Grinderman - Man alive!
Rock stars are supposed to mellow with age,but Nick Cave founds his inner rock beast again with Grinderman,a four-headed monster that freed him from his scholarly songwriter day job.Mark Robertson revels in their din
Less is always more. Inevitably, however, there are times where that worn analogy just won't stick. In the case of Grinderman, the rock band that includes Nick Cave in its line-up, more is most certainly more.
Now, Cave has never been backward at coming forwards at the best of times. His nigh-on 30-year career is littered with moments of sonic maximalism from the Australian singer-songwriter, but Grinderman pushes the envelope further out than he and many of his collaborators and contemporaries have ever pushed it before.
Famed for brooding, intense balladry, majestic, sweeping arrangements and arch, expressive storytelling, it's no insult to suggest that Nick Cave's scholarly approach to music pretty much renders it a day job in the most formal sense. He sits down in front of his piano in his office and writes. He writes songs, melodies, lyrics, packs up his briefcase and heads home for tea. Grinderman, by his own admission, is a step out of that comfort zone.
Grinderman may be a departure in some senses but that's not to say his solo work has ever been less than full-blooded. Many forget he rocked harder and heavier than any as second on the bill to Nirvana at their triumphant headline show at Reading in 1992. Despite an acute sensitivity for melody his great musical foil Blixa Bargeld (and latterly violinist Warren Ellis) provided discordant death rattle to weave in and out of the Bad Seeds' musical swell. And of course his first band, punk-era art trash The Birthday Party were in many ways responsible for a generation of amplifier abuse in the underground music scene of the early 80s, such was their influence.
Grinderman is different for several reasons. Firstly, because technically these are a bunch of old(ish) duffers, 40- and 50-something men who are expected to mellow with age, no? Grinderman is proof Iggy Pop does not have the monopoly on being wrinkly and rocking out. This band rock heavier and wilder than most metal bands could ever hope to – Grinderman is a masterful, feral rock outfit. Warren Ellis' wild interplay with violin, bouzouki and mandolin via a rack of growling, squealing amps and effects pedals provides the sonic fury that a bank of J Mascis' would struggle to reproduce. That's not to say it is all noise: when the foursome go down a more tuneful route it is still underpinned by a feeling of unpredictability.
Cave was thrilled with the resulting debut album, viewing it as a creative exercise that had a distinct bearing on how he approached his work with the Bad Seeds.
'Grinderman was just a really exciting thing to be involved in. It's a way of recording that's genuinely exciting for us as musicians. It's becoming a largely improvised. live thing. It's just a hugely enjoyable way to make records. Constructing songs in the studio, which we are used to do, is all about putting a bassline going and then sticking some drums on it, maybe stick a vocal on it, all that kind of stuff. It can be interesting too but there's just something about how live Grinderman was recorded that made it hugely enjoyable. It had a huge influence on the way we approached [the most recent Bad Seeds record] Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!'
This influence is evident in that there is a level of spark and palpable energy about both albums. The project came at a time when Cave was branching out creatively in a variety of ways: he was seeing his script for the film The Proposition finally realised by his long-time friend, director John Hillcoat; Cave also composed the film's soundtrack with Grinderman's Warren Ellis and Mick Harvey, so the band, in a way, was another natural exercise in trying things that little bit differently. That said, working on the material for the new band was still a real challenge.
'A lot of the Grinderman lyrics came out of improvising in the studio,' says Cave. 'I still had to take those lyrics back and spend a long time on them. You know, thinking about them, and working them out, putting them right. Even just thinking about them.'
Cave is adamant that the second Grinderman album – due to start recording once the band come off their summer tour – will sound radically different from its predecessor.
Speaking to XFM recently, Cave explained: 'When we go in to make the next Grinderman record we don't want it to sound like the last Bad Seeds record or the Grinderman record before and we're forced to find something new. But that's always been the way.
'There's a lot of work around the Grinderman project that we wanna do in a more serious way this time. The thing about Grinderman was that we just threw out the [debut] record and we made it very quickly. We wondered about its affect on us and it was hugely important on The Bad Seeds.'
Ultimately, Grinderman is a liberating project for all concerned, as it unlocks all four musicians from any creative constraints they may have built up, working within the framework of the Bad Seeds, and allows them to explore other musical landscapes. Consquently we, the listeners, can revel in the renewed energy, enjoying the novelty of witnessing a familiar artist in a new setting.
'Actually I am hugely proud of Grinderman because it feels very much like I was one part of a bigger machine,' says Cave. 'You know, so my relationship with that record is different. I can actually play that record and go "fuck this is cool". Just in a basic way that a fan might.'
Grinderman play the Oyster Stage, Sat.