Balancing the Scales

This was well before the clean-shorn, bespectacled Albini became one of the hottest record-producers in the music business. At the time he was an indie purist and a merciless critic of major labels. He was also known, then as now, as being arrogant, hostile, overbearing, and unpleasant. To this day most bands that employ Albini do so only once. But the Jesus Lizard used him on seven consecutive albums and EPs.

That is, until the band signed to Capitol Records late in 1995. Fans cried "sellout!" but it was a moot point. The Jesus Lizard was just one on a long list of indie artists that had joined a major label. The band's Capitol debut, Shot (1996), utilized the high-powered production of GGGarth Richardson, who had already worked wonders for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. The same year Shot appeared, Albini served as producer on the Bush album, Razorblade Suitcase.

"A larger budget," according to Yow, is the only difference between the indies and the majors. "Which allows us the luxury of spending more time in the studio," he adds. "I think on Touch and Go, we recorded and mixed Down [1994] in nine days, and that's the longest we'd ever spent on a record. And Blue took a little over seven weeks. So it's kind of nice to have that kind of time."

Yow claims that Capitol hasn't pressured the band to tone down its sound or produce hit singles. "Oh, they would love to have them," he says. "But I told them, 'Good luck! I don't think it's going to happen. You heard us when you signed us.'"

The Jesus Lizard hasn't lost its edge, but it has grown up a bit. The music still packs a punch ("Cold Water" is as nightmarish as anything from the band's past), but the sound is less raw and more focused. In concert Yow continues to stage-dive like a preteen punk rocker, but he no longer does the "Tight and Shiny." He's even thinking about a second career: Having designed most of the record sleeves for his albums (Yow was a onetime art student), he foresees becoming a graphic designer and visual artist. He has a wife and a house in Indiana and thinks he might "drop" a kid soon, though not until after the band calls it quits.

"Nothing lasts forever, except dragons and the Rolling Stones," says Yow. "We signed a three-record deal with Capitol, and now we've done two, so I'm sure we'll do at least one more. After that I don't know what." He feigns a world-weary tone and says, "You know, we're all getting pretty old. I'm tired most of the time."

Yow brings up one last lung-cookie and muses, "Well, now that I'm up, I guess I'll go get some coffee." Even if this grizzled Lizard is getting ready to have its last blast, it'll certainly do it in style.

The Jesus Lizard performs with the Stanford Prison Experiment at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, May 29, at Respectable Street Cafe, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $9. Call 561-832-9999.

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