POSSESSED David Yow (left) established the hallmarks of his approach in Scratch Acid: the caustic shrieks, the stupored cackling and gurgling, the idiosyncratic turn of phrase.
In general, people who care about music make too big a deal about the notion of talent. Well, let's amend that; after all, I wouldn't want to give the impression that someone like David Yow — vocalist and front person extraordinaire — is talentless, because he's not. Far from it. But let's just say that there are some people who wake up in the springtime of their youth and realize that they have music bursting from their fingertips and lips, and then there are people who have had to claw their way through the crags and crevices of their limitations to find the genius within. And Mr. Yow is the latter.
On the verge of this fall's reunion tour of his first band, mid-'80s Austin punk-freaks Scratch Acid (who come to the Paradise on November 9), I asked him how he approached taking over the mic when the band formed. His pithy description speaks to the humor and humility that have always been the counterbalance to his wild frontman antics: "I guess my approach was kind of like MacGyver. In the sense of, 'Well, I've got a piece of shit and some rubber bands, let's try to make it sound like a song!' "
Yow is mostly known for having fronted the Jesus Lizard, the Chicago-via-Texas group that catapulted from underground renown to a major-label stint in the '90s, with its beguiling mix of machine-like precision pummeling and drunken stumbling chaos. But the hallmarks of Yow's approach in the Lizard were established by the time Scratch Acid dissolved in 1987: the caustic shrieks, the stupored cackling and gurgling, and the way Yow could take a strange and wordy turn of phrase and spin it around the churning riffs and beats until it seemed that he was inventing his own rock vocal idioms. "I was just working with what I had," Yow says, "but it was also part of a deliberate effort on the part of the band to not be straightahead punk."
Straightahead they weren't, although they kicked enough ass to dispel those who would discount them as art-damaged new-wavers. Yow's unique vocal meanderings were neatly detonated by the precision mayhem of bassist David Wm. Sims (who went on to be Yow's comrade in the Jesus Lizard), guitarist Brett Bradford, and especially the tribal churning of drummer Rey Washam.
Yow weaved tales of the fantastical and grotesque, from the love-as-gore insanity of "Cannibal" (from the band's homonymous 1984 EP) to the waking nightmare of "Mary Had a Little Drug Problem." His bent storytelling approach was inspired in part by Mark Todd, a teacher of his at Southwest Texas State who showed him the highbrow of lowbrow. "I didn't lose my virginity until I was in college, and Mark was a teacher of mine who taught me how to talk to girls, how to do a drawing with cool composition, and when I was a freshman, he'd say strange things, like how Jesus started VD and that he used to fuck sheep. Just strange stuff like that. . . . I didn't, you know, believe in God, but it still felt like dangerous territory."
: Music Features
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