The Jesus Lizard's Mac McNeilly

By Vish KhannaFor countless fans, the Jesus Lizard are one of the most significant and influential rock'n'roll bands of the last 20 years. Formed in Austin, TX in the late 80s, the quartet consist of Duane Denison, Mac McNeilly, David Wm. Sims, and David Yow and, after relocating to Chicago, these four men went on to inspire legions of serious music fans with their high-level musical proficiency, which generated an unprecedented and unlikely blend of melody with a genuinely terrifying sound borne of crazed vocals, lyrical imagery, and ferociously propulsive rhythms. While they broke up in 1999, ten years later the original line-up have returned for a full-scale tour, which coincides with the release of their entire catalogue on Touch and Go Records; the albums Head, Pure, Goat, Liar, and Down have all been re-mastered by Bob Weston and Steve Albini and are available now with bonus tracks. The Jesus Lizard recently played their first Canadian shows in a decade and drummer Mac McNeilly chatted with Exclaim! just prior to their Toronto stop.

Well, the obvious question about this Jesus Lizard reunion is simply why? What prompted the band to reunite?

Well, it started a while back, probably last summer. Mike Patton was curating a festival, All Tomorrows Parties in England. He asked Duane, our guitar player, "What would it take to get the Jesus Lizard back together for a show?" and Duane said, "Well, lemme see; I'll ask the guys." That's what started the communication between us. That was originally gonna be for December of 2008 and we couldn't quite get it together for that particular date, between everyone's schedule. So we told Mike that, and the ATP organizers said, "Well, we have another one coming up in May in England; can you do that one?" and that seemed like it was very do-able. From there, this whole reunion thing that has lasted most of this year kinda blossomed. It really was just gonna be these ATP shows in the west of England and then possibly a London show while we were over there. Once that got going and the word got out, we started getting a lot of feedback from people that said, "Well, hey would you do this or this?" It just seemed like the right thing to do; keep it to a limited amount of time so it remained a special thing. It just seemed like the time to do it, y'know?

It can be tricky because people used to be more cynical about reunion tours but now they seem to be happening more and more. Were you ever conscious of that or worried about how you might affect the legacy of the band?

I think all of us in the band were very aware that, if we did this, we didn't wanna do it halfway. We didn't wanna be the old guys that got up onstage and were creaking and falling over and having people say, 'Well, they're nice guys but they just can't play like they used to,' y'know? We said 'We're absolutely not gonna do it if it's gonna be something like that.' So, in order to do this the right way and for us to have a good time, we were determined to get back together to rehearse and get in shape to where we could present these songs the way that they're supposed to be played, which is the way we were doing it in the early 90s. So we did quite a few rehearsals to get back into shape and up to speed. We remembered the songs, we found out, but to play them at that level of energy consistently from the beginning to the end of the set, took a lot of work. Once we got there, it wasn't really a problem; everything else took care of itself.

You're an original member of the Jesus Lizard and were the only one to ever leave the band while it was active. What exactly prompted you to quit?

Well, at the time all that happened, there were many things going on with the band. From my own perspective, I had two very young kids at home and I was finding we were gone so much of the time ― some times out for six weeks at a time for these tours ― I was missing a lot of my kids growing up. I found that it was very hard to have these two different lifestyles ― band on one hand and then going back home on the other, swapping out between them. I felt like I needed to cut back on the touring and I think the band felt like, "We're still riding the wave going up." There was more demand for shows and we were making more money. At the time, we owed Capitol another record, so there were a lot of demands on the band. From the other guys' perspective, they really didn't wanna slow down, and I really couldn't increase the time we spent on the road. So, it wasn't anything but a timing issue. I felt like I had to make a choice between family or the band, and I chose family. That was really most of it right there and I wasn't very happy because of that situation. It was very hard to stop because I didn't really wanna stop. It was, at the time, the only choice that I felt I had. I also had a lot of personal issues that I needed to work on myself and it was all those things, and probably other ones too, that just kinda crystallized at one point. Something had to give and I think that's why I ended up saying, "I have to bow out right now."

Did you follow the band's music after you left?

Not much to be honest. It was really a hard thing to do, to stop that. If I could've found a way, at the time, to make it work, I would've kept doing it. It wasn't anything like personal or musical differences or anything like that. I absolutely love those guys; we were very much like brothers and still are. So, it was hard and because it was that hard to stop, it was hard for me to want to follow them and pay attention to it because it was just too much pain. It was a hurtful thing.

Were you surprised that they actually continued without you?

No because, to be fair to them, they felt obligated to keep going. Like I mentioned with Capitol and them owing one more record, there were already a lot of tour plans pretty much in place that they felt obligated to continue on with. I think it was a hard position for them, as well as it was for me. So, there wasn't really an easy, clear answer on that.
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Article Published In Dec 09 Issue