The raw-boned post-punk funk on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's latest album suggests bachelor-pad refrigerator mold, enhanced by toxic trace chemicals, and haunted by the ghosts of New York City's past.
The recently released Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party 2015 is a distortion-drenched punk-blues follow-up to 2012's Meat+Bone, an album that had marked the end of an eight-year recording hiatus. Sheathed in a thundering miasmic roar, the album was inspired by his adopted city.
"When we were working on the record, the title in my head was 'Dance Party,'" says the band's titular leader. "I was thinking about the initial early '80s sort of post-punk/no-wave stuff and hip-hop. That was sort of pointing the direction for me."
Spencer moved to New York City in 1985, shortly after dropping out of Brown University in order to pursue music with his band Pussy Galore. Unlike many of his punk peers, the would-be filmmaker wasn't a big fan of guitar rock prior to discovering a musical form that made amateurism a virtue.
"I didn't listen to much rock 'n roll as a kid," Spencer says. "In the '70s in a small town in New England, the kinds of things that were out there were Aerosmith and Zeppelin and Sabbath and the Doors. There were kids that worshipped these bands, but it seemed to me terribly dull."
By most accounts, Spencer's the fastidious sort, the kind of control freak who needs to do things himself so that they're done to his satisfaction. No surprise, then, that he initially considered the tightly controlled world of film. But in punk music, he found more immediacy, an art of the moment.
"Perhaps that's why I'm so drawn to this style of music — or this kind of creative activity — because it is so at odds with a part of my personality," he says.
It may be equally natural, as Spencer crosses the half-century mark, that he reflect back on the music and influences that first stirred his musical career.
"A lot of the songs are about New York City back then and New York City today, but also about a New York City that never existed except in my head, heart or imagination," he says. "But in no way was this album meant to be a nostalgia trip. I'm not trying to turn back the clock."
The album was recorded in Brooklyn's Daptone Studios, home to Daptone Records and post-Millennial soul revivalists Sharon Jones, Lee Fields and Charles Bradley. He credits studio engineer Wayne Gordon ("wonderful guy and did a fantastic job") for the crisp, tight sound and also compliments the studio's vibe.
"It was definitely a funky place. It's a studio built into the ground floor. It's kind of a half floor up in this house in Bushwick," says Spencer. "It's not a terribly posh or glamorous place, but they sure do make good records out there."
As for current musical trends, Spencer couldn't care less. Rock's dead? Maybe in your neighborhood.
"I'm still wrapped up in my kind of counter-culture, underground, whatever you want to call it," he says. "If people want to enter our world or join that party, it's an open door. We're not keeping anybody out."