By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Heavy Trash—garage luminary Jon Spencer's four-year-old project with ex–Speedball Baby/Madder Rose guitarist Matt Verta-Ray—are misleadingly named: These guys are hoarders, not discarders. Sitting in their studio, a nicely renovated basement space on the Lower East Side, we're surrounded by vintage tape recorders, amplifiers, Wurlitzers, you name it. Verta-Ray collects this stuff, voraciously. He shows off an old Studer A80 1/2-inch tape machine with huge square buttons, the likes of which you might see in '60s sci-fi films. "I got it from a guy in Puerto Rico," he tells me. "I just keep my ears open to when this stuff comes up for sale. This thing originally cost $12,000 to $13,000. I got it for $2,500."
Such a retro fixation is no surprise, of course: Spencer admits that the pair initially got together because they wanted to do rockabilly. Indeed, they did. But with their third album, this year's Midnight Soul Serenade, we're starting to hear more than mere repurposed honkytonk shuffles; instead, they're exploring myriad pop forms that pair the dark, devilish tone we've come to love from Spencer with a healthy mix of surf-rock, blues, and early-'60s doo-wop on such tracks as "Gee, I Really Love You" and "(Sometimes You Got to Be) Gentle." Maybe add a bit of Southern desert twang ("Pimento") or some psychedelics ("The Pill") for good measure.
Spencer's prior work with Pussy Galore, Boss Hog, and his own Blues Explosion was oft-heralded, but often hard to swallow: the dirgy sounds, the shrieking vocals, the campiness of it all. By contrast, Heavy Trash's country-punk affability helps make Serenade his most accessible—not to mention fun—record yet. Such an opinion causes Spencer to dish up a rare, sheepish smile, while Verta-Ray's face lights up with delight. "It's definitely not a side project," Spencer says. (It's easy to tell he's serious—that smile wiped itself away rather quickly.) "For me, this is what I spend most of my time doing. There's a lot of hard work in there."
As Spencer and Verta-Ray continue on into their mid-forties, they talk about how these moments—the Heavy Trash moments—define them these days. Consider album closer "In My Heart," wherein Spencer reminisces about holding hands and advises all naysayers to buzz off and take their "foolish pride" with them. These are analog dudes conveying a sentimentality and warmth that hasn't existed like this before, at least for them. "Generally, rock 'n' roll guys are insecure and don't put on a lot of luster," Verta-Ray says. "Rarely do they say, 'I love you' and 'I'm here for you.' Jon and I have been around a long time, and we have those feelings. We wanted that to be represented."
Heavy Trash play Santos' Party House October 20