David Yow is an actor, musician, and artist living in Los Angeles, CA. Throughout the 80's and 90's, he became well known as the vocalist for both Scratch Acid and the Jesus Lizard, both excellent rock bands by any measure. Through consistently acclaimed recordings and the relentless touring of a high energy and tight, bombastic live show, the Jesus Lizard’s hard work paid off and they won the hearts of many. David’s lyrical narratives, vocal delivery and onstage persona remain legendary to this day. During this time, while living in Chicago, David started acting in a handful of films like Jim Sikora’s Walls in the City. The Jesus Lizard called it quits in 1999, and within a few years he relocated to L.A. to focus on acting, while briefly joining the still active Qui, collaborating with a number of musicians, and releasing a book of cat themed artwork. He has acted in a number of projects to date, including I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore which won Best Picture at Sundance in 2017, and David Robert Mitchell’s (It Follows) recently released Under the Silver Lake. It was great catching up with David over the phone for a couple of hours as we discussed his careers in music and film, the sporadic live reenactments of the Jesus Lizard, his current tour as the vocalist for Flipper, why he hates pelicans, and of course, coffee.
Hi David, You’re David Yow.
Um, yes, Ben!
Thanks so much for taking some time to Spill The Beans. Could we start with you telling us a bit about yourself?
OK, I’m an Air Force brat who’s lived all over the world, I speak a little bit of German, I went to art school after college but I didn’t finish, got into the punk rock and did that for about thirty years, and now I’m enjoying a cup of coffee in the Los Angeles rain.
I’d bet most people know you because of your involvement with Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard, but you’ve been involved in other bands both before and after. Can we get a timeline of these bands?
Oh, gosh. Well, I played bass in a punk rock band in Austin, Texas called Toxic Shock, and very briefly I was in a band that we called Suck Your Mother’s Dick or The Beatles, and that was with Felix Griffin who went on to play drums for D.R.I. I think we only played two shows, and it wasn’t very good. Then we formed Scratch Acid, did that for 5 or 6 years or something and we broke up; I think in 1987. In 1988 Duane Denison, David Wm. Sims (also in Scratch Acid) and I started the Jesus Lizard in Austin, and kinda blew it off when David and I moved to Chicago, starting it back up again the next year. Then, we broke up in 1999. I moved to L.A. and I was in a band for a little while called Qui, a three-piece band that was guitar, drums, and vocals. There was no bass or keyboards or accordion or triangle or anything like that.
Scratch Acid, photo by Pat Blashill. (L-R) David Yow, Rey Washam, David Wm. Sims, Brett Bradford.
I’ve done some collaborations, recorded with The Melvins, Helmet, Alexander Hacke, Geronimo, Ventura, and Model/Actress. I’ve played live with Flipper, The Butthole Surfers, Breadwinner, and some other stuff.
You mentioned that you’ve performed with Flipper, and I recently saw that you will be doing so again. Can we talk about that?
Yeah, yeah! I’ll be doing three shows with Flipper in April, in Los Angeles at the Regent Theater, in Long Beach at Felix’s, and in San Diego at the Casbah.
Additional Flipper shows were announced after we spoke. More dates available below for our European readers.
Are you guys old friends, or how did this come together in the first place?
I didn’t know those guys at all. About three-and-a-half years ago, Helios Creed was playing under the name of Chrome in Los Angeles, and he had me come up and sing one of their songs that the Jesus Lizard had covered. Steven DePace from Flipper happened to be in the audience at the time, and they were going to be doing three shows in Italy, but Bruce Loose who was singing for them kind of didn’t want to, and had too many issues with back pain and other kinds of stuff. So, they were in the market for a singer and Steve told me they were thinking of Keith Morris, Ian Mackaye, Moby, or me. He said that when he saw me do the song with Chrome, he said “Well, let’s get David to do it!”
When they asked me if I would sing for Flipper, Jesus Christ, I didn’t fuckin’ hesitate. I mean, my god, what an honor. That’s like Queen for a day. I mean, I get to sing with Flipper? Songs like Sacrifice and Love Canal? I felt like a silverback gorilla, I could’ve killed anything.
That was so much fun doing that. three-and-a-half years ago, we only did 11 shows… Three in Italy and, um, what’s eleven minus three?
Eight? Eight in the United States.
The Jesus Lizard has been playing shows again after several years. How has that been, and do you expect more to come?
Well, when the possibility of the first one came about in 2009, Barry (who ran the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival,) had asked us to do a reunion show and play at Minehead in England. Then our booking agent said “Let’s think about it and possibly add some more shows”, so we added some more shows and did that.
That first show in England was one of the weirdest experiences of my life because it was so, so emotional. It was something we never thought would happen, and then it was happening, and I was really, really scared, very nervous, and I just didn’t know what it was gonna be like.
It was such a fuckin’ blast. It was SO much fun.
I think right before we went on, I said to Ellen (my girlfriend) “Ya know, I’m probably not gonna go in the audience”, and before the vocals came in on the first song I was shirtless in the audience. I couldn’t help myself, it was so much fun.
So, all the reenactment shows we’ve done have been a complete blast. I love those guys, and it’s great to be with them. I have some difficulty doing more shows ‘cause we’re not offering anything new, and it’s generally done because these people are waving a whole lot of money in our faces. That was never the impetus when we were really a band, you know? So it’s been weird for me, but I’ve been placated by friends that have said we’re making a whole lot of people happy. When we did those shows last September, at one point in Philadelphia they turned the lights on the crowd, and it was just this huge sea of smiling faces. And, uh… that made me feel great. So, I figure all right, if they’re gonna pay us five hundred million dollars to do a show and make people smile, then that’s OK.
As far as anything else, I don’t know. I’ve finally learned to quit saying "No." It’s very possible that we’ll play again, I don’t know. I think it’s lightly possible that we would ever write something, but I don’t think that’ll happen.
The Jesus Lizard, then and now. Top photo (1991) courtesy of Touch & Go Records, bottom photo (2018) by Joshua Black Wilkins (L-R) David Wm. Sims, Duane Denison, David Yow, Mac McNeilly.
I know you guys have always been considered very professional as a touring rock band. How has touring changed for you as a band from the 90's to today?
Well, when we were a band in the 90’s, anything we did in the states was driving from town to town in a van, or very often we’d have two vans. All of this reenactment stuff we’ve done has been flying from town to town, with the exception of some closer towns, and we’d drive, but it’s almost strictly all flying. The schedules have been far more lax than we were accustomed to in the 90's when we’d play sixteen nights in a row, have a travel day, and then play twelve nights in a row, then have a day off kind of thing. So, that’s been merciful.
Yeah, I did notice that your shows were mostly clustered around weekends.
YES. Yes, they were.
The "on the ground" experience I’ve had; if you’re on the highway now in the United States, eating is now much more of a problem than it used to be. There used to be lots of great Mom & Pop type places you could pull over at and sometimes they’d become your favorites when you were in that part of the country. Now, those are largely gone and the best place to eat is like Starbucks, ya know?
What are your relationships within the Jesus Lizard like now compared to before?
Yeah, we get along perfectly. Outside of whenever we would converge in Nashville and practice and then play whatever shows, we don’t talk very often on the phone or anything. David has been out here a couple times to visit. We don’t keep in touch on a daily or weekly basis the way regular friends do, but our mutual love for each other is enormous.
From your years and years of touring, what are some experiences that stand out to you?
There’s a million, but once we had a few nights off in London, and Miller or some other beer company was sponsoring this thing where you buy tickets for a show, but you don’t even know who’s playing. I was with some rock star friend who was dating a model, and we went to this show, and Hole and The Cure were playing. It was just completely ridiculous and not very good, but there was a whole lot of cocaine involved. A LOT of cocaine. A whole bunch. A whole lot of it. I was smoking then, and I go back to the hotel at whatever time it was, and my Zippo lighter was out of gas. All I wanted was a cigarette. So, there was some wine in my room and I poured a bit of it on the desktop to see if my Zippo would spark it, and it didn’t work. But, I had some aftershave, and I put that in the divot on the toilet tank, sparked it with my lighter and it lit up, and I chain smoked about five cigarettes.
Did your breath smell like a man’s face?
Another time we were driving in Florida, and I was in the passenger seat of the van with my arm out the window. Immediately after I exclaimed what a beautiful day it was, a pelican overhead covered my entire arm, shoulder and like half the windshield in pelican shit. They eat nothing but fish, so it was like salt water/fish pelican shit. That was horrible! I’ve always hated pelicans ever since then.
Sometimes I’d be a little worse for the wear in the morning than the other guys, but Duane very often would be sort of motherly and he’d get me some breakfast or something. Brendan does a great impression of me getting in the van in Europe all cross-eyed and whatever, and Duane handing me half an egg and cheese sandwich. I was like “Oh man, thanks! Yes! This is the perfect thing!” Then, I took a bite, and spit it out saying “But not right now!”
Similarly, any experiences from recording?
Particularly in the old days, I always drank a lot, being weaned on the punk rock in Texas. We called it “drunk rock” more than we called it punk rock, because that was just what you did. You would drink a lot and do your stuff. So the first few records that we recorded with Steve Albini, he would also encourage me to drink at recordings. When we were recording the album HEAD, after being in the studio a few days, we came in one day and there was a list on the bulletin board of what had been recorded and what hadn’t. The song Pastoral was checked off as if we had recorded that, and I said “No, no, we haven’t done that one yet,” and they all said “Yeah, we have.” I said “Well, I haven’t sung that one yet,” and they said “Yes, you have.” They played the recording for me, and I had absolutely NO recollection whatsoever of doing that song. And you can tell! You listen to that and go “Man, that guy is shitfaced.”
Another time, we were recording at Chicago Recording Company for the album SHOT, that was recorded by GGGarth Richardson. R Kelly had been in there before we had, and had just finished a session. He had left a personal gymnasium in one of the rooms. Weights and all that kind of stuff. So, we kept getting phone calls, several phone calls for R Kelly, just friends of his or whoever, and we got kind of ticked off about it because it was interfering with our work. So, GGGarth, a Canadian guy who stutters, started answering the phone and saying that R Kelly had gone off to become a Buddha. He thought that was really funny, but that got back to R Kelly. So he shows up with his posse, we could see them on the security monitor that he was out there with this guy that was the size of a truck. So we had to let them in, and this guy was as big as the door. They didn’t get violent with us or hurt us or anything, but Duane and I were shooting pool in one of the rooms and R Kelly was in there on the phone with the owner of the studio saying something along the lines of “Man, I’ve been good to you, and I’ve made you so much money and I got you this pool table and stuff.” Then he looked at Duane and said “And now you got these Anthony Perkins looking motherfuckers up in here?!?”
That was pretty funny.
What are you listening to these days?
Is that it?
Oh! Um, my boss telling me what to do, or Ellen saying “This is delicious,” or the hot tub, or me farting, or the sound of my shoes on the floor that sound like I’m a woman walking along…
Um, any music?
You’ve also been acting for many years as well, and have been involved in several films. What do you feel you get out of acting that is creatively similar to your being in bands, and what do you get out of it that is different?
That’s a really good question. I think for me personally, outside of them both being artistic endeavors, there are more differences than similarities. At least with the music that I’ve been involved with, I pretty much always had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever and however I wanted to do it. Particularly live, you know? I could sing the lyrics that were supposed to be in the song, or not. Make them up, or change them or whatever, completely free reign. Whereas with acting, even if there’s improv involved, there are some rules that you have to follow, and certain parameters where you have to say what you’re supposed to say as you’re picking up that thing and walking walking over there, and you know, quit choking her as you’re saying “Thanks Mom” or whatever.
What have been your favorite projects to work on as an actor, and what can we expect from you in the near future?
I think I’ve enjoyed every project I’ve gotten to act in. Definitely I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore with director Macon Blair, and the cast and crew that were a part of that thing. I was in Portland for a month shooting that, and it was one of the very best experiences of my life. I have made actual friends like Jane Levy. She’s an actual good friend and we talk often. Robert Longstreet, who is also in that movie, I talk to him all the time, as well as Macon. Even Elijah Wood to a degree. Melanie Lynskey and her husband Jason Ritter, they have us over at the house semi-regularly and we all play a game called Mafia.
So, I Don’t Feel At Home… was a blast, and it won Best Picture at Sundance. That was just amazing, because Macon had emailed everyone quite sometime before to say that Netflix had decided they were not going to do a theatrical release, and they weren’t entering it to any festivals. So, we’re all going “What the?” And then about a week later he emails and says that they had changed their minds and it was going to premiere at Sundance.
We all bought tickets to go, and we watched the movie and had a great time. Then I came home, and a couple days later I got the call that it had won Best Picture! My God, I just freaked out. Ellen and I were laughing and crying like crazy. I mean, this puts it in the same league as Beasts Of The Southern Wild.
You know, speaking of Sundance, I was born in the area and spent my early childhood there.
Ooooh! I didn't know that.
Yep, a real mountain man.
I have a lot of memories of hearing a lot of John Denver when I was a little kid.
Oh, cool. I like John Denver!
There are like a handful of his songs that make me cry because I love them so much.
Is one of them Calypso?
I can’t say I know that one.
WHAT?!?!?! Are you serious?!?
Oh my god, you have to! It’s his tribute to Jacques Cousteau! God, I love that song!
So, there’s a movie coming out now called Under The Silver Lake that I have a small but important part in, and that was really really fun. It was really fun to work with David Robert Mitchell, who directed It Follows. This is his next movie, and I guess I can say that it follows It Follows.
We got to see it, and it’s a really cool movie, I highly recommend that everybody go check it out.
David as the Homeless King in Under The Silver Lake.
Also, just recently, I shot a movie in Santa Fe which is a Netflix feature called Rattlesnake, and uhhhh, that was pretty good. A movie we shot a while back that was written and directed by my friend Peter Bolte, who I think is from St. Louis but lives in Brooklyn, called All Roads Lead, that’s on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty good, particularly when you consider the budget which I think was possibly less than ten thousand dollars.
I was in a horror anthology called Southbound that was really, really fun to shoot. There’s another one coming out called Dinner In America that I’m in…
There’s High & Outside, which is a really amazing movie in that it’s a very good example of how important editing is. The director is, by trade, an editor. So, that’s cool because you know that he got all of the shots that he’s definitely going to need, but the first iteration of it kind of wasn’t very good. We saw it and were like “Well, you know… that’s OK. We tried really hard and had a good time.” Then, they gave it to this other guy to re-edit, and he made it into a fuckin’ real movie! You laugh and you cry, and you leave going “God, that was a real good movie!” So, that’s my little commercial for editing, which is far too unsung.
You are also a painter, an illustrator and a Photoshop toucher upper. Wanna talk about that stuff?
Well, I didn’t finish college, but I was a fine arts major. My plan at the time was that I was going to teach art at a university, so I could be around it all the time and it would be a cool environment, but then punk rock came along and I didn’t do any of that. I continued to draw and stuff, and I also have a fair amount of photographic experience, so having a fair understanding of light and shadow and reflections and stuff were helpful when Photoshop came along. I got Photoshop version 2 before it had layers, those came along in version 3, and I’ve been fucking with it ever since. Now, it’s what I do for a living; photo retouching.
You’ve been doing that for quite awhile now.
Yep, yep. Five days a week, except my job is really cool if I have to do whatever… a movie, or go talk in Portland or do some shows. They always just go “Alright, see you when you get back.”
Nice, so you can be like “Hey I need to go shoot a movie”, and then say “Oh yeah, it won Best Picture at Sundance.”
What would they say? “Well, just make sure you’re not late next week.”
Chuckles all around.
So, last year you threw out the first pitch at a Dodgers game.
I was wondering how that came to be and what that was like for you?
Dodger Stadium is I guess, kind of sort of in Chinatown, which is adjacent to Echo Park. Maybe it’s in Echo Park, I’m not sure. I used to live in Silver Lake, which is right next to Echo Park, which I frequented because of friends living there, restaurants I liked to go to and stuff like that. The Dodgers were having their second annual “Echo Park Day,” and they decided to have some local business and business owners represent on that day. Ronda and Rob, who run an outstanding place called Masa and are Chicagoans. They have a deep dish pizza there that’s as close to anything like Lou Malnati’s that you can find and they were there for this thing. The artist Shepard Fairey lives in Echo Park, and they wanted him to do it, but he couldn’t for some reason, he had something to do that day, so he suggested me. So when they announced me, they said “David Yow: Actor, musician, and Echo Park regular.”
When I found out about this, Ellen and I would get up in the morning and go to this baseball field near the house and practice pitching. It’s really, really easy to throw a ball that far. It’s 51 feet , but it’s not that big of a deal. The difficult part is being accurate. I just wanted the catcher to catch it. I didn’t throw it as hard as I had been at practice, and I didn’t do the wind up as fast as I had been at practice. I kind of slowed it down, and just threw it to the catcher… and he caught it. So, that was that.
So, you’ve probably played enough times in front of enough people, that it wasn’t an intimidation factor for you?
Well, it was so surreal, I mean, Dodger Stadium, and its way before the game. The stands are maybe a quarter full and nobody’s paying attention, they don’t give a fuck. At all. I’ve been there with music, too. Playing shows, thinking “these people don’t care.”
Do you know Shepard Fairey, or did he just recommend you?
Yeah, I know Shepard. When I first met him was at a restaurant we like a lot in Echo Park. I heard a familiar voice, and was thinking “That’s Jello Biafra.” I turn around and there’s Jello, and I asked “What the fuck are you doing here?” and he said (in an impressive Jello Biafra voice) “Well, I’m hanging with Shepard because he’s going to do this record cover for me!” So, that’s when I met Shepard Fairey.
You like coffee?
Was that a question?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. I had coffee today.
What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
Um, I'm not a fan of really, really dark coffee. I'm not a fan of Starbuck's coffee because to me it always tastes bitter and burnt. I know a lot of folks like the bitter stuff, uh not for me, no sir. I'm a medium roast feller.
How do you make coffee at home?
A Mr. Coffee coffee maker.
If you're out and you grab a coffee, what do you like to get?
Well, I'm sort of off the dairy, so if I'm at home I use the Trader Joe's coconut creamer, but if I'm out an they don't have it I'll just use almond milk or half & half or something. I don't drink it black. Every now and again I do, but I'm just not burly enough to drink it like that.
Do you feel like coffee is essential to get through the day, or in your creative endeavors?
For me it's not. I mean, I know a lot of people that if they don't have their coffee, their day is ruined. I'm not one of those. I like coffee, and when I'm at work I drink coffee all day long, but that's because I don't want water or anything else.
Thanks again for doing this, David. Have you heard any good jokes lately?
Yes! I'm not sure if I read this or if I heard it, but I laughed for at least five minutes.
I remember the last thing my grandfather said before he kicked the bucket. "How far do you think I can kick this bucket?"
The Jesus Lizard - "Nub"
Check out David's acting reel here.
Banner photo by Ben Stas.
Flipper dates in Europe:
7.30 Nottingham UK Rescue Rooms
7.31 Bristol UK The Exchange
8.1 Manchester UK Rebellion Festival
8.2 Glasgow UK CCA
8.3 Leeds UK Brudenell
8.4 London UK Garage
8.5 Gent Belgium DOK
8.6 Amsterdam Holland Paradiso Noord
8.8 Aachen Germany Musikbunker
8.9 Karlsruhe Germany Hackerei
8.10 Bologna Italy Freakout
8.11 Milan Italy Magnolia Open Air
8.12 Padova Italy Anfiteatro del Venda
8.13 Vienna Austria Chelsea
8.15 Bielefeld Germany Forum
8.16 Hamburg Germany Hafenklang
8.17 Helsinki Finland Kuudes Linja
8.20 Berlin Germany Bi Nuu