: February 2001:
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
EXOTIC MAGAZINE: You said your
musical idealism has changed recently. What did you mean
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
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?
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
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: Is this Porn Groove
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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