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By Observer Staff
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In 1988, after both groups split up, Albini asked Sims to move to Chicago and join his new band, Rapeman. It was a short-lived project, thankfully: Workers at the record-pressing factory refused to handle a product with such a name, and Rapeman broke up the following year. Sims, now bandless, brought Yow to Chicago and the two formed the core of the Jesus Lizard. The band landed on Chicago's premier indie label, Touch and Go, which Albini had long called home. Albini served as producer for the Jesus Lizard's 1989 debut, Pure.
This was well before the clean-shorn, bespectacled Albini became one of the hottest producers in the music business, though he claims he only records bands. At the time, he was an indie purist and a merciless critic of major labels; he was also known, then as now, as arrogant, hostile, overbearing, and unpleasant. To this day, most bands employ Albini 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 sell out! and Albini labeled them traitors to the indie cause, 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 newest Bush album, Razorblade Suitcase.
"A larger budget" is the only difference between the indies and the majors, Yow says of the leap. "Which allows us the luxury of spending more time in the studio. I think on Touch and Go, we recorded and mixed Down 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 stagedive like a preteen punk rocker, but he no longer does the "Tight and Shiny." He's even thinking about his second career: Having designed most of the record sleeves for his albums (Yow was once an 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 perform June 5 at Trees. Stanford Prison Experiment and Caulk open.