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Most of my elementary school years were absorbed in bike riding, the Miami Dolphins football team, and G.I. Joe. One of the highlights of my childhood weeks was the action-packed, tear ’em up television show The Dukes of Hazzard. Week after week, the boisterous heroes Bo and Luke Duke led crazed car chases throughout the backroads of Hazzard County, tailed by the idiot Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, who somehow always managed to drive his police car into a ditch or lake. And behind the impotent law-enforcement department was the extremely robust Boss Hogg, whose only concerns were gobbling down as much fried chicken as possible and trying to keep them Duke boys from messing up his latest plans to take over the county. Eccentric characters matched with even wilder situations brought on the wildest TV entertainment for any nine-year-old. But what does this have to do with music? Take the frenzied style of the Duke boys, put a heavy, heavy groove to it, and you’ve got Boss Hog: warped blues and reckless rhythms, angry and powerful but not without a terrific sense of humor; sort of like driving at one hundred and thirty miles an hour or riding a raging bull.
Cristina Martinez (or Spencer; she’s married to her bandmate Jon), vocalist and head hog of the New York City–based band, sounds unsettled and untamed on record. On her album covers, she often appears nude. She presents herself as a bold, confident feminist woman, yet remains nonpolitical in her music. Intensity is not her only characteristic. During the telephone interview she was relaxed while talking about Boss Hog and seemed completely in control with the direction her band is taking. After all, rock stardom is not too far away. The day after our conversation Cristina flew to England over the weekend for two solid days of press, something she isn’t particularly fond of but that she is finding more and more necessary to do. It will be promotion that will get her what she wants. Like anybody else in a band, to make a living off music is her goal. Unlike most, though, Cristina will succeed. Right now she is working as production manager for Allure, a fashion and beauty magazine found in malls and supermarkets around the country. Two of her three other bandmates work day jobs as well.
And speaking of bandmates, the lineup of Boss Hog comes from a variety of sources. The band’s résumé has included members of Unsane, Railroad Jerk, the Honeymoon Killers, Loudspeaker, Pussy Galore, Bewitched, the Gibson Bros, Big Black, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Cristina defends, “It happens like it does in any city where there are a limited amount of musicians that you hang out with, familiar faces that you see a lot. That’s why it ended up with Boss Hog being members of other bands. Those are the people that I know and people I felt comfortable with who ended up being in my band. A certain amount of member swapping does go on.”
In regards to current musicians Cristina says, “At this very moment it’s me and Jon Spencer [guitar] and Jens [Jurgensen, bass], who actually has been in the band for a while, but this is the first time that he has recorded with us. Poor guy gets stiffed whenever we get royalties [for 1990’s Cold Hands on Amphetamine Reptile]. And Hollis, who is our new drummer. She didn’t know how to drum at all. She had a good innate sense of rhythm. We knew her from around. She also happens to be Jen’s girlfriend.” Cristina laughs, “We’re like Abba now.”
Hollis Queens replaced Charlie Ondras of Unsane. Charlie died June of 1992 of a heroin overdose.
“A couple of months afterwards when we were, um, sort of over it—well, not that we were, we’re still not over it—when we were able to, we started looking for a new drummer. We tried out one other person, but we pretty much wanted to play with somebody who was a friend, like Charlie. Friendship, of course, takes a priority with me before any sort of precision.”
Boss Hog’s new EP, Girl+, is basically a hey-we’re-still-here record. Originally a full-length album was recorded with Steve Albini, but Cristina, feeling most songs were not up to par, reeled off the typical response of “I’d rather put out an EP of solid material than a record of filler.” Girl+ is first-class Boss Hog sludge. Songs like “Hustler” and “Cream Agent” offer the musical grunt and grime listeners have come to expect. The song “Ruby” is a swingin’ tune featuring the horns of Frank London and Kurt Hoffman, NYC locals who have also appeared with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and They Might Be Giants.
“The song,” Cristina reveals, “is about a drag queen cooking show here on cable in NYC. It was appropriate and lent itself to that groovy, swinging sound: big hair, lots of makeup, big horns, and slinky dress.”
Girl+ is Boss Hog’s third release on Amphetamine Reptile and again documents their constantly evolving sound. “The first record we did [Drinkin’, Lechin’, and Lyin’] we did with Steve Albini and he mixed it and he sort of makes the vocals a little low. That was okay with me because I was pretty uncomfortable with my voice. It was my first record and it was a little daunting to hear myself. The second one [Cold Hands] we mixed ourselves and that record is just a mess…. We did a really poor job.”
With a firmer vision and more experience as a producer, Cristina tightened up loose ends and toned down the “wall of noise” approach to the last album, making the songs a bit cleaner and more listenable but without losing the definitive Boss Hog sound in the process.
Questions moved toward touring. Even though the band has been around for about four years, they have yet to travel the states; Boss Hog has only gigged in NYC, in Boston, and on the West Coast. A two-week tour is planned for the US in October. Florida most likely will not be a prime spot to stop.
“There’s not much going on in Florida besides Disney World,” Cristina says jokingly. “I was surprised to find out that there are clubs because for the longest time, whenever I would tour with any band, it was like ‘forget Florida, there’s nothing in Florida.’ Now I hear there’s a whole chain of places called The Edge, which sounds cool … a supermarket of clubs.”
Cristina and friends have spent years in the New York underground scene, seeing locals like Sonic Youth, Helmet, and Cop Shoot Cop score major-label contracts. Boss Hog is far from being the “next Nirvana,” but should finally get the recognition they’ve deserved for a long time.