Here’s our interview with Chris (Cee) Flemmons from Baptist Generals. Their album Jackleg Devotional To The Heart comes out May 21st on Sub Pop Records.
NT: It’s been quite a while since the band’s last album, what took so long to get Jackleg Devotional To The Heart out?
CF: Well it wasn’t so much that we shelved a 2005 attempt at an album, but more that life got in the way for a while after 2005. In Denton I got involved in a dispute with an out-of-town developer that was going to tear down some old buildings in town. Several of us organized against the project and by the time that got resolved — poof! — 2 and a half years had passed. And before that time I had already slated myself to work on starting a music festival here, so that took over life for another 3 and a half years after that. At this point, really glad to be releasing music again.
NT: Where does the inspiration for the album title come from?
CF: I don’t know. It’s a self-deprecating title like earlier releases. In 2005 I wanted to call the album Revolutionary Modern Heart but something in my mind changed since that time.
NT: The word heart is used many times on the album, is this a romantic record?
CF: I’d have a hard time using the word “romantic”, but it’s definitely abstracted scenes, feelings, and pictures from what originates as a romantic experience or experiences. And I don’t like to explain songs ever so that’s enough.
NT: The band moved away from an amplified sound to more of an acoustic sound for shows. Can we expect a return to a more amplified sound on the upcoming tour?
CF: Yes. The live sets with the full band will be very loud and bombastic when compared to what I consider the sometimes subdued nature of this album. It will rock performed live.
NT: The music scene in Denton has really seemed to develop over the past few years, what do you think has driven this?
CF: Our town has always had very young energy. But I would also like to think new interest is the influence of a lot of people in Denton that tried to stay here more recently despite a less-than-ideal economic situation, realizing this scene and town was worth their time, and they worked to get it more attention.
I got here in 1987 and by comparison, indeed, the town had a music reputation for a long time before that, but the press hadn’t snowballed like it did since after the mid 2000s. “Snowballed” is relative. Some of us saw something coming in the late 90s when national music publications started writing about Denton bands without adding the “,TX”. It felt like perhaps we were becoming an Olympia or Athens in U.S. Music. Big thinking.
These days, being 250 miles from an entertainment mecca like Austin doesn’t help at all because so much influence/publicity/whatever concentrates its dollars on what happens down there–even though entertainment there is mostly shipped in from someplace else for the festival of the week. And meanwhile amazing bands come and go in our town and our well-intentioned regional press misses it often these days due to all the difficulties regional press has just keeping themselves from shuttering themselves (fairly certain that comment has NWT’s sympathy). Right now while Baptist Generals is getting some attention, I hope we can get more writers to come visit Denton.
NT: There are a number of interesting sounding instruments on the album. Was it interesting experimenting with all these new sounds?
CF: Hopefully whatever is happening is always new sounds, right? Quite frankly I was a lot more involved in the weirdness factor for our last album because I was in charge of the production that time. This record I just wanted to show up, sing, finish up lyrics, and feel it. Jason Reimer brought weird on this one in his co-production with Stuart Sikes, his guitar work across the record, and drum stuff (opening on “Floating”), and Peter Salisbury with his small, broken electronics on damn near everything, and Paul Slavens with his Radio Shack Moog where it was valuable. I was just excited to do a feedback-y cello thing on the beginning of “Broken Glass” on my nylon string guitar through my big solid-state combo Ampeg bass amp. Anyway, folk music is a hard genre to labor in (has it all been done?, none of us wear large plaid or suspenders || WHICH NEEDS TO END NOW!!), but the tastes of the people in this band–um– we all just listen to totally weird shit and hopefully we break out of that folky-bullshit mold. At least for some listening peoples who would choose to hear us–hopefully it is different.
NT: I had to ask about the song title Clitorpus Christi, what does it mean?
CF: You don’t know what a clitorpus is? Go ask your moms . . .
NT: Which five records are still influencing you these days?
TRIO — Self-Titled:
Stephan Remmler’s insanely great German band, that in the U.S. (can only speak of U.S.) most of us only heard that fucking DA-DA-DA single in the early 80s. It’s the same band 90s Volkswagon-zeitgeist Fahrvergnugen ruined on commercials made for the Superbowl. And then the rights-holder label released a 90s TRIO compilation album (wasn’t bad but wasn’t the original out-of-print original recording). The original record is so good. Recorded in a barn, which fits my sensibilities. I was in high school working in a chain record store the first time I discovered their album in an import cassette section. I wore the cassette out. And then in my early 20s I was listening to the Memphis band Oblivians, and I hear them cover a TRIO song on their record Soul Food. And I’m like NO WONDER I love Oblivians!! Generals will probably cover the TRIO record in its entirety very soon, and we certainly won’t do it justice, but at least more people will know about this incredible album afterwards. Great, great music. Hope you can go find an original copy.
Double Nickels on the Dime by Minutemen:
Brazilian Classics 4 – David Byrne Series : Tom Ze:
It was 2004-5 when Jason Reimer turned me on to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop retrospective maestro of Tropicália Tom Ze . Like your own better friends that actually might have a grasp of what you like that take precious time to turn you on to stuff, Jay said, “I think you might totally get into this”. He was so fucking right. And Byrne was equally right about sharing Ze’s music with North America. Since then I’ve bought everything I can find by Tom Ze on vinyl or whatever form available, and it is all masterful, fascinating, and never boring. But this particular one is a beautiful arrangement of songs and is a great place to linger, or begin. Go get it!
Nina Simone Live at Ronnie Scott’s:
You will have to steal this 1984 audio recording unless you want to spend $120 or something for a used copy on Amazon. Shame. I’m also now aware the live performance video (transferred from good old VHS) is on Youtube. Somewhere. Go look, it’s wonderful. Nina is my biggest influence at this point probably. Total freak-master freaky-freak genius in action.
ZNR — Barricade 3:
Another one hard to find because of bad distribution but well worth the effort. It’s late 70s French Avant/Prog and these composers Zazou/Racaille deconstruct Satie and DeBussey, mixing piano, guitar, vocals, winds, strings with a Wendy Carlos, Gil-Scott Heron, Raymond Scott influence everywhere. Barricade 3 is a masterpiece, yet hard to find. And if you don’t think it had some early influence on our latest record (and I have a suspicion it will influence our future work even more) you should listen again.