BY: AMY HABEN

David Yow. Photo by: David Wm. Sims.

David Yow. Photo by: David Wm. Sims.

Randomly I posted on Facebook, “Where in the world is David Yow?”  Thinking about the nineties and how I loved the ferocity of The Jesus Lizard. With David’s unique vocals and David Wm. Sims on that booming bass, they really left an impression on my teenage brain. The Jesus Lizard toured with Nirvana  and were Kurt Cobain’s favorite band. David wrote songs with Kurt, among putting out a split record. Luckily, my friend Jorma from the band The Bronx, told me that David’s a super nice guy and that he lives in Silverlake. So while I was in Los Angeles this summer assisting Gillian and Legs, I contacted Mr. Yow and we met in Gillian’s suite at The Roosevelt Hotel for this interview….

A: Let’s start out with like Jesus Lizard stuff… Tell me about any crazy experiences on tour.

D: Well… there was one time- particularly early on our booking agent would have us doing like 16 nights in a row, then a day off, then 14 nights in a row, a travel day, then 18 nights-

A: Just exhausting…

D: Yeah it was crazy, and one time we played San Jose and the next show was in Seattle and it was so far away that we had to leave directly after the show in San Jose- so we finish the show, load up the van, and went on our way and we were travelling in two different vans and I think that we had ah …  at one point the guy who was driving had stopped to get gas, I think in, uh, Northern California and then he kept on driving and uh, ya know, around the time the sun was coming up we pulled over because he wanted someone else to drive and we had just gotten to- just into Oregon and he said, “Where’s Mac?” the drummer, and I said he’s asleep in the loft and he wasn’t there. He had gotten out to pee when we stopped to get gas and Glen didn’t know it.

A: Oh no…

David Yow crowdsurfing during a Jesus Lizard performance. Photo: Matthew Gibson.

David Yow crowdsurfing during a Jesus Lizard performance. Photo: Matthew Gibson.

D: That was 3 hours back so it was 6 hours to just get back to where we were and there weren’t cell phones back then and so we found a pay phone, we called the booking agent and he said Mac is back there…   there was a fuckin’ Denny’s, the gas station, and a store.

A: This was like the early 90’s or something? Mid 90’s…

D: Mid-90’s.

A: Yeah, that’s right before cell phones…

D: Yeah, and Mac is the nicest guy, so we get back there and Mac is saying good bye to all the people like, “Oh don’t worry Elizabeth, he’ll come back to you, it will be just fine and Donna you’re gonna do great on that test, don’t you worry about a thing!”

A: Aww..

D: Yeah. Ha-ha!

A: Like all throughout the Denny’s..

D: Yeah!

A: That’s so cute.

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(David Yow and Amy Haben at the haunted Roosevelt Hotel elevator. Photo: Amy Haben)

D: So then we, um, got to Seattle…as we were supposed to start playing.. it was sold out and it was packed and we had to load through and the promoter, ya know, and we had let him know that we were gonna be there but we were gonna be late, and he was giving us shit about how he doesn’t need this kind of headache and we were like, “Fuck you pal, you know, we’ve been driving since…”

A: Yeah..

D: That was a terrible story.

A: Ha-ha-ha…

D:Ha-ha-ha.

A: It’s okay…

D: Wow! You guys really lived on the edge.

A: Yeah…  you were really rock n’ rolling! No it’s fine, um …  Where are you from? Are you from Texas…

D: I did most of my growing up in Texas.  My dad was born in Commerce, which is East Texas. But he was an air force pilot, so I was born in Las Vegas, and then moved to North Africa.

A: Oh wow..

D: – and then to North Carolina, then to Virginia, then to England, then to Texas. Then I moved to Chicago, then to Indiana and then here.

A: So when you first got to Texas how old were you…

D: 15.  15 to 28 in Texas.

David Yow of The Jesus Lizard on stage. Photo: PJ Sykes.

David Yow of The Jesus Lizard on stage. Photo: PJ Sykes.

A: Cool. So you got to be a teenager in England, right..

D: Uh- yeah, up till 15 in England, which was pretty cool I mean, ya know, that was when like T-Rex and Slade were big.

A: Really? Did you go to their shows..

D: I didn’t go to their shows but I got to watch them on the TV.

A: Yeah ha-ha! It’s funny because I have this whole like idea in my head since I grew up on punk rock that I feel like when I get off the plane in England that there will be all these punk rockers going “Oi, oi!” Ya know? Ha-ha! Like I have this weird 14 year old version of what I thought England was gonna be still in my 34 year old head ya know? It’s pretty lame but, ya know, it’s gonna be like the normal people and not gonna be like the punk rock set…

A: So how did you get into singing in the first place? Did you wanna be a performer or musician…

D: Ah no, I mean I always liked music. I was a Beatles freak, and then a Led Zeppelin freak and then I was a Sex Pistols freak, and then I was a Birthday Party freak.

A: Yeah…

D: -and then um…But I-I didn’t really wanna be in bands until punk rock because with bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and stuff like that but it didn’t occur to me that I could-

 

A: Do it…

D: Yeah, um and then punk rock came along and I thought, “Fuck! I could do that!”

A: Yeah right? Because it’s sloppy and messy and it’s not like…

D: Yeah I just figured the bass guitar had four strings so I’ll just go do-do-do-do-do-dodo-do and I got in a band and that-

A: As a bassist…

D: Yeah. I was the bassist of this band Toxic Shock and uh-

A: I think I’ve heard that name before…

D: There was about 5 or 10 Toxic Shocks but we were the first one.

A: Ohh I got it…

D: Um and there is a Toxic Shock Records as well, but uh, we only lasted about 8 months or something like that and then me and some friends started Scratch Acid and I was the bass player and our singer just kind of- he wouldn’t sing at practice because he said it would ruin his voice or whatever.

Scratch Acid portrait. Photo: Niles Fuller.

David Yow playing Adam for a Scratch Acid portrait. Photo: Niles Fuller.

A: Saving up his voice? Ha-ha-ha…

D: Yeah, yeah. I never understood that line of logic, but um yeah but we kind of kicked him out and, uh, I started singing.

A: Yeah? Cool, and then things progressed from there…

D: Yeah, well I think with a lot of art forms, whether it’s drawings like I went to art school and stayed really tight friends with one of my teachers- Yeah, he’s a really great artist, he did some of the record covers for Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid-

A: Oh cool…

D: And um, he had a really profound effect on the way that I drew and I think I really took to him more than necessary but then eventually it sort of metamorphosed into my own thing and I think that’s the normal progression with any sort of an art form-

A: Yeah…

D: When I first started singing, I was listening to The Birthday Party a lot, and I heard a live tape or something and it sounded like someone trying to copy Nick Cave and I thought, “Man, don’t-don’t do that!” Ha-ha-ha!

A:  I was listening to that song- The Jesus Lizard song, “Mouth breather”, ya know, and I dunno I was laughing to myself because I love that song but I also had this friend who used to- my friend Pete, he was a rockabilly who would always talk about the suburbanite mouth breathers.  So when I listen to that song I have to laugh.. ya know? What was the inspiration for that song?

D: Um? It’s specifically about Britt Walford who played drums in Slint.

A: Yeah. You just went to their show right?

D: No, they are coming..  but I think they are on the tour now, but Britt is an amazing mother fucker. He is like an idiot savant genius freak guy. He’s from Louisville, Kentucky and people from Louisville aren’t like everybody else, they’re- I don’t know what’s going on in Louisville, but they’re special.

A: Yeah? Haha!

D: Steve Albini had to leave town or something for a little while and Britt was going to house sit for him and in no time Britt lost the keys to the front door so he came home drunk one night and he ripped the front door down and uh… instead of like putting it back on the hinges and fixing it, he just nailed 2×4’s up to fix the door, and he broke the toilet and it was raining like ya know pee water into the basement where Steve’s recording studio was set up-

David Yow. Photo taken by PJ Sykes.

David Yow performing with The Jesus Lizard. Photo: PJ Sykes.

A: Oh my god…

D: And so..  it’s about Britt. And uh, ya know, since uh – and I think Steve and I were talking about this occasion and he said, “I mean don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy, I like him just fine, but he’s a mouth breather.” And so that’s… it.

A: Yeah? He-he-he. That’s a good story. So tell me about the book then- It’s your drawings and it’s a book on your drawings right? Or…

D: The cat book?

A: Yeah the cat book…

(Video from A.V. Club via Youtube)

D:  Well go to DavidYow.net and poke around there. One of my first friends in the punk rock world was a guy named Tom and just for the hell of it I drew a cat and put a shirt on it with the name Tom, Tom Cat. And that was the first one, and then I started drawing a black cat and CAT-alogical, and CAT-agory, and CATatonic, and CAT-astrophe and as long as it had CAT in the word, then it’s fair game type thing. So the list got to be 94. I think there was only 74 in the book, but um…

David Yow's mixed media cat from his book, Copycat.

‘Catholic’ from the book, Copycat. Mixed media image: David Yow.

A: Yeah, that’s cute. I just love it because every time I talk to people about you they’re like… I love the Jesus Lizard but I’ve never seen you perform ever before in my life, and people are like, “He would take off his pants and like moon the crowd and do crazy shit like stick his dick between his legs”, or whatever, and um, now you’re doing a cat book. It’s so cute and it’s such a far cry from the crazy man on stage.

(Video via YouTube)

D: Yeah, it’s true, I mean it’s my reputation is, uh, a lot bigger. I mean.. I’m a very nice guy…

A: I can tell, yeah…

D: But, uh yeah, I guess I wasn’t necessarily so nice on stage.

A: No, it’s good. You have to create a show-  you can’t just stand there and sing. You have to do something fun and exciting….

D: Right, It’s punk rock and it should be dangerous, ya know? I mean a lot of the punk rock that I would listen to in Austin- bands like The Dicks, and Sharon Tate’s Baby, and The Butthole Surfers and stuff-

A: I’ve never heard Sharon Tate’s Baby but that’s a good name, ha-ha!

D: It was dangerous. It was very likely that you would get hurt just going to see the bands and that had never occurred to me before until punk rock. I thought that is so cool that you could be afraid of these guys that are playing. I like that.

'Catnip,' mixed media image by David Yow.

‘Catnip’ from the book, Copycat. Mixed media image by David Yow.

A: Do you have any tattoos…

D: I have one.

A: What is it…

D: It’s ah- You’re gonna trip.

A: Oh good, is it like an old..

D: It’s a comma, now it’s an apostrophe.

A: Ha-ha! That’s a great trick, ha-ha-ha-ha! I was expecting it to be a mermaid that you were gonna make dance or something…

D: Right or if I’m barefoot it’s a comma and with shoes on it’s an apostrophe.

A: Yeah? So what’s the story with that tattoo…

D: The band was on tour and the record company got a letter from Tom Blackmore in North Carolina and he was a big fan and he said, ‘Hey send the band to me and they’ll get a free tattoo…’ and I played that game forever of ya know what am I gonna get tattooed? Like ya know, a dotted line around your neck that says “cut here-“

A: That’s a pretty good one…

D: Uh, ya know, I wanted to get the smiley face at the head of my dick- just whatever. That would hurt a lot-

A: It might scare girls off too.. Ha-ha-ha! Are there any other books besides the cat book…

D: We did a book on The Jesus Lizard called ‘Book’ and um, I put that together and it was a mother fucker. It took about 3 years to put that thing together like I did, um, color correction and retouching so I cleaned up hundreds of photographs and that book took forever.

A: So when you guys (The Jesus Lizard) signed with Capitol, is that when you felt really successful with,  like,  a big label…

D: Uh no, I felt successful already because to me if you can pay your bills doing what you love, then you’re successful.

A: Yeah…

D: After going to Capitol I felt a little smarter because I loved the touch and go of it and we got a pretty big chunk of money.

A: Yeah, yeah. Did you feel like you were selling out a bit…

D: I didn’t think of it as selling out because we didn’t have to change anything.

A: Well that’s good,.

D: Yeah. They didn’t know what to do with us and I told them, I said “Ya know, we’re not gonna sell many records”, and they loved it and thought it was gonna be really good. We signed a three record contract and after two they said, “Okay, you can go.” I was really glad though that they let us go.

A: Are you focusing on music?

D: I’m focusing on acting. I just did a film that was shooting 3 hours north of LA and all I knew about the role was that I was gonnna be hosting a party in my underwear and I was like, “Cool! Typecasting…”

A: Right…

D: And there is one email saying, uh, that the movie is about a comedian whose career is really failing and he is trying to reinvigorate it and, uh , he has a party at his house and at one point he’s in his underwear in the kitchen and I come in and grab him and take him to the garage and so I’m thinking… if he’s in his underwear and I’m in my underwear then there is some weird shit going on here.

David Yow's piece titled, 'Catatonic.'

‘Catatonic’ from the book, Copycat. Mixed media image by David Yow.

A: Yeah…

D: So I show up there and I brought a variety even though I didn’t wear underwear usually-

A: Yeah, yeah…

D: But I have it and so I brought them and some long johns with it, I brought long johns and I also brought a shower cap, and he loved the shower cap so in a movie with John C. Reilly and Michael Cera and Greg Trukinton, do you know who Neil Hamburger is? You dunno who Neil Hamburger is? He’s a comedian who is absolutely great-

A: It sounds familiar but I have to look it up…

D: So yeah I was only on set one day, but that’s a big film that’s coming out soon.

D: I wanna try everything because right now it’s all creepy guys. It’s either a creep or a murderer or some kind of pervert or something like that, but I’d like to do everything..  like , you know, a fairy, a boxer…

A: Hahaha! A fairy….

D: Yeah! Like Peter Pan or um-

A: But you could do anything. I don’t think you look like a creep…

D: Thank you.

 

— Make sure to check out David’s books: The Jesus Lizard “Book” and “Copycat”, out on the wonderful Akashic Books. Also go to Davidyow.org, and Davidyow.net for film reels, music videos, etc..