jojo interviews *JUDAH BAUER* from the jon spencer blues explosion/20 miles
May 26, 2002
the empty bottle - chicago, IL
Judah Bauer is falling asleep on me. He's been touring non-stop to promote the Blues Explosion's new album "Plastic Fang". He is about to enter a state of deliriousness (is that a word?) because his other band, 20 Miles, released "Keep It Coming" earlier this month and decided to tour during his very short break before the Blues-X hops on a plane to Japan. Below are the questions he stayed awake for...
jojo: Your new album is really different from previous albums - the songs are more complex, you've added bass, your vocals are great - perhaps "milestones" from turning 30?
judah: I don't know what it has to do with turning 30...it's all relative, agewise. I think it's has to do with the amount of time I've been in bands. It's been 10 years that I've been doing music exclusively. I think after 10 years you kinda figure out what you wanna do.
I like bass - there's no bass in the Blues Explosion. I really miss it then; I played the last record out and it was a lot to carry. I didn't have a handle on singing. My brother isn't the most reliable drummer. I wanted bass to fill out the sound so I didn't have to carry everything. When there's no bass, you always have to carry the bottom; you can't really do other things. When you have someone playing bass, you can stretch out your guitar and do more courterpoint things.
I wanted this record to be more of a Friday-night kind of record - where you could go out and put on a show. The last record was moody...kind of a downer. That record is more about going to sleep - it's so quiet. I wanted something a little louder. There are better musicians on this record. My brother plays shuffle beats. This has a lot more rock beats.
jojo: What happened to Donovan?
judah: He moved to San Francisco. When it was time to do the record, he wasn't around. Donovan's hot and cold; he gets interested for a while and then he gets bored. He's on one song and helped me write another song. I'm going to play with him when I get out to San Francisco. This band I got right now will probably get rotated - they all have day jobs. They can't be on beck and call to the crazy 20 Miles schedule, which works around the Blues Explosion schedule - the money machine.
jojo: Is the Blues Explosion fulfilling for you at all or is it just to pay the bills?
judah: I wouldn't be doing it if that was the only thing it was for; I'm not that greedy. I'm positive about life. I'm not afraid to get a job if I have to. I'm still learning...the Blues Explosion gives me a look into another world that I probably wouldn't have anything to do with on my own. It's more of a performance band. It's much more of a show - it's a lot harder, it's more pagan. Twenty Miles leaves me clear for other kinds of music I like. Blues Explosion is more of a show aspect - putting on a good show, and that's fine.
jojo: Were you listening to anything particular at the time that may have influenced some of the songs on the album? There are two particular songs that sound Tom Waits-ish to me and one with a Lou Reed type riff...
judah: The last song on the record sounds like a Tom Waits song to me, but that was an accident. The first song ("Well, well, well") sounds like something off a Plastic Ono Band of Lennon's solo record. That's just what I think...it doesn't really matter. Track 4 ("All My Brothers, Sisters too!") is a Stones-y, blues riff. I was listening to these Stones bootlegs, where they were working up arrangements & stuff off of "Exile" or something. The record was supposed to sound like a bootleg; that's how I envisioned it sounding. "The Only One" is my take on "House of the Rising Sun". Reading Socrates - that's probably where "Phaedo" came from.
jojo: Was "Keep it Coming" recorded the same time as "Plastic Fang"?
judah: I started working on the record a year ago, mostly for engineering - I wanted to become an engineer. I realized it was incredibly tedious and that I don't want to do it. I ended up doing most of the record. I wanted to do both parts of it. It's hard to keep your mind in the emotion of the song and then figure out why the signal path isn't going to tape! I'd mess around with the microphones a whole lot. I recorded it a month after I finished the Blues Explosion record. It may have went on during the same time - I would get home from the studio around midnight or one A.M. from the Blues Explosion, and then I'd go and do 20 Miles until five A.M. The week I had to do the vocals, September 11th happened. I was like, "What's the point in playing music? This is ridiculous!" I wanted to become a politician or something! Something that might have an effect. It seemed pretty frivolous to be doing music, especially when writing lyrics like, "Full grown woman wants to fuck!" or anything pagan like that. I had innocence on the record - the record is almost too positive in some ways. I thought it was a better way to go. (sings "Rhythm Bound") "Heal myself/help myself/soothe myself" - it's new age rock!
jojo: Did you record "Silver Strings" yourself? It sounds like it was recorded onto a computer.
judah: Why, couldn't you hear the tape hiss on that? My recording technique is so bad that sometimes the drums sounded like a drum machine. Some engineers remarked, "It's amazing - you got a real drum kit to sound like a drum machine - how'd you do that?" just because I know nothing about mic placement. You can see the evolution - "Streets & Lights" is the first thing I did; it's kinda rough. The other songs start sounding better later. I started to figure out what I was doing. It was recorded in a box I built in my apartment, except for "Rhythm Bound" - that was recorded at a real studio. A couple songs were done at Fun House.
jojo: How did 20 Miles get started?
judah: Blues Explosion was supposed to go down South and do a record with RL Burnside & Othar Turner, and they didn't wanna do it. We ended up playing with RL, but Othar got dropped. I went down there that summer to play with Othar & RL Boyce's band. It became a record. I was hanging out in Mississippi and Matt was coordinating me meeting these guys, 'cuz I wouldn't have found them otherwise. We became friends and that's why I'm on Fat Possum.
jojo: I read that you were going to have a nervous breakdown if the Blues Explosion was going to work with a DJ on "Plastic Fang"...
judah: I was! I never had an anxiety attack before. I have respect for people on Zoloft (jojo: names other drugs I've never heard of) 'cuz if I felt that way more than once a week, I'd be fucking taking pills! "Get me out of it!"
jojo: Is it really unpleasant to tour doing songs from "Acme"?
judah: When you go on the road, you give up your life, relationships, and you don't get much sleep. The only thing you have is the music - I love music, but I don't wanna fuckin' play along to a click track. I don't wanna play hip hop arrangements. After a month, I'd be dried up spiritually. This was what was in my mind when I was talking to some of these producers - first of all, I had to listen to what they had to say; it was all about them - what they were gonna do. It's not a good idea for any band to follow. They all do post-production manipulation. That's not me, it's him - this guy that I don't even know. Why would I be enthusiastic about that? Then what kind of music it's gonna be - it's gonna be ProTooled. How would I survive?
I don't mind doing it here & there, but this is going to be a whole record. We talked to a lot of people. Steve Jordan - I was like, "That's cool; I'm a fan of those Keith Richards records". They have incredible respect for music. They take effort to get great guitar tones & drum tones. They have a lot of experience. I respect those records & I like them.
jojo: Was it your idea to work with him?
judah: No, he just came down...I don't know where he came from, but it sounded right to me when I heard it. I don't think Russell was so into it, but I think he got into it as we went along. I think rock 'n roll is what we do best, so we might as well just get to the point and do it.
jojo: Do you have much say in the direction of the band?
judah: I have one-third say. So that could mean I have the deciding vote or no power! It depends on which way the wind blows.
jojo: It seems like there's more camaraderie in this record...you guys thank each other in the liner notes.
judah: I wouldn't be playing with these people if I didn't respect them.
jojo: How do you feel about the negative criticism that "Plastic Fang" has been getting?
judah: I think it's pretty reasonable to say that it's a good record. The band's got shortcomings and we probably know what they are by now. It is what it is - we're not the legends of our times. I think it's pretty decent.
jojo: Were you formally trained on finger picking and slide?
judah: No. What does it sound like? I'm totally bluffing! (laughs) You'd be surprised how simple that stuff is. There's this new "Mountain Tuning" that some guy in Houston showed me - B, F, B, F, B, D and the F's are sharp. It's the most depressing, Apalachian Mountain tuning. RL gave me a couple of guitar lessons; I don't know how formal that is. Open E...I figured out that was Hound Dog Taylor's tuning. All that stuff is rudimentary - it's the timing that you have to get.
jojo: You've been tagged as a "Guitar Ace" in a lot of the reviews & interviews that I've read. Do you feel like you are that good?
judah: No. I don't lack confidence, I'm just realistic about what I can do. I'm just getting...maybe...good. There's a lot of guitar players out there that can only play in their bands. That's the kind of guitar player I am. To see that out there - like the guy from the Doors - they can only survive in their band. They'd die in a jamming situation! There are different types of creativity. I've never been interested in learning other styles or being able to jam. I've always opted to write songs. I'm okay...I've got a little niche.
jojo: I think you're a good guitar player.
judah: I agree I'm a good guitar player, but are you saying that I'm a good guitar player? Am I a guitar ace? I've been playing those songs for eight years.
jojo: Did you play guitar when you were in Wisconsin?
judah: Yeah, not much. I was in a noise band with my brother. I was into noise, no wave and jazz. I wasn't into rock 'n roll 'til I got to New York.
jojo: What do you see in the future after the Blues Explosion? Will you continue 20 Miles, be a session musician...?
judah: I'm not sure. I just saw the Surrealists exhibit in Paris two weeks ago and I think I'm gonna have to give up music and take up painting. I'm making big changes. It seems like a higher achievement; to paint, than to play guitar. Maybe just selling beer...
jojo: Are you into any current garage/punk bands?
judah: I don't listen to anything current, but I hear stuff that's good. The Hives are good, The White Stripes are good...The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Green Day.
jojo: So you mainly listen to older stuff...
judah: Yeah. I don't think there's anything current that can compare. Maybe Mazzy Star or something like that. There's not much else that's good enough to sit around the house and listen to. The Dirtbombs have a great record but I'm not gonna sit around and listen to that at home.
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