During exactly none of the at least 20 Jesus Lizard shows I saw over the course of the ‘90s did I ever imagine that their frontman/moaner/howler-monkey-in-chief David Yow would have a career afterlife as Jimmy the simpleton janitor. But life’s weird.
Since the Jesus Lizard’s demise and in between its occasional reactivations (and a sojourn as a member of Qui), Yow has shifted direction to graphic arts and acting. He’s published books and appeared in films and music videos (someone please remake Corrupt and cast Yow in either lead role already please and thank you), and his latest project combines acting with that version of “singing” that’s his and his alone. He’s a guest vocalist for two songs on the new Dumb Numbers album, Dumb Numbers II, and the star of their new video.
Dumb Numbers is a recording project of Australian (now Los Angelean) filmmaker Adam Harding, who uses a Delaney-and-Bonnie-ish heavy friends approach to music making, recruiting his many, many collaborators from the ranks of the musicians with whom he’s made connections as a videographer. This includes not only Yow, but members of Sebadoh, Cows, Warpaint, Melvins, Dinosaur Jr., Best Coast, and Einstürzende Neubauten. Harding neatly avoids a too-many-cooks scenario, and the music coheres really well. It’s difficult to pigeonhole his sound, though certainly ‘90s underground rock figures heavily in the mix. Stoner rock, doom, post-metal, and shoegaze are all clear influences, but Harding goes in more for hooks and pop structures than those genres, occupying the huge sonic space of a band like Isis while avoiding the ponderousness that can sometimes submerge that sort of music.
Which brings us back to Jimmy the janitor. David Yow starred as the character in 2012 for a Harding-directed video by the band Useless Children. The following year, Yow would direct the first Dumb Numbers video, “Redrum,” from the band’s eponymous debut album. And now, Yow has, as mentioned above, joined Dumb Numbers as a guest vocalist on two songs from the band’s second album, and in the new video, released just yesterday, “Unbury the Hatchet.” It follows Jimmy through his surreal daylong failed attempt to go to work—with a wonderful derail to a veterinary clinic waiting room populated with grown men in animal costumes.
Yow and Harding were kind enough to take some time to talk with Dangerous Minds about the video and their collaboration.
DM: OK, I know both of you have directed videos before, which one of you directed “Unbury the Hatchet?”
Adam Harding: I did, I directed, shot and edited it. I had directed a video for a band in Melbourne called Useless Children back in 2012. That was the first thing that David and I ever worked on together, and we just had such a blast making that video, and it was the first appearance of the character “Jimmy.” Jimmy is based on a real person. When I lived in Australia I worked at a printing factory, and Jimmy was the janitor there. He was a simple fellow, and he wasn’t the best janitor in the world but he was a really lovely guy. He didn’t talk much but we bonded over music—I had a boombox and he would kind of get into whatever music I was playing. This was in the mid-‘90s. I played the first Folk Implosion record a lot, and he would dance with his broom and shake his butt. He’d headbang to Sepultura.
David Yow: [laughing] How old was Jimmy?
Harding: He would have been in his early to mid-50s then. So this character is based on Jimmy, and we did this Useless Children video with David doing the character. And over the last four years, often David would do something Jimmy-like to make us laugh, so we had a long time to come up with ideas for Jimmy. It was really really fun to be able to do that finally.
DM: OK, so David, this is obviously not someone you’ve had an opportunity to meet, so how did you develop the character, and what does performing the character mean to you?
Yow: Adam has explained to me about Jimmy. When we shot the Useless Children video, I had done some acting job earlier that day where I’d put grey in my temples, and we just kept that in there, and that became part of it to me. Also he wears a coverall uniform with a badge with his name on it, and just putting on the coverall was helpful in becoming someone else. Adam had described that Jimmy was affable, a really nice guy, not a bad bone in his body, very simple. He doesn’t worry about too much. He might be sort of mentally retarded, and with both of these videos we’ve done, he doesn’t say a word except to talk to his mother in the morning, and you don’t hear him. I’ve been doing a lot of acting in the last few years, and it was really easy to slip into that simple place where Jimmy lives.
Harding: And you put the coveralls on and your belly comes out.
Yow: I’m fat now!
Harding and Yow in “Unbury the Hatchet”
DM: Is the narrative based on anything about the actual Jimmy? Where did that come from?
Harding: It really wasn’t. I can’t remember which ideas came first. At all. I wanted my buddy Bobb from Best Coast to be in it, and he has this kind of bunny-tough persona he does, he has this old dirty bunny costume that he wears when he does solo shows. I wanted Bobb to be in the video, and from there came the gorilla costume, trying to incorporate those. I knew I wanted Jimmy to be going to work and never getting there.
Yow: And just so you and the rest of the world know, the Gorilla is Matt Cronk from Qui.
DM: So I want to talk about the music for a bit. You do something that’s kind of been in the air lately—you’re combining heavy and dreamy, but not in a metal way like Alcest or Deafheaven. You have songs, hooks, and things to grab on to.
Harding: I like heavy stuff like Electric Wizard, but I also really like Grouper, you know, Liz Harris. I would say my vocal treatment is influenced by her. But it’s also the people involved bringing their aesthetics to the music.
DM: How much of a regular lineup do you have vs how much of Dumb Numbers is a “heavy friends” thing?
Harding: We don’t play live very often, but when we do it’s Murph from Dinosaur Jr. on drums, my friend Bonnie Mercer from Melbourne on guitar…
Yow: She’s in a band called “Melbourne?”
Harding: Melbourne is basically one big band. My friend Steve Patrick is also from Melbourne…
Yow: So they’re from the town Melbourne and they’re in a band called “Melbourne.”
Harding: Yeah, everyone plays in each other’s bands in Melbourne. They’re both in like 12 bands.
Yow: And they’re all called “Melbourne.”
Harding: [laughs] So that’s who plays live. On the recordings, I dunno, there’s a lot of people on the record, but it’s usually Dale Crover from Melvins or Murph on drums, a lot of different bass players, a lot of different guitar players, and David sings on two songs.
DM: Alex Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten is on “Unbury the Hatchet,” right?
Harding: Right, that’s because of David. They’ve known each other for along, long time. Alex and his wife Danielle were my neighbors for about a month, they came to L.A. and recorded out in the desert, and Alex wrote his autobiography out there. David introduced us, he said “you should do some stuff with my buddy Adam,” so he came over one morning and did some throat singing and soundscape stuff.
Yow: Alex’s imagination is boundless, he’s incredible as far as imagination and creativity.
DM: Do you think there’ll be a tour?
Harding: I don’t. At least not anytime soon, I’m not really interested in trying to put something together with local musicians. I like it being a special thing that happens when it can happen. Everyone involved is down to do it, but Murph’s on tour with Dinosaur Jr. for the rest of the year. Bonnie and Steve are willing to come over and do whatever, but it’s dependent on Murph’s schedule. Murph actually asked J Mascis if we could open for Dinosaur Jr and he had a really great way of saying “no!” He said “OK but you guys have to headline.” He was joking—he didn’t want Murph to spend all his energy in the opening set and not have energy for Dino. So no shows, at least not this year.
Here are the two Jimmy videos—Useless Children’s “Walk Away” and Dumb Numbers’ “Unbury the Hatchet.” Trainspotters: keep an eye out for Twin Peaks’ Kimmy “Lucy Moran” Robertson in the latter video.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
David Yow talks to Dangerous Minds about ‘The Jesus Lizard: Book’
You got post-punk in my post-hardcore: check out David Yow and GVSB covering Joy Division
Melvins’ Dale Crover joins Qui on ‘My Knees’: A Dangerous Minds premiere