Interview with Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds & Grinderman): “We are musicians with different interests”.
After so many years being the leader of his band the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave, along with his rarely seen and no name band of many years, decided to form a more concrete project that has an alternative approach to music and incorporates sounds and attitudes which the Bad Seeds weren’t able to incorporate in their music. The result of it being Grinderman, a band whose furious music equally entertains and shocks with its directness, rawness and brutality. Grinderman consists of members of the Bad Seeds plus Warren Ellis, Martin Casey and Jim Sclavunos. This eruptive punk-blues explosion brings Nick Cave to the unrefined, renegade sound he had neglected for so long, which is evident in the fact that he replaced the piano with an electric guitar. Two studio albums, a number of singles and excellent live performances show that this band has a different, more serious attitude towards this project. What their music sounds like live could be heard and seen at the 12th Exit music festival, where their performance was one of the best in the history of the festival.
Jim Sclavunos has been a member of the Bad Seeds since 1994, and his prolific CV includes working with various noise bands such as Lydia Lynch’s Teenage Jesus and the Jerks during the New York No Wave scene, and the cult bands Sonic Youth and the Cramps. At the end of their Australian tour in December 2011 Nick Cave announced the end of the project band, at least when it comes to studio recordings, not excluding the possibility of a future live concert performance. Their next project is an album with the Bad Seeds, who are going through a new phase now since the last member of the original band, Mick Harvey, has left.
– When it comes to the sound of this group of people then you can trust your ears. If it sounds different then it is different, if it doesn’t, well, what can I say, you should try to make it different. That was one of the objectives we were trying to achieve, to make two different kinds of bands because we are musicians with various interests and we wanted to express those interests. One band could not accomplish all of that. Until that moment the Bad Seeds had existed for a long time and had gone through many phases but there were working methods based on working habits and concepts. With Grinderman we wanted to reject those habits and concepts and force ourselves to work in a different way. It was all for the purpose of seeing what will come out of such an approach. Because of that, when we entered the studio, we didn’t have an idea that Grinderman is going to be anything specific, it simply evolved that way. We have also been playing as a backing band with Nick Cave and that brought about this semi-garage, semi-psychedelic sound. Nick and Warren also composed music for several film soundtracks, so they experimented with loops and other things. The idea of combining these two things was present and the idea of improvisation turned us away from working on songs. Up until we entered the studio and began improvising we didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t even know we could make an album. At the time we finished the album we thought of making another one since we were very happy with the results.
So the energy and thrill made you record the second one?
– We needed more time for the second. When you have two bands and trying to keep them both active, it’s getting difficult, and it’s getting a bit confusing if they don’t overlap much. The next thing we did was to go on tour with it instead of neglecting it. We all have our projects on the side. Nick and Warren are active in film music. Martin Casey worked with the Triffids. I was engaged in production of other bands and remixes, and when we didn’t work we focused on Grinderman, and then on the Bad Seeds and vice versa.
– I believe we are generally satisfied, although there is a constant underlying discontent since we are always looking towards the next thing we are supposed to do, that is, what we can do in a different way. We can’t sit still, especially Nick, who constantly pressures us and tests what has been done so far and is always ready to move on. I think it’s great that he moves us in that way. You can never say we are fully satisfied with what we have done, still we’re rather pleased with the two albums. They sound differently, but you can see the common line that permeates them. The first one is direct, it is right into your face, and it represents us as who we are in a simple way. The second one is broader and more contradictory with much more atmosphere, more psychedelic structures. Some themes have much more groove or are more abstract, such as, let’s say, “Evil” or “Worm Tamer”. Sometimes we work with what we recorded at the studio, which is the case with “Bellringer Blues”. What Warren and the rhythm section are doing is what we did to a large extent in the first album – improvisations with sections recorded over them without any additional changes. Some songs, like “Evil” and “Worm Tamer” were built layer by layer. Those are the methods Nick used to use back in the early days of the Bad Seeds, including the album Tender Pray. So we used a lot of methods, including live performances and improvisations.
It’s interesting you had Robert Fripp of the King Crimson as a guest in the song “Super Heathen Child”.
– We are huge fans of a song from Brian Eno’s first album, “Baby’s on Fire,” where Fripp plays a crazy solo section and we wanted to have something similar. Fripp did so much and he was out of that phase at the time, but Nick encouraged him and persuaded him to do something in that kind of mood. It’s actually my favourite version of the song. The good side of remixes is the different approach to remixing. Sometimes it’s quite close to the original, and sometimes it’s completely different. We made a dubstep version of “Evil” with one band. Faris Badwan of the Horrors made an excellent remix of “When My Baby Comes”. It’s the first time that we made remixes and they are interesting and exciting, and added a new dimension to the songs. Our videos were special, too, especially the “Heathen Child” video. A lot of the peripheral things about the album, such as the cover design, videos and remixes, helped the album in a way we never expected. The videos were strange and they helped by suggesting a story we weren’t aware existed in the lyrics.
They reminded me of B production films of the eighties, like the films of John Carpenter.
– Those are the actual movies we based our videos on.
Was it easy to communicate the magic of working in a studio to live performances?
– We are trying to keep things fresh, and when it comes to me, I try to keep an improvisational attitude towards playing as much as it is possible, with certain directions. With this band and with what we do it is impossible to make an improvisation that would last for 20 minutes, that way we wouldn’t have time to play the rest of the songs. When it comes to the songs, to what is there inside them, we try to do things spontaneously. I, for sure, don’t play in the same way every night. Now that I say this, I believe there is a great consistency and everything is connected by Martin’s bass guitar. He is the core that we all oscillate around.
– The only hindrance is the time, but it surely doesn’t happen when it comes to creativity. The one incites the other. The next Bad Seeds album is going to be a sequel and reaction to the second Grinderman album, in a way that Dig Lazarus Dig was a continuation and reaction of the first Grinderman album. Grinderman’s first album was a continuation of something else. Since it’s the same group of people there is a continuity, and since we’ve wanted to do something different, we are a different band after all, with different musical goals, the next album is going to be a reaction to all of it. It won’t stop the band. The only thing that hinders us is the fact that there isn’t enough time in a day, or days enough for us to make albums with both bands and promote them on tour. Those tours give us more pleasure since the songs are performed in a different way in a studio and live, and the primary ideas that we had, come to the surface.
How will the leaving of Mick Harvey affect this band? He was the last member of the first lineup of the band, and is one of the most recognizable characters, except for Cave. Although people have a tendency to see you as Nick Cave and the rest of them, still a band is a band.
– Yes, although people see us in that way in most cases, things aren’t really as they appear. With Mick leaving now, things will change, again. The band has undergone so many changes. Mick was the last member of the original lineup, together with Nick. I think he wanted to leave for quite a long time, but felt he had to stay for a while. Now he’s gone and we will move on. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next, but the bad Seeds have been through several phases so I suppose it is just a new chapter in the history of the band.