ROCK ‘N’ ROLL PSYCHOSIS The Jim Jones Revue

 

Hey hey hey HEY! From
Thee Hypnotics and Black Moses to his current incarnation as Little
Richard’s heir, the hyperactive vocalist always delivers the goddam goods.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

If the name “Jim Jones” triggers memories of the heaving,
throbbing, skronking rawk machine
that was UK
outfit Thee Hypnotics and not the
cult leader who orchestrated a mass suicide-by-poisoned-Koolaid in 1978 at
Jonestown, then you’ve come to the right rock magazine, pal. BLURT don’t fuck
around.

 

And neither does Jim Jones.

 

Starting in the late ‘80s and enjoying a decade-plus run on
such labels as Sub Pop, Beggars Banquet and Rick Rubin’s American Recordings,
Jones and Thee Hypnotics were viewed by many as direct heirs to the vaunted
Motor City tradition – Stooges, MC5, et
al
. And not without justification. Although it must be noted that in Jones’
aggro snarl and bluesy wail one could easily detect several decades’ worth of
primal puh stretching back to the
early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Pertinent to precisely that: hanging out with him
backstage in 1990 after a show on Thee Hypnotics’ first full U.S. tour, I was
struck by the fact that Jones was far more interested in talking about older
artists, some which even I had forgotten, than about the contemporary British
psych and shoegaze scene that spawned his band. In retrospect, his sporting a
John Lee Hooker teeshirt was a signpost of affiliation and not a hipster
affectation (as I probably imagined at the time). “Authenticity” is, admittedly
a nebulous concept, and it’s always filtered by context; but as you’ll soon
read, this cat had the rock ‘n’ roll valves turned on at an early age and from
there it was no looking back.

 

Following Thee Hypnotics’ demise, Jones formed the funkier,
more R&B-tilting – though no less high-energy – Black Moses, releasing a
couple of albums (recommended: 2004’s Royal
Stink
) and touring primarily around the U.K. along with selected
appearances on these shores. It was at the 2005 SXSW in Austin, in fact, that I
wandered into a men’s loo and who should be standing there beside me, pissing
heartily, but the good Mr. Jones, in town for a showcase with Black Moses, and
we instantly picked up where we’d left off, comparing notes on bands and
records as lifelong music obsessives are wont to do. His band’s subsequent set,
which left festival punters gobsmacked and begging for more, simply
re-confirmed, for me, that last sentence in the preceding paragraph.

 

Cut to 2010: Jones is back, treading the boards once again,
this time with another combo, the sensibly-named The Jim Jones Revue. He
assembled the band a couple of years ago after Black Moses shuddered to a halt,
and this time around he’s hell-bent on a mission to reinvigorate rock in its
most primordial form – Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and the
like. On the group’s 2008 debut The Jim
Jones Revue
, which was finally released in America a couple of months ago,
you get a synapse-poppin’ riot of pounding ivories, slashing guitars,
backbeat-boogie bass ‘n’ drums, and Jones’ gulping, chortling, leering wail.
(Don’t take my word for it – read the BLURT reviews here as well as a review of the band’s singles collection Here to Save Your Soul here). And that’s just the
beginning, as the Revue has since polished off sophomore effort Burning Your House Down with Bad
Seeds/Grinderman honcho Jim Sclavunos producing; it’s out now in the UK and plans
are for US release later this year. The group’s high-octane, frenzied
performances are already becoming the stuff of legend; in March at SXSW, avowed
JJR converts included Lenny Kaye and Syl Sylvain. So all you have to do is
Google up a few YouTube videos of the band (keywords: rock; riot; awesome) if you need any further
convincing about that.

 

The band: Jones, vocals/guitar; Rupert Orton, guitar;
Elliott Mortimer, piano; Gavin Jay, bass; and Nick Jones, drums. Jones and his
Revue kicked off a 10-day American tour this week that will culminate in a
high-profile performance next weekend at the Ponderosa Stomp (dates here).
Meanwhile, back in July the band popped over to the States to do a handful of
shows in the NYC area as well as some preemptive promotional duties. Jones rang
up BLURT en route to a show to fill us in on how the band got started and where
it’s going, as well as sundry observations on his earlier groups and his
formative influences as a kid.

 

***

 

BLURT: If memory
serves, the last time we talked we were standing next to one another in a
bathroom in 2005, peeing…

JIM JONES: In Texas,
yeah, I remember [laughs] – South By
Southwest.

 

So you’re back in the
States now – and you’re packing in a lot of promotion in a short period of
time. How was your show last night?

Back in the fray, that’s right – we’re on our way to Hoboken to do a radio
show, and then a show at Maxwell’s tonight. Last night went pretty good! A few
faces we recognized – Bob Gruen was there, Mick Rock came out. We did some
photos with him earlier in the day yesterday too. This is good. We’re all quite
well adjusted for the gladiatorial sport that is touring.

 

I recall when Thee
Hypnotics came to Charlotte,
NC, in 1990, on tour with your
Sub Pop bandmates Tad.  There was lots of
booze, a notorious local groupie called the Dragon Lady, and a drunken
interview at an all-night diner. Are your memories of that band good? I was
never totally clear on why you broke up.

Well, we never really had a proper sort of manager. And we
didn’t know anything about the business. We just loved rock ‘n’ roll and wanted
to play. But there was no guiding hand there, and we were this force that
didn’t have a direction to move in. So in the end we just burnt out, I suppose.
It always seemed to be a band where there were possibilities endlessly on the
horizon: “Oh, you guys might get this,” or, “You might do this,” or, “These
guys might want to work with you.” And more often than not it never came to
fruition. But we just kept going out of sheer belligerence, really, and when it
was done it was done.

   In terms of good or
bad memories, well… it was my life, for 15-odd years, so they are my memories
be they good or bad, and there’s plenty of good ones and some bad ones. Lost a
few friends from overindulgence. The usual rock ‘n’ roll stories. Me and Phil
[Smith; drums; currently working on a Thee Hypnotics documentary] talk about it
a lot, and that’s why he wanted to make a film. We’d sit and talk: “There’s at
least a book in here, or maybe a film…” So he just decided he’d put it
together.

 

How did Thee
Hypnotics wind down and how long did it take for you to start up Black Moses?

About a month! [laughs]
The attitude in the band was just bad. We were doing a few shows, and a couple
of the guys were like, “Ah, I don’t wanna drive to Glasgow…” The attitude was only wanting to do
what was convenient. And I had just had a kid [in 1997] at the time, and I
wanted to know, are we working or are we not? I don’t have time for just
drifting. The band finally bit the dust in 1998.

        Within a month
I was crawling the walls and realizing I had to do something in music. It’s
part of what defines me, who I am, and I was losing touch with myself. And one
of the last things we’d done in Thee Hypnotics was going to Bristol and rerecording our song “Earth
Blues” with these guys who had a studio there. They had a band called The Heads,
a stoner rock band from Bristol.
After that I went back to do the mixing, and I’d met the bass player and
drummer who said if I ever wanted to start a project…So there I was, wanting
something to do, so I called them up and started going over to Bristol working
on ideas for songs I had.

        We did that
for six months or more, then someone asked if I wanted to do a show. I had been
adding extra guitar parts, so I got in touch with another guitar player, and
old friend called Graeme Flynn, and he came down to play extra guitar. That was
the beginning of Black Moses. Some of the songs from that period went on the
first Black Moses CD; me and Graeme just started working together, almost a
year of just woodshedding, swapping ideas. We went through quite a few
drummers, too.

 

 The lineup I saw in Austin was a powerful one. It was interesting
seeing how you were approaching things differently yet still with a clear
connection to what you’d done with Thee Hypnotics.

Yeah, and it was great working with Graeme as well. He was
into a lot of things I was into that didn’t fit with Thee Hypnotics, so it was
a chance to spread those wings – the more funky and black side of the music.
Like, the Meters were one of our big influences. Sly and the Family Stone, good
grooves. Graeme was also into Krautrock and more esoteric types of art-rock
stuff.

        The band was a
very good unit. But for various personal reasons, Graeme didn’t want to stay
doing that. That’s the kind of person he is, always doing “projects” and going
through stages, and if he’s not constantly working on new stuff he gets bored
very quickly. And that’s the nature of touring; you have to go out and play the
same stuff again and again and again every night. I think for him he got bored
quickly.

 

 Then how did Black Moses evolve into The Jim
Jones Revue?

Another bass player came in after Graeme, a lovely guy,
brilliant, but whose main skill was getting wasted. He was in the top ten of
getting wasted. And I was trying to drive the thing forward but he was there
mostly to party. So the band ran its course. But towards the end, looking
around for places to play, I got in touch with this promoter, Rupert Orton [of
Punk Rock Blues promotions], who was putting on the best stuff. People like
Honeyboy Edwards, T-Model Ford, Scott Byron, just good shit always going on. So
we’d hang out between soundcheck and the gig talking and watching these bands
play, the opening acts, and Rupert would say to me, “It’s incredible that these
guys who are in their ‘90s have more charisma than these younger kids…” And
he was right. The way these guys would put the show over and the effort they
put in. And one of the things I would talk about was how wouldn’t it be great
to go back to the mid ‘50s and see Little Richard in his early days, in one of
those clubs in New Orleans. With both of us, that image, and some of the other
things we were talking about – Jerry Lee Lewis, the Killer; young Elvis
Presley, when DJ Fontana first joined the band and it really became rock ‘n’
roll instead of rockabilly – just seemed very exciting but it was like they’d
been discarded, that particular part of it.

        So around that
time I met Elliott Mortimer through Ray [Hanson, Thee Hypnotics guitarist] who
said, “Yeah, he’s a great keyboardist, a piano player.” And he is amazing, like
some sort of time bomb. So Black Moses did one final show that Rupert had
organized, one where the bass player was passing out, and I just said, “I can’t
do this anymore. It’s too draining. It’s like pushing a rock up a mountain.” After
that show Rupert asked me, “What do you think you’re going to do now?” And I
said, “Well, maybe it’s time to work on that rock ‘n’ roll project!”

        Over the
course of the next few weeks I got in touch with Elliott, and Rupert already
knew this drummer, Nick, who played with Heavy Stereo, because they’d been
jamming together for a couple of years. And Gavin, the bass player, we’d seen
him in bands around town, so we kind of headhunted him. “Right, let’s book a rehearsal room and see what happens.”

        And the first
song was like our blueprint, Little Richard’s “Hey Hey Hey Hey.” That seemed to
embody all the things we’d been talking about, in terms of the excitement, and
the punk rock attack that early rock ‘n’ roll had – and also with a swing to it
so the girls could dance to it. Literally, by the time we were about halfway
through the first verse, we were looking around at each other: “It’s working.” It was like getting on a
runaway train.

        With “rock
music” you can kind of thrash, or you can groove and just let it sort of hang.
But with that old school rock ‘n’ roll, they have those boogie beats and you
have to choke it back to make it move in that way. You have to work it. But
once you nail it, it really runs away. It’s like having a tiger by the tail. We
had that rehearsal and I recorded it on a small disc player then played it for
a few friends. One of them has a little club in east London, and he said, “Right. You’re playing
next weekend at my club!” The guy had thrown down the gauntlet. So we got a few
songs together, and we played, and the crowd loved it! The great thing was that
the girls were properly dancing: jiving and boogieing and loving it. It was
once again like being in the rehearsal room; it was like catching something by
the tail and going with it.

        That analogy pretty much follows through with
what has happened with this group since then. We’re literally trying to hang on
and keep up with what’s going on, and the offers and our situation keeps
getting better, and our profile is going up – and we’re still hanging on! [laughs] Just seeing where the tiger is
going to take us next.

 

 Are people who know you primarily from Thee
Hypnotics – Stooges, MC5, psychedelia – surprised when they hear you come out
now and sound like Little Richard and Jerry Lee?

No one seems to have any problem with it! And there seem to
be Thee Hypnotics fans all over the world. People are always very
congratulatory: “It’s great that you’re still rocking.” And I feel great I’m
still rocking. It really is a second chance. I was talking to someone the other
day and I was saying, “Yeah, Thee Hypnotics, we were young, had a lot of luck.
This time me and the rest of the guys know what we’re doing and it’s a lot of
hard work but we know what we’ve got to do.” We’ve got a sound that works so
we’ve just got to get our heads down and dig.

         It’s nice to
know we can get all ages at our shows. We can play for a more “nuevo” audience,
if you’ll excuse the term, and then also be appreciated by all these roots
guys. We had these guys from France
come to our show who saw Little Richard way back then, the first time around,
and saying to us, “You got it.” So it’s nice to have that vindication from
those guys and at the same time having these young kids getting into it.

 

You recently cut your
second full-length in London
with Jim Sclavunos, right?

Right. We were talking about what we wanted to do on our
next album. Talked to people like Jon Spencer about it. He had said he was up
for producing it maybe. His first question was, “Well, where do you want to go
with it? You’ve already gone about as saturated and distorted as you could
possibly go. Where do you want to take it from here?” So one of the things
people had told us was that they loved the [first] album, but in a club when
they tried to put it on and turn it up, once you got past a certain volume it
just became white noise. So we wanted to make something that had the same
energy and drive to it, but you could turn it up louder so people could enjoy
it and dance to it in the club.

        Jim Sclavunos was around, and you know, he’s
played in a lot of bands – the Cramps, Gun Club, Sonic Youth, Panther Burns,
not to mention Grinderman and the Bad Seeds. One of the things I like about all
those groups is that they take music that could be perceived as quite “trad,” a
traditional music style, but with a real twist on it that makes it seem fresh
and new again. That’s what we wanted on our record, because we’re in a music
territory where if you’re not careful you can slip into being just a bar band.
We thought he could be the man to keep us from slipping into that rut, you
know? So it was an interesting way to work.

 

“White noise” in an
apt way to describe that overdriven sound you got on the first record.

The first album was just sort of blood and guts. For a two
day period we’d just go in and play, play again, okay, move on to the next song.
That’s how that album was recorded. Then I mixed it. In my head I knew we
couldn’t afford a really great producer, and I could try and tidy up the sound
but that would end up just making it mediocre, so I went for all-out brutal
sound. And to our surprise, people really picked up on it. I remember mixing the
song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Psychosis” and giggling to myself during this guitar part
where it just goes into white noise for a few seconds. Next thing I know it’s
being played on the BBC! You know how it is with radio: people spend more and
more money to get this nice sound, and here’s this thing that was recorded in a
couple of days and then brutalized in the mix. And people were raving about it.

 

 It probably stood out from everything else
that was being played.

Totally. I was doing an interview with this radio DJ and he
said, “We usually have to turn the CDS we play up about 2 db – with yours we
have to turn it down 10 db!” I think
people felt like it was a breath of fresh air.

 

 The record’s been out for awhile now in England. Is it
strange having to sell it all over again in America?

Well, like I said, we’re a pretty well-drilled machine now,
so when we get off on the road, we turn up and deliver. That’s another thing
about Thee Hypnotics; it was kind of hit and miss, what mood the band was in.
But with this band, we can pretty much guarantee you a good show every night. I
think everyone in the band gets off on that too, knowing we can do that. It’s a
nice feeling.

        Syl Sylvain
came up to us after our gig in Austin
at South By Southwest this year and he said, “You’re playing real rock ‘n’
roll!” That was a real vindication. Here’s one of these guys you sort of spend
your teenage years looking at the liner notes of the albums, and then here he
is standing there and telling you you’re doing the real thing.

 

When I saw you in
1990 you were wearing a John Lee Hooker teeshirt. So now, with the musical
influences you’re talking about in your new band, it’s not that hard to trace a
consistent line between your tastes over the years.

That’s true. I really feel like I’ve come full circle with
this band. I think the first time music sort of opened up for me was when I was
a kid and my mom and dad, sometime in the ‘70s, they got their first “music
system,” as it was called – one unit, with the cassette player and the radio
and the record deck. So I inherited the old clunker, this portable thing that
had the arm that went across the top of the record to drop the records down,
and if you leave the arm up the record repeats. 

        So me and my
sister also inherited all these old singles of my dad’s. Some of them were shit
but some of them were really good. I remember there was a 78 of “Great Balls of
Fire,” and some Little Richard, some Elvis, some Larry Williams. I remember
“Short Fat Fanny” was sort of my favorite. Me and my sister used to try to work
out all the lyrics and of course we got them wrong! “Short Fat Fanny is a horse’s eye!” Well, of course it’s
actually, “…my heart’s desire.” [Sings a
half-verse of the song.
] But anyway, that music was the thing that really
made me go, “AHHH! This is music and it’s great!” So you’d leave the arm up and
have the songs play again and again and again and you’d sort of dance around.

         That was the
first time the music really went into me, and it opened a valve. So with this
project now, going back to that music, it’s like over all the years it was
still in there, and it was almost like a sort of genetic recognition. It’s
really natural to play it, really easy, yet there’s also a wealth of ideas of
how to tap into it and then drag it through the collective influences of the
band while trying to keep that original energy.

         You take that
image of Little Richard going, “Hey Hey Hey Hey.” It’s like there’s a pearl in
there. It’s not the nostalgia of it. It’s an energy that you can hear through
all these groups over the years – the Birthday Party and Sonic Youth; to the
MC5 and to the Sonics and back to Little Richard. You can join the dots and
find this flow of energy.

         And all we’re
trying to do is just join on the end of that line and let the energy flow again
and be the new vessel. Everything is good in The Jim Jones Revue world at the
moment.

 

 

 

 

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