GRINDERMAN’S JIM SCLAVUNOS: PUT UP WITH CRAZY PEOPLE
Grinderman is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in a new and naked form, and you can see a great deal of that nakedness in their very potent new video ‘Heathen Child.’ We conducted two separate interviews with two of the Grinders. Here drummer Jim Sclavunos speaks about his plan to buy a tank and become the last musician in the U.S.A. This interview by Chris Ziegler. Interview with Grinderman’s Warren Ellis here.
I understand where Blixa’s coming from. I didn’t get into rock ‘n’ roll to play rock ‘n’ roll either. My earliest bands were kind of noise bands. You know, I’m ancient. And at that time in New York, there was a thriving art scene and we had all sorts of stuff like the early minimalist, structuralist avant-garde, we had Meredith Monk, we had the loft-jazz scene. We had just come off the back end of the whole free jazz explosion. There were lots of crazy art-rock bands in New York proliferating both as a part of the club scene but also drawn there by the spirit of the Factory, the whole kind of Max’s scene and stuff like that. I found that all very exciting. Those were the kinds of bands I was in. I played with art bands. Noisy, no-wave and art rock bands. So yes, I didn’t get into it to play rock ‘n’ roll, but I did discover rock ‘n’ roll belatedly—mainly courtesy of Alex Chilton. I got lured into his sort of Memphis nexus. My whole thing has been sort of reconciling those two branches of the rock ‘n’ roll experience, trying to integrate them.
What was the record Alex used to get you into the rock ‘n’ roll side?
There wasn’t a specific record. I had done a tour with him. A promoter who was booking the tour … they needed a drummer so he said, ‘Oh, just get me a pick-up drummer in New York.’ And she suggested me because she knew me from various Lydia Lunch things and Sonic Youth and what-have-you. She said, ‘Oh, well, Jim’s a nice guy. He could probably put up with this crazy man.’
That’s how you get ahead in the world.
Well, yeah—because I do have a reputation for putting up with crazy people. And being somewhat accused of that myself. So at the end of the tour he said, ‘You know, I’ve got this band called the Panther Burns down in Memphis and I think you’d really be good in it.’ So he lured me down to Memphis, which is, you know, a place and a culture diffused with roots music. I got down there and the day I got there he announced, ‘Hey, I decided to retire from music. I’m moving down to New Orleans to wash dishes. You’re welcome to join the band anyway. There’s a bunch of strangers you can play with.’
What has been your most chillingly accurate experience with a fortune-teller?
I’ve never had anything like that. Sorry, that’s a very flat and disappointing answer.
What has been your most rewarding experience with human rationality?
That’s saying that I’ve had any rewarding experience. I don’t like the turn that this interview is taking. You’re actually asking me to evaluate aspects of my life and I find that highly objectionable. For my memoirs. And I’m not going to give anything away because of my potential to be a selling point for my memoirs so you’re barking up the wrong tree, buster.
Joe Strummer said the thing that kept him honest was the horror of becoming the new Rolling Stones. What horror keeps you honest?
The horror of reading my quotes in the press.
There’s no escaping that horror.
And honesty and the search for truth is a never-ending quest. It’s a zen thing. You only strive for perfection—you never achieve it. It’s from Zen and the Art of Archery. You know, high school required reading.
What internationally known criminal do you think would have made a genius musician?
There’s a long, glorious history of criminals being artistes, dating back to Francois Villon, the poet, up to Charles Manson. There’s a long, glorious history of most people involved in the music business being crooks. But I reckon Bonnie and Clyde, if their movie is to be believed—their rockumentary is to be believed?—they were pretty rock ‘n’ roll. They were good dressers, they understood publicity, Clyde wrote some great works.
They obviously had no problem touring.
Yeah—he was a good tour manager. Kept them going, kept them one step ahead for the most part. It ended pretty badly but you know—even the best tour manager makes a mistake. So I reckon they probably would have been an excellent band.
When I interviewed Lydia Lunch for the Teenage Jesus thing in L.A., I asked her: ‘Is there anything left that disgusts you?’ What’s left that disgusts you?
There’s not enough battery life on this phone to answer that. Even if this phone were fully charged there wouldn’t be enough battery life on it for me to enumerate the many, many things that disgust me.
How does it strengthen one’s character to be booed at Madison Square Garden?
It doesn’t, really. What strengthens your character is that you can come up with a preposterous rationale, saying, ‘Oh, it strengthened my character.’ It all didn’t go down quite the way I imagined the first time I went to Madison Square Garden, you know? I saw the Bee Gee’s during their ‘Tragedy’ tour—the aptly named ‘Tragedy’ tour—and it was fantastic. It was fantastic. If you like silver lamé pants and bare-chested Australians … Hey, wait a minute. That sounds like somebody I know.
Better talk quieter.
They had the fire pots and the explosives going off in the very first song. They didn’t even wait to build it up. Shirts were off in the second song of the set. It was incredible. And the next time I went there was for a bunch of other people with no shirts. I saw the first time the sumo wrestlers came to Madison Square Garden. So I always imagined my debut at Madison Square Garden was going to be something like that—me with my shirt off with everybody kind of oohing and ahhing and explosions going off.
Your video was almost there—it’s got just about all of that.
We’re getting older but we’re not dead yet. There’s still a chance. My dream could still come true.
GRINDERMAN WITH ARMEN RA AND L.A. RECORD AFTERPARTY ON TUES., NOV. 30 AT THE MUSIC BOX AT THE HENRY FONDA THEATER, 6126 HOLLYWOOD BLVD. 8 PM / SOLD OUT / ALL AGES. GOLDENVOICE.COM. GRINDERMAN’S GRINDERMAN 2 IS OUT NOW ON ANTI-. VISIT GRINDERMAN AT GRINDERMAN.COM.