GRINDERMAN Interview by Ian Johnston
Copyright ÃÂ© Ian Johnston 2010
(Interview first published in Nude Magazine, Issue 17 (Winter 2010/11)
Grinderman have a post career remix album out on Monday…it’s really fucking good…details below and an exclusive invites with of of our favourite bands…
Grinderman release Grinderman 2 RMX ”â a collection of remixes, reinterpretations & collaborations based on the songs contained in the band’s 2010 critically celebrated album Grinderman 2. Out on Mute on 26th March 2012, Grinderman 2 RMX marks the first time all these tracks have been collected together.
The album will be available in a deluxe double vinyl edition with CD insert, as well as CD and digital formats.
Grinderman 2 RMX’s many outstanding tracks include ”ËSuper Heathen Child’ – a collaborative version of Grinderman’s ”ËHeathen Child’ (MOJO Honours Song Of The Year 2011) which teams the band up with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp (King Crimson, David Bowie, Eno); an exclusive previously unreleased remix of ”ËBellringer Blues’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner (about which Grinderman enthuse “It shits all over the original!”Â) a remix of ”ËMickey Mouse & the Goodbye Man’ by producer/-musician Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age); ”ËWhen My Baby Comes’ by Cat’s Eyes (a duo consisting of Horrors’ front-man Faris Badwan and soprano Rachel Zeffira); ”ËEvil’ reinterpreted by Silver Alert (Grinderman’s Jim Sclavunos) and The National’s front man Matt Berninger; and Grinderman’s original demo version of ”ËEvil’, ”ËFirst Evil’.
Grinderman 2 RMX tracklisting:
ÃÂ Grinderman / Fripp – ”ËSuper Heathen Child’ÃÂ
A Place to Bury Strangers – ”ËWorm Tamer’
Nick Zinner – ”ËBellringer Blues’ (exclusive)
UNKLE -”ËHyper Worm Tamer’
Joshua Homme – ”ËMickey Bloody Mouse’
Cat’s Eyes with Luke Tristram – ”ËWhen My Baby Comes’
Barry Adamson – ”ËPalaces Of Montezuma’
Silver Alert (featuring Matt Berninger) – ”ËEvil’
SixToes – ”ËWhen My Baby Comes’ (exclusive)
Andy Weatherall – ”ËHeathen Child’
Factory Floor ”â ”ËEvil’
ÃÂ Grinderman ”â ”ËFirst Evil’
In September 2010 Grinderman released one of the seminal recordings of the year, ”ËGrinderman 2′. Artistically a giant step forward from the none the less impressive first eponymous ”ËGrinderman’ LP of 2007, which fused blasted and mutated ”Ëgarage’ style rock (”ËNo Pussy Blues’, ”ËGet It On’) with more left field musical impulses (”ËElectric Alice’ and the title track), Grinderman 2’s intoxicating fusion of dark, utterly unique hallucinatory music, intense vocals, wonderfully fractured metaphysical lyrics, gallows humour and highly imaginative album art work marked the record out as an instant classic.
Polly Borland’s evocative album cover photograph of a snaring wolf stalking an upscale bathroom perfectly mirrors Grinderman 2’s malicious intent to disrupt the norm. Thrillingly abrasive yet highly melodious in passages, Grinderman 2 is rock music, but certainly not as we know it.
The album is suffused with the exploratory spirit of Funkadelic, Can, 70’s Miles Davis, White Album era Beatles (if Charles Manson had actually been working with the Fab Four) and early Roxy Music/Eno to name just a few points of reference, but does not actually sound like any of them. Neither does Grinderman 2 resemble the music that Nick Cave (guitar, vocals), Warren Ellis (Mandocaster, tenor guitar, violin, flute) Martyn Casey (bass) or Jim Sclavunos (drums, percussion) have yet produced as the core of the renowned Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Or for that matter, any of the illustrious groups with which these four innovatory musicians have played with in the past (The Birthday Party, The Dirty Three, The Triffids or Teenage Jesus and the Jerks,).
Cave, Ellis, Casey and Sclavunos have impressively built upon stripping back the band’s music to its bare bones on the first Grinderman record with their daring second album. From the urgent opening ”ËMickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man’ and the first single from the album ”ËHeathen Child’, featuring fugitive brothers, lycanthropy and lascivious yearning, the swirling outburst of ”ËEvil’ and the licentious ”ËWorm Tamer’, the epic delirious nightmare groove of ”ËWhen My Baby Comes’, through to the weighty bad juju of ”ËBellringer Blues’ and ”ËKitchenette’, Cave, Ellis, Casey and Sclavunos serve notice that Grinderman is definitely no mere ephemeral side project. Grinderman are here to stay and they are playing for keeps.
But how did Cave, Ellis, Casey and Sclavunos manage to pull this impressive feat off? Speaking by phone from their rehearsal studio in Brighton, England each member of the group has there own perspective on the creation of Grinderman 2. Their collective enthusiasm for the record is palpable and as infectious as the mesmerizing music.
“It’s a step isn’t it? “ affirms Warren Ellis, creator of the numerous hypnotic tape loop sounds that form the very foundation of many of the Grinderman 2 compositions. “There’s a bit of confidence in there. But the first album gave us the confidence we needed. We had some identity with this. It feels like we where prepared to take a lot more chances with this one. It feels like it takes a lot more risks and it feels a lot more adventurous to me. ”Â¦ I’d made a bunch of pieces using loops that I brought in. Some of them where used and ”ËEvil’ was one of them. ”ËWorm Tamer’ was another one. They where quite complicated those two because he had to kind of work out how to present them. ”ËEvil’ was an incredibly dense kind of thing, then we pulled it back. It wasn’t immediately obvious that one.”Â
Spontaneous lyrical and musical creation/inspiration would appear to be the key to the success of Grinderman 2.
“Yeah, sure,”Â concedes Jim Sclavunos. “Nick adlibs a lot in the studio. He’s doing impromptu stuff the same as we are. He takes that way at some point, refines it, expands upon it, but he tries to stay quite true to the mood or temperament or even the minimalism of the original spontaneous utterance. It affords him an opportunity to write in a very uncharacteristic way for him, Instead of being in his office, the lonely hours in his office with his quill, contemplating and ruminating, he is forced to bark out things that are maybe a little more in touch with his id. Not only is that what we do and how he comes up with the lyrics, but that”Ës one of the two things that are fundamentally different between Grinderman and The Bad Seeds: that sort of building of spontaneity, building upon improvisation and composing collectively in that manner.
The other main difference between Grinderman and The Bad Seeds is in the numbers, because there are fewer of us it’s a lot easier to telegraph ideas across the stage or across the rehearsal room and the smaller combo lends itself to improvisation in a way that a larger band doesn’t. A large band lends itself more to orchestration and arrangement and direction. Whereas in the smaller combo, someone can fly off at a tangent and it’s more immediately understood, digested and pursued by the rest of the band. At any point someone can create a tangential manoeuvre that brings the material on to an unpredictable, unforeseen course.”Â
“There where aspects of the first album that people really liked and I wasn’t really happy with,”Â freely admits Nick Cave, when questioned about the marked change in the lyrical style from the first Grinderman album, which some observers considered, perhaps incorrectly, as a personal admission of a middle life crisis. “The heavy narrative was still coming out of The Bad Seeds, I felt. A way of writing songs, even though I was talking about different things, was still in the style of The Bad Seeds, like ”ËNo Pussy Blues’ or something like that. There’s a free running verse thing that’s goes on that I’ve always done, where you follow the story. The listener’s ear isn’t listening to the music, they’re listening to the story, and I really tried to get away from that on this record. A more fractured narrative, so you listen to the music in a different way and you weren’t required to listen to any story or narrative.
Because I write, because I can only write in a certain”Â¦. The way that I write, I am a sort of storyteller. I’ve just had to shatter the stories. I thought it was something much darker that was coming out this time. There’s humour in there but that’s largely added in later. In the sessions it got kind of dark, desperate and evil, which we really liked. But I kind of added the humorous element later on. Give it a little,”Â he sniggers, “levity.”Â
“So much of the stuff is completely spontaneous, like that that whole section of music in ”ËWhen My Baby Comes’,”Â states Martyn Casey, referring to the second half of the song, which is dominated by his thunderously loud and depth charge deep bass playing, that was spliced to the more palliative first sequence. “The rest of the band where saying that it sounds like I’d fallen asleep or something, when I stop towards the middle, and then suddenly wake up again. I was just as jetlagged then. I spend half of my life completely jetlagged. Yeah, that was completely ”Ëin the moment’.”Â
“What happened with that one, ”ËWhen My Baby Comes’, was when we put down the bits of music, I think it was six CD’s and they all had about 16 tracks on them, the first part and the second part just came after each other, entirely by accident,”Â recalls Cave, referring to the twenty odd hours of music Grinderman created in their first mammoth five-day song writing/recording session. “I worked a singing part that could go over the violin section and that was all right. Then the next heavy psychedelic thing was chopped together.”Â
“There are a couple of them like that,”Â reveals Ellis. “We tried to redo them and couldn’t quite get what was great about that first thing, you know? When you are making music, the first time you do something, it’s genuinely like an exploration or something, the first time you play it when you are improvising. Then if somebody says to you, ”ËHey, that thing there was really good’, you are already self-conscious of it. And soon as you go to play it, it’s like ”ËOh, here comes the moment.’ So, it’s become a part already. And after three takes, three passes at it, it’s become a part, which is a very different thing to being a response. So the conversation becomes really different. Like with people you know, you’re just having a natural convention. Once it becomes forced, then you know that there is something very awkward about it.”Â
Cave agrees that his playing guitar in Grinderman has allowed him further entry into the central maelstrom of the music. “I can play the guitar now, reasonably well. It’s not this foreign thing in my hands anymore. If it’s a really cool lead, it’s usually Warren. If it’s sonic distortion, in the key of E, it’s me.”Â
“A lot of our shared history of what we like is in Grinderman,”Â opines Casey. “Particularly from my teenage years.”Â
“I think that’s true for all of us, “concurs Cave. “I mean, the reference points have broadened so much these days, so a lot of that stuff comes into play. Because, for me, if there is any sort of music that I know anything about its English Progressive music because that’s what I listened to as a kid. It’s what my brother used to play all the time. And I know that stuff really well. It’s in those years that you learn to really absorb things in a different kind of way. You never forget the hours that you spent looking at the cover of Emerson, Lake And Palmer’s Tarkus, or something like that. That experience is that it’s really ingrained into your subconscious; the hours spent listening and concentrating. Also the impact of the limited amount of information you get on the record cover. You don’t have that experience anymore. As I became an adult, I started to listen to music in a different way. And so the stuff that I remember, with such love, may not be that great music at all. But certainly there are some aspects of it that are wonderful, like King Crimson, Pink Floyd and the rest of them, you know.”Â
“Maybe so,’ considers Sclavunos,”Â but I think I’ve said this before about Grinderman; people like to project that it’s a return to the music of our youth, return to a youthful spirit, but I think we are quite adamant about the idea that this is music that we could only be making now, at the age we are at now, with the perspective we have now, with the skills we have now. If it sounds effortless, it’s because it’s a bunch of old guys not a bunch of young guys. I wish I was making music like this when I was a kid. I’ve had a lot of the same attitude, but it certainly didn’t have the same chops or the same breadth of knowledge. I guess you can hear a lot of other things, without it being one specific thing, but not in a derivative fashion. But it’s the assimilation of a lifetime of influences.”Â
“Well, you know, the last thing we want to do is go in and make a record that sounds like a Miles Davis record,”Â Cave pointedly replies, when asked about Grinderman’s shared love of Davis and Funkadelic. “Even though he’s obviously had a huge impact and is pretty much all I’ve listened to for about a year, a certain ten years that Miles Davis operated in during the 70’s. The editing techniques and the brutality of Teo Macero’s production, I think are all very influential. And Funkadelic too, for sure. Some of the production”Â¦. I remember playing Free Your Mind (Funkadelic’s second 1970 LP), a particular song too, to Launay as an alternate way to produce and mix a record in a song because it’s just so fucking wigged out. It sounds like someone has fallen over on the soundboard and is bumping the switches. What happens with the levels is so extraordinary. It’s definitely things like that, the radical guerrilla style of mixing that Launay got together on this Grinderman record that was really impressive. Where guitars come in way too loud, drums are mixed right back.”Â
Nick Launay is the revered producer who has now co-produced both Grinderman albums and three Bad Seeds since 2003; Nocturama, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus and Dig, Lazarus, Dig !!!.
“He’s constantly twiddling with the sound of the instruments,”Â Casey reveals. “It’s almost like he’s another member. In his inimitable way, it’s almost invisible the way he does it; he’s always changing the way different songs sound while we are actually doing it.”Â
“Launay’s great because he moves in a different world, he works out there with young and current bands, “declares Ellis. “When we started working with him it was much faster than he’d worked on records. I think he’s really enjoyed changing his approach. But he comes out of that punk rock world too, and he loves that kind of energy and that, so there is an understanding there. He’s also into pushing it was far as he can take it. A lot of his work is instinct. He’s sort of like, ‘I’ll give this a wobble and see what happens.’ He’s kinda great like that. He’s not quite sure half the time. I know he knows what’s going on, but you can see he’s taking risks as well. He likes to go as far as we want to go. So that’s good. He’s also able to make some decisions, sees things when we get a bit clouded in there: ”ËAll right, why don’t we try this?’ He’s definitely really important and Launay gets good sounds down. He has good taste. He’ll say,’ That was a good one and that was a good one’, and generally we will agree with him.”Â
The Grinderman 2 album features extensive illustrations of the songs by a young German artist Ilinca Hopfner, who had come to Cave’s attention when she had made an animated video for The Bad Seeds song ”ËMoonland’ (from the 2008 LP Dig, Lazarus, Dig !!!). For each song, Mickey Mouse and The Goodbye Man/Wolfman seem to be locked in a bitter perpetual struggle. Their progress is watched by cartoon depictions of Grinderman festooned in various indeterminate Far Eastern sacred ropes, including what appears to be a Nick Cave evil twin and the ”Ëlupine child with her hair on fire’, portrayed in the lyrics of ”ËMickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man’.
“I asked her if she would do an animated visual interpretation of the first song, ”ËMickey Mouse And The Goodbye Man’,”Â relates Cave. “She was very happy to do that. She toiled away on it, day and night for about three months and did this really amazing video. She sent some great storyboards, so we got her to illustrate all the songs, and to create a loose sort of narrative that ran from song to song.
We spent a hundred hours on the phone over this, trying to work out a kind of overarching tale. As soon as we had it done, I promptly forgot what it is.”Â
“I think the more redundant the CD becomes, perversely, the more effort we put into the creation of it, more thought about the order of the songs, all of that sort of stuff,”Â continues Cave, warming to his theme. “I think what we were trying to go for, visually, with this record was something that harked back to the day of the considered album as a work of art. Because it’s not a redundant format, it actually works really well. The album is a great length of time for a record and it’s a great opportunity to do something that is interesting visually. So, we are putting more and more time into it. Vinyl, that’s all I play these days. I play CD’s in the car. When I listen to music at home, it’s always vinyl. “
The next Grinderman single is ”ËWorm Tamer’; a double AA side that features a UNKLE remix (which was released on 22nd November 2010), following on from the Grinderman collaboration with the legendary guitarist Robert Fripp on the 12 inch ”ËSuper Heathen Child’. “That’s really cool,”Â confirms Ellis. “The other thing with Grinderman is we feel we can put it out in the world a bit and do some things that The Bad Seeds have been kept shielded from. We thought let’s try some remixes.”Â “Well, you know, with Grinderman it’s anything goes,”Â Cave states. “Ten minute flute solos, followed by a drum and spoken word duet,’ laughs Sclavunos. “That’s the stuff people are going to want to see live.”Â
“There is something with The Bad Seeds that I actually really like, that there is a suspicion about a lot of peripheral activities that a band can get into,”Â adds Cave. “And Grinderman have decided that we will attempt anything. And that we aren’t putting these limitations on what we do. Just for interest’s sake, really. And some of that stuff I think we can bring back to ”ËThe Mothership’.”Â
Stand back; Grinderman are about to blast off and the destination is out, once again shaping and rejuvenating Cave’s other group in the process. “I think Grinderman feel kind of likeminded about things and we’re anxious to take it to more extreme places,’ Cave emphasises. “I’m personally gearing up to write the next Bad Seeds record and I’m really excited about the prospect of that. I have absolutely no idea what it’s going to be like. There is a huge opportunity to take The Bad Seeds somewhere else again. Where that is I have absolutely no idea at this point in time and I’ll work that out when I go to the office and start writing. “
But that’s another story.
‘Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man’, the new single from Grinderman, will be released on 13 June 2011. Taken from their second studio album Grinderman 2, Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man will be available as a download and 12”. Along with the album version of Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man, the 12”Â format will include exclusive tracks and a brand new Josh Homme remix.
Grinderman play Spanish festival Primavera on 26 May and will play the UK on 24 July as part of the I’ll Be Your Mirror event (co-curated by Portishead and All Tomorrow’s Parties) at Alexandra Palace. Tickets are on sale at: www.atpfestival.com
Copyright ÃÂ© Ian Johnston 2010