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Anthony Dhanendran attends a press conference with Grinderman, the new band of Nick Cave and Dirty Three and Bads Seeds violinist Warren Ellis, at which they talk about their self-titled debut album and their first ever live performance at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival
Nick Cave is back, with a Wild West cattle-rustler's moustache and a new band, the ominously named Grinderman. The idea is to get back to having fun with his music, he says. We caught up with the band the morning after their first live performance at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Minehead, Somerset in April.
Three of the four members of Grinderman (bassist Martyn Casey seems to have been detained elsewhere) are sitting behind a table in 'Jumpin' Jaks', a plastic-and-paint bar in the Butlins holiday camp, facing off against a boatload of journalists and associated hangers-on. Last night they played two sets to the 6,000-strong crowd, first a set of Nick Cave songs, and then a few minutes later, as Grinderman, in what was to become the band's live debut.
This morning, they're looking surprisingly chirpy for such an early start, and there's little evidence of the tetchiness and in-fighting that characterised many of the interviews the band gave last month to promote their album. In fact, Cave starts by describing the previous night as “hugely enjoyable” but adds: “It was the most nerve-wracking thing I've done in 35 years.”
The point of the band, he says, was in part “to make a record I could listen to at home. I can't do that with the Bad Seeds. Not because I don't like the music, but there's so much of myself in those songs. Grinderman is the first record of mine in a long time that I've been able to actually listen to. There is so much about me and about my world in the Bad Seeds that I don't want to listen to it.”
He adds that he wanted to take the piano out of the band, to “get away from the stateliness of the keyboard.” The contrast between the two sets last night was noticeable, in fact: the 'solo' set certainly had a stately feel to it, and once the piano had been removed in-between sets, the Grinderman set was able to take on a more exuberant, more aggressive character. It's down in no small part to Cave's guitar playing, something he's had to learn from scratch to take on the part. Why did he choose to do it? “I was never supposed to be the guitarist,” he says, looking across at Bad Seeds and Grinderman violinist Warren Ellis, “Warren was.” Ellis shrugs like a man who's very happy playing the distorted violin, thank you very much. “He refused,” Cave explains. “So I bought the guitar with Jim (Sclavunos, Grinderman's drummer) in New York. There was a month between buying the guitar and recording the album. It's a work in progress.” One wag from the crowd says he thought there were some “hot licks”, a remark that's met with a withering stare from Cave. “Did you really ?,” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
In between taking jibes from his singer, Ellis is also curating the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, Grinderman's duties toward which aren't quite finished yet: they're due back on stage in a few hours to do the whole thing over again. How does he feel about playing in a holiday camp? He's not entirely complimentary: “It's like Auschwitz with guitars,” he says. “We're staying in the officers' quarters.” But he's enjoying it, particularly the opportunity to put on bands that he himself likes. “I'm actually very happy,” he continues, “it's good to see people drift into a gig and then half-way through realise that they're watching something extraordinary.” He namechecks Suicide's Alan Vega, Spiritualized and virtuoso violinist Lajko Felix as his highlights of the festival.
He says he didn't set it up with Grinderman as the centrepiece, which is what the band has become. In fact, he quips, “it was quite hard to get them to appear.” It was also hard to get the festival to take shape: “It was a matter of looking around a lot to see who's dead and who's available.” Ellis says he wanted his ATP to showcase “old people”, and that he's happy with the way it's turned out. Even the weather has gone his way, with the bright sun shining down on Somerset this weekend. “It's much better than I thought it was going to be. It's amazing, with six thousand English people there aren't more people drunk and fighting.” Somebody points out that several people fainted during last night's Grinderman show and, quick as a flash, Cave says: “It was the fuckin' guitar work.”
One surprise from last night's show was the appearance of Bobby Gillespie, or “the former drummer with the awesome Jesus and Mary Chain,” as Cave, who's apparently not a Primal Scream fan, introduced him last night. He appeared to be playing the part of Bez, replete with maracas and other odd pieces of persussion. “He just kept ringing up and asking to play, so we had to let him in the end,” quips Ellis. Cave says: “We needed percussion, and the thing about Bobby is that he loves rock and roll. So enthusiastic.” Ellis agrees: “He just jumps in straight away, throws himself into it.”
Gillespie aside, the big question, of course, the one that everyone has been waiting to put to the pair of Australians, is whether they took time in between their sets last night to watch a bit of the cricket world cup final. “No,” says Cave, puzzled, “what happened?” When he's told that Australia won, again, he punches the air and shouts a half-joking “fuck yeah!”.
Cave says there probably won't be a full-on Grinderman tour, simply because the four of them don't have the time. There's a new Bad Seeds album due over the summer, and Warren Ellis's Dirty Three are touring at the same time. “For me,” he says, “the Bad Seeds is physically punishing, to do a Bad Seeds tour. One of the things we did with Grinderman is that I don't have to move around so much on stage because you can create energy in a different way. Most of my 'onstage antics' are just nerves. I didn't want Grinderman to be a self-indulgent thing but it is enjoyable.”
At this point, one of the European journalists, a group of people who have built themselves a reputation for grabbing the wrong end of the stick, asks Cave why he dedicated one of the songs last night to an apple. Ellis takes the question: “Some turd threw an apple at me. Hit me in the fuckin' head. A bottle would have been okay, but a fucking apple? And my kids were watching, too. It left juice all over my pedals.” Cave patiently explains that he sarcastically dedicated the song to the apple's thrower. “Yes,” comes the response, “but why did you say it was about an apple?” At this point, Cave's natural tendency to arse about reasserts itself and he launches into a biblical allegory: “Well, the apple was the original fruit, wasn't it...?”
Now is probably a good time to leave.
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