Spencer P. Jones, formerly and sometimes of the Beasts of Bourbon, has been living the rock and roll lifestyle many of us can only dream about since before I was even born. He’s had his ups and downs in a number of classic Australian rock bands over the years, from his early days in the Johnnies, through the tumultuous love/hate relationship that is the Beasts of Bourbon and now with his more recent solo material, and work with the Escape Committee.
With a new Beasts of Bourbon box set just released, I talked to Jones about his various projects, new and old, and his… fond memories of the Beasts.
Music Feeds: Hey man, it’s good to get a hold of you. What’s been happening?
SJ: I’ve been doing an album all week with Matt Walker and Crystal Thomas and we kind of finished yesterday. Then we had a rehearsal last night for a couple of shows coming up this weekend, we had to work out how to play the new material live and that kind of stuff. And I didn’t get to sleep till maybe about fuckin’ five thirty, six a.m. this morning. So I had to get on board, go up to St Kilda and borrow somebody’s land line. So, yeah, I’m here, it’s all good.
MF: Now, is it weird to still be doing interviews about the Beasts of Bourbon, and revisiting your time with them?
SJ: No not at all. It’s part and parcel of the course. I ultimately knew that this stuff was gonna get released again and I thought we might have done it album by album. But I’m pretty stoked about the box set thing. For those people who’ve just got one of those CDs and it’s scratched we’re… doing a service for those people.
MF: So what projects are you focusing on at the moment? What takes up most of your time?
SJ: Really just my solo career and then there’s the Escape Committee. It’s about fifty fifty. I do sets on my own and I have a band as well, so those two things have become quite separate things as far as the material I play. I do a few Beasts numbers in my set. I incorporate a few that were of my own composition and are still valid to me, or get frequently requested. I think the most requested ones are probably things like Bad Revisited from Sour Mash (This track is actually from the later release, Black Milk). Or occasionally I’ll pull out Execution Day, if my life depended on it, and people were yelling out for it.
MF: What made you want to go solo?
SJ: ’89. I started working on my solo records as far back as ’89, around the time of Black Milk. I just started writing, though I’d previously seen it as a big daunting task. I started writing songs and I thought ‘this is really personal stuff.’ I couldn’t do it with the Beasts or the Johnnies. I moved down to Melbourne in ’91 with a plan of making a solo album with Ian Rilen and Cassy Green from X as my rhythm section. That became another band called Hell To Pay and I was sort of railroaded into being their lead guitarist as opposed to making a solo record with them backing me. I became their sideman. That kinda took a two year chunk out of my plans. So eventually Hell To Pay folded when Ian and Cassy split up. Then I finally got my solo record done, which came out in 9’3 or ’94.
MF: Do you ever get frustrated having to deal with the business side of things?
SJ: I’m pretty hopeless with all that sort of stuff. I don’t actually have a manager as such. The Beasts don’t exactly have a manager. We have Tex’s manager who does a number of things for us. That side of me is totally hopeless. I delegate to people who know what they’re doing. I make the music that’s on the disc. I create that and the artwork. The rest of it I just get other people to do.
MF: You’ve been a working musician for quite some time now, working on heaps of different projects. Do you ever get stumped, just lost for inspiration?
SJ: Not really. A friend of mine, Mick Blood, singer in the Lime Spiders, we were talking about this one night. He asked me to come down to this big show they were having in Melbourne and do a song with us. They had a fill-in drummer who was Brad Shepherd’s little brother Murray. And he was like “man you fucking playing with all these people, you’ve turned into a musical slut.” I was slightly taken aback because I’m not like that at all you know, there are some people I wouldn’t play with in a million years. But I work with people that I like, who are my friends and we just play music. It is, for me and them, it’s all about making music. There’s a lot of people I’ve worked with over the years cos they’re good, they’re very good.
MF: Was there ever a point where you thought you might wanna do something else or was it always about the music?
SJ: When my son was born I immediately took a day job. I was making a bit of money back then. I took a job in an art shop. It’s not like I ever saw it as something I’d be doing for a long time, it was something to do immediately because I had a kid now. Ultimately I drifted back into playing music and my marriage collapsed of course because of that. She knew the deal with me, that music was the thing.
It really is uplifting, gets you through all the shit and it’s very important in my life and other people’s lives. There are lots of fans who are really passionate about the music of many different artists. I like that in people, when they get really excited about something. I can’t see myself branching off into anything else now. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to think about that now.
MF: Will you be hitting the road any time soon?
SJ: When the album is out. I’m planning a tour of Europe in April.
MF: When you’re on the road, do you still party as hard as you used to?
SJ: I don’t think we’d describe ourselves as party animals. Partying and the Beasts of Bourbon, those two words just don’t go together. There’s a lot of doom and gloom involved with us. We’re more likely to have a violent fist fight than a party. We are quite defiant towards each other. We agree to disagree on a number of issues.
MF: Would you rule out another reunion?
SJ: I wouldn’t rule it out at all. It’s the singer’s call. If he doesn’t want to sing there won’t be a show. If he wants to, there will be a show, or a tour. I think Tex Perkins maybe thinks he’s doing us a favour every time we regroup. That he’s such a big rock star that he’s doing us a favour. I don’t care, I’ve been passionate about this band for twenty five years, I’ve earnt my stripes. I’ve been loyal.
A new Beasts of Bourbon remastered box set containing their first three albums is available now through Inertia. Music Feeds has one to give away here.
Photo by Liz Reed.