Hellshovel’s Jeff Clarke on Voyager 8, touring, and the garage scene

hellshovel jeff clarke
Canada’s Hellshovel are described by their label, Slovenly Records, as “bumpkin punks,” and their most recent album, Hated By The Sun, as “the sound of Johnny Cash drowning in a pool of cough syrup.” These are apt descriptions, and when you factor in their work with Greece’s Acid Baby Jesus on the Voyager 8 10-inch last year, there’s a lot of drug references being thrown around. It’s not inaccurate — I’ve never heard a band who more accurately represented being fucked up through music.

Hellshovel and Acid Baby Jesus embark on a North American tour starting on February 22, at the Bell House in Brooklyn, and finishing in Milwaukee at Linnemans Riverwest Inn on April 6, as part of Lookout Weekend II. The tour hits the Replay Lounge in Lawrence on Saturday, March 2, and I’ll be there. In advance of the tour, we spoke with singer / guitarist Jeff Clarke via e-mail about Hellshovel, their collaboration with Acid Baby Jesus, and the garage scene in general.

Where did the members of Hellshovel meet?
Montreal is a small town at the end of the day. We were all more or less friends and family for years. Since then we have all moved and now our band has members from France and Isreal and Greece and Germany. All met through our years of travel since we started the band.

You were part of Demon’s Claws and Bloodshit Bill had his solo thing and various projects, but how did Dox join the mix?
Dox, like I mentioned, was in Montreal the whole time, kind of the little weird guy that played guitar in a whole bunch of bands. He was the best guitar player in town, to the point he was getting bored with the bands he was in. So, playing in Hellshovel with me, I think, appealed to him, because unlike the other bands he was in, he’s free to do what he wants. If he wants to plug his guitar into the toaster and run it through a garden hose into bucket water with raw chicken legs submerged in it, I dont really give a shit.

Plus, we both were determined to get out of Montreal.

hellshovel posterHow did Hellshovel and Acid Baby Jesus meet up?
Hellshovel and Acid Baby Jesus met in the middle of a Demonclaws tour in Belgium. We played in a dirty squat, and we became friends instantly. A month later, we were in Athens living in their apartments during Christmas. Since then, we have been back to Athens twice and toured the US together and put out the Voyageur 8 record.

Where’d the Voyager 8 project come from? Was anything planned, or was it just happenstance?
The Voyageur 8 came from the first night we arrived in Athens. We were all having a drink and some MDMA in a local bar, when I became over-excited about having just read somewhere that the Voyager 2 spacecraft launched in the ’70s had just entered the Heliopause (the point at which the distance of the sun is so great that the heat from our sun no longer has influence).

I think I looked around, and there happened to be 8 of us hanging around the table, so I was like, “We could be the Voyageur 8.” I don’t think the 8 has any real meaning, since there often isnt even 8 of us around. So, it just happened — we started jamming, and the songs came out so easily .

VOYAGER 8 "Acid Baby Jesus and Hellshovel Present…" 10 inch EP by Voyager 8

<i <You're headed down to SXSW — what does playing down there have to offer?
I have no idea what SXSW has to offer … probably a fucking nightmare.

Do you think you’ll get more from the big Sticker Guy Debauch-A-Reno show, or is there something to be said for playing to random folks who aren’t “in the scene” in terms of garage and so forth?
The Sticker Guy festival should be fun since we will see tons of friends from all over the place that pete has lined up. Plus, it’s in Reno — good opportunity to go shove some money into a casino.

I’m hoping the tour has a lot of other opportunities that allows us to avoid the common garage scene. I’d really prefer to play old folks’ homes and science conventions ( really not joking at all). I’m not really a huge fan of garage music, to be honest. I love playing for people that are not “expecting” or “comparing” everything to their shitty record collection …

Do you find the “garage rock” moniker limiting — is there a way you’d describe your music otherwise?
I hate being stuck in the “garage” genre, but then I guess I should have learned to tune my guitar a little bit better. I would describe us to be more of a western soundtrack, science and witchcraft-orientated band. Not really into the “Drink Beer ’til I Shit My Pants” songs. I’ll stick to just writing songs about other stuff and keep the shitting of my pants to myself.

HELLSHOVEL "Hated by the Sun" LP by Hellshovel