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Ready for His Retouch: David Yow Adjusts the Picture as He Prepares for the Jesus Lizard Reunion

 When I meet David Yow on Friday the 13th, he is gentle and kind and less naked than I remember him as the frontman for legendary post-punks The Jesus Lizard, otherwise known, by anyone within spitting distance of the Chicago Metro, as the greatest live rock band of all time. I find the man whose lungs let loose my favorite bowel-stabbing growl in an immaculate apartment, tucked away in an off-the-radar Hollywood neighborhood. Among the possessions on display: a rare grandfather clock, a collection of aboriginal masks, the original art from a Scratch Acid album cover, well-placed heirloom antiques and back issues of Gourmet magazine. I am greeted in the kitchen by a huge, 20-pound gray cat nicknamed Baby Boy and a cup of hot coffee. The scene is set more like a Texan version of Grey Gardens than the lair of a rock & roll animal, but I’m going with it. The puckish Mr. Yow seems always up to something and these days are no exception.

Until recently, Yow had been leading the quiet life of an accomplished art director/photo retoucher/illustrator. You will see him mentioned in a number of advertising and industry annuals as part of many award-winning campaigns. Clients have included such heavy hitters as Disney/Pixar, Target, Absolut and HBO. As we peruse samples of his work on his cinema screen–size monitor, I wonder out loud how one goes from the singer in Kurt Cobain’s favorite band to corporate wrist in one fell swoop.

“I’m sorta self-taught. I read about Photoshop in ’92 and found out you could edit someone completely out of a picture. I was like, ‘No way!’ And then when Lizard broke up I kinda panicked. I did some research and found out that retouchers make a shit-ton of money. So I brushed up my skills and made a portfolio.”

Before his arrival in Los Angeles, Yow was bitten by the acting bug and also finds regular work as an extra as well as parts in independent films. He was wrapping up one project when we spoke and was starting another the next week. What’s his dream role? “Anything David Lynch,” he says without hesitation. “He sure is amazing.”

Yow’s eyes suddenly sparkle mischievously. Although he does have a natural photographic eye for composition and light, I hesitate slightly when he asks, “Wanna see some pictures?” A pale David in a hospital bed fills the screen with a big gooey tube sticking out of his right chest. A close-up isn’t warranted, but he doesn’t spare me the full experience. Ugh. “Yeah, gross. It got kinda knocked loose and it really, really hurt.” Yow suffered a collapsed lung last January after a show with local band mates Paul Christensen and Matt Cronk of Qui (which he joined after making several guest appearances with the two), but is convinced it was an injury started years ago with a particularly bad Maker’s Mark–fueled fall against a stage monitor.

Film roles aside, Yow was in the middle of gearing up for the much-anticipated Jesus Lizard reunion, which kicks off May 9 at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in England. (He got his Qui mates a slot at ATP too.) It’s been 12 years since the original Jesus Lizard lineup has played together, so prepare yourselves for the assault. They have 29 songs ready to go and I’m excited to hear “Seasick” made the list. Touch and Go is also reissuing “Goat,” “Head,” “Liar” and “Down” later this fall remastered for full visceral effect by Bob Weston and Steve Albini.

“Yeah, the Scratch Acid shows taught me to stop saying ‘never.’ But I wouldn’t do it unless Mac was into it. [Mac McNeilly was the original drummer.] And man, I hadn’t seen or talked to him in 12 years. We all just met in Nashville and practiced — I saw him for the first time and we hugged for, like, three minutes and just giggled.”

What is Yow looking forward to most on tour besides the long-overdue payday? “I teared up when we played ‘Monkey Trick’ — I can’t wait to play that for people again.”


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