Q & A: Scratch Acid's David Yow On Reunions, Nirvana And Book, The Jesus Lizard Coffee Table Book

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Niles J. Fuller
Scratch Acid in 1984.
David Yow—the beer-swilling, crowd-surfing, lunging, occasionally dick-waving, shirtless, human sweat-mop frontman of post-punk iconoclasts the Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid—is quite the congenial dude, despite the juicy belches meted out in my ear as he threw back a couple of cold ones while on the phone from Los Angeles.

During our conversation, Yow doled out props to his ex-Jesus Lizard mates (the influential Chicago minimalist noise-punks are now officially done) and even owned up to crying before their first reunion show; he also praised Nirvana, buddy Henry Owings of Chunklet fame, and Sarah Lipstate of Brooklyn's dreamy drone heroes Noveller.

The aspiring actor admitted he'd rather be delving into his art and film rather than terrorizing audiences onstage. It wasn't all wine and roses with Yow, though. Vitriol-laced moments were reserved for Jim Kimball (ex-drummer for the JL on their final album, 1998's Blue), and Mudhoney and Soundgarden apparently once made his shit list.

Sound of the City caught Yow before he jetted off to Austin to prepare for yet another reunion tour—this time with Scratch Acid, the Texas noise-rock skuzz band he started in the mid-eighties with guitarist Brett Bradford, future JL bassist David Wm. Sims and drummer Rey Washam.

Which of your old bands do you enjoy playing with more: Scratch Acid or the Jesus Lizard?

[Laughs] Um, wow. That's a good question. I don't know if I know the answer [laughs]. Well, several years ago when Touch & Go [Records] had their anniversary thing, Scratch Acid played three shows and that was a lot of fun. But then a year or two later, a couple years ago, we did a whole big tour with the Jesus Lizard and I don't know which one was more fun—probably the Jesus Lizard. That tour was a blast and it was really, really great. But I don't feel really fair saying that. We're going to have to talk again after this Scratch Acid tour is over.

When did Scratch Acid break up originally before you reformed to play the T & G anniversary and those shows in 2006?

We broke up sometime in 1987.

Since you guys have played so few shows in the last 25 years, what level of preparation is there for this coming tour?

50% of the band—the drummer, Ray and the guitar player, Brett—live in Austin, Texas, which is sorta where the band was from. David [Wm. Sims] lives in Chicago and I live in L.A. David and I are going to converge on Austin so we got five days of practice before we start this little tour. I think that's pretty much what we did a few years ago—four or five days of practice.

When you first started singing for Scratch Acid in 1986, was there a frontman (or woman) who inspired you or that you modeled yourself after?

I hate to think that I modeled myself after anybody. But there's definitely people who I admired so much that I probably did. I probably was more like Nick Cave than I would have really liked to be. I was really into Lee Ving [of FEAR] and Johnny Rotten and Lux Interior [of the Cramps]. Right before the punk rock, I was going to art school. I think that it's normal for a person, whether they're doing music or visual or some sort of art form; they may emulate people they admire more than they necessarily would like to. But then, hopefully and ideally, their styles turn into their own thing. And I think that's what happened with me. But yeah, I was pretty taken in the olden days with the Birthday Party and Nick Cave.

So you grew up a punk rock kid?

Yeah, I played bass in a punk rock band before Scratch Acid. We were all for American [punk] but we were kind of English punk rock: Sex Pistols with a little Ramones, kind of thing.

What do you think of the interest Scratch Acid is getting all these years later?

I don't know what kind of interest we're generating. I know it's been disappointing overseas. I know we got two shows in England but apparently there wasn't enough interest on the continent to support a tour. That was disappointing ecause Scratch Acid went to Europe in 1986, which kinda freaked me out at the time because we were just a little band and I couldn't believe that we were flying overseas to play shows. But I guess they just don't care now.

How much are the reunions of Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard are about raking in money?

[Laughing] The number one factor with both of them has been fun; otherwise I don't think any of us would have wanted to do that. That's factor number one, and I suppose money is probably factor number two. I don't really know how much we're going to make with this Scratch Acid stuff but I do know that, a couple of years ago, when we did that Jesus Lizard tour—I think we only did like between 40 or 45 shows—I made more money that year than I ever made in my life. So that was pretty cool.

What do you make of the money being thrown around?

It is unusual; I don't really know what to make of it. There's so many bands reforming that are punk rock. But The Sweet just played here in L.A. a couple nights ago and I was like, "What the fuck? Are you serious?" They probably aren't drawing many people, but they are probably getting paid pretty nicely. I don't keep up with much of the stuff that's going on these days. I don't know how well folks that are doing new shit are getting paid. It's kind of surprising we made the money we made a couple years ago. Hopefully, I'll have as wonderful a surprise at the end of the Scratch Acid tour.


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