Before the Jesus Lizard, there was Scratch Acid, the sinister post-punk legend where vocalist David Yow and bass player David Sims cut their teeth on a melodic, supernatural grumble with drummer Rey Washam (Ministry, Tad, Big Boys) and guitarist Brett Bradford. With three records, the group laid down a small but scathing body of noise rock, rife with acerbic tales of violence and perversity, spawned in the genuine freak scene of Austin, Texas, circa 1982.
Scratch Acid plays The Earl tonight with Hawks. $20-$23. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-522-3950.
Chad Radford: How’s it going David?
David Yow: It’s warm!
Yeah, I have sweat coming out all over me. My bicycle has two flats and I was trying to fix them but I have these patented locks on the wheels and I can’t get the mother fuckers off, so now I have sweat all over me.
Are they the kind of locks that are designed to not only keep the tires on the bike but also to keep people from stealing them?
Exactly. They’re a really cool design. They look like those quick release locks, but you have to turn the bicycle upside down in order to unlock them. So if you have it locked to a telephone poll or something like that you don’t have to worry about the tires because no one can steal them. The problem is that I have turned the bicycle upside down and have had it sideways and every other angle, and I can’t get the fucking things off. It’s driving me nuts! … I just went to their website and it’s a French company, so this is just no good at all.
I’m sorry to hear that. Do you want to take a break and talk with me about Scratch Acid for a few minutes?
Well, first, you did a tour with the original Jesus Lizard lineup not so long ago, but with the Jesus Lizard I sort of felt like there was some closure that needed to happen, and that’s why you did it.
No. Not really closure, and I didn’t think that it was necessary or that there was anything unresolved with the Jesus Lizard. However, I am extremely happy that we got to do one last tour with Mac (McNeilly) on drums instead of Jim Kimball. It was really good that we got to do that.
In light of that, why do a Scratch Acid tour now, after the band called it quits 24 years ago?
Several months ago we were notified that Jeff Mangum was currating All Tomorrows Parties in England, in December, and he wanted us to reunite for it. We played three Scratch Acid shows several years ago and it was a lot of fun. Then we did the Jesus Lizard tour and that was way way more fun than I expected it to be, and it paid really well. So I was thinking ‘we can have a whole lot of fun for a month or so and they’ll pay us for it.’ So if there’s enough interest for us to do this, and we get paid for it, I just don’t see anything wrong with it.
And Rey Washam (drums) and Brett Bradford (guitar) and David Sims (bass) were all into it too?
Since your initial time with Scratch Acid, which came to an end in 1987, you’ve developed a pretty cool kind of control over your voice …
… Well I say that because I’m wondering if it’s difficult for you to return to an earlier time in your development as a singer and revisit these songs that are kind of primitive when compared to some of the stuff you did with the Jesus Lizard.
Well, it’s an interesting thing to bring up because — first, I disagree with you to a point, because I don’t think that I have very good control over my voice, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing — a lot of the vocal parts with Scratch Acid, were very often more melodic than the stuff I was singing with Jesus Lizard. But in the last year and-a-half a dear friend of mine has been giving me vocal lessons and now I do have a newfound control and can hit a key or a pitch that I’m asked to hit, and if they say go up half-a-step, I can do it. Whereas before — during the 30 years that I’ve been playing music — I never bothered with that sort of thing. So now, hopefully with these Scratch Acid shows I will come off like Kate Smith or some operatic son-of-a-bitch. It should be entertaining.
Now that you’ve been singing these songs again is there a Scratch Acid song that really resonates with you now?
I like most of Berserker — it might be “Mary Had a Little Drug Problem,” but I don’t know. I have been listening to those records a lot lately and I’m not much a fan of Just Keep Eating.
No way! Well, I guess that one does sound kind of rough.
Yeah, it sounds like poop. … Maybe I just can’t see past the sort of piddly murmur. Those songs don’t have the enigma that the songs on the first and the last record do.
No, we never played any Scratch Acid songs, but memory will do that to you. You probably just heard us play “Bloody Mary.” We were playing that back then, and maybe that’s why you think that. But no, we didn’t play “Mary Had A Little Drug Problem” back then.
I remember that show, and my favorite part, that I remember anyway, was that we got there early, which we always did, so we could sound check. We were opening for the Rollins Band. They showed up to the venue, and, if you will remember, there was a huge mirror in the club off to one side. Anyway, the rest of the guys from Rollins Band were humping gear — lugging gear into the club, and there was Henry standing in front of the mirror lifting weights and checking out his biceps.
I remember that too! I was like 14 years old and that was really confusing for me because here’s this guy who sang for Black Flag, but he was acting like such a jock … Stretching out and curling weights at the punk rock club.
So with this Scratch Acid tour, are you planning on any LP reissues or anything like that?
I don’t think so. There hasn’t been any talk of it. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but we haven’t talked about it.
And there hasn’t been talk of writing new Scratch Acid stuff after these shows?
No. No way. Even the Lizard boys talked about doing that and I thought that’s crazy. I live in Los Angeles, David is New York, Duane is in Nashville and Mac is in Chicago. What are we going to do, send mp3s back and forth? I don’t think so. Same thing with Scratch Acid. I don’t see how we could possibly write stuff. To write stuff you have to be in the same room together.
Right, the one thing about both the Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid is that there’s a palpable sense of chemistry with both of those bands. You can hear it in the way the bass and your voice work together, or the bass and the guitar. It sounds like you guys have been playing together a lot and you know each other’s natural musical instincts.
Thank you for recognizing that. I have always thought that chemistry is the single most important ingredient for a band, and that has to come naturally. If a band is really really good and then you swap out one of the members of the band with someone else, it’s probably not going to be as good as it was. It might work out, but it’s unlikely, and chemistry is the most important thing in a band.
Aside from music are you still showing your art around the country?
Yeah, but I’m kind of taking a break from it right now. I just had a big show in New York up for a month. I had one in Berlin, and there’s one coming uo in Bucharest. I’ve had a couple of shows in LA, but right now I’m focused on the music stuff, and some possible acting ventures.
Do you have acting gigs?
I do. I’ve been in a whole lot of nothing movies, but right now I’m kind of anxious and eager to hear about this other thing that might be happening. If it does it will change my whole everything. I’m not really at liberty to discuss it other than if it happens it will be really cool and it’s the kind of thing that I wouldn’t have to tell you about because you will know about it. I mean it really is that good.
Yeah, I remember that. I didn’t do too many album covers. Those guys were friends of ours and we did some touring together. They asked me if I’d do a record cover for them and I said ‘sure.’ As far as doing actual paintings for record covers goes, it’s really rare for me. I did that one, I did the cover for Jesus Lizard’s “Wheelchair Epidemic” 7-inch and the Lash 7-inch collection. Other than that I don’t recall ever painting for anyone else. Design wise I did do a cover for a band from Chicago called Red Grave. I did their 7-inch cover — golly — a long time ago. There was a band called Liquid Soul. … If you go to DavidYow.net and look around in “Design,” those record covers are there. There’s probably more that I can’t think of right now.
Cool. I’ve kept you on the phone long enough so I’ll let you get back to your bicycle tires now. I hope that you can get them off sooner than later.
Thank you, me too, man. It’s driving me nuts because it’s a brand new bicycle. A beautiful bicycle and I’ve only ridden it like four times. Now I have two flats and I want to get them off so I can ride it again!
I'm pretty sure he was 19.
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