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He replies with some ferocity, "Sure, yeah, there were lots of Blues Explosions in the '60s . . . The thing that's so fucked up is that those bands, it wasn't a big deal, and a lot of those bands were embraced, especially if they were from fuckin' England. That's what really gets me. Fuck you, this is my music, my culture. I grew up in the United States. Why is it okay for Eric Clapton or Mick Jagger, but it's not okay for Jon Spencer? You know, fuck you."
Payback is fair play: The cover of Controversial Negro, the band's limited-edition 1997 live LP, culled from a manic concert in Tucson and issued to fans, bears a Warhol-style portrait of Jagger, his mouth papered over by a tattered Blues Explosion sticker. "That was the original title and artwork for Now I Got Worry," Spencer says, barely disguising his glee.
While Spencer speaks with justifiable satisfaction about Now I Got Worry, he implies that the inanely obvious reactions that greeted the album helped spur the Blues Explosion to take a different tack with its follow-up.
"Before we went into it, we wanted to do something different, and Judah and Russell, I think, were very interested in being more involved in the making of this record," Spencer says. "We all sort of felt that it was time to do something different, and that it was also time to either shit or get off the pot. We've been going for a while, and we wanted to come up with something new."
That entailed a change in work habits, and the band chose to work only sparingly with Jim Waters, the Arizona-based producer who has largely piloted the Blues Explosion's studio albums since 1993.
"The idea of working with just one producer is such a scary thing - you're sort of throwing your lot in with somebody," Spencer explains. "But we'd done the Experimental Remix record before, back in '95, and so it was something we'd kind of tried before, so maybe that idea wasn't so scary - to do that approach for a whole album. That was very much out in the open right from the start - we're doing a remix album. Most of it was recorded with Steve Albini in Chicago right around the new year. Then some people we just sent tapes to, and some people came and worked with the Blues Explosion in New York City."
While the enormous cast of Acme made recording the album, in Spencer's words, "a pain in the ass," it's a bright and compulsively listenable experiment in auto-remixing. In place of the frenziedly direct assault of Now I Got Worry, the new record has a more lustrous, diverse sound full of breakbeats and breakdowns, courtesy of such guest mixers as Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (of Dr. Octagon), K Records' Calvin Johnson (a returnee from Experimental Remixes), Alec Empire of Atari Teenage Riot, and even, briefly, Memphis musician-producer-necromancer Jim Dickinson. Jill Cunniff of Luscious Jackson, Delta 72 keyboardist Greg Foreman, Thrill Jockey Records' askew Lonesome Organist and Spencer's wife and Boss Hog colleague Cristina Martinez add instrumental and vocal ingredients to the clangor. (One number, "Lap Dance," recorded with Andre Williams, Chicago's mack daddy of R&B sleaze, remains in the can.)
While the density and soulful, streetwise delirium of Acme will be familiar to people who picked up on Spencer no earlier than Orange, Spencer says that his fascination with mix culture dates back a decade, to the noisy cut-ups of Pussy Galore (whose 1987--89 sets Right Now!, Dial M for Motherfucker and Sugarshit Sharp were reissued earlier this year by Matador).
"I can listen to a record like Sugarshit Sharp or Dial M, and I can hear all the hip-hop shit," he says. "I was totally fucking into Public Enemy and Ice Cube and Run-D.M.C. and Rick Rubin and the Bomb Squad, and so many other different artists and bands. And everybody says, 'Oh, this record, the Blues Explosion is getting into rap or hip-hop.' Fuck that. Back in Pussy Galore, there were production things or mixing things, or the way songs were written, or the way I was singing something, or lines from songs and stuff - there was a lot of shit that was coming straight outta the rap I was listening to, and my love of that music. I was so into it at the end of the '80s - it's always been a part of what I was doin'."
It appears that, no matter what his intentions with the album at hand, it is Spencer's lot to unleash his new music upon an uncomprehending world.
"I'm a little puzzled," he says. "I mean, we're traveling around now, we're just startin' to tour. Previously, we've been to Europe and Japan, and a lot of people are really into the record. Over here in the U.S., we're traveling around to cities, and I'll pick up the local arts newspaper, something like the local equivalent to the L.A. Weekly, and I'm starting to read a lot of stuff - people saying, 'Oh, this record is some last-ditch attempt of something-or-other' or 'It's a collection of leftovers.' I thought it was a really good record . . . I guess maybe I was expecting people to just embrace this record everywhere, and some people are sayin' shit like, 'Aah, this band's had it.'