Who said Sundays were the day of rest? Nobody here at Clash, that’s for sure.
Our acoustic Sunday Sessions at Camden’s Lock Tavern are legendary. Packed into one fine sized boozer we cram a clutch of great bands and pit them face to face with their adoring public, with some well-known bods placed behind the decks to fill the time in between bands.
This time around, Video Nasties had the unenviable task of hitting the stage first, playing to all those who’d just finished their highly delicious Sunday roasts.
Their out-of-tune guitars did little to dissuade them from putting on a great show, goaded by their staunchest fans in the front row.
After a cracking DJ set from The Boy Least Likely To (his first public outing behind the ones and twos!), it was time for the multi national wonder that is 747s.
The stripped back quartet squeezed onto the tiny makeshift stage and demonstrated to all present why they are so renowned for slaying all those who experience them. Gorgeous harmonies blended and twisted, floating out the patio doors and had all those outside peering in the window trying to find out who was making such fantastical sounds.
Night, by this time, had truly fallen, and the darkness brought with it a teeming crowd trying to force their away upstairs ahead of Cajun Dance Party’s set. The band, who are all underage and not actually supposed to be in a drinking establishment, were firmly ensconced in the upstairs office, while all those downstairs were treated to an exemplary sharing music from the discernable DJ talents of William from The Mystery Jets, whose tastes in tunes were considerably better than that of his jumpers…
With the upstairs room wall to wall with expectant faces, suitably drowned in ale and spirits, the stage was finally ready for Cajun Dance Party. Replete with a string section especially for tonight’s event, the group relished the intimate surroundings and brought the night to a head with their intricate melodies and delicate musings.
The ensuing party afterwards was awash with compliments for the youngsters, who scurried off as quick as they came, astonishingly rushing home ahead of the next day’s school.
Huge thanks to all who ventured to Kilburn on Saturday night for what turned out to be a glorious celebration of noise in the Luminaire.
Sunny Day Sets Fire made sure the evening started as it meant to go on, with a fantastic release of joyous abandon as the multi-instrumentalists filled the stage and demanded your attention.
It was then time for Pete And The Pirates, whose admissions of nervousness seemed futile as they proceeded to storm the venue with a brilliant display of rock rarely seen on the seven seas. The Reading 5-piece saw their harmonies soar across the hallowed room of Clash Club and imbued every soul present.
Finally it was time for our old friends Battle to come and, er, do battle on the sacred Clash stage.
Never ones to shy away from a challenge, they exceeded themselves with a searing performance of heavenly proportions; Jason’s lungs almost spilling out his mouth…
Among those congregated to marvel at the wonder that is Battle included one half of The View, themselves graduates of the Clash Club stage, having graced us with their presence back in July 2005. Sticking around for the post-bands knees-up, their DJ requests of The Stooges, Razorlight, Rolling Stones and, er, Ocean Colour Scene were all broadcast to the dancing crowd. Except one…
Mark Ronson is the favourite party DJ for lots of New Yoikers and celebs – so I hear – and is currently polishing his mantel as ‘producer du jour’.
His new album, Versions, will do nothing to harm his reputation, although the initially tantalising covers are likely to fall fowl on repeated plays to the trumpets and motown flashback beats which are now his signature sound.
Mark was happily airing his covers at Fabric, and the crowd were having fun, especially when Daniel Merriweather popped up onstage in a Curiousity Killed the Cat-esque black hat to belt out new single ‘Stop Me’. This track is nothing short of brilliant – Morrissey and the Supremes merge together like beans and toast – and it was great to hear live, not only because it gave us a rest from the rather rubbish MC: surely the first rule of MC club is to not sing over great rappers’ rhymes? Jay-Z he wasn’t, but he was the one onstage with the mic, so we were subjected to his deluded aspirations.
So, ‘Stop Me’ sounded great. Tracks from Versions, especially ‘Oh My God’ a la Lily Allen with some dare-you-not-to-dance beats, sounded great. But why, oh why, does such a feted DJ play out such obvious hip hop songs? Are they forced to follow a fixed set-list of predictability? You could have passed the time placing bets on what ‘classic’ he was going to play next. Dead Prez’ ‘Hip Hop’? MOP’s ‘Ante Up’? All that and more. On another occasion it would have been good fun, but Mark Ronson played to a crowd with high expectations, and he failed to match them.
Renowned for artistically slanted works such as The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Pillow Book with little consideration for mainstream conventions, Peter Greenaway’s discussion of cinema’s evolution and future was less austere than expected.
With a biting sense of humour and rush of firmly held opinions, Greenaway is a captivating public speaker. In essence, his argument is that cinema to the present day has been a disappointment as an art form; its ultra-passive illustrative text at odds with the growing multitude of media forms and sense of interaction that is experienced by contemporary audiences elsewhere. Despite his authoritative knowledge, interpreting what his ideas will mean in practice to a mass audience was trickier: his Tulse Luper VJ performance surely an indication of the future rather than the future itself.
On his debut LP for Ninja Tune, DJ Kentaro creates a space where music is not constrained by pace or genre, a world without walls. He invites you to ‘Enter’ – prepare to be astonished.
DJ Kentaro’s win at the 2002 World DMC Championships is legendary. He achieved the highest score in the competition’s history, with a technically flawless, powerfully musical set that astonished judges, crowds, and competitors alike. His affiliation with Ninja Tune began soon after – a fixture on the Zen TV tours, his originally Japan-only Solid Steel mix for the label became a hot import. His hyper-speed beat-juggling and scratching actually pushed things forward – but his lasting contribution to turntablism will be his open-ended personal philosophy, expressed as ‘No Walls Between The Music’.
To put Kentaro’s eclecticism in context, he was born too late to claim one single genre as his own. He was just 20 when they crowned him Best DJ in the World, and handed him a pair of gold Technics. But although he shook the DMCs and the DJ fraternity to its core, he refuses to be messianic about his mission: “There will always be purists,” he says. “As long as they enjoy their pure form, that is OK.”
Kentaro is also modest when discussing his 2002 win: “I think the DMCs were better before I won. People like Scratch Perverts, Roc Raida, Q Bert, DJ Craze and A-Trak are legendary now.” Since 2002, many more scratch DJs are cross-cutting genres and playing sets that are musical, rather than battling or doing short, showpiece mixes. “You never know,” Kentaro hints, “I may come back in a year or two.”
In London for a rare press day is to discuss his debut artist LP, ‘Enter’, Kentaro is keen to point out that the album has been gestating for a while. “I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve made tunes for a long time, but I started this album one and a half years ago. It’s my understanding of hip-hop, taking in many styles of music. When I won the DMCs I brought in reggae, hip-hop, house and drum and bass into a six-minute set. The album is an extension of this vision that music is borderless.”
‘Enter’ is not the standard ‘DJ turns producer’ album. Far from it. Kentaro can employ any or all of his chosen genre elements in one song, making the notion that they are separate and distinct forms absurd. Opening track ‘New World Dawning’ flows effortlessly from traditional Japanese shamisen strings, via hip-hop and glitched-up electro to jungle, all in under three minutes. Guest appearances from label-mates New Flesh and Spank Rock are also above par. Was this because the Hollertronix crew and Part 2’s mob share a similar musical perspective? And how did he get the Pharcyde involved?
“They are all friends first,” Kentaro replies. “I first met The Pharcyde in 2003, and we jammed together. The track ‘Space Jungle’ has all 4 members of Spank Rock rapping together for the first time. They said, ‘Leave us for a few hours,’ so me and my manager left the room and came back. They’d written all the words down, and drunk a bottle of vodka. It’s great fun working with Spank Rock!”
Kentaro’s debut sits comfortably alongside Ninja Tune’s seminal back catalogue, and its more recent masterworks. “My dream was to release my debut album on Ninja Tune,” he says proudly. “People such as Coldcut, DJ Food and Funki Porcini have been in my record collections for as long as I can remember.”
Music is borderless.
The first Asian DJ to win the DMC’s, Kentaro is in a unique position to comment on the turntablism scene in Japan: “There are people like DJ Come and Yasa that people should look out for, for sure. A lot of the best turntabalists around at the moment seem to come from France and Germany too. It’s hard to get noticed in Japan as a turntablist, there are fewer venues than in the UK, where you have many pubs too. In Japan, more people have turntables than guitars.”
Despite the competition and the lack of smaller venues, Japan’s club scene always gives a hearty welcome to Ninja Tune’s Zen TV tour. Standing in the massive, warehouse-like space of AgeHa (an 8,000 capacity Tokyo venue with 30-foot video walls, a poolside dancefloor, and a soundsystem the size of a semi-detached house), a lucky few thousand punters witnessed Kentaro and collaborators Spank Rock and Coldcut rip it up in spectacular fashion in April last year. It felt like a unique moment in music history – British clubbing paled in comparison, with its dingy basement venues and boombox PAs.
If you’re lucky, Kentaro may export his sound in the near future: “I like the multiculturalism of London,” he explains. “No walls between people! I like playing Cargo: it may be smaller, but it has an amazing new sound system. People come to Cargo to see you, where as at other clubs there is a bigger bill. I would like to get some of the MCs from the album to my shows. It would be great to get the Pharcyde up on the stage with me!”
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, check out the YouTube links below, which include Kentaro’s winning DMC set and an absolutely astonishing battle clip, where he takes on legendary shamisen musician Shinichi Kinoshita. As moving as it is mind-blowing, it perfectly demonstrates why ‘No Walls Between The Music’ makes perfect sense.
“Each genre or scene should have their own pride and thoughts,” says Kentaro finally. “Perhaps if everyone was a ‘No-Waller’, people could get closer and shake hands, and maybe make the world more peaceful.”
New York is a city steeped in hip-hop. From the beat-juggling birthing pains of the block parties that pushed two turntables and a microphone into the public eye, through the ghetto cartoons of 50 Cent’s recent mumblings, the Big Apple has been soundtracked by the boom-bap of kick and snare for some 30 years. Unlike West Coast rap, the East specialises in abrasive subversion: like the Bomb Squad and Wu Tang before him, El-P takes on hip-hop’s increasingly smoothed-out templates with sonic sandpaper, scratching strange shapes into its commercial veneer.
The MC and producer made his name as a member of the ever-leftfield Company Flow and rose to prominence as a producer of hip-hop concrete for his own Definitive Jux label. As his dense, stylised production for indie-hop heroes such as Cannibal Ox and Mike Ladd suggests, he cuts an intellectual and impassioned figure, an unusual combination in a genre whose mainstream is made up of laid-back thugs and syrupy R&B balladeers. His second solo album, ‘I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead’, is more like a gothic novel than the hood-rat Danielle Steel romances served up by his contemporaries.
“I want to make music which has a slow draw before the payoff,” he says. “It makes it harder to dispose of: I want the record to last for the listener. It’s not a one-off visceral hit. The music has scope and gravity to it. It moves and surprises.”
The detailed beats of ‘I’ll Sleep…’ makes it an uneasy listen: it’s not an album to throw on the stereo for a spin of the singles before you hit the pub for a night of talking shit. The blend of heavy beats, electro glitches, soulful strings and samples is frankly unsettling. “I try to combine the influence of different factors in the production to get a different perspective. It’s all about the well-combined moment,” El muses. “It’s cathartic. These are the things I’m trying to do. ”
The Brooklyn resident has strong ideas on how long-players should be made. “An album should exist as a whole. It’s a beautiful and honourable thing to make.” When Clash puts it to him that most rappers short-change the listener by tying three club-friendly singles together with track after track of incoherent filler and calling it an album, he sighs and shakes his head. “It’s a huge problem. It’s why people are disinterested in hip-hop.” Dancefloor anthems do have a place, though: “Bangers aren’t in opposition to the album, but every song should count. They should intensify and challenge, make the listener change. I want albums to mean something.”
Luckily, El-P puts his money where his mouth is on this front. There’s a strange cohesion to his raps and production on ‘I’ll Sleep…’, despite the topics touched on and the musical detours taken. “There’s a definite story arc to the album, but not in a literal sense,” he says. “It’s got moments of tranquillity: harsh moments count and tranquil or soulful moments count. I’m concerned about making albums that smash up and down.”
In this respect the new album is reminiscent of Nas’ ‘Illmatic’. The tone of the record might change from track to track, but there’s an element of artistic vision behind it. It gives you the impression of viewing photographs of the same object taken from a variety of angles: you can’t take the whole thing in from any one snapshot, but the thing you’re looking at is undoubtedly there in its entirety. You’re just left to draw your own conclusions as to what you’re seeing. It’s this feeling of uncertainty that El-P seems to be alluding to when he talks about making the listener develop a relationship with his record. ‘I’ll Sleep…’ doesn’t pony up its meaning in easy bites; you get out what you put in.
I’m concerned about making albums that smash up and down.
The other strong similarity between these albums is a sense of place. Like all of New York’s finest, the city itself is writ large in ‘I’ll Sleep…’s claustrophobic songs. With lines like, “You know, you look really pretty without handcuffs on”, even love is put in the context of incarceration and oppression. The New York put across by El-P is close to the ghostly shadows of the Wu’s ‘36 Chambers’: disconcerting and frightening.
“The city’s influence permeates me, and underscores the music,” according to the producer. “It’s just where I’m from; I’m inspired by life.” Not that every song is about an NYC specific: “You can be abstract if you’re eloquent about what you’re portraying.” El-P’s relationship with the city is also suitably complex. “It’s not affection or disdain: the reach extends beyond that. It’s just the paradigm I live in. I was born and raised in New York: The energy and frenetic stress affect the way I talk.”
With a “confrontational” live show to enjoy when El-P tours Europe later this year, we’ve got a lot more to look forward to from him before he disappears back behind the boards to craft some more spooky beats for his stable of Def Jux artists. He promises to bring the same ethos to whatever he’s working on next: “We’re raw with our shit. The drums are here to bang.”
“How long is this going to take?” is never a good start to any interview, but Bianca Casady has her reasons.
Talking from a New York apartment on a Monday afternoon, her sister Sierra making numerous strumming and rattling noises in the background, it was clear that it wasn’t that one half of CocoRosie didn’t want to speak, but she didn’t know how to answer questions about something so personal, so creative and so… unclassified.
I say unclassified as that’s exactly what my own iTunes genre box said when I slipped the sisters’ latest record, ‘The Adventures Of Ghosthorse And Stillborn’, into my computer.
“I don’t feel like we fit into a box, but it’s always curious to see what sort of box others put us in. We’re like a braid of multi-coloured hair. Whatever the style of music, the lyrics will contrast it – that’s what makes it so alive,” a nervous Bianca says in a whisper.
A label may be a mystery, but one thing that is clear is that this latest offering recorded in Reykjavik with Icelandic producer and Bjork collaborator Valgeir Sigurosson is a move in a new direction compared to the CocoRosie that has come before with ‘La Maison du Mon Reve’ and ‘Noah’s Ark’.
It’s simple, its production is a step up from the steely tiles of a shoebox bathroom and the underlying hip-hop influences that were more obscured before now shine through. There’s a maturity, but still with a childlike quality. There’s still the haunting ambience, but it’s richer and more uplifting and it’s more melodic, while still being experimental. It’s the love child of Billie Holiday and Puccini growing up on the dark corners of Brooklyn before riding a horse into a South of France sunset.
It’s hard to believe the Iowa-born sisters, now in their mid-20s, hardly spoke a word to each other for ten years, only coming together again in 2003. Now they are inseparable and spend their time flitting from New York, Paris and their French rural retreat.
“We had seen each other a few times, but we had abstained from speaking to each other. It was less of children being split up and more of us choosing not to connect. When we finally got back together and started making music, we just lost ourselves in the project. Now we get along really well. We stay together most of the time and it can get a little crazy, but we just incorporate that into the music. We handle it together.
I feel at home in the South of France, but we are both comfortable moving around all the time. It brings us inspiration. We stay on a farm surrounded by horses and other animals. It can be really spooky and some of the scenes are reflected in our recordings, creating the haunting parts of the album. There are the owls at night and the old barn. It’s really magical with no one else around. We like to get our high boots on and go walking in the swamps. But it’s juxtaposed with the sound of the street. Ever since our first album, we have been going in a hip hop-direction.” Although cagey about delving into what ‘Ghosthorse And Stillborn’ is about and what it represents, Bianca admits it is more autobiographical than CocoRosie’s last albums. The daughters of a spiritualist father and healer mother have written about family and relationships, with the father figure coming under much scrutiny, especially in ‘Werewolf’.
We are always changing who we are. We still feel like we’re ten and getting younger every day. It doesn’t seem possible that we’re getting older.
“He was the black magic wielder, some say a witch… the bastard that broke up the marriage” – is father the monster? Whatever it may be, the contrasting voices of the sisters works beautifully.
“There is talk about family members and our experiences. A lot of the lyrics are taken from journals, which makes the words very honest. It’s not about what we have been doing, more major experiences, like moments from our childhood. It was an instinctual progression to present these stories, which are more naked that was has been before. They are not shrouded in cobwebs.” Bianca slowly opens up from talking about a childhood where she would burn ants and hunt rabbits with her sister to her new life, playing in Egypt, Morocco and Carnegie Hall.
But not wanting to put the spotlight on themselves and their inner feelings, the sisters have created multi-alter egos. Bianca as artist Red Bone Slim, changing genders and ages repeatedly to fit into wherever she feels comfortable at any one time and Sierra hushed up in the background plucking her harp, revealing nothing but a penchant for opera and trigonometry. “I don’t relate to wanting to share something, but it forces its way out in several of the songs, ‘Werewolf’ in particular. But we are always changing who we are. We still feel like we’re ten and getting younger every day. It doesn’t seem possible that we’re getting older. There’s a song on the album called ‘Bloody Twins’. They are characters we have created, a myth. We are being someone else all of the time. We like the mystery.”
And the age acrobatics makes ‘Ghosthorse And Stillborn’ a varied fantasy, a “world of teenage dream”, jumping from the thumping and intoxication ‘Japan’ to the soft and serene Davendra Banhart cover of ‘Houses’. CocoRosie will be touring from April and working on their individual projects, Bianca with her Red Bone Slim art and record label Voodoo-EROS and Sierra with her metal lullaby band Metallic Falcons.
By Gemma Hampson
Air’s Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel are tucked away in a dimly lit private dining room in a posh West London hotel. A coterie of PRs and management hover while the foam dries to a white crust on Nicolas’ cappuccino cup. They’re both clad in head to toe regulation French chic. Nicolas is wearing a polo neck, Jean- Benoît (who introduces himself as “J-B”) a midnight coloured baker boy cap. No one is smoking but there is an implicit tang of Gitanes. They couldn’t be more French if they’d been scripted by Luc Besson.
Gradually detaching from the hum of chatter to say hello they have the mute, patient look of men enduring a long day of press. “We’re from Paris, the best place!” Nicolas says wistfully, clearly wishing he were back in his beloved Left Bank. Talking to journalists over cold coffee is the price they pay not just for the new album, ‘Pocket Symphony’ but also for ‘Moon Safari’ – the 1998 launch pad into the electronic music stratosphere. It reached as far as my shoddy floor Philadelphia dorm room, where I heard ‘Sexy Boy’ for the first time online, before rushing out to buy the album. “The night we recorded ‘Sexy Boy’ we could see it would be a hit. We were like, wow, oh my God! Everyone in the room knew,” Nicolas says with a grin.
The album made them international stars. “We were two little French men, suddenly we took the planes, we met the world,” J-B says with a shake of his head. He has delicate hands, and big, soft eyes. Sometimes he doesn’t look entirely sure meeting the world like that was a great idea. “We enjoy to meet people and to play music… you know, I think they go to the show just to be part of the club and understand what we are doing,” he explains, quite seriously. While Nicolas is quicker to discuss their projects – the soundtracks for Sofia Coppola, ‘Pocket Symphony’ – J-B relishes exploring the ethos of Air.
“We don’t have normal jobs, we go out all the time, we don’t have sentimental lives that are stable,” Nicolas confesses, trying to quantify what it means to be one of France’s biggest musical exports.
Jean-Benoît has a broader picture in mind. “The difficult thing is you’re AIR, at night, in the morning… when you become an artist it’s for all of your life. You’re even working when you dream. The music is always there. This intensity, the fact you’re always searching, makes you an artist.”
Nicolas is there to reel his partner in from the lofty heights of Art, to talk about the concrete influences on ‘Pocket Symphony’. “We were listening to Phillip Glass, Johnny Cash a little bit, some early Depeche Mode, The Cure.” For all that, the album is definably Air. A luscious little gumdrop of an LP, shot through with a soft-focus romanticism that is as alluring as it is antipathetic to rock ‘n’ roll edginess. There are obvious hits – ‘Left Bank’ is music for art students to cry to, the album’s answer to ‘La Femme De Argent’. (“Was it written about anyone? Each song is different, there’s a different process!” Nicolas says, mysteriously.) ‘One Hell Of A Party’ is distinctly reminiscent of Cash’s ‘Hurt’, while the chiming nursery-rhyme notes of ‘Once Upon A Time’ unpick the less painful side of love.
They are endearingly happy to be romantics. “We understand that before sex you have to take your time,” J-B says, breaking into a rare laugh. “The real meaning of the word ‘romantic’ is very wide. It can also mean being depressed, or feeling nostalgia. It is not only about loving someone.”
Their carefully cultivated blend of desire and melancholy (see ‘Napalm Love’ and ‘Lost Message’) has made them irresistible to a certain sort of fan. Once, in Detroit no less, the duo was accosted by a teenage girl who turned up at the gig with a huge bag. She was running away, could she come on tour with them, please? Nicolas shakes his head at the memory. “It was weird, but it was kind of moving,” he said.
The music has taken them far outside their comfort zone of Parisian life and French culture. “Music is not the French cup of tea,” says Nicolas. “French people do good things with art, literature, cinema, but for some reason we have horrible taste in music.”
On the other hand, not everyone who embraces the music understands Air. J-B remembers, with another shake of his head, the time they were on the road in Oregon. Their tour bus broke down, leaving them stranded in some two-bit town. “We were trying to get help, speaking English, but they couldn’t understand a word. I don’t think they’d ever heard someone foreign before,” he sighs.
To hear them, today, you’d think it was a rough life being Air, but they don’t want to give the wrong impression. Apropos nothing, J-B chips in: “I have a little nephew and he never complains. If he falls down he gets up. He has no problems at all. It’s a good lesson. Sometimes we have to keep going and stop complaining.”
As they swathe themselves in scarves, preparing to go, they visibly unwind. Fundamentally they’re two very nice men, still not entirely sure what the fuss is about. When the waiter, who’s been greedily eavesdropping for the last half hour, asks for an autograph they are charm personified. Then they nod goodbye and disappear back into the private world of Air – a very French band indeed.
Raw, bluesy and guttural, Grinderman are The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse jamming with Pan The Randy Goat Boy. Clash talks to four Bad Seeds who just got badder…
“I’ve gotta get up to get down / and start all over again / head on down to the basement / and shout / “Kick those white mice and black dogs out” / “Kick those white mice and baboons out” / “Kick those baboons and other MOTHERFUCKERS out” / and… “GET IT OOON! GET IT OOON!”
If these inaugural lines seem a little, hmm, intense on paper, wait til they (and others like them) leap live from your speakers, delivered with the kind of excoriating ecstasy normally reserved for tub-thumping politicos and proselytizing preachers. Gasp at the introduction of a skin-stripping guitar riff; gulp at the enormous dimensions of those cavernous piano stabs; ponder the mysterious connections between lyrical statements like “drinking panther piss”, “pink hair curlers” and “pornographic crowns”.
We didn’t do any overdubs or fix anything up in the studio afterwards because we wanted the raw feel of a live album. We wanted to let it breath, to be unprocessed, untamed.
While some albums pin you against the wall with supernatural force, others arouse with trippy studio legedermain or slip your pants off via slinky ambient overdubs and smooth-talking susurrations. Grinderman woos you with poetry, slams you in the balls, steals your daughter, manhandles your psyche, mullahs your bassbin and panders to your dark side. All at the same time.
Yet what else would you expect from a project borne from none other than Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds – one of rock’s most enduring and fulminating bands – and featuring Mr. Nicholas Edward Cave himself? Would such fun-loving, blues-riding, guitar-wielding horsemen, such rampaging men of experience, capable of catapulting small children into space with a mere strum of their six-string, really have written an album of sappy, supple, sucky love songs? The answer, ladles and jellyspoons, is a plangent: “no”.
“We started playing as a four-piece around the time of the ‘Nocturama’ release,” reveals drummer/percussionist Jim Sclavunos, who along with violinist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey and vocalist Cave make up the Grinderman project. “Somebody thought it would be good to do a live presentation of some of the songs from that album and we began performing Nick’s “solo” shows as a quartet. From that we learned a lot about each other as musicians. Nick had never heard me play drums much before, as I was always the percussionist in the Bad Seeds. As we went along we started tapping into more and more things as a collective. That led to a songwriting session for ‘Abattoir Blues/Lyre Of Orpheus’, which was very fruitful, and then we got an opportunity to do some soundtracks and theatre scores together, which opened up the possibilities even more. Somewhat belatedly it occurred to us that we could record as a group. From the outside, Grinderman seems like quite an abrupt project, because the public haven’t had access to all these background developments, but for us it goes back some years and is all very natural.”
Bad Seed side projects are, of course, nothing new. The group is well known for its ever-changing permutations – Cave and Mick Harvey are pretty much the only two constants since the band originally formed (from the ashes of The Birthday Party) in 1984. Yet the four members of Grinderman have all played a significant role in The Seeds for many years, as well as boasting some serious Pre-Seeds pedigree: Casey was once one of The Triffids; Ellis was, and is, a member of The Dirty Three; New Yorker Sclavunos has played with everyone from Sonic Youth, The Cramps and 8 Eyed Spy, and these days fronts his own project, The Vanity Set. Cave? Well, he’s just eternal.
The name of the group, Grinderman, comes from an old Memphis Slim song called “Grinderman Blues”, which Cave pilfered from a John Lee Hooker cover. “We were looking around for a name and we had this song,” he says, “and it just seemed to be the right name. [It] suggested a lot of things; in fact, each time I think of that name it seems to suggest something else, but mostly we felt our music kind of grinded and there was a kind of sexual edge to it, to the rhythm section, certainly and that it…ground.”
The lasciviousness aspect of the band’s debut (eponymous) project is not in question. After the spellbinding sally of ‘Get It On’, comes the even more direct assault of ‘No Pussy Blues’, a song described thusly by Cave: “While our dreams and desires are hung on the butcher’s hook of rampant consumerism, and the mirage and the illusion and the Nike trainers are served up on the trembling quim of an impossibly nubile girl-thing, ‘No Pussy Blues’ tells it like it is. It is the child standing goggle-eyed at the cake shop window, as the shop-owner, in his plastic sleeves, barricades the door and turns the sign to ‘CLOSED’. It is the howl in the dark of the Everyman.”
In other words, it’s a song about not getting any. With typical lyrical irony, Cave buoys the deeper reverberations of his message with a slew of amusing lines: “I sent her every type of flower / I played the guitar by the hour / I petted her revolting Chihuahua / but she still didn’t want to”.
“I’m not affronted at all should people take this as a sexual album,” says Sclavunos, a man once described as an “infamous elegant degenerate”. “But it has a cerebral aspect too, and it would be doing it a disservice to see it as only this hideous, drooling thing. We are capable of more and there is diversity, a range of moods. It covers the whole spectrum.”
I’m not affronted at all should people take this as a sexual album, but it has a cerebral aspect too, and it would be doing it a disservice to see it as only this hideous, drooling thing.
Indeed, the dry humping seems to stop dead with the third and fourth songs. ‘Electric Alice’ – slow, moody, more psychedelic than Jimi Hendrix’s headband – sees Cave twist timeless imagery (stars, moons, rain) around a haunting, gothic soundtrack; the title track – raw as a peeled onion, naked as an ancient athlete – sees him dive as deep as only Cave can, down into the ageless guts of the Blues to greet – and tweak – the terrifying face of the Infinite.
The rock ‘n’ roll shenanigans begin anew with ‘Depth Charge Ethel’, a passionate, fun rhythm‘n’ blues record based on a happy-go-lucky drug-addled prostitute that used to knock around with The Birthday Party back in the day; but the album then delivers the musically insouciant (and typically cryptic) ‘Go Tell The Women’, and the strangely euphoric ‘Set Me Free’, before ending with a quartet of songs that reach out for entirely different places: the bristling space-rock of ‘Honey Bee’, the Ziggy Stardust-esque ‘Man In The Moon’, the engaging ‘When My Love Comes Down’, and the aptly titled incendiary finale, ‘Love Bomb’.
As the final twangs fade into blackness, you can’t help but wonder how a band that have played and recorded for so many years together could create something so different. “The instrumentation on it is quite different,” explains Ellis. “Nick plays guitar and not piano, or very little piano at all. I play very little violin. I mean, there was a real actual conscious effort to try and throw [ourselves] into the wilds a bit. I’d been actually sending Nick stuff on the internet over the last few years, ever since we started doing some of the theatre things. I would record stuff and send it to Nick and he would listen to it and maybe put some words to it. I will throw something in and something might happen and something mightn’t. I guess I came in with some things like that just to break the silence, more than anything.”
“When we started the initial session, we had five days to see what it could be,” says Sclavunos. “Even though there were some prepared loops from Warren and some other things, there were no songs written. We specifically went in there to try to pull up the songs, and because we did it all together for once, rather than Nick coming in with songs already written as we would do with a Bad Seeds session, that meant playing around a bit. So it was kind of improv to an extent, but not that kind of spaced-out freaky dope-smoking kind of ‘jam’ thing. More an ensemble vibe: listening to each other and answering and communicating in the language of music. Some of those sessions were quite long, but a lot of stuff came out of it and we just trimmed some of it down. ‘Electric Alice’ is built directly on a segment from one of those sessions. It just came full blown out of our heads the way you hear it; and that’s exciting because you don’t know it’s happening while you’re doing it. We didn’t do any overdubs or fix anything up in the studio afterwards because we wanted the raw feel of a live album. We wanted to let it breath, to be unprocessed, untamed.”
Did they drop any songs because they were too reminiscent of Bad Seeds records? “We dropped a few songs for various reasons, but yes, if they sounded like Bad Seeds they didn’t go on,” continues Jim. “We went into it quite open, then listened to things side by side and got more focused and selective as we went along. The songs are all short, more to the point than usual, and each one is intense in its own right. There’s this real concentrated effort for each song. But we tried to sequence it in a way in which they make sense, with recurring motifs and ideas and with the same kind of internal tension between tracks.”
“We didn’t identify a theme initially,” adds Cave. “It was a collection of songs and once ordered there seemed to be a kind of narrative running through it. It feels like there’s a narrative, at least, and I think the themes are actually quite similar to the themes that I’ve been talking about for the last 25 years.”
If the next question is: when do we get to see Grinderman grind live, the answer is: at All Tomorrow’s Parties in April – but only briefly. “We don’t even know how we’re gonna present it yet,” sighs Sclavunos. “We don’t know what pedals to use or how it’ll look, but there won’t be any flashy lighting rigs or chicken costumes, and Nick won’t be upfront pointing and smoking cigarettes. We are serious about building it up. We’re very into it. Had we not been doing press we would have been in the studio this week, although we have to do a Bad Seeds album before another Grinderman.”
Cave is equally enthusiastic: “I’d like to make more records like that, because it just keeps the whole thing interesting. It’s funny, after doing Grinderman, I have a real – and this is always the way – I have a real urge to get stuck into a Bad Seeds record and start writing in that way. This sort of stuff, it’s very kind of healthy thing to be doing. It’d be good if people bought it…right?”
They came, and Lord did they rock; this year has more or less belonged to the Kings Of Leon – from the sell-out tours and the festival show-stealing to the masterful chart topping Clash favourite ‘Because Of The Times’, the Kings’ most realised and significant album of their short but impressive career. Its visionary palate blended atmospheric anthems with balls-out rock, seeping with their Southern blues heritage and whiskey-drenched visions of modern – nay, futuristic – music.
So what albums are responsible for shaping their craft? Which long-players made the biggest impact on the lives of the young Followills? Clash caught up with the youngest half, Matthew and Jared, to find out…
THE ROLLING STONES – ‘EXILE ON MAIN STREET’
Oh my God, they called us Led Zeppelin while we were walking up the stairs and I wanted to beat their fuckin’ asses so bad.
Matthew: I first got into this right when I first moved up (to Nashville). I liked a couple of their other albums as much, maybe more, I can’t remember which ones they were right now, but that was the one that was great.
Jared: ‘Sticky Fingers’ is fucking awesome. We’ve supported Dylan but never the Stones. We’ve been asked a bunch, but it’s been conflicting schedules so far. But I would love to. I think that they’re a really good band and they’re probably gonna be really popular one day. They asked us and that was an honour enough. We’ve opened up for so many people now that it’s like…we’re really starting to embarrass everybody else how all of the biggest bands like us! (Laugh) I tell people in America who don’t know us, “We’re not your favourite band but we’re your favourite band’s favourite band!”
Matthew: I like them because they never gave a fuck ever.
Jared: There’s definitely something about the way that they took the best from American music at that time, like the blues, like the black people were on to something and they knew about it, you know? And the guitar work and the way he [Jagger] sang, it’s just the whole persona of them. They were the coolest band in the world at that time; the way they dressed, the way they were on stage, the kind of music that they pursued…
THE CURE – ‘GREATEST HITS’
Jared: They write some of the best songs EVER.
Matthew: They may be the biggest hit makers of all time. They can write a song and you will immediately love it.
Jared: They are the most heartbreaking band. Heartbreaking vocals, great parts; I mean I love the way he fucking sings. And the basslines are incredible.
Matthew: I think that’s what you look for in a band, you know?
Jared: A couple of years back we had two shows in a row and it was us, The Pixies and The Strokes and then the very next night it was us, The Strokes and The Cure, so it was basically like the two best nights ever for us. But we only got to catch two songs and then drove off during ‘A Forest’. I wanted to kill myself. How has The Cure inspired our music? Basslines, big time. Probably vocals too, Caleb just doesn’t admit it.
INTERPOL – ‘TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS’
Matthew: My favourite records are records that I like from start to finish – I’m sure that it’s that way for everybody – but that one was that way from the third time I listened to it. The first time I listened to it I was kinda like, ‘Ehh, I kinda like it, they’re alright’. But because there was one song I liked I listened to it again and then by the second time I was like ‘I gotta listen to it again!’ The only reason we ever heard of Interpol is because we came to London and we were all staying at the Columbia [Hotel] together…
Jared: I hated them just by looking at them.
We’re not your favourite band but we’re your favourite band’s favourite band!
Matthew: Oh my God, they called us Led Zeppelin while we were walking up the stairs and I wanted to beat their fuckin’ asses so bad.
Jared: That was when Carlos had the little pin sideburns. They made me puke up a little bit. But it was one of those things, you just thought, ‘God, they seem so pretentious’, and then it just pissed you off so bad when you heard their music. Then I heard their fuckin’ record and it made me want to die because it was so good.
THIRD EYE BLIND – ‘THIRD EYE BLIND’
Jared: ‘Third Eye Blind’ is the reason why we are in a band – me and Matt.
Matthew: The best songs in the world are songs that rip your heart out and make you feel so good but yet so bad, so it’s weird; you don’t know how you feel.
Jared: Totally. I love artificial depression, making yourself feel depressed. Like, you could be so happy, like you’re watching TV, watching Home Improvement, cracking the fuck up, and then you think, ‘I’m gonna go listen to Third Eye Blind’ and you go to your room and turn on your black light when I was like 10, sit on my bed… (Laughs) I used to love feeling depressed man, and ‘Third Eye Blind’ would do that big time.
THIN LIZZY – ‘DEDICATION’
Jared: Thin Lizzy is where the rock came from in our band. Yeah, the fuckin’ most hard rocking, the best guitar solos. They’re like Steve Vai with feeling. They make you feel great! They make you feel amazing. They’re a summertime band. They wrote songs about the summer, good looking females and stuff, and they just make you feel fuckin’ good.
Matthew: And motorcycles. One line is like ‘his bike is his throne…’
Jared: That’s from a song called ‘Renegade’; it’s the best ever. That’s why on ‘Knocked Up’ we sing, “People call us renegades”. There are so many things that WE think about…
Matthew: And another one, ‘Molly’s Chambers’ is from ‘Whiskey In A Jar’.
Jared: Oh yeah, he sings: “I went to Molly’s chambers…” That was a fuckin’ blatant rip-off and nobody said anything about it! Well, it wasn’t so much a rip-off as it was we were hoping that the band would be like, ‘Oh cool, that’s from our song’.