The Jesus Lizard is your favorite rock band’s biggest inspiration for the same reason it’s someone else’s favorite rock band’s biggest inspiration: They found a way to twist the genre into something darker, crazier, and weirder without making it seem out of reach, an act that’s appealing to one group of rock musicians as much as it is to a very different group of rock musicians. Most times, that happens because the Jesus Lizard’s music sounds reckless. It’s made to be heard at full volume, sure, but it’s also driven with an internal frenzy. You can hear it on Head, the band’s debut album in 1990, and the five studio albums they released since then. Most importantly, you can still hear it today when the band performs live, over 30 years since they formed.
Perhaps the band’s most beloved achievement is Goat, its second studio album, from 1991. Though vocalist David Yow, bassist David Wm. Sims, and guitarist Duane Denison moved the project from Austin to Chicago in 1989 and immediately teamed up with recording engineer Steve Albini then, it wasn’t until Goat that their combined talents felt insurmountable. Recently remastered in 2009, Goat continues to be passed on from one generation of rock musicians to the next. It acts as a blueprint of sorts for bands who want to subvert their own genre without getting bombastic, toying with vocal delivery (“Seasick”), letting loose on bass tones (“Then Comes Dudley”), or getting noisy without going full post-industrial grit (“Monkey Trick”). Even the album’s iconic artwork—a photograph of a nude woman with nails projected on her body, the red hue commonly leading viewers to mistake it for a flame—was created by Sims through inventive but imperfect means.
“Even though I took the photos years ago, and though I think it’s common knowledge in Chicago who she is, I made a promise to never tell who the woman is,” says Sims. “Back in the day before Photoshop was readily available, she posed in front of a white background and I would project slides I’d taken of red guitar cables, a bin of nails with a brass metallic color, and other things I forget now. The exposure was long so that the images would pop. We took a bunch of pictures—many, many, many pictures. I didn’t even have a darkroom, so I got them developed at a commercial lab. It’s funny because I was thinking about this while taking photos of my son and I with my iPhone the other day. It’s great having that convenience, but I’m really glad I learned how to take pictures on a Pentax K1000 35mm camera. I don’t think I ever bought another lens besides the 50mm lens that came with it. It’s a very basic camera with no other bells and whistles. It’s a functional camera, built like a tank. You have to frame everything carefully because you don’t get to tweak it after. You compose as you do it. So anyway, yes, while taking photos with the phone I realized I’m so glad I learned how to take photos under circumstances that are a lot more rigorous and creatively straining. You have to think on your feet and get the frame right because you know it’s a huge a pain in the ass to do later.”
To show the brighter side of the Jesus Lizard’s vibe, we interviewed David Sims for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Goat as the prompt, his answers are honest and unauthoritative—traits that seem meek when written down but contribute to the band’s surprisingly powerful music, as will be evident when they headline the Royale this Friday.
1) “Then Comes Dudley”
DIGBOSTON: If you could steal any friend’s first name or last name for yourself, whose would you take?
SIMS: You know, my son’s name is Dashiell. I have to say, not to be too self-satisfied with my naming skills, but I really like Dashiell’s name. [laughs] If my name was also Dashiell, I would think that’s just awesome. I’ve never known any Dashiells personally in my entire life. I know of the author Dashiell Hammot. But I know that even in his case, it wasn’t his real name. He took it as his pen name after his mother’s maiden name or something. So I thought, “Oh, I’ll have this cool, unique name,” but it’s also not like naming your kid Appleblossom or something. When we took him to his first pediatrician visit at a week old, the doctor said, “Well, you’re not going to believe it but he’s my second Dashiell today.” There were multiple Dashiells in his grade. Turns out Dashiell had a moment there and got pretty popular. I blame Cate Blanchett, who had a kid a few years before ours and named hers Dashiell. Part of my ex-wife’s job involves working with census statistics. It went from being a name nobody had heard of to entering the top 100 boys’ names in the United States, but they were almost all in New York. It was a concentrated thing up there. And here I am named David. Being born when I was, in the ’60s, there were so many Davids. In this class of 30 kids, six of them were named David.
2) “Mouth Breather”
DIGBOSTON: Who is the worst mouth-breather you know, and are they aware of their habit?
SIMS: I don’t know if I’m really aware of any mouth-breathers. Even the person the song is about I’ve never actually seen breathing through his mouth. It’s just a term you apply to someone and everyone knows what you mean, but when it’s used, it’s not used literally. You know?
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any birthmarks or bumps?
SIMS: Yeah, I have a jagged scar on my forehead that happened when I was four years old. Now, people commonly identify it as my “Harry Potter scar,” but that didn’t mean anything at the time. Like Harry Potter, I have a jagged, slanted scar on my forehead. I got it when I ran into a piece of furniture when I was four years old. My mom took me to the emergency room because my dad was working. She was a nurse. They were sewing up my head, putting stitches in my head, and she said, “So, do you think we should take some X-rays? See if he hurt his head at all?” And I remember the doctor saying, “Well, no… I’m looking at his skull and, yep… everything seems fine.”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you traveled overseas?
SIMS: The last time I traveled overseas was last year. I went to Isla Mujeres. There’s a hotel and a beach that I really like. My girlfriend and I go there. It’s a great place. If you’re ever looking for a relaxed place to go hang out on the beach, go. I remember being in my 20s and 30s, and people in Austin would go. It’s close to Cancun, but you have to get there by a ferry so it’s kind of a pain in the butt to get to. It’s not full of high-rise condos and crap like Cancun is. It’s easy to get to because you fly into the Cancun, but it’s much more relaxed and lowkey than Cancun. If you’re looking that up, you should really look up Isla Holbox. It’s even more of a pain in the ass to get to. You have to drive several hours and then take a ferry. There’s no cars almost on the island. The streets are just stands. The island is so low-lying that they evacuate it whenever there’s a storm. It’s a very cool place to go to and hang out on the beach reading books. My girlfriend and I are incredibly lazy vacationers. We just want to hang out somewhere and read our books.
5) “Monkey Trick”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite animal to see at the zoo?
SIMS: You know, I don’t like zoos. I haven’t been to a zoo in probably 40 years. The idea bums me out. I know they have ones that are more modern with big habitats for the animals to hang out in, but the whole idea still bums me out. Probably the last zoo I went to was the San Antonio Zoo. My parents took me there once or twice. It’s about 90 miles away, growing up in Austin. I think we did at least one day trip to go to the zoo there. I probably liked the reptiles. As a kid, I was into snakes and lizards and stuff. Had a few pet turtles. I don’t remember their names and I wish I could. I had a dog named Mike, though. We grew up in Austin, then moved to Atlanta at age 4, and I didn’t want any of the change. I kept saying I didn’t want to leave. So we decided if we moved from an apartment and into a house, then I could get a dog. I said I’d get a dog and name it Mike. They took me to the pound and I picked out the dog I wanted—this was the dog I insisted on having, mind you—which was a little female basset beagle mix … named Mike.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most fascinating true crime story you’ve ever heard?
SIMS: Maybe this isn’t the best, but it comes to mind right away. During SXSW, the whole world descends on Austin and it’s impossible to get a hotel room. A lot of people I know rent out their houses on Airbnb and Craigslist to make a bunch of money and leave for the week. One friend rents out his house to corporate accounts for a thousand dollars a day. Meanwhile, he goes to Costa Rica for $75 a day while he’s making way more than that. Another friend of mine is a relator, so she knows how to set up a nice presentation of a house for a living, with all the photos and tourist directions and everything. So she rented her house out through Airbnb one year. As the people were leaving that had rented it, she was on the phone with them while driving over to pick the keys up. They said, “Yeah, we’re almost done and the car is on the way to take us to the airport. Oh and by the way, the people who rented the house from you through Craigslist are arriving.” She was like, “What? Craigslist? I didn’t rent the house out through Craigslist…” Somebody had bootlegged her entire Airbnb ad but as a Craigslist ad and then had them wire their rent, for renting her house, to an account and there was no way to get it back. So they were making money by renting her apartment to strangers. I thought it was pretty crazy, too, because that’s pretty bold. The Craigslist people realized they made a terrible mistake, but she was actually nice about it. She got on the phone and used her realtor connections to find another house for them to rent. But yeah. That’s a remarkably imaginative and ballsy crime to pull off. I think it was a foreign bank account or something. The people who did the scam probably weren’t even in the United States.
7) “South Mouth”
DIGBOSTON: Which Southern phrases do you find yourself still using today?
SIMS: Yeah. Both my parents are from Arkansas. Mom has a saying that goes, “God will go take care of that tomorrow, God willing that the creeks don’t rise.” Meaning we’ll do it unless something goes wrong. So I like that one a lot. God willing and the creeks don’t rise.
Sometimes if you’re going into a place and it’s hard to get into because there’s so many people inside of it, she would say this funny one. She would say, “Who left the barn door open?” I say that. Dashiell thinks it’s hilarious. I don’t like that as much as “God willing and the creeks don’t rise,” but Dashiell thinks it’s pretty funny, so I say it for his entertainment a lot.
8) “Lady Shoes”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the weirdest shoe trend you’ve seen become fashionable at any point in time?
SIMS: That’s a hard one for me. I’m so fashion illiterate. I just don’t care. I’m a pretty inept dresser myself. I subscribe to the New Yorker and whenever I get one of the one or two fashion issues that come out each year, I just sigh. I don’t get it. There are weird trends, but I don’t think I even mind them. It could be something I wouldn’t wear because it looks impractical or weird or out there, I admire their joie de vivre while wearing it themselves.
9) “Rodeo in Joliet”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name a stereotype about the South that isn’t as romantic as people hype it up to be?
SIMS: Hmm. Oh god. The South. It’s so freighted. Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t lived in the South since 1988. The history there is so problematic. I’m so torn about the South most times. For one thing, I think the stereotypes of the South are generally pretty negative. That said, I kind of agree with a lot of them. The whole region was a vicious time. First was the problem of slavery for several hundred years. Then after that was the viciously enforced apartheid society. All of those negative stereotypes unfortunately have some justice to them.
But I will say that people in the South are very open and friendly. You can fall into conversations with people in the grocery store and at restaurants that just doesn’t happen to me in Chicago and doesn’t happen in New York. I do sort of love that about it, the openness and friendliness to people. I still really love that about the South. It sits atop this incredibly dark and awful history at the same time.
DIGBOSTON: How often do you actively avoid listening to music in favor of soaking up silence?
SIMS: I like a fair amount of silence in my life. I sometimes sit in the tub for 20 or 30 minutes with nothing going on. That’s something I’ve started doing more in the last couple of years. Just putting down the fucking phone, just stop scrolling through Twitter, and just sit. It’s become more and more difficult now than it used to be. Like it’s much more difficult now to just let your thoughts wander. I’ve made a conscious project of just doing that more. Either going in the bathroom and not putting on music or a podcast, just sitting there thinking about stuff. Or maybe going to bed even though I know I won’t go to sleep immediately or I’m not that tired. Just turning out the light, laying in bed, and looking at the darkness. It sounds odd, but it’s become a habit I actually enjoy. Like I said, I think people miss being able to do that. Because you can do it, but it’s much harder. There’s some personal backlash you have against scrolling through things that ultimately don’t matter. There’s a virtue in just being bored and letting your mind wander. Sometimes people have great ideas that way and a lot of creativity springs from that.
11) “Sunday You Need Love”
DIGBOSTON: Do you have any Sunday rituals or traditions?
SIMS: Not really. These days, most of my Sunday traditions revolve around childcare: soccer games, a weekend drive back to his mom’s house in Brooklyn, or things like that. That’s what my Sunday traditions have revolved around for the last seven years, and they probably will for another seven or eight years until he gets to that point where he just wants me to fuck off.
12) “Pop Song”
DIGBOSTON: What’s a pop song that never got due credit or fame?
SIMS: I am sooo unqualified to answer this question. You’d be amazed at how ignorant I am. I cannot name a single Drake song, a single Lady Gaga song, just… yeah. I don’t listen to much music that I don’t already know. Sometimes I’ll let the Spotify algorithm take me to other stuff I don’t know. But it doesn’t take me to pop songs based on what I listen to on Spotify. You know what’s a song I love, and that they probably had a hit with it, and I mention it to people every once in a while because I really do love this song and they just look at me? “Baby Blue” by Badfinger. That song makes me so happy every time I hear it. It did have a moment in the last few years because they played it over the very last shot as they were fading out of the final episode of the final season of Breaking Bad. Other than that, people don’t know that song. Of course, as it’s before everybody’s time at this point in history, but I think that is a wonderful pop song.
THE JESUS LIZARD, ALL SOULS. FRI 9.7. ROYALE, 279 TREMONT ST. 6PM/18+/$32. ROYALEBOSTON.COM