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Interview: David Wm Sims of the Jesus Lizard

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It wasn’t that long ago that David Wm Sims was one of the key players in the rise of noise rock in the late '80s and early '90s. Along with Dave Yow, he formed Scratch Acid in Austin in 1983, a band with deeply depraved songs full of fire and brimstone that still managed to find pop hooks, winning over, among others, Kurt Cobain. After a move to Chicago, he would meet up with fellow noise evangelist Steve Albini, and after a brief stint in Albinu’s controversial band the Rapemen, Sims was back with Yow, guitarist Duane Denison, and drummer Mac McNeilly in forming the Jesus Lizard, which some still see as the perfection of the noise rock trend that began in the '80s.

After the band’s 1999 breakup, Sims has been living in New York, using the accounting degree he earned while still with the Jesus Lizard for the past 10 years. I caught up with Sims at Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday, hours before the Jesus Lizard’s featured set.


You’ve been an accountant in New York for the past 10 years. Have you kept up the music in any way?

David Wm Sims: A little bit. Mostly just recording stuff by myself, sometimes, depending on whoever’s around. I’m kinda looking for something…I’m unemployed now, so I’m a recovering accountant. I’d like to get some kind of new project going. Lately I haven’t had time to think about it yet.

You had a ton of devoted fans in the '90s. What do you think will happen to those fans 10 years later?

DWS: I don’t know how many will come back. Obviously some fans have moved on with their lives, which I totally understand. When we’ve done these shows there’s been a fair number of people from back in the day. We’ve gotten some really great responses from fans. And I see a ton of kids there, kids that are obviously not old enough that they were in on it the first time. They seem to be having a great time, so that’s pretty great.

Yeah, I think while I’m someone who’s inclined to look at music from the past, I have friends who go to concerts now who haven’t even heard of Fugazi.

DWS: It is—I don’t know if I’d say it’s natural—but I think it’s where we left it. It’d be easier for us than it would be for a lot of bands that were around in our time. So I think we’re fortunate, because we’ve gotten these very, very good responses to the shows and the 7” pack we put out and the reissues we’re putting out in October.

What are your thoughts on the latest situation with Touch and Go?

DWS: I don’t exactly know what the deal is with Touch and Go. They’re contracting a lot. I don’t have much to add other than what’s already out there. I’m very grateful that even when they were doing that they decided to go with the reissues. I’ve heard them, and they sound great, they really sound a lot better. On the original records, the mastering was just not very good, so that was fixed. Just the other day when we were in Nashville, Adam [Reach] from Touch and Go came down with the records and showed us the gate folds and the inserts. When they were telling me about it, I just wasn’t that interested (I never read liner notes). But when they showed up and showed us the packages, I have to say they really did a great job.

You were always seen as more of a live band, so I don’t know how starting things out in festivals seems. How did things go in Nashville?

DWS: The show in Nashville was cool because it was the smallest show we’ve done. We basically did it as a warm-up show for the bigger shows to follow. It was a small club that holds about 400 people, and was very hot and crowded. It was sort of the smallest, most punk rock show.

Are you more comfortable in festivals now?

DWS: I actually like the clubs better. The festivals are fun too, and the pay well, but at the end of the day the clubs are more fun.

You’re blog is very fun, and I’ve heard a lot of bands from your era say they would have loved the access new media provides. It goes both way, of course, so I’m wondering how you’d evaluate things from when you were starting out, through to '90s, to now.

DWS: I really don’t have any idea. The last time I started a band was, like 20 years ago. I don’t have any idea what it involves now, I just imagine it’s very, very different. In a lot of ways it’s the same; show up here, play here, But there’s all this stuff with cell phones. That’s just so different. People just didn’t have cellphones when I was doing most of my touring. There are all these internet resources, like Google Maps and being about to search and find out whatever you want about a club.  And even the GPS;  there’s a lot of stuff we could have used back then. When Scratch Acid went on tour, which started around 1983, we just had to arrive in a town and then go find a phone booth. It was just so sketchy. A lot of the time it makes things more convenient. But in a lot of ways it’s almost too much, it’s difficult to filter out what’s necessary and what’s just clutter.

Do you feel like people have found Scratch Acid or Jesus Lizard more on the Internet?

DWS: I don’t know, I guess. For so many people now it’s their prime source of information. So if they’re hearing about the Jesus Lizard for the first time, then yeah, it probably is the Internet.

I feel like a lot of new fans sort of are not into noise rock bands, especially at festivals. Have you noticed that change in focus at all?

DWS: Honestly, I don’t follow music very closely now. I like the stuff I like, and sometimes I’ll hear about new stuff from people that I know, I don’t read magazines or see those television shows. It’s just so tiresome, there’s so much stuff. I see all these bands I know, and most of them I don’t like when hearing it, but I don’t know which of it I don’t like. I’ll just listen to what’s at my friend’s places, which works for me better than doing the research. I mean, they’ll all just…regurgitating press packets anyway. They all say “they’re great, they’re innovative,” After a while it’s not journalism, it’s just marketing.

On that note, was there any reason in particular to perform at Pitchfork or in Chicago now?

DWS: It was basically that they asked us to do it, which was exciting. We’re still going to do in November at least one, maybe two club shows here’s. They haven’t been announced yet. We can’t announce them beforehand, because if we do, Pitchfork will freak out that people won’t buy tickets to Pitchfork, that they’ll just hold off for the club shows. (Note: David Yow announced that the band would be performing two nights at Metro in November, and baited the audience into asking for their money back).

Where do you see the Jesus Lizard going in terms of a reunion, compared to something like the Pixies?

DWS: I don’t think we’re making any plans. We haven’t been working on any new songs, there hasn’t been time. We could…I mean we’re not closing any doors, but it’s all up in the air. You know…maybe. I have to say, it’s been a lot of fun hanging out with those guys and playing with them. It’s been really great to get to do it again. And besides all the music stuff and the stuff we’ve done, one thing we’ve always had going for us is that we all get along really well. We’re really great friends and we enjoy each other. Those three guys will just always be three of my all-time favorite people. And that makes a lot of things easier. There’s a lot of things that get frustrating or discouraging, and there are different opinions for how to proceed, and having that bond underlying it does make it easier.

David Wm Sims blog, Too Big To Fail, can be found at davidwmsims.wordpress.com The Jesus Lizard will be touring the United States through November, with more dates possibly to follow.

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