Few bands that have been around for forty years gain the kind of creative steam that Pere Ubu have in their later efforts. Since 2006’s kinda just OK Why I Hate Women, the band have been creatively all over the map, producing three excellent, ambitious, and highly diverse albums: Lady From Shanghai, an electronics-heavy experimental double LP; Carnival of Souls, a moody, smouldering work punctuated by Keith Moliné guitar interludes; and the forthcoming 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo, an aggressive art-rock album that features a band lineup expanded to an astonishing 9 members. For this album, Ubu/Rocket From the Tombs touring guitarist Gary Siperko and Swans guitarist Kristof Hahn have joined Moliné, mononymic synthesist Gagarin, clarinetist Darryl Boon, and the band’s longtime core quartet of Michelle Temple (bass), Steven Mehlman (drums), Robert Wheeler (electronics), and singer, conceptualist, and lone remaining founding member David Thomas.
There’s a temptation, after the wide detours of the band’s last two albums, to call 20 Years a back-to-basics move, but that temptation is undercut by the sheer number of personnel involved—nothing about this is particularly “basic.” Many of the ideas here do recall classic Ubu, but like time, Pere Ubu can not move backwards. In particular, the music’s intensity is ramped up significantly over that of some of the band’s prior landmark albums—half of 20 Years’ 12 songs conclude their business in under 2 1/2 minutes. The exceptionally hard-hitting Mehlman is utilized to his full potential, and I suspect a good deal of the album’s headstrong rock could be attributable to contributions from Siperko, who comes to the Ubu/Rocket camp from a gonzo roots rock band called The Whiskey Daredevils. The album opens with “Monkey Bizness”—a stream of which we’re premiering below, so I’ll spare you any needless description of cultural produce you can easily audit for yourself—and segues into “Funk 49,” which, apart from boasting a pretty chunky riff, bears no resemblance whatsoever to its namesake James Gang song. Other worthies include “Toe to Toe” and “Red Eye Blues,” but the album isn’t one-dimensionally hard-nosed, and it ends with three longer slow-burners, including “I Can Still See,” a lovely and disconsolate song which chiefly showcases clarinet and electronics.
David Thomas graciously took some time out of his life to talk to us about the album and the band’s creative trajectory.
DANGEROUS MINDS: So last month I traveled from Cleveland to Texas see Rocket From the Tombs and Pere Ubu at Beerland. It was my birthday weekend and when I found out those shows were happening, it struck me as a good way to mark the occasion. I didn’t know at the time that a new album was on the way—Steven informed me at the merch table that Saturday night, I think. But your set seemed really heavy on older material, did you play any of the new work that night?
DAVID THOMAS: No, well, that was specifically booked as a “Coed Jail” show, that’s the set we’ve done to mark the box sets. We thought we were finished doing that, but the Austin guy wanted it so we said “what the hell.” That was supposed to be the absolute last “Coed Jail” show, period, but this Polish festival booked us and they were begging us to do it, and so hopefully THAT will be the absolute last one, period. You know, we have a price, we can be bought. [laughs] We’ll do the old material if you really beg us, or if there’s a good reason to, and Poland seemed like a reasonable request. And we’re not ready to do the new material live.
Much more with David Thomas after the jump…