American underground music of the early 1980s was a mash of good, great and painfully bland. The rich and varied legacy of that time is a mixed blessing. Arguably, the most defining, genre-expanding bands of the era were L.A.’s Black Flag, New York’s Sonic Youth and Austin, Texas’ Scratch Acid. Though there is no definitive way to fully assess their combined influences, love ’em or hate ’em, these three bands — via their relentless touring, prodigious recorded output and harrowing live shows — did a tremendous amount to help stitch the fabric of the underground music scene that exploded in the ’90s. Knowingly or not, these iconoclastic bands forged a distinctly “American-sounding” hardcore and noise-rock future by no longer taking cues from ’70s U.K. punk, and in so doing created a new sonic language for acts like Soundgarden, the Pixies, Nirvana, No Age and others to emulate and further develop.
Lovers of confrontational, even atonal, music know the far-reaching influence of Black Flag and Sonic Youth. The tale of Scratch Acid, however, may need a little dusting off. Featuring the rhythm section of David Sims on bass and Rey Washam on drums, guitarist Brett Bradford, and the always unpredictable David Yow on vocals, Scratch Acid snarled its way through two EPs and a full-length before disbanding in 1987. Its EP Berserker is a peerless noise-rock masterpiece. Two years later, picking up where Scratch Acid left off, David Sims and David Yow formed the Jesus Lizard — a band that inspired hundreds of imitators around the world within a few years of its debut Touch & Go EP, Pure. After a prolific eight independent releases, a 1992 split single with Nirvana, three major-label efforts and a spot on Lollapalooza ’95, the Jesus Lizard disbanded in 1999. Yow, following four musically fallow years in the wilds of Northwest Indiana, briefly moved to Chicago before coming to Los Angeles in 2003 — intent on putting band life behind him.
The L.A.-based, two-piece Qui formed in 2000. Guitarist Matt Cronk, 30, and drummer Paul Christensen, also 30, were both 12-year-olds when that first Jesus Lizard release dropped. If the adage “You are what you eat” is to be believed, then for Cronk and Christensen, a steady diet of the Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid catalogs (with occasional helpings of the Melvins, Frank Zappa, meat products, booze, and recreational-chemical abuse) has helped turn them into the estimable musicians and wits they are today. One would have to be deaf not to notice how powerfully their noisy, artistically adventurous forebears have swayed these gentlemen.
And now, David Yow has recently joined their band. Sometimes life is wonderful . . . and deeply fucking weird. For two gents from Minneapolis raised on such noise, one can only imagine that the addition of Yow must seem like the ultimate affirmation. As for Yow? This marks an exciting new turn in an already well-defined career as the American underground’s pre-eminent showman. I recently caught up with Qui to discuss their new direction as a three-piece on the eve of their performance at the Echo with longtime friends Burning Brides.
These dudes love your previous work. Is it uncomfortable to discuss this aspect of being in Qui?
DAVID: Um, no. I have — and I’ve never really talked to these guys about this — tried to distance myself from it and wondered, you know, if I was in their shoes, what would it be like? Like, if I, you know, got in a band of, like, John Bonham’s or something — pretty good analogy! [Laughs.] But, um, I’ve wondered if it was weird. But no, it’s nice and flattering because they are so good at what they do.
After laying the Jesus Lizard to rest, did you think you’d ever be in a full-time band again?
DAVID: No, I didn’t want to. I had no desire at all. I was finished with that. But the timing worked out really well. I do photo retouching for a living, and God, last summer it just stopped. I’ve had no work. And so my professional work seems to have turned its back on me, so I’m turning my back on it. At any rate, we’re not facing each other. And I really, really look forward to touring and writing more songs and making more records and not having to work and hanging out and getting drunk and sleeping and waking up, and stuff like that.
PAUL: And I also look forward to sleeping.
DAVID: It’s gonna be a blast.
MATT: It’s funny; one of a handful of very fond memories I have of our tour in March is a couple of the really epic naps that I took when we were driving across Texas. Like, all squeezed up in the loft in the van, just feeling so content and comfortable.
DAVID: And then we hit a bump and — pow! — your face hits the ceiling!
In what ways do you think the band has changed because of this new direction? Obviously, having a front man and being a three-piece is different from being a two-piece. But in what tangible ways has the experience really changed for the two of you?
PAUL: The biggest change is just visually. In the past I think Qui’s best shows were the ones where no one looked away and everyone was intently focused on us, and the music was this Zen thing. But with David, you know — it’s a level of excitement that I think didn’t used to be there.
MATT: Paul and I not having to sing as much frees us up a bit to do more instrumentally. We’ve got some new stuff that is actually based on old riffs that we’d come up with — at the time — that we couldn’t really make work because we couldn’t sing and play at the same time. There just wasn’t enough there. But now we’ve got some weird riff that David can put a vocal on and add another element to it that actually makes it interesting to listen to, as opposed to some jack-off exercise thing.
How much touring has the band done as a three-piece, and what’s the response been like, both from longtime Qui fans and from those who are just now becoming acquainted with the band?
MATT: The response has been really good. The vast majority of people who’ve known us or who have been paying attention to us for any length of time all seem to really like the addition of David. We draw more now! [Laughs.] It all seems to be working out pretty good.
DAVID: As for the drawing more thing, I just want to touch on it if you’re going to have a question about it. Um, I think for a little while there’s gonna be a lot of this, you know, “David Yow’s new band!” Which isn’t cool. But I understand, that’s — you know — people don’t know any better. I don’t think that’ll last that long once they hear the record and see us play. It’s like, “It’s not his band, it’s their band” — their, as in all three.
Your first album with David is coming out in September on Ipecac. What can we expect to see from the band when we see you play on June 25? Will you be performing new songs that aren’t on the record coming?
DAVID: We’ve been talking about — or I’ve been thinking about, maybe we haven’t talked about it yet — I think we’re gonna repaint the Echo while we play.
Burning Brides, Qui, Sabertooth Tiger and Alarma play at the Echo, Mon., June 25.