Former Jesus Lizard David Yow Casts Lewd, Clanging Solo Album Debut
David Yow is best-known as the menacing, howling frontman of '80s and '90s noise-punk bands Scratch Acid and the Jesus Lizard, two of the most revered acts on the roster of indie label Touch and Go. The Jesus Lizard was briefly signed to Capitol Records, during which time it spent one week on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums chart with 1996's "Shot." But it was Yow's unhinged, sweat-drenched performances that ensured both bands' legacies.
His debut solo album, "Tonight You Look Like a Spider," turns away from the manic guitar/bass/drums template of his past and plunges deeply into experimental territory. This new direction was something Karl Hofstetter, president and curator of Indianapolis-based Joyful Noise Recordings, eagerly anticipated when he offered to release the record. "It's an honest, exploratory album," he says, "which is exactly the kind of stuff we like to do."
In what seems at first a counterintuitive approach to spurring sales, Joyful Noise is offering the physical album on vinyl only. (A digital download will be available on its release day, June 25.) To sweeten the appeal to buyers, the label created three options: plain black vinyl, 450 copies of limited-edition vinyl and 50 copies of special limited-edition vinyl paired with handmade cement sculptures, signed and numbered by Yow. Called the Monolith, each sculpture-and-vinyl set was priced at $150.
"[The Monolith package] went into the black within five hours, which gives me a screaming boner," Yow says. Three hours later, it was completely sold out. And within two weeks, all 450 copies of the limited-edition vinyl were gone, too. Though thrilled, Yow wonders if fans' enthusiasm will change once they hear the actual music, and imagines a potential buyer's reaction: "'Well, at least I have a $150 handmade brick and this fucking awful record!'"
"What the record is makes sense if you know the aura of David Yow," Hofstetter says with a laugh. "I just wouldn't expect him to be the type to try to go backward."
"It certainly doesn't sound like what you'd expect, knowing my musical history," Yow says. "But that's because with collaborating you can't -- and ultimately wouldn't even want to -- end up with something that is exactly the way you would do it [alone]."
As the sole performer and producer, Yow was free to do whatever he wanted. It's not a stretch to say "Tonight You Look Like a Spider" feels more like a sound installation than a traditional album. The eerie clanging, erratic time signatures, sudden drum bursts and childlike piano-banging are more suited to Francisco Lopez and Max Neuhaus than Iggy & the Stooges. It's less a continuation of Yow's tenure in punk bands than it is an extension of his first creative love: visual art. When the Jesus Lizard broke up around the turn of the millennium, Yow focused on his artwork (primarily painting and drawing), which culminated in a gallery show in 2010 in Los Angeles and the following year in New York.
"I hadn't necessarily planned on making a solo album," he says. "I don't really know how to play any instruments." He was swayed in 1998, when Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle) demanded that Yow write his own material. At the time, Yow had recently learned how to use digital audio programs and figured, why not? "There are going to be a fair percentage of people who are expecting some sort of Jesus Lizard-y or Scratch Acid-y thing," he says, "and it's not like that at all."
Maybe not, but Yow's fans will certainly recognize his notoriously lewd, amusing charisma swirled throughout the album. He titled one track "Lawrence of a Labia," sampled and distorted the caterwauls of his now-departed cat and used a sexually explicit email from a friend as the basis for "Senator Robinson's Speech." Yow typed the email into a text-to-speech program and manipulated the computer voice until it sounded "like a really bored woman reciting this disgusting, perverted bestiality-sex thing. So it's kind of really comedy," he says with a laugh. "Maybe a lot of people wouldn't necessarily think it's very funny, but I do."
Such techniques that generated the music would be difficult to re-create with a live ensemble, so Yow doesn't plan to tour. "I'm definitely not into the idea of bringing the computer [to a venue] and pushing play," he says, "but we're going to try some way to present it live a couple of times."
For now, die-hard supporters will have to make do with the album, as well as Yow's gratitude. "I hope that everybody loves it," he says. "But if they don't, that's their problem."