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xmag.com : February 2001:


No one can accuse the Reverend Tony Hughes of being a slacker. The hard-working front man for funky Portland lounge cats, Jesus Presley, is literally his own business--he pays the musicians in his band as employees or limited partners and uses surplus gig money to make different albums and run his record label (JPX). Last year Hughes released three highly contrasting albums: a new Jesus Presley record called Come Get Some, an album of low-key, acoustic folk called Redemption and finally, Brand New World (a.k.a. Porn Groove), a disk full of sampled porn movie vocal action over the top of some sturdy grooves. He is currently working on another Presley album and even more Porn Groove supplements. We chatted over some greasy chow at the Space Room.

EXOTIC MAGAZINE: You said your musical idealism has changed recently. What did you mean by that?

TONY HUGHES: A lot of people have fantasies about being a musician. And most of the time they're not even halfway fulfilled. But the reality is, you forget that it's fun to just play music. You should always do what you want to do and if it coincides with what people like, then GREAT! If it doesn't, you're still successful.

Exotic: You're lucky. Jesus Presley is a band that can consistently make a buck. You can ask for money and most of the time, get it.

TH: I'm not too demanding about money. But there are places I won't play because they can't afford to pay us. I can understand that. I'm getting ready to hire 4 or 5 more musicians and take the band back to a 12 or 13 piece and make the whole thing like a big tent revival. I'm not greedy and that helps in the long-term picture. I always try to pay people that work for me because I think people should be compensated. I never ask people to do stuff for free unless they're going to get something out of it. On the other hand, I've done some jobs where the checks are unbelievable. You get a taste of the real music business--we did a commercial for Alta Vista [a web search engine] the year before last. We did a 29-second spot and it was $7,000! Everyone who went had been in the band a long time, had schlepped their gear everywhere...They flew us down there, paid for hotel, food, and I paid the guys that went $750 apiece. Even the band guys who didn't go got $75 for just being in the band, and the business made some money.

Exotic: You mentioned that you're going to reinvent Jesus Presley as a larger band. Do you do that periodically to keep things fresh?

TH: You have to. We were originally a 12 piece and we dropped down to 7. I need to bring more people on, because I think it's fun to go somewhere and see some kind of spectacle happening on stage, instead of just seeing some guys play music.

Exotic: What's the band credit for Redemption? It doesn't say Tony Hughes or Jesus Presley. Same with Brand New World. Are they meant as stand-alone works of art?

"I like to piss people off. If you're a musician and you're not pissing people off, you're not doing a good job."

TH: (shrugs) They're just records. I want to make records that fill the label with a catalog of material. So that doesn't limit the group or the label. I like labels like Rhino and Chess Records. I'd like to make records where regardless if people liked every song on the record, they at least like one or two things. We make records really quick. Two or three days and that's it! Everyone does their homework and everyone who's been in the band has been a really great musician and has the ability to go in and do their stuff really fast. The record I'm finishing right now [A Jesus Presley live album] we recorded live on New Year's Eve; we ran a split snake off the stage, had an engineer come in, mixed the record last weekend, mastering this week and the people that came to the show on New Year's get in free to our Valentine's Day show and get a copy of the record.

Exotic: What's the album called?

TH: I'm working on titles. I'd like to do something shocking like Pray 'til You Puke. I think that's a great title. I try to push buttons, but not often. The Porn Groove stuff--no one in town will review it. The Oregonian, Willamette Week...It cost me my friendship with [Two Louie's Publisher] Buck Munger. He thinks I'm just a pimp now. He thinks I've "sold out." I like to piss people off. If you're a musician and you're not pissing people off, you're not doing a good job. I'm not young anymore. I'm 43. I don't give a shit what people think. The problem with this town is everyone takes music way too seriously.

Exotic: What was the inspiration behind the Redemption album? Were you looking to do a record that was purposely less rowdy than Jesus Presley?

TH: When you write music for a certain type of band sound that you're doing, you can run into walls with the material. Everyone has writer's block once in a while. These were a bunch of songs that we weren't doing all the time, but we had played them and they were nice. But I think when people come to see us they expect to dance and stuff. This record was recorded in between another record, spread out over a six-month period. I might show up an hour or two before everyone else and do these tracks. Then when I was done, I went "Huh. What am I gonna do with this? Well, I'll just make a record." I didn't approach this as a Jesus Presley record; it's just some stuff that didn't fit anywhere else. I think there's some songs on it that are really great songs. A couple of them... well, they're okay. I think it's that way with any record. There are very few albums I listen to where the whole thing is just crushing. It's similar to Porn Groove; I can't pass the record off as anything other than what it is.

Exotic: Are you going to do any shows in support of Redemption?

TH: I don't think so. I think we'll just incorporate some of the stuff into what we do. I get called all the time to do singer/songwriter things and I might do one or two. But I think it would be tough. People might show up expecting one thing and get another. My main concern is that the person coming through the door who works at Pacific Steel or whatever has a good evening.

Exotic: How did Porn Groove come about?

TH: I heard some similar stuff on MP3.com from some different bands that I thought was pretty wild. So I thought, "Well, let's try this." It was more like an experiment using electronic, computer-based music and I thought that adding these porn samples would be a good way to piss people off. I found out that the girls really like this, to the point where I have them over and test-drive some of the samples. They'd be like, "a little slower there." My feeling is that if the girls like it, it's a good thing.

Exotic: Are they all samples? Any live moaning and groaning?

TH: I'm doing that right now. I have girls lined up to come over and...

Exotic: Audition?

TH: Yeah!

Exotic: Is this Porn Groove II?

TH: Yeah! I'm already signed to Castle Super Stores, I'm in Cathie's, I'm in Sweet Sensations. Last month I sold 90 CDs; I'm looking at three or four hundred this month coming up. That money is facilitating me to do other things, which is good. It's offended a lot of people, but I didn't hear anything offensive on it. I talked to some people in San Francisco who are going to carry it soon. When I was down there, some other people asked me if I was going to do a gay male version of it and I said, "Sure. Let me finish up these other things first." I want to do one that's more submissive in its demeanor and another that's dominant and then I'll do a gay male version. The music business is really tough! The competition is insane. Basically, you have to say, "What have I got to lose by doing this?" I think the first time we did a record was in '96, which we did with a little record label. I learned that's not a good thing. So I went through the lawyer meetings, filed the papers and became an L.L.C. and formed my own publishing company and put out my own records because it works out better for everyone involved. This is the seventh record the label has put out in five years.

Exotic: Porn Groove reminds me of those theme records of the '50s and '60s, like Music For Young Lovers or Music For Swingers.

TH: The cool thing to do is put Porn Groove on at a party on low volume, and it sounds like something sexy is going on in the kitchen!




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