Back in Austin, Texas, in 1987, after members of the influential group Scratch Acid were introduced to Duane Denison and later Mac McNeilly, a new band emerged. This time, it would be one that massively shaped the sound of a new movement of bands that wanted some serious noise — coined “noise rock” — with the not so subtle name “the Jesus Lizard.” Six albums passed and the year was 1999. The band came to an end, leaving fans to think they would never see a reunion. However, in 2009, a series of reunion shows sparked hope in eye’s — including those that saw them at the now-defunct Fun Fun Fun Fest. It’s eight years later now, and the group are back on the road for a small series of shows, leading up to the final one at Day For Night. FPH got the chance to speak with drummer Mac McNeilly recently about the new shows, the band’s end 18 years ago, and what’s next for the Lizard.
Free Press Houston: You are about to embark on a mini tour. Day For Night is going to be the band’s sixth show in Houston, the last being 1998 — the year I was born, as a matter of fact. For this set the band is going to have the chance to introduce the younger audience to the joys in life that are noise rock. Is noise rock coming back? Did it ever really go away?
Mac McNeilly: I don’t know, because — you know, it’s funny. I don’t know what “noise rock” is. I think people try real hard to get a handle on things by creating a name for a group of bands, or maybe bands from a certain time period that sound similar. It’s hard for me to say whether or not it’s coming back. I guess I’d go with the alternative option: I think it’s never gone away. I think bands that want to sound a bit more aggressive or noisy are always going to be there. I think that’s what we got termed with, a “noise rock” band. Like, I don’t think we ever looked at ourselves that way, but rather a band that just played rock music, under the big umbrella of rock. I know for some people to find a point of reference they have to, you know, either give it a name or have it fall under a sub-genre. Sorry, that’s a long answer for “I don’t really know.” But I would say it’s never gone away. If you look hard enough, you can find some bands doing some stuff like “noise rock,” or whatever it’s called. Maybe post-punk. There are endless terms for it.
FPH: When the band disbanded in 1999, where you were mentally in terms of music? Were you in the mindset that music in general was going down the wrong route?
MM: Um, well it’s hard to say, really, because I don’t know if the bands that are big are any real indication where music is going. I think that’s where a lot of attention of people is. The attention is towards that for most, certainly, but not everyone. I think music has a natural evolution based on what came before, and there are natural cycles that — they don’t tend to exactly repeat, but rather revisit a similar style by what’s going on historically, politically, culturally, or whatever. I think there is always good music to be found, but you might have to dig a little harder to find it sometimes. Sometimes it’s not going to be the first layer, or even the second. I would say there’s always good music being made, so I think it’s hard to say whether or not music was going in the wrong direction at that time. I have to say it just did what it was going to do, you know?
FPH: 10 years later the band did a series of reunion shows. Was there ever any talk about doing new material then?
MM: At some point there were talks about writing new material. I don’t think, though, that at that point there were talks of us just getting back together and hitting the road like we used to do because I think we’re all at a different place, individually. When we were doing it in early to mid 90’s we toured so much, we were gone more than we were home by far. That was fine. Even if the band did get back together today and a semi-permanent situation, I don’t think we would tour like that anymore, just because, for us, we wouldn’t want to do that. We wouldn’t think it was necessary. But back then there was no internet, so you had to play live to get this buzz going, this word-of-mouth. You had to get people writing about you and then slowly you would build up a crowd over the course of however many months or years you could stay together and, hopefully, writing and improving. That kind of thing. And also, in 2009, we had no new material — we were just playing songs that we did from before. It was real nice that we were able to do that, but I think some of us wanted to explore some new writing opportunities, but it just wasn’t going to happen right then. So we’ll have to wait and see if that comes up again in the future, you know.
FPH: That’s actually my next question. Last year the festival had the Butthole Surfers and this year it’s you. After their set they lined up a couple of other shows and announced a new album in the following months. Does this show represent the possibility of a new album in 2018? It’s up in the air right now?
MM: Yeah. We’ve learned to never say never in regards to potential things in the future. I don’t think any of us wants to “shut the door,” though we’re not waiting around for a big chance to do it like we once did. I’d say we all have our hands in different things right now. I really enjoy playing with these guys and always have, I think we have a real good history — musical chemistry and writing together, so I would like to do that in the future. We’ll see what happens, but that’s nothing, like, definite right now, you know? I’d like to see that happen.