Somehow, the members of Neighborhood Texture Jam will shoehorn themselves and fans into The Cove Friday, July 17th, for their first performance of 2009.
When NTJ formed in the late 1980s, the 400-square-foot Cove on Broad was known as Fred's Hideout. Then it became the Beer Joint, before current owner Jim Marshall retrofitted the space with nautical décor and opened the Cove in 2007. The limited space leaves little room for a full band — especially a group like NTJ, which often incorporates stage props like chainsaws, inflatable breasts, and fake blood into the act.
"I don't know how it's gonna work," admits NTJ guitarist John Whittemore. "Everyone I've mentioned it to says, you're doing what?"
The band has been on an extended hiatus since self-releasing their third album, Total Social Negation, in 1996.
"Initially, our goal was to get as big as possible, and for a while, we felt we were doing that. Then I started running out of things to say," says frontman Joe Lapsley, a Rhodes College alumnus who relocated to Chicago, where he currently teaches history at Loyola College and at Columbia College. (Whittemore, guitarist Tee Cloar, bassist Steven Conn, drummer Paul Buchignani, and "texture" musician Greg Easterly all reside in Memphis.)
For Lapsley, a sociopolitical ranter who spewed esoteric and inflammatory lyrics like "I fell into the Borax factory of your love" and "Rush Limbaugh — evil blimp," playing rock music for rock's sake was the kiss of death. Aiding in the decomposition was the fact that although NTJ had inked a contract with the Ardent Records label, the group was dropped before Total Social Negation could be released.
"We never broke up so much as fell apart," says Whittemore, who currently plays in Papa Top's West Coast Turnaround and the Rolling Head Orchestra. "There was never any argument. It was death by attrition. It slowly got harder and harder to take [the band] seriously, and our shows eventually became less and less frequent."
Yet NTJ never ground to a halt.
"People still enjoy hearing the band, and we enjoy getting together once or twice a year to make it happen. But for the most part, everybody's got their own lives and [are] doing different stuff," says Buchignani, drummer for both the Tearjerkers and Harlan T. Bobo.
Occasionally, NTJ will showcase new material, such as the rock opera Frank Rizzo at Colonus, which the band performed at the Hi-Tone in 2006. Last November, NTJ debuted "Task Force Moose," a Lapsley composition that, he says, is about "progressive superheroes that save gay bars from homophobes, kids from Jesus camp, and nonviolent drug offenders from prison."
That track will be included on Lapsley's second solo album, SLIP (Songs of the Late Imperial Period), available on CDBaby and on iTunes later this summer. He'll be mastering it at Ardent with Larry Nix when he's in town this week.
"NTJ is not completely a nostalgia act," Lapsley says, adding that reuniting once or twice a year means "getting all of the fun parts of being in a band without a lot of the bullshit."
Dan Montgomery, who gigs at the Cove the first Friday of every month, uses the room as a place to woodshed new songs.
"Usually, one crowd will come through the Cove to eat. The next crowd is there to drink and talk. Once you get past that, you'll find people who are actually listening to the music. That's when I use it as my own little laboratory to try out new material," Montgomery says.
Next week, he'll begin recording those new songs with producer Kevin Cubbins, guitarist Robert Mache, pedal steel player Louis Meyers, bassist Andrew Simons, and drummer Jessie Williams.
"This is the third attempt I've made at another record. I can't produce myself anymore. I'll never work with me again," Montgomery jokes. "Songwise, the cast of characters include homeless women, jazz bassists, birds, my parent's ghosts, dealers, strippers, and losers, boozers, and users — people clinging to the edge and some well over it. You know, my usual," he says.
Fans have two more opportunities to hear the new material with a full band before Montgomery begins recording. Thursday, July 16th, they'll play at Memphis Mary's, and Friday, July 17th, they'll perform at Otherlands. Showtime for both venues is 9 p.m.