Heavy Trash- Jon Spencer Goes Rockabilly

Jon Spencer has always been a man on the move, constantly bouncing from project to project and band to band, though he always seems to come back to his longtime cohorts and friends in Blues Explosion.  Recently he hooked up with Canadian guitarist Matt Verta-Ray, who has played with Madder Rose and Speedball Baby, to form Heavy Trash.  As with all of Spencer’s bands Heavy Trash recalls old time rock ‘n’ roll and rock-a-billy mashed together with a bluesy edge.  The duo released their first album, the self-titled Heavy Trash in 2005.  They toured relentlessly for a while and decided they where having so much fun they should do it again.  The end result Going Way Out With Heavy Trash, which is set to be released September 4, is the logical continuation from their previous album.  It is full of the classic rock-a-billy that the duo love, yet with enough modern edge and bluesy fire to excite the young’ns.

When did you decide to start working on a new Heavy Trash album?

The first record was actually released a couple of years ago (2005), so there has not been a big rush between the two.  The reason we made a second record was because we were having such a good time.  We wanted to do it again we had more things to say, and more songs that were bubbling up inside us that needed to come out.  Another motivation was that with the first record we never played live.  After it came out we then started touring.  We are very lucky to have had the help of some very good friends, The Sadies from up in Toronto, members of the Tremolo Beer Gut and Powersolo in Copenhagen and some good guys at home in New York City.  We spent a while touring, not non-stop, but playing a lot of different places.  After that Matt and I thought it would be great to get in the studio with our live bands.  We had three different sessions with the three different bands, and the album is made up of songs from that.

How did the writing differ than from the first album?

It was not really different.  It was still just me and Matt chopping away at the studio, still just the two of us writing.

What is the writing process for you and Matt?

We just get together and play.  Sometimes we may come in with an idea, but I think most of the time it just sort of happens on the spot.

Any input from the other guys?

Oh sure.  Matt and I gave people free reign.  We presented them the songs and we wanted to see what they would come up with.  Very rarely would we have strict guidelines as to what we wanted people to play.  That’s the fun of playing with different musicians, especially people as good as the Sadies and other friends of ours, you want to hear what they are going to come out with.

You recorded the album with three very distinct and different bands that it must have given you a very wide range of sounds and input to work with. Was that challenging to get all those various styles to work together and sound coherent?

Yeah, but I think the whole album sits together and gels very well. It works very nicely as an album.  It was just so nice to have such a pool of great talent to work with.

The term "rock-a-billy" gets thrown you way a lot obviously; do you feel that is a limiting description of your music or is it a term that you feel is appropriate?

I love it.  Rock-a-billy is the prime motivation for Heavy Trash.  I have to admit we are not the purist form of rock-a-billy though, and on the new album there are number of songs which have many different sounds and styles.  Matt and I love rock ‘n’ roll and rock-a-billy and a lot of the older records and artists.  It is not like we sit down and try to reference a Chuck Berry or Carl Perkins album.  That music is in us and that sound is what we are going for.  But we are not stickler about it though.  We also like a lot of modern sounds.

What music out there right now if any has motivated or inspired you at all during the making of the new album?

Matt and I listen to a lot of music, but I suppose the music that inspires Heavy Trash is admittedly older music, records made along time ago.  For me personally as far as rock-a-billy my all time personal hero is Charlie Feathers.

The new album, Going Way Out With Heavy Trash, is as usual with you a high-energy affair that combines those older musical elements you mentioned with a modern spin.  For me “Double Line” stands out as the kind of song you have become known for, a non-stop blast of bluesy aggression.  I like how it contrasts with “That Ain’t Right” which has a more classic Carl Perkins riff, yet it doesn’t lose any energy or aggression despite it’s more retro feel.  For you personally what are the highlights of the new album?

{Laughs} I like the whole album; I wouldn’t have put it out if I didn’t.  I think “Kissy Baby” came out very nicely.  I think I had written that one off in my mind, but the performance in the studio and the feeling and sound are great.  I am just very happy with how it came out.  I dig the last song on the album “You Can’t Win”.  It changed a lot during the making of it and I like how it ended up as well.

How have these songs translated to the stage?

We actually had a chance to play them all live before we got into the studio.

Then how was it getting them to work in the studio?  Did you have to dial back some of the aggression and energy or tone them down to work on the album?

It took a while to nail some of them.  “That Ain’t Right” was tough.  Like I said “You Can’t Win” went through a lot, it changed a lot from what the basic track started as.  A record and a concert are just two such different beasts.

What are you plans for taking Heavy Trash on the road?

We do intend to tour after the record is released.  We will be playing with some combination of friends.  What I would like to do is bring the European band (Kim Kix – upright bass, The Great Nalina – organ, piano, Yebo – drums) to the States and then take the Sadies over there.

How does having two different bands you tour with, even though you play basically the same material, affect what and how you play each night?

There are some things that are same about the show and some things are different.  I know for me and Matt the first night of switching up bands can be a little weird because each group of musicians has their different strengths.

Any plans to solidify this line-up?

Both Matt and I have been in bands with solidified line-ups and I find it kind of refreshing to do it this way with Heavy Trash.  It is cool to travel to a different part of the world and hook up with some old friends and play.  It is a nice shot in the arm to suddenly be playing with a new group of people. 

So no plans then to take all you and Matt’s bands and Heavy Trash and put together a big traveling show and tour around and take over the world?

{Laughs} No but that is a great idea.  We need to think about that one.

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