The Jesus Lizard
Putting their most malicious foot forward, the Jesus Lizard were a festering Texas-sized sore scratched across the sunny demeanor of ’90s underground rock. Splattery tales of seedy figures were gurgled out in David Yow’s trademark bellow, a venomous rasp somewhere between an intoxicated tent revivalist and an animal caught in a trap. Guitarist Duane Denison, bassist David Wm. Sims and drummer Mac McNeilly mixed pukeabilly fret torture with sludgepunk bludgeon, defining ’90s noise-rock in the process. The recent reissues of their four Touch & Go albums — 1990′s Head, 1991′s Goat, 1992′s Liar and 1994′s Down — showcase the feral sound that left a bootprint on everyone from contemporaries like Nirvana and Helmet to modern scuzzniks like Pissed Jeans, Made Out Of Babies, Double Dagger and Black Elk. But as legendary as their music is, Jesus Lizard are most fondly remembered for their savage, outright dangerous live presence. Yow gagged, bound and tortured the body electric; his shows a writhing, stage-diving, beer-chucking typhoon of lubricated lunacy. Concerts ended with his head cracked open, his leg immobilized, or the cops simply dragging him away. With the Lizard reuniting after nine years of inactivity, the 49-year-old singer is wreaking havoc once again, playing rock music like a contact sport, shaming bands half his age.
So, I caught the reunion show. Thanks for kicking me in the ear.
Oh, I’m sorry about that.
No, it was great! Do you often get people coming up to you with stories about how you injured them?
Yeah, I do. Fortunately most people seem to be entertained by it. There was one girl who sued us, but other than that, everybody seems to take it in stride. The cunt in Austin who sued us ended up getting nothing, but we still got a $45,000 lawyer bill. I threw a beer can. She claims it was full and that it hit her in the face and caused her permanent damage. I never disputed that I threw a can — I’ve thrown a thousand cans — but I don’t believe that it was full. It was a four-day trial and the jury deliberated for less than five minutes and gave her nothing. She was completely lying her ass off. They just thought we were rich rock stars and thought that they could get some money.
Was the trial process interesting?
There was a lot of things about it that were pretty amazing. Her lawyer was this ambulance-chasing fuckin ‘asshole who fell asleep during the trial, right there in court, in his white seer-sucker suit. It was amazing.
Who was the first performer to blow you away with their live show?
Led Zeppelin was my first concert and it was fucking great. But it wasn’t until I saw a group called the Huns play in Austin. Very early Austin punk band. I was completely floored by the energy and abandon of the whole thing. It was probably ’79 or ’80, I was 19 or 20. There was some article in Rolling Stone about when the Huns played one time they called the cops themselves. Like a publicity stunt. The cops came and arrested them for I don’t know what, and the cop came on stage and the singer kissed the cop. So, me and my buddy said “Let’s go down to Raul’s and check out this ‘punk rock. ‘” I couldn’t believe it. It was just completely nuts. I had never seen anything like it.
Was the lead singer a ball of energy?
Oh yeah! It was ridiculous. He was wearing nothing but a jock strap and his entire body was painted silver. After the Huns broke up, he became a born again Christian and used to appear on the 700 Club semi-regularly and talk about the evils of punk rock.
Do you remember your first show as the frontman of Scratch Acid?
Yeah, I remember it pretty clearly. Brett, our guitar player, had gotten like 40 or 60 hits of acid that we gave away to people in the audience. I was so nervous, I was throwing up all day long.
How many shows did you have to play until you stopped getting nervous?
Oh, I always get nervous. It goes away pretty quickly once we start playing, but I always get nervous before we play.
So, your antics: Are they for you or your audience?
[Laughs] It’s probably for them. If they weren’t there, I’d probably be sitting down in the corner, wishing that I was smoking. Writing the music is more for me, but the live shows are more for them, the people who pay their hard-earned money to see four old guys play young-guy music.
What do you think about on stage?
Not much. [Laughs] The perfect situation is to be completely on auto-pilot. The stuff that Duane and David and Mac play — have it do the work.
You were hospitalized after more than a few shows in the ’90s. Did you have health insurance?
Eventually I got health insurance because I kept getting hurt enough that my wife insisted. When I got health insurance, it was like, “Something better fucking happen!” You had a nine-year absence between Jesus Lizard performances. Were those first shows rough on your body?
Well, I knew that was going to be really hard, so I started going to the gym, trying to build up my stamina and endurance, and trying to reduce my gigantic fat belly. I just do the elliptical as difficult as I can for about 35 minutes and some weights. My belly’s not as fat as it was. There’s still some fat there, but you could punch me as hard as you want in the stomach and I wouldn’t care.
Do people ever recognize you at the gym?
No, it’s Hollywood. There’s more important people to recognize. I’ve seen a couple low-rent movie stars in there. Ones who can’t afford a home gymnasium. Like they’re doing good, but not that good.
Is there anything your body can’t do anymore now that you’re older?
Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s funny. At that New York All Tomorrow’s Parties, I ran into Nick Cave in the hallway. We’re talking and he asked me if I was still stage diving. I said, “Yeah.” He said it’s getting to the point where he’ll do a knee drop, and it’s easy getting down, but it’s not so easy getting up. I, fortunately, am not suffering from that. I fall over many times every night and don’t have a problem getting up. So… I’m better than Nick Cave.