Tuesday, March 26, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Popular, Controversial Band Louis XIV Reunite

Louis XIV
Louis XIV, the popular, controversial San Diego-based rock quartet that was censored by Wal-Mart, banned in Alabama, and broke up four years ago, has reunited. After a break (and a small handful of reunion shows), the group, whose sexual lyrics and images on their early records thrilled some but offended others, just wrapped a short European tour with The Killers and will be joining that band again on some U.S. dates in May. A new record may be coming, as well.

In an exclusive phone interview with The Reno Dispatch from his home recording studio in the Hollywood Hills just before leaving for the brief Euro tour, Jason Hill, the band's charismatic and personable frontman, talked openly about the controversies, the breakup, and the long-awaited reunion.

"Getting back together for this tour just felt right," he said. "We're getting along well and thinking about recording a new album, though that still isn't cut in stone."

Hill has also been writing songs for a supergroup he's in called Vicky Cryer, which features Killers bassist Mark Stoermer and Muse drummer Dominic Howard. Vicky Cryer’s debut album, The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering, is set for release next month. 

In our phone conversation, Hill, who is engaged now and "in a very good place, a really good head space," said the band parted ways four years ago amid lots of turmoil. "I was breaking up with my girlfriend at the time, and the other guys in the band were also going through breakups in and around that time, too," he said. "Everything was kind of crumbling, we just stopped after we ended a tour in April 2009. It just kind of ended."

Hill said he and bandmate Brian Karscig have since repaired their lifelong friendship. "Brian and I have known each other since we were kids growing up in Poway (near San Diego)," Hill said. "We started talking again and it felt really good. It wasn't really about the band at first, it was just about our friendship. The conversations about getting the band back together came later."

Louis VIV's music has always been tricky to categorize. An inspired amalgam of glam, punk, garage, hard rock and pop, the group touched a nerve in young fans right out of the box with its racy lyrics and raucous live shows. 

The band got a lot of attention for its explicit lyrics and sexual artwork on its raunchy 2005 record The Best Little Secrets Are Kept. From there the guys kept expanding their sound and taking it in new and surprising directions, as evidenced by the melancholy and simply beautiful 2008 song Hopesick. 

The tune addresses unrequited love ("I love her, she loves me / but in my mind") and drug use ("I need hope / I need help / I need dope"), among other serious subjects. With its ethereal orchestral string line and surreal fade, Hopesick even evokes the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper.

But despite making some really memorable music, the group, for better or worse, will always be considered controversial because of those early sexed up songs. Hill is philosophical but not apologetic about the group's image.

"The songs that some people said were sexist were just playful flirtations with my girlfriend. It's all just what came out of my mouth when they were written," he said. "On the other hand, when you're in the heat of the moment, when you're feeling all this sexual tension, it's amazing what you think when you listen later. It's like after having sex. Those songs are like the buildup. Maybe the subsequent records were more like the morning after the big party."

Hill said the songs that caught all the heat, such as Paper Doll and Pledge of Allegiance, were written in a week's period. 

"To this day those are some of my favorite tracks," he said. "It was just to see if I could get a reaction out of my girlfriend, make her smile or turn her on, just the way I would talk with her. To get all that flak was surprising. So many women like those songs even more than men do. Men like the more rocking ones, the sexual ones that women tend to like."

Hill insisted he never meant to be chauvinistic. "I thought it was kind of funny that people took it so seriously," he said. "The best part was when we got banned in Alabama."

Yes, Louis XIV was banned in Hoover, Alabama, where they were scheduled to play the day after Hurricane Katrina reached land.

"We didn't really want to play there because the high school doubled as theater in the town, and that's where we were booked," Hill recalls. "But we were getting paid, and we knew this would help finance the tour, so we decided to go. Then we found out we were on CNN because the Hoover Board of Education had held an emergency meeting and banned us because. I guess they heard some of our songs and felt we were male chauvinists and were not fit for their town."

Hill says the assumption among the lawmakers in Hoover was that the band was coming to town to have sex with their daughters.

"I guess they thought we would bring drugs to Hoover," he says. "We got banned, but we still got paid, and we were jazzed that we didn't have to go. But the kicker, the best part, is they hired Snoop Dogg to play the show instead. Snoop Dogg! I wonder if they'd ever listened to any of his records. It was the most ironic thing ever."

As for the reunion, Hill says the group always thought there'd be one, but didn't want to do it unless it was for the right reasons.

"I am too happy these days to screw that all up," he says. "I don't have this aching need any more to have people say, 'Yes, you're amazing.' But the guys in The Killers pestered us about getting back together, and asked us to do some new years shows. We played a couple times, and it was kind of a disaster, but the thing is it felt good to do it. I played guitar better than I ever played it."

On the night of the first show with The Killers, Hill said members of that band asked Hill and his bandmates to join them in Europe. "After I had a few drinks in me," Hill said, "I said 'ok'."

Hill's individuality always shines through, on record, in the live shows, and even in phone conversations. He doesn't want to sound like anyone else, and he doesn't want to be anyone else. Music writers have tried to categorize Hill, and Louis XIV, but that's just not possible. 

"People don't mean to, but they want to put you in a box," he said. "It's human nature. But I always try to make music from the heart. My step brother growing up was an incredible classical violinist, he was amazing, but the thing that struck me when I first started playing music was that he couldn't make something up. How can you play an instrument and not want to make something up? Just to play someone else's material, so many people do that. I never wanted to be like that, so I didn't take lessons. I wanted to do my own thing. Everyone is different. But for me, the pont is, music is not 3 plus 3 equals 6. It could be 6. Or not." 

Hill, a music historian of sorts who can talk intelligently about virtually any music genre, said he's never tried to cop a certain sound or genre when he writes or performs. 

"Music got me through life as a kid, I remember going to record stores buying records for a buck apiece in the dollar bin," he said. "I soaked up everything. Music is about self expression. We've been called glam, but I never said 'We're gonna do glam.' It's a weird term. Look at Bowie, he's all over the place. He never made the same record twice. That would be incredibly dull. Is Young Americans glam? No. Ziggy Stardust? Maybe. I'm always fighting against people that want to try to mold you into something not as unique. You have to believe that what you are doing is worth something."

While he may take issue with being called 'glam,' Hill says one of the highlights of being in Louis XIV was when the band opened for David Bowie at some high-profile benefits for Africans with AIDS. Hill was nervous before those gigs because the sexual nature of some of the band's songs didn't seem appropriate for an AIDS benefit. But as it turned out, he felt that playing those songs sent a positive message.

"We were playing these powerful, star-studded AIDS events, with people like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes staring at us," he recalled. "Beforehand, I thought, 'This is ridiculous. I don't feel right about singing some of these songs.' But in hindsight it was a cool thing. There was something great about it in that, in the fight against AIDS, the message really should be that sex can still be fun, it's just about being responsible."


  1. That is a great new. Very good interview. I hope I can see them in Europe next months/years.

  2. Music got me through life as a kid, bdo168.com ,That is a great

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. One of the most original sounding bands of the last 20 years. Jason Hill, the singer of Louis XIV, has opened a studio in LA which is now open to the public. All you studioheads go check it out .. www.departmentofrecordingandpower.com