Well they made us wait awhile, but now Boss Hog are back with a vengeance.
After a 17-year hiatus, they’ve been out on the road again to promote Brood X – the long-awaited follow-up to Whiteout.
Still buzzing after a typically incendiary European tour, the band’s married couple Cristina Martinez and Jon Spencer tell Matt Catchpole how Donald Trump’s election has added a new dimension to the protest songs on the album.
So why wait so long to put out a new LP?
“Life kept getting in the way,” they explain. “Other bands, jobs, children.”
When the time came, however, they say it was relatively simple to hook up again with fellow Boss Hog All Stars – Hollis Queens (drums, vocals), Jens Jurgensen (bass) and Mickey Finn (keyboards).
After a nine-year break, the band began playing sporadic live shows in 2009, before returning in earnest last year with the Brood Star EP.
Though often regarded as the focal point, Jon and Cristina are quick to salute the input of the other members.
“[They contribute] a lot. Songs are written together with the entire band.”
Boss Hog first came screaming out of the traps in 1989, after being formed, so the story goes, to fill a vacant slot at the legendary CBGB’s.
Pioneering a stripped down provocative dirty punk-blues sound they delightfully christened “pig fuck” – the band quickly gained notoriety on the New York underground scene.
Riotous live performances, including rumoured on stage nudity from both Cristina and Jon, only added to their reputation.
So were those naked shows truth or urban myth?
“Probably myth,” they shoot back. “But we were very naked this tour.”
The pair are buoyant about their European shows.
“The tour went very well,” they say. “We enjoyed it almost too much.”
They’re rather less enthusiastic about the new US president, who Cristina dubbed “our new dictator” at their February show at London’s Hackney Oslo (see EP review).
The couple took part in the anti-Trump Woman’s March in January, a response to the president’s well-publicised derogatory remarks about women and his views on abortion and other issues.
Describing the march, one of series of events across America, “as a very powerful and moving experience,” the pair are brutal in their assessment of the man they call “President Agent Orange”.
When I ask if they agree with Queens of the Stone Age, who recently called Trump “an objectifying, barf inducing, fascist, clown penis,” they cheerfully chuck in a few insults of their own.
“They left out the part about the tiny hands. And that he can’t read,” they say, before alluding to unsubstantiated reports about the Commander in Chief’s alleged proclivities which can’t be repeated here.
Boss Hog have also given a track (Save Our Soul) to the anti-Trump compilation album Battle Hymns, which also features songs by Stephen Malkmus and members of Superchunk and Sleater-Kinney among others.
“We were asked to participate by the organisers Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes,” Jon and Cristina explain. “As long-time fans of Quasi and foes of the [then] president-elect we were eager to lend a hand.”
Cristina describes many of the tracks on Brood X as protest songs and concedes they’ve been given added force by events in her home country.
“The songs were written well before the election of November 2016, but have indeed become more resonant in light of recent events,” she remarks.
Asked who they were backing in the election, Jon and Cristina dismiss the question as irrelevant in the light of Trump’s victory.
“We are in the people camp,” they say. “We all must stick together to help each other and fight back against these racist, sexist, xenophobic, conservative forces.”
Recognised right from their first recording – the Steve Albini-produced Drinkin’ Lechin’ and Lyin’ EP – as an act to watch, Boss Hog had made just one full album Cold Hands before major label Geffen came calling with a five-album deal.
The band released one eponymous album for the label, but Geffen passed on the follow-up Whiteout, which was released in 2000 on In The Red Records.
Whiteout was much admired and both Jon and Cristina remain pretty sanguine about their Geffen experience.
“We were free to take [Whiteout] to another label. We had a good contract. No hard feelings.”
Then came that long break, as Cristina took time out from the music scene, partly to spend more time with the couple’s son Charlie, who shows little sign of joining the family business.
“He seems to be following his own muse.”
Guitarist-vocalist Jon remained active, of course, with his own Blues Explosion and Heavy Trash, among other collaborations.
The antithesis of the solitary songwriter “I usually never write alone,” he’s inspired to write by, and with, the musicians around him.
Influenced by the “intensity and the possibilities” of bands like Swans and The Butthole Surfers, Cristina first played with Jon in garage outfit Pussy Galore, while still a teenager.
She seems to hearken back to this time on the band’s new track 17, (see below) a hugely atmospheric, haunting tune with an unusual almost polka rhythm.
When I mention that it sounds like a departure from their usual full throttle sound, Jon and Cristina say the change of style was not deliberate.
“It was an in-studio improvisation, probably late at night, or early in the morning,” they explain. “We were not trying – the song found us.”
After nearly 30 years of making music with Boss Hog, they retain a fierce enthusiasm for what they do, citing Billy and Ground Control as tracks to look out for on the new album.
“Despite all the years and all the miles and all the hardships and all the disappointments, the music remains as magical and powerful as ever,” they say.
So what’s this Formula X they sing about on the new album and where can I get some?
“If you have to ask . . .,” is the acid reply.
- Boss Hog’s new album Brood X is due for release via Bronze Rat Records on March 24
- For information on Boss Hog’s US tour dates visit their Facebook page
- Battle Hymns is available through the Quasi band website