Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Issue Two Revealing New Albums

Xtra Acme USA and Sideways Soul shed light on origins of tracks from last year's Acme.

It's a familiar scenario in the '90s: a band releases an album then follows

it with an EP of remixes. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion have decided

to do it the other way around.

The band — which recently canceled its fall U.S. tour — two

weeks ago released the 19-track Xtra Acme USA. The album collects

the straight-up rockers left off last year's Acme, which was

essentially a remix disc of new songs.

"They're cool songs, we loved them," Spencer said recently. "But we had

to admit to ourselves, it's a little familiar [for inclusion on Acme].

It's something that the Blues Explosion had done before. So we put those

aside."

More revelations about the band's work methods come up on a second new

disc from the Blues Explosion: Sideways Soul: In a Dancehall Style,

issued the same day as Xtra Acme USA. Some of its sounds appeared

in different form on Acme.

Those versed in the Blues Explosion style — which borrows equally

from the New York art scene and four decades of rock and R&B — will

recognize the groove and fire on such Xtra Acme USA cuts as "Wait

a Minute" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "Get Down Lover" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Still, Spencer (guitar and vocals) and the band (guitarist Judah Bauer

and drummer Russell Simins) haven't worked explicitly with these ingredients

since Orange (1994). Acme, with production by Dan "The

Automator" Nakamura (Dr. Octagon, Handsome Boy Modeling School), Atari

Teenage Riot's Alec Empire and others, had a distinctly '90s feel. Its

predecessor, Now I Got Worry (1996), ventured into the sounds of

Memphis, Tenn., rock and Mississippi blues.

"Xtra Acme is a more traditional kind of Blues Explosion–style,

raw, rock 'n' roll record," Spencer said.

Spencer, 33, has been doing a lot of pulling back the curtains recently.

The second new Blues Explosion release, Sideways Soul: In a Dancehall

Style (K Records), is culled from two days of jams in 1997 with Dub

Narcotic Sound System leader and K Records owner Calvin Johnson.

Some of those jams appeared in cut-and-paste form on Acme. The

Sideways Soul cut "Calvin's on a Bummer" provided the raw tracks

for Acme's "Talk About the Blues" (RealAudio

excerpt). The Acme track titled "Calvin" appears, with

different vocals, as "Diamonds" on Sideways Soul.

The Blues Explosion recorded their tracks for Sideways Soul at

Johnson's turn-of-the-century house in Olympia, Wash. The band set up

shop in his living room, on a hardwood floor under a high ceiling. Johnson

recorded them from below, in what he described as the dark and musty

studio he built in his basement.

"Calvin would play us a Toni Braxton record or a Lee Dorsey record,"

Spencer said. "And in a very loose, gentle way, he would make suggestions.

We were open to that; it was something we'd not really done before."

The Blues Explosion had agreed to do the session two years earlier, as

payback for "Soul Typecast," a track Johnson contributed to Spencer's

Experimental Remixes EP (1995) — one of the discs that set

the rock remix trend in motion.

It took Johnson, who calls himself an expert procrastinator, a full year

to begin writing lyrics and laying down vocals for Sideways Soul.

Considering that the Blues Explosion's in-your-face exuberance runs counter

to the pop minimalism Johnson plied with his previous band Beat Happening,

his hesitation makes sense.

"Their music has a different attitude than what I normally work with,"

Johnson, 36, said. "I really liked it a lot, but I wasn't sure how to

work with it. So I listened to it a lot and after a while things started

coming to me. But I couldn't just jump right in on a lot of it and do

something. Because somehow it seemed to be speaking a different language.

... It seemed really complete without me."

The hands-on collaboration with Johnson was good for the band, said Spencer,

who often has produced the Blues Explosion himself.

"It was cool to have Calvin every once in a while come up from the basement

and say, 'That sounds good, why don't you guys keep working on it.' ...

If he started dancing, we'd know we had something that was pretty good."

Regarding the canceled tour, Spencer said the band nixed the dates

following what he and Matador Records both described as routine surgery

for Simins. The band is considering hitting the road again after Simins

has had time to recuperate, Spencer said.