It may seem like a laborious nine-year lull. That’s how long it’s taken neo-swing outfit Squirrel Nut Zippers to finally release its latest album, the rollicking new concert document “Lost at Sea.”
To bandleader James “Jimbo” Mathus, however, the time has flown by.
While his co-vocalist and ex-wife, Katharine Whalen, tested her wings with two solo sets, he came to believe that his whole life is a side project.
“I’ve got one group called the Knockdown Society, and then I have a juke-joint dance band that plays all over the South in different incarnations,” Mathus says. “People call my number and I rustle up whoever I can get.”
Now he’s touring — and recording new studio material next year — with Whalen and a reformed, re-energized Zippers (they’re playing twice in The City this week).
But what’s occupied most of his downtime didn’t require that much legwork. Across the railroad tracks from his house in Como, Miss., is Delta Recording Service, the singer’s Sun-retro recording studio where he’s produced such big-name artists as the Hives and Elvis Costello.
“It’s real old-school,” Mathus says. “And I use vintage RCA ribbon mikes and German preamps from the ’50s, so it’s, uh, kind of funky and not so much for everybody.”
The 42-year-old, a disciple of late producer legend Jim Dickinson, is glad that stars have discovered his facility. “But I’m more there for the local thing in town, for people who just want to come in and record something,” Mathus says.
No money, no band, no experience? No problem.
“Because I can play all the instruments,” he says. “I’ve had people come in with songs written about dogs, husbands, wives, automobiles, even deceased people and pro wrestling. There are also cute things, like someone bringing their granddad by to sing Jimmie Rodgers songs, because he’d always sung around the house but he’s getting up there in years.”
The producer’s proudest achievement, however, was reuniting the Zippers in 2007.
“It was a huge thrill and very healing to get back with all the cats and Kathy,” and get chemistry re-established, which is still there on fiery chestnuts like “Hell” and “Blue Angel.” He adds, “Our show is still wonderful, and everybody’s really matured as musicians and performers.”
Is there one dream he has yet to record? “I would love to have Bob Dylan show up at my studio,” Mathus says. “But I’m so out of the loop on modern groups, I don’t even know who’s out there. So other than that? The freakier the better!”
IF YOU GO
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Where: Cafe Du Nord, 2174 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $25 Wednesday, $65 Thursday