Jesus Lizard leader David Yow, on fronting Flipper, cats and his Vegas past

David Yow, far left, and Flipper
Photo: Nick Sternberg / Courtesy

Since forming in 1979, the band Flipper has maintained an existence on the outer fringe of punk—a genre itself intended to live beyond the mainstream. Aggressive, noisy and chaotic, Flipper’s music was punk in every sense. Known for songs like “Ha Ha Ha” and “Sex Bomb,” the group didn’t try to sound rude or sinister; it simply did.

Original singer Bruce Loose suffered a severe back injury during the ’90s, sending Flipper into hiatus on more than one occasion. Loose toured with the band off-and-on, but when his condition worsened, Flipper sought out none other than David Yow—the incensed-sounding madman behind influential noise-rock bands Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard—for its 40th anniversary tour.

The Weekly caught up with Yow ahead of Flipper's Punk Rock Bowling club set, to talk Vegas, cats and more.

Some people might be surprised to know that you were born in Las Vegas. How long did you live here? Less than two years. I think we moved away when I was 22 months old.

Have you ever played Vegas? When I was in Scratch Acid, in 1987 … no, it was The Jesus Lizard—at a theater.

The Huntridge? Yeah. And I was so excited. I called my parents and said, ‘Hey, we’re playing in Las Vegas tonight at the Huntridge Theatre,’ and my mom said, ‘Oh, yeah, you’ve been there.’ She said it used to be a movie theater, and she had seen movies while she was pregnant with me.

Prior to this year’s tour you were brought on to do a handful of shows with Flipper in Italy a few years ago. How did that come about? I had never met any of them prior to that thing about three-and-a-half years ago. The Jesus Lizard covered a couple of songs by Chrome, and then when Helios Creed—[the singer] from Chrome—was playing a show in Los Angeles about four or so years ago, he asked if I would join him onstage to do those songs with him. I said absolutely. Steve [DePace], the drummer from Flipper, happened to be in the audience, and at the time they were looking for a singer to do that whole handful of shows. Steve told me that they had narrowed it down to Ian MacKaye, Keith Morris, Jello Biafra, Moby or me.

Wow.I know! I was pretty touched, like, ‘Whoa, what the f*ck are you putting me in a group like that for?’ So that was really cool. He asked if I would sing for Flipper, and I didn’t really pay much attention to Flipper after 1983 or so. Before then, they were extremely important to me. They were very influential to me and my friends and everybody I made music with. The idea of singing with Flipper just seems like I get to be queen for a day.

Does knowing that original Flipper singer Bruce Loose is still around add any pressure when you perform? That’s an interesting question. I’m very definitely not going to mimic Bruce, and there are a handful of lyrics that I refuse to sing, because they’re just too stupid. I’m not trying to be a dick about it; it’s just like, he was 18 and 19 years old. For instance, there’s a line in one of the songs that goes, “Why is there religion/It’s just not fair.” I’m not going to sing that—I’ve got pubic hair and everything. But mostly, I just want to make [guitarist] Ted [Falconi] and Steve happy. I’ve never met Bruce. I was told that he at first was really kind of pissed off and he thought that I was mimicking him or ripping him off or something, because I put posts on social media about cats. I’ve got to let him know, he’s not the first person to be really into cats. So, in no way am I trying to reproduce anything that Bruce may have done. I want to do this stuff as if I was a member of the band instead of trying to be a Flipper cover band. I’m just doing it like I’ve been.

I caught you with Jesus Lizard in 2017 in LA, and it was wild. Can we expect your signature antics when you perform with Flipper at Punk Rock Bowling? Well … there’s a big difference musically in Flipper and The Jesus Lizard ,and I’m not going to behave like I did with The Jesus Lizard as I will with Flipper.

Would you say it’s toned down? I think it’s a little toned down. I’m less likely to get hurt, that’s for sure. Any sort of crowdsurfing is probably accidental.

You’ve been acting recently. When did you realize that was something you wanted to pursue? I did some in high school and college, which was about a million years ago. I made a friend in Chicago when I first moved there in ’89, and he was a filmmaker and asked me to do a couple of movies. I enjoyed it; I enjoyed the challenge of it. Once I moved to LA, a handful of directors just sort of sought me out and said, ‘Hey, would you be in our movie?’ And I said sure, you bet. As time went on I started taking it more and more seriously and started taking classes and tried to get an agent and a manager and stuff. It’s all going really good. I wouldn’t mind if I had more acting work. These days I’m doing like two auditions a month, which is weird, because I’m working 45 to 50 hours. Acting’s hard.

I feel like acting isn’t a huge stretch considering how intense your stage presence can be. But you seem to be a pretty calm guy offstage. Where does that ferocity come from? Maybe it was partly because the punk rock I was weaned on in Austin in the very late ’70s and ’80s—bands like The Dicks and the Butthole Surfers—were really good to listen to but they were really great to watch. They were extremely entertaining and engaging and dangerous and fun, and I guess I kind of glommed onto that.

This year mark’s Flipper’s 40th anniversary. Do you see yourself performing with them after this tour is over? Most likely not. I thought when we did those shows three and a half years ago, that was probably the end of it. But I’ve finally learned to quit saying never.

FLIPPER Opening for Killing Joke with The World Inferno Friendship Society, Egrets on Ergot, Fangs on Fur, Greg Antista & The Lonely Streets. May 24, 8 p.m., $30. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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