THE JESUS LIZARD RESURRECTED An Interview with Mac McNeilly
“Well, I’m just glad people are still interested in us,” jokes Mac McNeilly. The Jesus Lizard drummer is responding to the fact that their upcoming, albeit brief, six date tour is moving tickets at a rapid pace (including a December 9th performance at Chicago’s Metro which sold out in an eyeblink). “It’s surprising,” he continues, “considering that there is no new material.” Since the quartet hasn't played together since 2009, McNeilly wasn’t really sure if anyone would actually show up.
“We never broke up,” he explains. “I think our status has always been inactive and we occasionally become active. ‘Broken up’ has this awkward connotation, like there are weird feelings. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a real gift for us!”
Formed in Chicago in the late 80s, McNeilly, David Yow (vocals), David Wm. Sims (bass) and Duane Denison (guitar) not so quietly became THE live band of their era. The rhythm section of McNeilly and Sims created a bedrock foundation that allowed Denison a canvas on which he painted minimalist guitar shapes that were facelift tight and brutally muscular. The music was as sturdy as the shoulders of the city that birthed it, the absolute antithesis of the man out front: Yow.
“Oh yeah,” he exclaims, “maybe THE best one. Of the three (other members) of us, I was the furthest away from him, so, you know, it was beneficial for safety reasons. [laughs].” Yow’s antics were, in brief, but certainly not limited to, nakedness, setting himself on fire, bounding his body in duct tape and, um, the “tight and shiny.” Google it if you must, or use your imagination while thinking “origami of the genitalia.” Asked which were some of his favorite Yow antics, McNeilly tends to focus on calmer moments.
“He was the wild card, the joker. He’s moving around. You wouldn’t always know what he was up to. But for me, the moments that matter were the flashes when I’d find myself getting lost in my performance. I’d come back from wherever it was that I had gone, and he’d (Yow) always just be there, in front of my kit, sort of grinning at me or shooting me some goofy expression. Probably not as exciting as the countless other moments most remember [laughs], but those are the ones that always seemed to stick with me.”
The 2009 reunion started with a one-off date as part of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Europe. Coincidentally, it also coincided with the band’s catalog being reissued and remastered by their Chicago based label Touch & Go. “It (the 2009 shows) was weird because it was only going to be one show. Then it started to balloon slowly into ‘Well, why don’t we do two shows over there? Then Corey (Rusk, owner and operator of Touch & Go) says, ‘Hey, I want to do this reissue thing’ and it sort of progressed organically from there.”
So how about this time around? With no product to push, new or old, what was the impetus for everyone to hit the boards again? Without hesitation, McNeilly proclaims “They (the Day For Night Festival in Houston, Texas) offered us a lot of money [laughs]!” He briefly backtracks and sounds completely magnanimous in his explanation. “It’s not like it’s all about the money. I don't want to suggest that. Normally we have offers come in and then they sort of go nowhere. But we don't want to do this unless we can present these songs with the energy and the presence they need.” He continues, “We don't want to go up there and be the nice guys just sort of shaking our heads. We didn't want to present ourselves like that, so we had to ask ourselves, ‘Can we do this?!’ Fortunately for us, it was never hard to play together. We always had a very easy chemistry between us, both personally and as musicians. Our recent rehearsals helped to reassure us all that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves [laughs].”
So if this is indeed the final resuscitation of the mighty Jesus Lizard, was it all worth it? “Absolutely!” McNeilly declares without pause. “We really identified with each other and had a rapport that was fun. We all felt like brothers. We started sleeping on floors and traveling in a really shitty van across the country. I think we went through 3 or 4 vehicles [laughs]. We’d just beat them all to hell. But we worked hard for what we got. When we were doing it, there were no cell phones, no Internet. It was the tail end of having to do everything manually.”
Perhaps just realizing he might be misrepresenting himself as bitter or jaded, he quickly adds, “And just to clarify, NONE of that is me complaining [laughs]!”
[All Photos by Joshua Black Wilkins]