GRINDERMAN////JIM SCLAVUNOS////JUNE 2008
There seems to be a common but slightly incorrect thread running through the music press regarding Grinderman and their identity. I mean, it’s not really surprising that people might assume it was another Nick Cave side project, considering he hand-picked three of his baddest Bad Seeds for some extra recording sessions in Paris a few years back. These sessions gave a new backbone to the way in which NC & the Bad Seeds did their thang, plus the critically acclaimed and globally approved Grinderman debut self titled album was born. The band’s drummer and all round cool dude Jim Sclavunos takes some time out to dispel this myth and lets us in on the world that is Grinderman…
Firstly, I think it might be cool if you could define what Grinderman are and dispel some of the various interpretations the media have bashed around?
The term that we kick around, which I also have objections to, is ‘satellite band’. This implies that we are a smaller band that orbits around the bigger entity of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, but that’s not really accurate. Really, it’s just another band, man. I don’t know why that’s hard for people to understand. We are fairly intelligent human beings and we’re capable of multi-tasking as well as doing more than one thing in series, so it’s just another band with another style. I think the style is distinct enough from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that it should be understandable to the listener. But beyond that and within the band it’s a very different operation, because we write all the songs together in Grinderman, which is not the case in Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Nick mostly writes everything himself for the Bad Seeds. It’s Nick’s vehicle for his song writing, augmented by a cast of characters he feels comfortable with and he has been working with for years, whereas Grinderman is more or less the same cast of characters, but we write the songs together and it has a whole different attitude, and Nick can actually subsume himself into the band and not feel like it all hangs on his shoulders.
I’d read that the material produced from those original sessions eventually provided the backbone for the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album ‘Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus’. Would I be right in thinking that the formation of Grinderman kind of changed how Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds would work on future albums? If so, how did the remaining Bad Seeds feel about this?
Inevitably it did. It wasn’t based so much on any kind of success in a commercial sense, but once you’ve opened a Pandora’s Box of ideas or working methods, it’s very hard to go back. We assimilated some of the technology and some of the habits and some of the presumptions of Grinderman, and like it or not (laughs), we kinda imposed it on the Bad Seeds. For the most part they really liked it, ‘cause of, like, fourteen years of working together. Ok, so it’s a little frightening to shake things up, but on the other hand it’s also a bit of a relief that you have something new to do and a new way of doing it. It’s not like we have anything to be afraid of, so why not…
Can you remember a specific point or a clinching moment when Grinderman, within its own entity, was born?
Actually there was an earlier epiphany or recognition that happened right around the time Nocturama was released. Mute had requested that Nick do some sort of press performance to mark its release and as usual the Bad Seeds were scattered to the four corners of the earth. I just happened to be in London at the time. Nick had this solo band he’d been working with for a while, but it was beginning to splinter a little bit. He found out I was in town, Marty (bass player) was also around with Warren, so we said let’s see what we can do as a four piece. These songs were usually performed by an eight piece. It was a completely different thing that had a different sort of energy. Nick had never really heard me play drums. I was mainly a percussionist in the band, so he’d never heard me do an entire set, and Marty and I have a good chemistry so clicked immediately. This gave Warren a spring board he’d never had before, which was inspiring for him I think. That was the turning point; we suddenly realised that we had the makings of a band.
So what happens if you are all together as Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, but you are kinda having one of those Grinderman kinda days?
(laughs) I feel pretty schizophrenic all the time…
Finally on this subject, how do the other members of the Bad Seeds feel about the success of Grinderman?
Does it really matter? (laughs)…
I believe you’re going into the studio after the summer festival stint to record the follow-up album. Can I ask if there is a working title yet or if many of the songs have been written?
Nothing’s written yet, no title, we just started talking about the nuts and bolts of booking the sessions yesterday. But we work really fast, and the way we went about making the last Grinderman record is something we adopted for the Bad Seeds as well. Nick is very capable of writing oodles of songs, on his own, in his basement, scratching away for weeks on end, and he’s quite happy to do that, but he also likes when we work on songs together. That’s usually the best way for us to come up with stuff that’s a little bit more unpredictable. The sessions tend to be really long and we tend to come up with some good ideas, then we select from those hours and hours of recording. Sometimes there are even entire songs which have just come out of the ether that are ready to be cut to disc.
To date, Grinderman have only ever done three shows in the UK. So after the summer, can we expect more time dedicated to European shows due to the release of the 2nd album?
Well the festivals that we are doing are all European. Yeah it’s true, we haven’t done as much in Europe as we could have, but we haven’t done as much in the US as we could have. And yes, we probably have played more shows in the US, but it totals no more than four. It’s always a calendar crunch; it’s not from a lack of desire. We’re gonna try and rectify that, but we don’t also don’t want to neglect Australia or America either. I think we’ll try and do it equally all around, and I also think next year will be the year of Grinderman. Our Bad Seeds commitments for next year are pretty minimal at this point, so that will leave us with a lot more time to devote to Grinderman.
The name Grinderman has come from old blues legend Memphis Slim, who back in 1941 suggested “while everything is quiet and easy, Mr. Grinder can have his way…” but I wondered what other names were considered for the band?
Cuntox was one (laughs). It’s some kind of Australian expression, but it turned out there was a Captain Cuntox on MySpace, so…(laughs), that’s the problem with the free flow of information on the web, it’s more inhibiting than inspiring (laughs). But it’s probably all for the best, cause we probably didn’t need to be calling ourselves Cuntox.
Would you consider bringing in other musicians for guest appearances on the next Grinderman album?
Well, we already have. When we did our very first shows, we had Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream doing percussion, but Bobby had other things to do in his life than be our percussionist (laughs), so we had to learn to handle it ourselves, which we’ve done. So yeah, it’d be fun to bring in other people, but there’s no real plans as yet…
There’s a great quote on the internet which kept coming up whenever I googled you, where you were once described as an “infamous elegant degenerate”, is this a fair assumption?
Well you’d have to sleep with me to find out…
As a native New Yorker, how big an impact has the Big Apple had on your work?
With the New York stuff, that’s part of my personal history, so to say it inspired me isn’t really right. I mean I was making the music, so I couldn’t have been inspired by it, it’s sort of one and the same. I spent a little time in Memphis, as a sort of extended musical holiday playing with people like Alex Chiltern and Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. That was quite inspiring because it was a kind of roots based music, which I’d never played up until this point. It was something that was completely out of my realm of experience. When I was younger I was a real art-rock snob and would only listen to the most dissident of stuff available, like free jazz and avant-garde composers, because that was my milieu. Growing up in New York at that time, there were people like Robert Ashley, La Monte Young; we had the legacy of the Velvet Underground, we had Terry Riley, Steve Reich, we had the whole vast contingent of avant-garde jazz music from the sixties. There was a lot of stuff, which was very extreme, non-commercial and very inspiring. So yes, I was inspired by a lot of the other music I was hearing. Then when I moved to Memphis I got to hear popular music and Rockabilly and stuff like that, Soul Music, there was a rich array of that kinda stuff coming out of Memphis. It was a whole new world for me, and there’s where I’ve kinda been for the past thirty years, y’know, somewhere between the extremes of New York music and the sort of soulfulness of Memphis Music.
To date you have been involved in over 16 legendary cult bands such as The Cramps, Sonic Youth, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, not forgetting the Bad Seeds in a career which spans back to 1978. After being so heavily involved in music for the last 30 years, and being directly involved in so many cult scenes, which do you remember having the greatest time with and why?
I guess I’m on a bit of a nostalgia trip at the moment, ‘cause I just went back to New York to play a one off show with Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch, and Thurston (Moore) filled in, (laughs). Most of our band members are dead now, mostly recently the drummer died, so I filled in, cause I couldn’t imagine anyone else filling in. He had a marvellous hand-fisted style that I think I managed to emulate. Thurston filled in for me on bass. It was a really cool time. We had no resources, and nobody really liked the type of music we were making – literally! I can remember a maximum of no more than 10 people ever turning up to one show; we were rejected by the press, we were rejected by the whole CBGB’s scene and yet we managed to make some pretty intense music for about two to four years. I think it’s still quite confrontational, but I can’t help but see it through nostalgic eyes these days, so I wonder if it still has the same power as it used to. I really can’t figure it out if it does or it doesn’t. People’s threshold of tolerance changes from year to year. What’s an appalling noise one year may well be the next year’s mellow groove, but I don’t think we’ve quite reached that point yet with the ‘No Wave’ stuff. In fact I’ll give Thurston and Bryon a little plug, cause they’ve just put a book out with photos from that era. It’s a nice little book, (laughs) we’ve finally become coffee table material, so surely that must be the end of it all. Like I said though, it’s a good book, it gives you some sort of idea of the fertility of the scene. It wasn’t a huge scene, and as with many, the musicians involved were the main audience. Everyone was checking out each other’s stuff and checking out each other’s shows…so yeah, the ‘No Wave’ scene man…nothing like it!
Nowadays, tell me about the ideal Grinderman after show party?
I think we like to have a nice Currywurst. It’s sort of a Berlin speciality which you can get in various parts of Europe. It’s a sausage with a curry sauce over it. It’s what we used to dine on nightly in our earlier days, when we were gallivanting around Berlin. It still tastes nicer than any kinda posh meal you end up going out for…so have a Currywurst and Pommes Frites and it’s very satisfying…(laughs)
What can we expect from your appearance at Latitude?
Well I’m growing my beard back. I shaved it off for Bad Seeds, just to have some sort of personal demarcation to remind myself of which band I’m in. But it’s growing back and I’m looking pretty horrible at the moment, but I’m hoping it’ll be in full bloom; we also may have one or two new songs that we may dare to present to the public, although Nick usually has a reluctance to do such things, but we might be able to persuade him to do a couple of new ones. It’ll be a festival, so it’ll be a lot more relaxed than the forum show – hopefully we’ll be in a sunny disposition…
If Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were likened to a bottle of Bourbon and 20 Lucky Strikes, how would you best describe Grinderman?
Erm, probably an ashtray full of butts and a broken bottle of Heineken (laughs)…