping. I was terrified though, and throwing up all day.
WW: Well you seem to have gotten over your stage fright.
Yow: I get nervous every show, but it dissipates about 5 seconds in.
WW: Well, I’m going to try to make it even though tonight is a school night for me. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me!
Yow: Yeah, thank you sweetheart.
Having lived in Austin for a number of years, I’m familiar with all of the members of Jazzus Lizard…if not on a first name basis. I managed to hit up Snoopy up with a few questions post show to see how it went!
WW: How and when did the Jazzus Lizard come about? Who came up with the idea to honor the Jesus Lizard in a jazzy way?
JL: I was driving home from work one afternoon in 2006 and I heard Brad Mehldau performing various Radiohead songs in a jazz trio format. I thought to myself man, what a cool take, what band would I tribute if I could? The answer was almost instantaneously The Jesus Lizard. If you listen to the guitar lines, they are very jazz-oriented in chord structure and composition. Once I decided on The Jesus Lizard, I approached Adam Kahan, who was on board immediately. Ezra Reynolds and Tom Kinsey came on board shortly after and what some of us thought would be a whimsical experiment ended up sounding really cool. It’s always fun to see a hardcore JL fan come see us and react to our take on their songs. It can be fun and light, but we can also be heavy and dark enough to drive the point home when we need to. Never underestimate how angry a baritone sax can sound! My goal when creating this band was to have the first mosh pit at The Elephant Room. I guess I should work on that.
WW: Who are the current members of JL?
JL: The current members are:
Tom Kinsey- Baritone Sax
Adam Kahan- Bass
Snoopy Melvin- Drums
Blair Blovberg- Theramin
Also, Peter Stopchinski played with us for a year or so while Ezra was out of town, he is and will always be an honorary Lizard.
WW:Do you guys have any albums out or plans to record one?
JL: We have two albums, Horn and Keys. We are in the works of production on a live DVD and audio release of our amazing show this summer with David Yow.
WW: I know your band is comprised of a number of other bands. Can you tell me some of them? Are any of those projects current?
JL: Where to begin? Ezra also performs with The Future of Air Travel with Blair, Tom plays in Khali Haat and Zissou, Adam plays with Churchwood, and I am currently playing with OMGWTFBBQ, Obnosticon, Abracadabacus, The Sexy Finger Champs, and Glazed Hammer.
WW:Do you still play drums naked?
JL: Ha no,only in practice. I am a teacher. That would be frowned upon.
WW: What is your favorite Jesus Lizard album?
JL: What’s my favorite ice cream? How do I pick one? I’d have to say Goat. It starts with a steamroller flattening your head and ends with a layer of hot asphalt covering your dessicated corpse. The best kind of album.
WW: Best thing about playing with Yow at The Lost Well? Or funny anecdote (since I freaking missed it)? Yargh.
JL: The whole experience of this show coming together was surreal and fantastic. David (Yow) came into town a few days early to join us for rehearsals, and he is the nicest guy. He was flattered to be asked to perform with us, and we were equally flattered that he agreed! Practices were a lot of fun, we had been preparing all summer on our set list and he conducted independent study out in L.A. When we finally got together it worked out easily. We knew it was going to be a full club, the tickets had sold out a month beforehand, but the crowd was fanatical and enthusiastic. Yow was practically ripped off the stage from the first song and the entire set was a whirlwind! There was the really drunk guy up front that grabbed a mic during Wheelchair Epidemic and proceeded to yell the lyrics over all of the band’s solos, It was a little annoying but he was so drunk and happy it was hard to be mad. Also, although we did consider it would be warm playing in full suits, traditional jazz-style, but we did not anticipate how hot and steamy the club would be. It was a sweat-fest, for sure. It was also great to see Rey Washam and David Sims in attendance, as well as so many long time friends and musicians that came out for the show. The whole night was one big party!
WW: How did you guys come up with the set list?
JL: We decided early on to perform a set composed of songs off of Goat and a second set of all the other songs we play, along with a few special guests. We also play a few Scratch Acid songs and a Dicks song as well, you know, because the Jesus Lizard covered it so it’s fair game. Brett Bradford joined us on stage for the Scratch Acid songs and the Dicks song, and Bufx Parrott was enlisted for vocal duties on Wheelchair Epidemic. As our encore we threw in Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain because it was such a nice contrast to the rest of the night. here is the list in it’s entirety:
Then Comes Dudley
Rodeo in Joliet
Dancing Naked Ladies
My Own Urine
Fly on the Wall
Blue Eyes Crying
WW: How many total instruments can the members of JL play?
JL: Wow, let’s see. Adam plays bass, Ezra plays bass, guitar, and piano, I play drums and sing, Tom plays bass and bari sax, Blair plays theramin and with your emotions.
WW: Any hopes / plans to do this again? Or JL shows on the horizon?
JL: We discussed this a bit with David, there is some thought to perhaps travelling to L.A. over the summer and doing the show out there. I think we would all love the chance to do it again!
WW: Name something you really miss from the old Austin music scene…
JL: Ed Hall. El Flaco. The Cannibal Club…being able to find parking to unload. Band houses that you could rent for $650. Room 710 and cheap beer, together and apart…Lovejoy’s, although The Lost Well has continued the spirit.
WW: Do you think Austin can still claim to be the Live Music Capital of the World?
JL: With the new age of technology, that’s hard to say. I don’t think it’s possible to put a pin in a map and say “This is the locus of live music”, because as we see more and more music is being created and delivered cooperatively across great distances. However, as far as getting to see a wide variety of bands regularly at different levels of popularity, SXSW, ACL, and all the many fantastic musicians who live here, I think it’s still a fitting title to continue to claim.
WW: Words up wisdom to up and coming musicians in Austin?
JL: Work on your computer and social media chops as much as your music chops. It’s not the same old game where you could stand on the drag and hand out fliers for your show, then be able to make enough at the door to pay your rent. Learn how to screen print your own t-shirts. Practice and polish your shit until it shines, then throw it at the world. It’s never been easier to share your creativity, but it is also much harder to earn a living doing so, and knowing how to use social media and networking seems to be key to breaking through to the next level. That and making really fucking good music. That helps too!
The Jesus Lizard – https://www.facebook.com/thejesuslizardmusic/
Jazzus Lizard – https://www.facebook.com/Jazzus-Lizard-158192663883/
Scratch Acid – https://www.facebook.com/Scratch-Acid-51747766823/