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TRCH The Da Vinci Code

Grinderman Interview

1 April 07 words: Michael Simon
"We are hairy. The only guy in the band without a beard is Marty and he did when we started, but he made the mistake of shaving"

Grinderman are the raging four-piece offspring of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Darwinism, comprising Cave himself as well as Bad Seeds members Warren Ellis, Martyn P. Casey and Jim Sclavunos. Between releasing the Grinderman record and recording and touring the new Bad Seeds album, the members of Grinderman are a busy lot. Jim Sclavunos, a kind of reverberating percussive legend, is busier than most, whose recent work ranges from producing The Horrors and the unsigned NY Bellmer Dolls, working with Alice Texas, and playing in his own band The Vanity Set. We talked to him about life as both a Bad Seed and a Grinderman.

Where did the name Grinderman come from?
The name Grinderman comes from a John Lee Hooker song, which was where we first heard it. It actually predates that- there's a 'Grinderman Blues' that was written by Memphis Slim which is, apparently, where John Lee Hooker grabbed it from. We had a song called 'Grinderman' which was very loosely inspired by the John Lee Hooker song. It's not a cover, but Nick took a couple of lines from the song and riffed on it, and improvised on it. We had no idea what to call ourselves because every stupid name we could possibly come up with had already been taken, you do a name search and lo and behold some guy in the middle of nowhere had named his thing after whatever you'd come up with. Grinderman really seemed to suit the kind of music we were making, rough edged, vaguely sexy and vaguely nasty.

A lot of your press material has it that Grinderman sounds 'hairy'. Are you the men in the middle of nowhere?
We are hairy. I'm pretty hairy, I've got a beard. I think the only guy in the band without a beard is Marty, and he had a beard when we started, but he made the mistake of shaving under his chin which made him look a bit like Obi Wan Kenobi, so he decided to get rid of the beard. He's fond of claiming that he's now grown a new invisible beard, but we're a bit sceptical- it sounds like The Emperor's New Clothes.

Does beardiness denote any particular quality to you?
Well, it makes people look at you in a different way, I don't know if people take me less seriously or more seriously, but something has definitely changed. Some people seem to assume I'm wise, some people think I'm a doddering old fool, I like to think I'm somewhere in between.

How exactly is Grinderman separate from the Bad Seeds?
Despite the fact that it's four of the same members, we've found that, even when we're playing Bad Seeds tunes the combination of the four musicians meant the approach we were taking was producing very different results. The live versions tended to be a bit wilder, a bit more dynamic, a bit noisier, even some of the songs that everyone thinks of as quiet songs suddenly had quite loud sections. I have a very different style to Tommy (Wydler), who's the main drummer in the Bad Seeds. I've come from more of a rock 'n' roll and No Wave background and Tommy's always leaned a bit more towards the jazz side of things, so the rhythm section has taken quite a different approach, and I think that was quite an easy foundation for the other guys in the band to go a little wilder in their interpretations of the songs. Grinderman was an attempt to write material specifically for this line-up. When you've got an eight piece band opposed to a four piece, there's a lot more space for four musicians to express themselves than eight, and when eight guys are really going for it there's just not that much latitude, and it starts turning into a cacophony, whereas if a tight four piece combo go for it, it's more a classic rock 'n' roll band approach. It allows each musician to do things in terms of self expression and exploration that you simply can't do in an eight piece where everything has to be orchestrated.

So do you try to make a boundary between the two bands?
They are separate, but they're simultaneous. Nick's working on songs for a new Bad Seeds album and we're going to record that in July, Grinderman is going to do a live show in April. Obviously we need to make time to do Bad Seeds stuff, we want to do more live shows and we want to do another Grinderman album. We all have our own bands as well, I have the Vanity Set, based in New York and we're recording an album, Warren's got The Dirty Three, Marty's been doing Triffid's reunions. There's certainly no likelihood that the Bad Seeds are going to start doing Grinderman songs and we're trying to make it our business to make original material so that we don't end up doing Bad Seeds songs. At the end of the day, it is the same people and it's a kind of continuum for us, it's not like we make a distinction between one musical activity and another. For the sake of the public and certainly for the record label a bit of clarity is appreciated.

Do you get the same audience for Grinderman as the Bad Seeds?
It's a bit early to say. The only way we've been able to gauge it so far is going on MySpace, and so far we've had a tremendous response and a lot of people are clearly Bad Seeds fans, but there are a whole bunch of people that are like 'Wow, I'd given up on you guys!' or 'Wow this is a real surprise, I'd never expected this!' I think there are people out there who had been not so much into the style of music on some of the albums in the last couple of years, the more ballad-like albums, which I think we'd been drifting away from anyway. There's a lot of music out there, and if you see a band that you're not that fond of going in a certain direction, then you might not really pursue them much more. We like our Bad Seeds fans and we hope they like Grinderman.

Does Grinderman represent cracks in the Bad Seeds?
Well we're planning another album, so we have to be committed, it's not something one does lightly. First of all we have to get everyone together from the four corners of the Earth: half the band live in Australia, a couple in Europe, I live in New York, so we have to gather it all together, book the rehearsals, learn the songs. Nick's specifically asked us to hold off doing some Grinderman shows because he needs the time to write some Bad Seeds material. I think we're going to record in July, but when it comes out is down to the label. We've been looking forward to doing another Bad Seeds album for a while now, so it's a bit overdue.

The Bad Seeds is fairly international...
We have a history of that, Blixa (Bargeld) was an early member and he was German, Barry Adamson is from England, Kid Congo (Powers) is from the west coast of America. There's always been a small degree of pride in it being an international band. It doesn't make it awkward, it makes it interesting, I think it's a positive thing. I don't think it's a strong principle like 'We're a global band!' but you live in the world, and you meet people from other cultures and they have interesting things to say and it changes your perspective of things.

Does it bother you that Grinderman gets labelled ‘Nick Cave's new band’ considering the amount of experience that you all bring to the project?
We've been trying to avoid it, you know. I think Nick finds it quite refreshing, because he doesn't feel like everything's depending on him, he can be a band member, rather than being the guy who writes all the songs, and everything revolves around. I think he's quite happy with the role he has in Grinderman and it's a change of pace for him. I don't know if the public, or the media, can quite accept that, but within the band we're quite content with that idea, it actually provides a different way of working which is what spurs us on and makes this quite different to the Bad Seeds. You can only do so much to influence public opinion.

On Grinderman, Nick's guitar style has been described as ‘simple’. What do you make of it?
He's never played guitar before. I think he might have played acoustic on one obscure Bad Seeds b-side, but I don't think I've ever even heard that song. He was visiting New York and I took him to a guitar shop in midtown Manhattan which was guitar heaven and he spotted an old Strat on the wall, and he said 'I want that one.' This was a month before the Grinderman sessions started, and he was buying a guitar to teach himself to play so he could try writing some songs, rather than playing on the piano like he usually does. He was so shy about getting the guitar that he didn't dare play in the shop. When the guy asked him if he wanted to plug it in, he was like 'No, no, just wrap it up.' He was quite the novice. I think he was imaging that we were going to get another guitar player, but the band were unanimously adamant that he was playing the guitar. We saw right away that he started singing the songs and approaching the song writing in a different way, and it was another thing that was going to distinguish Grinderman from the Bad Seeds, which was the point. We didn't have many guidelines with this band, but we did think there wasn't much point doing it if sounded like the Bad Seeds, because otherwise you might as well just call it the Bad Seeds! Nick's guitar playing gave us opportunities to play off him, because he has a very percussive style, he leaves a lot of space in the arrangement, he's not constantly strumming, so it gives the rest of the players a lot more latitude, and we're not battling with constant guitar soloing or strong power chords. It's a more bare bones approach.

Are you going to be coming to Nottingham any time soon?
I really hope so. I've only been there once, we played there last year with Nick's solo band. When you grow up in America and you don't know very much about England, one of the first things you hear is about Robin Hood. It's a name that was very familiar to me, but it's not a place I'd ever had a chance to tour. Nick lives in England so the UK's usually at the top of the list of places we'll play. In the meantime we're going to do All Tomorrow's Parties in April. We're doing that before we plan a proper Grinderman tour, just to see how it goes, we have to get our feet wet- we're sure we can do it, but we're not quite sure how to do it. It's really just logistics but we're raring to go.

Grinderman on myspace

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