David Yow at Chicago’s Vic Theater. Photograph courtesy of Matthew Gilson (matthewgilson.com)

The 1980’s was a time of pure unrivaled insanity in Texas. Beasts like the Butthole Surfers, Really Red, The Dicks, Culturecide, and others would roam the land with abandon. One such creature was Austin’s Scratch Acid. With the primal drumming of ReyWasham, the unmistakable bass of David Wm. Sims, Brett Bradford’s buzz-saw guitar, and the indomitable painful screams of frontman David Yow, their live shows resembled less a concert than a rugby match. Go back to their decades old recordings and you will find an aggression and madness that teeters on the edge of collapse, yet manages to hold together through some unexplained dark matter. If you missed them in their heyday, you are in luck because they’ve reunited for a tour that will take them here to Houston. We spoke with David Yow at his home in Los Angeles while he was on a short break from the tour to discuss the reunion, his art, and how an old cat like him can still pull it off.

FPH – How did the Reunion tour come about?

 Yow – Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel was curating All Tomorrow’s Parties in England. I guess he dug Scratch Acid and asked us to play. We said sure and decided if we’re going to go through the trouble of practicing and getting together to do those shows in England, we may as well do some shows in the US. 

FPH – How was it going back to that old material?

Yow – It’s been fun – much more fun than I expected. Some of the shows are paying pretty well, particularly the ATP thing, and that’s relatively important because we have to leave whatever means of income we’re accustomed to while we do this. The biggest factor, the biggest reason to do this is that it’s gotta be fun. I figured it would be but it’s just really great hanging out with those guys again. We were pretty much married to each other for a few years.

FPH – Some people’s reaction to reunion tours is that if you are looking back you aren’t looking forward. How would you respond to those people?

Yow – I dunno about looking back, it’s not like a regression. It’s not like fucking an old girlfriend or anything like that. But speaking of girlfriends, I was talking to somebody and I was saying “This is old guys doing young guys stuff” because I kind of figure that music this aggressive is intended for the young. My girlfriend jumped in and said, “Bullshit, this is old guys teaching the young guys how to do it!” I don’t really pat myself on the back or anything like that but I do think that to a degree she’s right because, even though I don’t really keep up much with the aggressive music that goes on these days, I think we’re better than the kids that do that shit these days.

FPH – I’ve saw Scratch Acid when you guys played Cardi’s with the Dead Kennedys and I’ve seen you with Jesus Lizard quite a few times. Your performance has always been very physical and aggressive. How does that play with you now that you are older.

Yow – It’s funny, the Jesus Lizard did a tour a couple years ago and it was pretty rough, pretty tiring and my role in the Jesus Lizard was a little bit more taxing than what I generally do with Scratch Acid. That was just two years ago but I noticed on the shows we did on the East Coast that it’s really exhausting. So I’ve found a way – instead of just going 110% the moment we start – to kind of oscillate and try and reserve energy (laughing) so I can make it through the whole set. It’s pretty hard but, for months, I’ve been trying to get ready for it. I’ve been going to the gym, doing the elliptical, working on my endurance, stamina, and reducing my fat old belly.

FPH – You’ve been doing a lot of art and other pursuits other than music over the last few years. Can you elaborate a bit about that?

Yow – Yeah, after the Jesus Lizard broke up in ‘99 or whenever that was, I got pretty good at Photoshop and I started doing freelance photo retouching. I did that for several years. I got pretty good at it, was raking in the cash, and enjoying it then, 5 or 6 years ago, it just kind of stopped. In the meantime, I’ve been working with fine art and my blossoming acting career.

FPH – Acting?

Yow – It’s mainly film. I’ve done a bunch of little itty-bitty tiny movies. Like 20 or more super duper less than low-budget things. Right now, I’m supposed to be finding out about an actual major motion picture that I hope to have a role in but I can’t say a whole lot more about that.

FPH – So what about your artwork? How does that tie into your music? Is there a common thread?

Yow – If you go to davidyow.net there’s paintings – largely paint and collage on wood and there’s also a bunch of digital pieces. Common thread? There’s some kind of creative bullshit I guess. 

I went to college as a fine art major for two and a half yeas and then Punk Rock kind of took over so the drawing and painting came before the music. But I’ve really enjoyed doing this art. I’ve had a show here in LA, Berlin, Bucharest, and New York and that’s cool. It’s a lot of fun but it doesn’t pay the bills – doesn’t even come close. Even if I sell pieces, I’m thinking I’m making 50 cents and hour but it’s fun.

FPH – How do you see those old recordings now?

Yow – In order to do these shows, I had to re-familiarize myself with that stuff and the songs on Just Keep Eating aren’t bad but it sounds like shit. The first EP and Berserker I think sound really good. Honest to God, I think that every song on Berserker is really good. Years ago I don’t think I would have said that because what kind of asshole says his stuff is really good but I was listening to it again as objectively as possible – trying to remove myself from it as if I didn’t know the people who created it – and I was pretty impressed. It’s some really good stuff.

FPH – What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten and the worst?

Yow – The best compliment was just a couple days ago. Someone was telling me how this five or six year old kid heard some Scratch Acid and said it was better than anything he’d heard. I thought, wowie, that’s really something. The worst? Well, we’re friends now, but the worst was the first time Scratch Acid Played CBGBs. Jim Thirlwell of Wiseblood and Steroid Maximus, after the show said, “I like what you are trying to do.” And I said thanks and he walked away. (laughs) Then I thought, wait a minute…what the fuck does that mean?!!!

FPH – So how has the reality of the tour been compared to your expectations?

Yow – The reality is better than the expectation. I thought the practices weren’t going to feel very well. Like Brett, the guitar player, who I love…I absolutely love his guts, he’s one of the greatest guys in the world, he’s got a heart the size of Australia… but has some memory issues so I was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to hold up his end but he’s been doing an amazing job. And I thought it was going to be fun but I couldn’t imagine just how fun as it’s been so far and we’re only halfway through.


Scratch Acid performs Friday, December 9 with Black Congress @ Fitzgerald’s
$20, Doors 8PM, All Ages