Chad Radford: Youre a local guy, or you used to be.
Mac McNeilly: Yeah, I grew up in Atlanta and have a lot of really fond memories of hanging out there, but ever since 89 Ive been making Chicago and the Chicago area my home.
Well, 86 played a show in Austin, Texas, and I met David Yow. He and David Sims were at the club where we played. We introduced ourselves to each other and I said I like the way you sing and I like Scratch Acid, and he said I like the way you play drums. So we both said something like maybe some day we can do something together musically. It was one of those things where you say something that would really be a great thing to do, but dont think anything will come of it. We traded numbers anyway and I got a call from David Yow a couple of years later. He said were putting this thing together in Chicago and we have an EP that weve done with a drum machine. I can send you a tape because we want to put a live drummer in there and actually be a band. When they did the EP it was just a recording project. I dont think they had any plans to make a rock band out of it, but they changed their mind and I went up in the summer of 89 to try out. I was playing bass in Phantom 309, but Im not a bass player and it was a way for me to get back to playing drums. David sent me a tape of the EP and I really liked what I heard. It was the kind of music that I could really adapt drumming to so I went up and it clicked right away.
Was it hard to leave Phantom 309?
I was having fun with John Forbes and Gary, and it was hard to leave Atlanta in a lot of ways, but it was time for me to do something else; and time for me to get back to playing drums in a serious way. It was a really good opportunity, and I really liked the music. It was exactly what I wanted to do. It was harder, darker and was just a new beginning.
I recently found a flier in my closet for the first Jesus Lizard show that I saw, and it was in Omaha with the Rollins band in 89.
Yeah, that was really early on and I remember that show. Rollins contributed a little blurb to one of the inserts for the reissue of Pure, and he talks about that show. As he refers to it, its somewhere in the middle of America, but it was definitely Omaha. We had goofed on him a lot and made Hank the butt of a lot of jokes, not because we knew him, but he was an easy character to take pot shots at, but he was a fan and had some really great things to say.
That show was twenty years ago, which makes me feel old.
Don't feel bad. Were all pushing fifty. I think Duane is already there, but we all feel pretty good. We didnt want to be like a bunch of old men huffing and puffing on-stage and have people say well theyre nice guys, but they cant do it like they used to. That would have been the most embarrassing thing that could happen, and a good reason not to have a reunion, so we practiced a lot and were playing the songs the way they need to be played.
Do you feel like youre playing them differently now?
I dont know. Probably. For me, there are a lot less foreign substances entering my body. Im very much of a clean living kind of guy these days. I dont smoke or even drink these days. In some ways I feel more together and stronger not only while were playing the songs, but afterward Im not completely exhausted because I didnt stay up all night partying the night before. Of course I could handle elements of that when I was younger.
The songs feel very familiar though, because we played them so much back in the day. Its funny to play songs that are this old and have them still feel fresh, because we havent been playing them all this time. Theyre not worn into the ground -- we had a pretty big break from them, but at the same time none of us are pretending that were back in the 90s. We know that were older and that this is a reunion ... but its fun to be able to play this stuff for people who saw us the first time around, or maybe for kids who were too young to see us back then.
I had my hesitations when I heard about the reissues of Pure, Head, Goat, Liar and Down. I get kind of leery about taking things back in to the studio. I thought Albini did a fine job the first time around and was worried that they would choke the life out of these albums by revisiting them. That said, the reissues sound great.
Im with you on that. Steve Albini would say that he doesnt produce bands and that all he does is roll the tape and document bands. But then again, whether he was conscious of it or not he put his stamp on everything he did just because it was him doing it. Everyone has their way of doing it, the mics they use and where they put them; so to a degree youre going to have a certain sound.
I remember sitting in my bedroom when I was a kid, listening to Head and wondering 'why does Yows voice sound so mangled?' 'Why does the guitar sound like that?' and really loving it all. I spend a lot of time talking about how I like music that has a lot of mistakes in it.
Yeah, and there are plenty of mistakes all over our records. Theyre not perfect by any means, but thats fine because it's rock music to begin with; and punk rock music on top of that, or whatever you want to call it. Its meant to convey a feeling or have the listener get something three dimensional from it. Its better to get that with warts and everything as opposed to something where everything is perfectly in its place but doesnt have as much feeling, or as much of an edge.
Im happy with them, too. They were very careful about how they did this and a lot of the credit goes to Bob Weston. He has always been a fan of the band and he treated the tapes with a great amount of respect and didnt want to compress the hell out of them, or change them in anyway. He wanted to enhance what was already there. He didnt want them to come out and have people say, why does this sound so different? It wasnt remixed or anything. It was all done from the stereo masters. But also, the analog to digital converters are much better these days, so you can get a better result.
It also shows off that the songs themselves are just good.
Duane has said this before, and I agree, but most of the songs we did are pretty straight-forward. Not a lot of trickery or studio stuff was done on them. Occasionally there will be an effect on a guitar, or maybe we treated a snare differently, but theres not a whole lot of that kind of stuff. Its pretty much straight music. The records were recorded well, and were pretty lucky to have had it all turn out so well.
Do you have a favorite Jesus Lizard record?
I have favorite songs off of all four albums. I hear from most people that their favorites are Goat or Liar. Theres a reason why those two are so strong and thats because we felt more like a band at that point. We were touring all the time and were really strong players because we played almost all the time. Writing happened whenever we could fit it in ... we found our footing right in that time period. But for other reasons I like Head because it was the first record we did together. It has a lot of special memories for me and it sounds different as well.
You left the group after Shot.
Yeah I left in October of 96 after we did Shot for Capitol Records. It wasnt a personal thing with the other guys in the band or any creative differences, or anything like that. I had two very young kids at the time and it was very hard for me to balance not being at home so much with the fact that the band was having increased demands for more shows and was playing out more and better opportunities were coming along. I felt like I couldnt sustain both and I couldnt just say see ya honey! Why dont you take care of the kids for a couple of months and Ill see you in a while. I had to make a choice at that point and work on some other personal areas of my life. I cant really blame the band for continuing after I left because a.) they had a record that they owed Capitol and b.) they felt that they were at a level where they shouldnt just stop because I couldnt do it any longer. They felt that no more compromises could be made with the time that we were on the road, and thats really it in a nutshell from my perspective. It was unfortunate and I didnt want to stop doing it. I felt like I had to make a decision, but it wasnt the way I would have chosen to stop.
But now I feel like this tour is our way to rewrite the ending and have some closure and do it the right way.
I stopped buying Jesus Lizard records when Down came out.
It felt like it was time for some things to change and we didnt have much time to write material because we were constantly on the road, and we were trying some new things out. Thats why some of the songs on Down are a little more jazz influenced, or just going in a different direction. We didnt want to keep repeating ourselves.
I dont think there was a conscious decision of lets do something different, as much as it was that a band naturally evolves. We naturally started branching out and knew that we would still sound like ourselves. It wasnt that drastic of a change, like we werent doing experimental noise collages and stuff, but it was different and a lot of people felt that it wasnt what Liar was and it wasnt as cohesive these are all valid points. Its probably not my favorite of those four records, but I dont dislike it or feel like its sub par.
Down has aged really well, and of the reissues its the one that Ive listened to the most.
Its interesting how the same thing can hit you different ways. Sometimes even just depending on your mood or how receptive you are to it, but sometimes it takes time to get into a different place, where youve heard other things in between. Or maybe even the musical landscape has changed somewhat so certain songs dont sound so off, or are more relevant, or whatever.
Are you playing songs from just the Touch & Go records or are you playing stuff from Shot on this tour as well?
Were playing a couple songs from Shot. Were playing Thumbscrews and weve played Mail Man a few times. Theres been some talk about playing Thumper too, although we havent done it yet.
Were not playing anything that I didnt originally play on; nothing from the EP called The Jesus Lizard and nothing from the album, called Blue. And if its from Pure -- weve reworked Blockbuster and Bloody Mary both, but we've done that ever since I joined the group.
Is there going to be a new Jesus Lizard record?
Thats something that we havent really talked about too much. There aren't any plans for that, but well keep our minds open about it. It was a conscious thing to keep these shows special by keeping them limited in time, and not let this reunion last another 10 years. I dont think this is the band reforming, but well see. If we do something in the future it wouldnt be to take advantage of something. We were real leery about it because we've seen a lot of bands do a reunion thing or make a record after not being together for a long time, and a lot of times it doesnt really work out very well. Part of that is because people have expectations that go back to when the band was together originally and unless you say were going to go back to that sound, your just not in the same place as people, and you shouldnt be. Its difficult to put something like that out there and have people not say 'well, its just not the same.' It shouldnt be. The band did break up and hasnt been around for a while.
The Jesus Lizard play with All the Saints. $20-$25. 8:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 6. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. 404-524-7354. www.variety-playhouse.com.
(Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins)
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