Recording of October 2010: Grinderman 2

Grinderman: Grinderman 2
Anti- 87125 (CD). 2010. Grinderman, Nick Launay, prods; Launay, eng. AAD. TT: 41:19
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Oh, how the menacing have have mellowed. At 52, songwriter, playwright, fashionista, rehabbed junkie, and all-around scary-lookin' dude Nick Cave is submitting to mundane record-business drudgery. like a full day of interviews with Grinderman drummer Jim Sclavunos, in support of their new album, Grinderman 2.

An hour later than scheduled, as I'm being escorted into Cave's inner sanctum at the Soho House, in New York's still weirdly chic meatpacking district, out pops an indie-rock website staffer, complete with glasses, plaid shirt, and the air of someone who knows how to write a confused, overlong music review for free. He's spent the last hour—my hour—sucking every last bit of life out of Cave and Sclavunos.

I walk in to find both men gulping energy drinks, gazing hopelessly at their watches, and looking desperately in need of a pint. The smell of baked brain cells is in the air.

RB: Are there echoes of the Birthday Party on the new Grinderman record?

NC: No. I don't hear that at all.

RB: What makes an idea appropriate for Grinderman and not a Nick Cave solo record, or vice versa?

NC: I don't know. I don't think there's any difference.

RB: Is Grinderman a way to get raw, rock out, explore different parts of your character as a singer, player, and songwriting persona?

NC: No.

Sclavunos stirs and glances at their schedule for the rest of the day. The next interview is with Venus Zine: Women in Music, Fashion, Culture and D.I.Y. Thuds and chatter outside make us all aware that a camera crew from Spin is anxiously pacing the hall. For this interview, it's Hail Mary time. But the moment the word resounds across the room, I know I've done a bad, bad thing.

RB: So in a tune like "Heathen Child" [the first single from Grinderman 2], and in playing this stuff in general, it seems like you guys are having . . . fun? And having some fun with Nick's reputation as a wild man?

Fun? Both faces freeze into hard stares.

I think of another word: improvisation.

Eyes light up, iPhones are laid aside, and suddenly the guy who, rock legend says, was once caught in the London underground writing down song lyrics in his own blood, comes alive.

"There's nothing natural about it whatsoever," Cave says, that recognizably Aussie curl in his accent. "We basically get together and decide to go into the studio. This time it was a studio in London called Assault and Battery. We went in and don't really talk about much. We just set up and start to play, and we do that for five days pretty much running, with a few hours of sleep in between. It's all taped, so there's an enormous reservoir of bullshit that we then have to go through and find some magical moments. The next aspect of it is kind of the mathematics of songwriting, and how to turn what is sometimes a slice of complete chaos into an actual song. And then we get together again and try and do that. Much of what actually ends up on the record is just sections of this music—fully improvised music chopped together."

"Like Miles Davis and Teo [Macero]?"

"Exactly!"

From Cave's haunted howling on the urgent fuzz-guitar stomp of the opener, "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man," to his crooning over the hissing noise of "What I Know," to the scarcely controlled chaos of "Evil," Cave and three of his Bad Seeds mates—Sclavunos, Warren Ellis (guitars, piano, violin), and Martyn Casey (bass)—raise a mighty din. I swear, this unhinged side project's second lunge at making a noisy, indulgent racket sounds like it was a lot of fun to bang out. In "Heathen Child," when Cave sings about the voracious "wolf man," an image he morphs into one of the first of many short Web videos being released concurrently with the album—"They tell a story," he says with a smirk—it's clear he's humorously playing with the legends, true or not, of what Sclavunos calls "his hairy past."

In "When My Baby Comes," Cave and the band grow quieter, more introspective. Then there's "Palaces of Montezuma," which is surprisingly conventional, right down to its Brian Wilson–like "Ooooooooohhhhh" background vocal harmonies and overall Stones-in-the-'70s shamble.

Grinderman 2 also has a different sound from its much-praised predecessor, Grinderman. "They sound different," Cave says. "We finally got somewhere with this new record, spatially, which is really exciting. There's air in there, and space. The sound is real wide."

"It captures the music in a really vivid way," Sclavunos says. "Not a lot of special effects. Captures it in a way that makes it really vibrant and present and true to the whole thing, the nastiness that's already there. It's raw, maybe in the sense that it hasn't been cooked to death."

So does this second album mean that Grinderman has now transitioned from side project to full-time band?

"We think it's the kind of music that we are only capable of making at our age at this time, and from our perspective," Sclavunos says. "It's not harkening back to anything at all. It's sort of a consummation of where we're at now. We're not going back to our roots or anything. We come out of something different than maybe the kids do these days."

Cave finishes a yawn and rouses himself. "We come from a time when chaos and anarchy and noise within music were valued. And I don't think it's the same way now. Those elements .†.†. there are attempts at those kind of elements, but that old-school kind of chaos, I don't hear it very much these days. What was considered noise maybe 30 years ago is now meat and potatoes of your typical hip-hop track—what was cutting-edge in the '70s is now just part and parcel. The bar has been raised for what's considered to be challenging noise."—Robert Baird

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