Sunday 18 November 2018

Grinderman is more than a side project: Nick Cave

SEEDS OF CHANGE: The Grindermen, from left, Martyn P Casey, Warren Ellis, Nick Cave and Jim Sclavunos
SEEDS OF CHANGE: The Grindermen, from left, Martyn P Casey, Warren Ellis, Nick Cave and Jim Sclavunos
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

The noise rock blockbuster Grinderman 2 starring Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Martyn P Casey is coming to a stereo near you.

The playful, Hollywood-style title is a conscious attempt to reiterate the notion that Grinderman is a full band project in its own right, and not some side project to kill time between Bad Seeds albums and tours.

"It suggests something continuing and that there'll be regular instalments," Nick Cave explains. "This record has taken a long time. I found myself getting involved more and more with all the peripheral stuff around the record, such as the videos and trailers. We really enjoyed that side of it this time."

Nick Cave and Jim Sclavunos are shooting the breeze about Grinderman 2 in the Electric on Portobello Road, a literal stone's throw from the world famous West London market. A few years ago, I enjoyed what must be the most entertaining cup of coffee of my whole life here in the company of a hilarious Noel Gallagher and now it is the turn of the Grindermen to amuse me.

Cave looks fit and healthy and far younger than his 52 years (he turns 53 on September 22). Jim resembles a professor, but instead of academia, his specialty is noise as a one-time member of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Vanity Set, The Cramps, Sonic Youth and of course, the Bad Seeds and Grinderman.

"To continue with the process of all this, for me personally, is about songwriting and finding new and different ways to construct and form songs," Nick begins. "One of the ways to do that is to transform yourself. Maybe transform is the wrong word ... you change, but you still stay true to what you do and the themes and obsessions that you write about. For me, they've always stayed the same and Grinderman is another way to look at the same kinds of things since day one."

So, since the Birthday Party way back in the day, does he think his themes and preoccupations have remained the same?

"I do, yeah," he replies. "The things that I love in life and the things I find really interesting are the same as they always are."

"I think the argument can be made that great artists in any creative endeavour will have life-long themes," Jim interjects. "They explore all these different permutations of it as they go through their career. The surrounding work may change quite a bit and the mode in which that theme is expressed quite a bit, but you can trace it from beginning to end."

"For me, the reason we do all these things is about keeping the creative source alive," Cave maintains. "Grinderman was amazing for that. Grinderman came at a really good time. It disrupted everything. Especially within the Bad Seeds, it caused a great amount of chaos. People didn't know what Grinderman was all about, both inside and outside of the group.

" No one knew the purpose of it, within the record company or the fans. This band created chaos, and on some level it still is a very confusing thing to what its purpose actually is. For me, its purpose is that it keeps the creative sensibilities fresh and alive. It also had a hugely beneficial effect on the Bad Seeds. The recording of Dig! Lazarus Dig! was full of renewed energy, which had a lot to do with the people in Grinderman, and the people not in Grinderman. It's essential that that happens within a group and it's kept uncertain. Maybe uncertain is the wrong word. Let's say that it isn't allowed to become complacent."

Does all this talk of creating 'chaos' put the fear of God into the record company?

"Well, we give them records, but it all starts in the fertile fields of chaos," Jim laughs. "We've a really good relationship with Mute in the sense that the record company stays well away from us, and that's quite unique," Nick answers. "They put the record out and market it and all that sort of stuff, but what we do in the studio is completely up to us and there's no interference whatsoever. There's no one coming in asking us where the singles are or any of that sort of stuff. There are not that many bands that have that kind of freedom any more. We just somehow managed to slip through the net somewhere along the way."

The accumulated international sales of the Bad Seeds and Grinderman grant Cave and his cohorts a creative licence precious few can emulate. With all the doomsday talk of the end of the album, are they ever tempted to steer towards other projects, such as one-off digital singles?

"We've very obstinately made an album that unfolds like an album and holds together," Jim answers. "It's a richer experience for the listener if they approach it like a set of music. We're very proud of the first one and we're very proud of the second one. We're very proud of all the Bad Seeds stuff, but you always get more excited and enthused about the most recent work."

"There are some people that still listen to an album and they listen to it as a complete work and I certainly still do that," Nick adds. "I've become a vinyl person again. It's the only way I listen to albums. I hope it's a commercial success. I hope it sells a million fucking copies, but whether it will or not is another matter."

"I sure hope people like it," Jim adds. "If people don't, I hope it's a strong record that's quite challenging and they'll eventually come to terms with it."

Of course, Nick had a Top of the Pops moment with Kylie Minogue with Where the Wild Roses Grow. "But it was never conceived in that way," he maintains. "We never got involved with Kylie to have a hit record. At the time, it was considered by everyone in the band, except quite possibly myself, who was a Kylie Minogue fan, as a kind of perverse and potentially suicidal thing to do. It certainly lost us quite a lot of fans. I know it was a hit, but there were a lot of people who hated it. I should know ... I got letters; I got a lot of letters after the Kylie thing saying, "What the fuck do you think you're doing? You used to be cool and now you're just an arsehole." All that sort of stuff. The thing is that I was always an arsehole. They just didn't realise it.

"History has rewritten itself a little bit as if it was an astute idea to get ourselves a hit single, but it wasn't like that at all," he continues after a collective explosion of laughter.

"Quite honestly, those thoughts never enter into recording a record to this day. I've lost count of the amount of times I've sat around with the band and half-jokingly gone, 'We've forgotten about the single again'. We'd be listening back to a record we'd just done going, 'Fuck! What are we going to put out?'"

"Having said all that, we've got this hot new single called Heathen Child!" Jim mischievously interrupts.

Heathen Child is indeed a very hot single from a very strong album. The video is completely bonkers. "The whole project has become grander and it's been amazing to be a part of it," Cave says. "The generic title is to suggest there'll be more, and there will. Also, it's keeping in with the animal covers. The last one was the masturbating monkey record and this is the predatory wolf record. I think it sums up the record quite well. We're taking the idea of the album and the CD as we know it, which is dying, but that very idea has perversely made us want to put even more into it."

"The dying of the album and the explosion of media possibilities means there's other aspects and tentacles," Jim says sagely. "Like an octopus."

"Fuck! We can put an octopus on the next record!" Cave bellows. "We'll be sitting here in four years time going, 'Remember when we were talking to the Irish guy and we came up with the octopus idea'. Maybe you should edit that, I don't want to be giving ideas away!"

Grinderman 2 is out today

Irish Independent

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