Grinderman is Nick Cave on vocals and guitar, Jim Sclavunos on drums, Martyn P. Casey on bass and Warren Ellis on pretty much anything he can get his hands on; mandocaster, viola, violin, guitar, Hohner Guitaret, maracas — he's impressive.
All four of these men are also in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. What's the difference between the two groups? Where the Bad Seeds are a magnificent display of beauty and brilliance with exquisitely violent overtones, Grinderman is a solid beating — a sexualized, brutal, blues street fight. The group has instinct like the Stooges, and its new album, Grinderman 2, the one with a wolf on the cover, is one of the most sonically supreme and cerebrally damaging albums you are going to experience for a good while. Longtime Cave associate (Birthday Party's "Release the Bats" single) and producer extraordinaire Nick Launay has outdone himself: This one will gleefully blow up your stereo.
HENRY ROLLINS: What led to the formation of Grinderman?
NICK CAVE: The Bad Seeds had gotten too big. The sound of the Bad Seeds had gotten so big, there was no way to control it anymore, I felt. I wanted to scale back to something that was more basic and reduced. This was very difficult to do with the Bad Seeds. I would bring a song along to the Bad Seeds and everyone would jump in on it and we would get this kind of juggernaut sound, which I love, but I wanted to try and get somewhere else. Me and Warren talked about this a lot and eventually we said, "Let's just do another record with just a few of us and see what happens." That record [Grinderman] had a great impact on the Bad Seeds, so we decided to do another one.
The sound on Grinderman 2 is wild. It is an incredibly explosive collection of songs on every level — arrangement, lyrically and especially sonically. The new album makes the first album sound almost hesitant in approach. Nick Launay's production displays his great talent of being able to realize the achievable chaos of the moment while keeping things together. If you agree with this, what is the reason for the increase in volatility?
Nick did an amazing job of it, I think. There's so much space between the sounds — he did a great job with that. He loves to do that kind of stuff. He'll do anything I say, in terms of he'll record any record I give him. He much prefers doing a Grinderman record than Nocturama [Bad Seeds, 2003] or something like that, which was the first album that we brought him in on. All through the sessions he said, "You know, you're playing like a bunch of old men." I think Nick had a lot of influence in encouraging certain aspects of what Grinderman are about — or not so much encouraging it but able to capture it.
How did you come to work with Robert Fripp on the "Super Heathen Child" remix?
I've just always loved him, and I think that Grinderman are the kind of group that allow us to do things like that. The Bad Seeds historically haven't been. So it's just a different kind of band. Grinderman is pretty much anything goes. We'll just do what we like, and that's the end of it. There's no kind of legacy or history. And I just love Robert Fripp. We kind of hunted him down and went to the middle of England and went into a studio with him and, well, he considers himself to be a stylist, so it's not insulting to ask him to play something like he played 20 years ago — he knows how to play that style and he knows how to play what's played now. I said, "I want a kick-out guitar solo on the end of this song." He took all his effects pedals out of the amp and just plugged straight in, and off he went. He was great, really amazing. He was a real weird guy in the studio, too. Really kind of humble and referred to himself constantly in the third person. He would say, "Well, the guitarist feels that his performance the last time was better than the one before," and so on. He was kind of an odd character. He was very humble — his whole attitude is he is there to serve. Whatever you want. Which is kind of amazing from someone like that.
Over the years, the lineup of the Bad Seeds — by now in business for more than two decades — has had many personnel changes. Like bass great (and ex–Magazine member) Barry Adamson, Cramps and Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo and Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld, to name but a few. Since the days of his first musical efforts with the Boys Next Door, the Birthday Party and finally the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave has always had one constant in multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer and all-around whiz guy Mick Harvey. Mick made his last contribution with the Bad Seeds on 2008's Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! album.