Few words can describe the Jim Jones Revue. More visuals come to mind. Visuals like seismic waves and glasses exploding from sonic assault. The group is already a huge underground sensation in their native UK and is set to take on the rest of the world with their debut album, releasing this summer. Mick Jones of the Clash recently said there is no band bigger, and - as I experienced at SXSW - no band louder. I sat down with front man Jim Jones and guitarist Rupert Orton after their official showcase in Austin. Hail, hail rock n’ roll!
THIRSTY: How did the band come together?
Jim Jones: A couple of years back I had a band called Black Moses it was winding down. I’d been working with Rupert a lot. He was promoting shows, really cool blues shows in London and he put my band on a couple times. You know, anyone that’s been in bands and in the music industry knows how much hanging around there is, and we used to sit and just talk about sort of a mutual, sort of real love for 1950s rock n’ roll. And we just had this feeling that, like, being in London like any major city, you get quite spoiled. You can see lots of bands playing and we think, ‘what’s missing?’ you know. And we both agreed that what’s missing is something like Little Richard. The way it was in the 1950s when it’s like a really racist time in New Orleans, apparently very badly racist at the time. Here’s a black guy with makeup, gay, hair this high, screaming about sex, pounding the piano playing cool rock n’ roll, and it’s like, where is that?
You can’t see that anymore, you know? And just that thought is what really inspired us to sort of want to start a project and see what would happen if we you know tried to get that recipe going again.
THIRSTY: The Jerry Lee Lewis influence is just so there, as well.
The Jim Jones Revue (credit: Stephane Rossi)
Jim Jones: (Pianist Elliot Mortimer) is just such an awesome player as well, do you know what I mean? We had a time when he had to go up and do a session in Kentucky, and we got someone to fill in for him and after one rehearsal this guy had to bandage his hands cause we were like ‘come on!’ Elliot was sort of like a time bomb waiting to go off, I don’t know why he hasn’t done anything big before he joined us, but we just like lit the fuse for him really. He’s got a real attack to his playing and you don’t really hear that these days.
THIRSTY: What were you doing before you started the band?
Rupert Orton: I was promoting really. I played in a few bands here and there but I was mainly just putting on shows and that’s how I got to know Jim. And we had a chat, and it pretty much came together from the get go. The first song we played was a Little Richard song called “Hey Hey Hey Hey”. And that switch went down and we knew we had something that we’d never really experienced in previous bands.
THIRSTY: You’re a huge buzz band down here and the crowds have really been responding. What’s your plan for the next few months of riding this big wave after SXSW?
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Jim Jones: Well, I mean like we’re really keen to sort of like work in the States. Obviously it’s like sort of the birthplace of rock n’ roll.
Rupert Orton: It’s our calling card, coming to SXSW. It’s alright. Play a bunch of shows - this is what we do, this is what we’re about, hopefully people will pick up on it, and taking it to the next stage would mean doing a longer tour and coming back for some more dates. I think we’re coming back to New York in late July for a few shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Build it up. I mean we’re more, obviously we’re more established in Europe and the UK and France but we’d like to build up here, you know, cause we’re playing essentially American music.
THIRSTY: What did you grow up listening to? Was it mainly this type of music? There’s kind of a punk sensibility to what you’re doing as well. It’s very minimalist in a punk rock way.
Jim Jones (credit: Nathan Seabrook)
Jim Jones: Well, that’s sort of what we can hear in Little Richard’s music. And that’s what sort of really sparked is that 1950s original rock n’ roll. It had that punk rock energy but it also had this great swing to it, which made it great to dance to dance to. I mean, since then there have been different cocktails to that original recipe and the punk thing pretty much covered that side of it. People have taken that from rock n’ roll and done other things with it, great things. But the swing part has been kind of ignored and the bands that have picked up on that big band swing, or that western swing, the elements of the blues and the jump and jive swing that was in early rock n’ roll, whatever you hear these days it’s usually associated with easy listening or something quite mellow. But we’re listening to those groups like, those New Orleans early 1950s piano-driven bands. They had both. And it’s sort of like that’s what rock n’ roll is - it’s like rock and roll. It’s the two elements. You gotta have both together.
THIRSTY: But there’s also a seediness to your music. It’s very sexual and you’re saying “fuck” a lot and there’s just a raw quality to it.
Rupert Orton: You’ve got to keep it filthy, you know what I mean? Everything’s pristine and clean at the moment, you know, like everything’s got to be molded so it can be marketed you know? Rock n’ roll as an idea is like dirty and filthy, you know what I mean? That’s how it should be so that’s why the music’s like that.
THIRSTY: So you’re not so much interested in making it appeal to a mainstream market?
Rupert Orton: Even if we did, which we’re not, I don’t think it would appeal to a mainstream market, you know what I mean? I think in itself it’s attractive because there aren’t many people playing this kind of music at the moment without cleaning it up and making it all sort of nice.
Jim Jones: Although I do believe the music we play is quite easy for people to understand. Most people who come to the shows get it straight away. I think we play shows, we do a Christmas show and it’s above a big old Victorian park in London, in east London, and the mix of people that come to that from pretty young, from like thirteen, fourteen, to quite old people from all different walks of life. By the end of the night everyone’s on the tables dancing, just having a fantastic time. And we love to play that Xmas party because we think this is what rock n’ roll was like originally in these rooms in the back room of a bar or a speakeasy or a juke joint or something. This is sort of where that music was born and it just feels so right. Like I said, we just get this real crosssection of people. When we play in France, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? We get that real cross section of people coming to the shows who are really from everywhere, from teenage to older people. Everyone just kind of gets it straight away.
The Jim Jones Revue (credit: Jackie Roman)
THIRSTY: When you guys come to the States, are there any bands that you’re already thinking to perform with?
Rupert Orton: Eagles of Death Metal are a band. We both love them. That whole desert scene is quite very interesting, you know?
Jim Jones: They’re a band… they’ve got the drive but they’ve also got the fun about them. They don’t take it too seriously, they have fun with it, you know. That’s sort of like what really makes it attractive.
THIRSTY: Your performance as a front man reminds me of a blend of Chris Robinson and Bobby Gillespie. Who really influences you as a performer?
Jim Jones: Both those guys really like our stuff, you know. Chris Robinson wrote to a magazine saying, ‘I’ve heard Jim’s new project, I really love it. I’d love to see him live.’
THIRSTY: I just think it’s interesting that a band from England can really possess that American southern swamp rock sound that you guys have. I know I was talking to you about CCR and Lynyrd Skynyrd earlier today.
Jim Jones: Oh, definitely, and you know, English stuff, too. But funny enough, most of the English bands I really love are really obviously influenced by American music as well.