Interview by Marc Masters
Grinderman is a new project featuring Nick Cave and three fellow Bad Seeds: violinist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey, and drummer Jim Sclavunos. The band's self-titled debut is a raw, aggressive affair, a product of the group's down-and-dirty recording approach. Yet for such a short, direct record, Grinderman is surprisingly diverse, with aching ballads and mellow blues deftly mixed in. Pitchfork talked to Cave and Sclavunos before album's release about what makes Grinderman different from the Bad Seeds, why Cave decided to try his hand at the guitar, and their new, self-titled album.
Pitchfork: How did you decide this would be a separate project from the Bad Seeds?
Nick Cave: Well, we went into the studio in order to make a record that was distinct from the Bad Seeds catalog. The four of us had been playing together for a while, working on a lot of projects outside of the Bad Seeds. We found that we were developing a sound that was quite different from the Bad Seeds. So we felt the next step was to record that.
Pitchfork: The album was made in two quick sessions; was the first improvised?
Cave: It was mostly improvised, though that's a strange word to use for it. But we just sat down and played, and out of that came the ideas for a set of songs. We listened through to all the stuff that we'd done, and we found twenty or so pieces that we found interesting.
Jim Sclavunos: That's out of about five days worth of ten-hour sessions.
Cave: And then I started writing lyrics to that stuff. So that when we went into the studio the second time, we knew what we were going to record.
Pitchfork: You used a similar process on the last Bad Seeds record?
Cave: Yes, that has been very successful for the Bad Seeds. We got some quite interesting stuff from those sessions. But when we took the raw stuff to the Bad Seeds, it turned into something very different, because there are more people involved, and the Bad Seeds have a very specific sound. But there was a lot to be said for some of the bits in their original form. There was a rawness and immediacy about them that was quite attractive. So we wanted to do that type of thing again and actually make our own record.
Pitchfork: How did you come up with the band name?
Cave: In those original sessions, the word "Grinderman" came up because of the John Lee Hooker song of that name. I was singing that song, riffing on that idea. Around that time we got this extraordinary loop from Warren [Ellis], and I played around with singing the title over that loop [which became the album's title track]. Later on we were fishing around for a name and having a lot of difficulty finding one that hadn't already been claimed. That might sound ridiculous, but if you Google just about any possible name, six other bands have called themselves that. For some reason no one had called themselves Grinderman, except some act in Vegas. I think it's Mr. And Mrs. Grinder or something like that, and to them we give our apologies. But the name seemed to sum everything up. And it turns out John Lee Hooker's song came from the Memphis Slim song "Grinderman Blues", so having that kind of history behind it made the name feel right.
Pitchfork: One of the goals for the album was to keep things short?
Cave: When I first talked to Warren about going into the studio, that was the defining idea, having everything stripped down and to the point. We were adamant that the album come in under 40 minutes. Not only as a gesture to the way records used to be made, but also, it felt like a manageable amount of information for anyone to take in, these days. The last Bad Seeds record was anything but that. It was a huge double album with over 20 songs, and many of them quite long. We didn't want to make a record like that. Also, when I was writing the script for The Proposition, one piece of advice director John Hillcoat gave me was to get in to each scene at the last possible moment and get out at the first possible moment. That's what we were trying to do with the songs as well.
Pitchfork: What else about the process was different than with the Bad Seeds?
Cave: Well, I played guitar. I've never done that before. That changed things quite a lot. It changed my own approach to singing, and my approach to the music in general.
Sclavunos: Plus Nick hardly plays any piano on it, and Warren hardly plays any violin.
Cave: If he does play violin, you wouldn't know it.
Sclavunos: You won't recognize it. He also plays mandolin, zouki, pedals, and effects. Plus all the loops he made.
Pitchfork: Does Warren make the loops before coming into the studio?
Cave: Some of them he does. In the early stages he would call me up and play me loops over the telephone. I would tape those sounds on a Dictaphone, and then play the Dictaphone and sing along. His loops have the ability to set up a kind of instant atmosphere. There is something very organic about them, and very often they will form the basis of the song.
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