Nardwuar the Human Serviette
From just before Mother’s Day in 2004. He may be quirky, but Nardwuar is one of the best interviewers out there, so I this was one of the most intimidating experiences of my journalistic career. In this, he talks (a lot) about the Evaporators’ legendary live show, piss trolls, and hair metal act E’nuff Z’nuff.
Do you mind if I ask where you are right now, just for context?
I’m at my house in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Doing anything special for Mother’s Day today? I’ve heard that you’re still living with your mother?
I’m taking my mom out for lunch, and going to get her some Harley Davidson Biker Brew Coffee that she really enjoys.
Harley Davidson Biker Brew Coffee. I’ve never heard of that, I didn’t realize that Harley was into the coffee industry.
Yes, they’re into that. It’s everywhere, eh? Just like Yamaha in the old ’80s used to be into everything.
The first thing I wanted to ask you about is a quote from Scratch Records that said that the Evaporators were Canada’s “indisputable best live band” and that “Nardwuar is one of the best things about Canada. Is it actually indisputable, that the Evaporators are the best live band in Canada?
That’s very nice of them to say that. Keith from Scratch records is a very nice guy, and the Evaporators have played with some of his bands over the years, so perhaps that’s his firsthand knowledge. Or it’s Shawn, the other guy from Scratch’s knowledge as well. Shawn and Keith are also great fans of the other guys in our band. John Collins, who plays bass and is also in the New Pornographers, Dave Carswell you plays guitar and also plays in the Smugglers, because John and Dave played in a couple of tours with Superconducter, I don’t know if you remember them at all. But they were Keith of Scratch records and Shawn of Scratch Records’ band. So John and Dave filled in a few times. Because Superconductor were an amazing band. Also in the band was Carl, he was the singer, and Carl is now the singer of the New Pornographers, and John is in the New Pornographers. But John and Dave did a couple of tours of duty there with Superconductor, so Keith and Shawn are big fans I know at least of those guys, because they really kick it up a notch live, and they’ve seen that firsthand.
As a contrast to that, I’m sure you’re familiar with Chart Magazine?
Yea… help me out a bit.
Chart magazine – the Canadian music magazine – they do annual reviews of the Canadian Music Week on their website chartattack.com. The actual quote from the review they have this time: “Nardwuar has balls the size of Nunavut, gumption to last three lifetimes and more talent than most cities. Unfortunately, the Evaporators just aren’t very good… NO one cares about anyone else in the band.”
The weird thing about that particular view, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but unfortunately the gentleman – I didn’t actually find this out, Grant of the Smugglers found this out, because the Smugglers were reviewed as well – the gig that you’re talking about started at 8pm, and ended at 2am, and the guy that reviewed the entire gig was there the entire night, and he later admitted to Grant of the Smugglers that he was exhausted, and just wanted to get the hell out of there. He was a big fan of a band, Death from Above, that played on that bill as well. Also on that bill were the Candidates, the High Dials, the Evaporators, the Smugglers, Death from Above. We were actually on at 1am, and believe it or not, we didn’t get off stage until probably 2am. So the reviewer guy I guess unfortunately was completely wiped out, so I don’t really know what would have saved him.
One interesting thing about that is, he’s entitled to his own opinion, is that we pulled up on stage with us Canadian heavy metal legend Thor, and Thor joined us for a couple of numbers. Unfortunately in his review, he didn’t even mention that, which is kind of bizarre, since the Thor thing went out of control and haywire, for about 45 minutes. It was only supposed to be for 15 minutes, and it ended up being 45. So I’m not totally satisfied with that review in the sense that, you know it’s his own opinion, but at least slag us by mentioning we had Canadian heavy metal legend Thor on stage. You don’t have to try to watch the entire show, and…
He later talked to Grant from the Smugglers. I mean, I don’t care, but Grant from the Smugglers, they got a weird review too, so Grant followed up on the guy. I just attributed it to somebody being totally tired. I mean, you’re the last band on at 1am, the gig starts at 8pm, people were totally drunk. I don’t know what the hell you can do. Grant of the Smugglers said that we were headlining the night, like he said “Man, you’re headlining,” because they went on right before us, and I said, “No Grant, we’re playing clean up,” you know, cleaning up the evening. So I’m not sure what anyone could have done in that situation with that reviewer. I mean, that guy’s high point was several hours earlier when Death from Above played, so I don’t know how anyone was going to top that.
And with Thor coming on, he did the whole blowing up the hot air balloon, bending steel in his mouth, that sort of thing, right?
Indeed. You sure have been digging around.
Well, you do it for your interviews, the least I could do is pay the same respect.
Yea, that’s very nice of you, it’s cool that you dug around and found those interesting tidbits. I love tidbits like that. But yes, we pulled Thor up on stage. I respect that guy’s review, if he wants to say that, that’s fine. And I hate to criticize someone’s review, but I would say this, that he didn’t seem to review the entire show because he didn’t mention the Thor thing. That’s all that sticks out in my mind, because the Thor thing as I said kind of went haywire, because people were drunk and grabbing him. What took 15 minutes to do in Vancouver, we did it with him once in Vancouver, took like 45 to an hour in Toronto. Our set was about half an hour as well, so it just was pretty crazy. But not including that, I don’t know if you can totally take that without a grain of salt, you know?
Recently, the band Phantom Planet had their drummer Jason Schwartzman, who also is in movies, leave because he felt his fame was overshadowing the band’s music. Do you ever get the impression that now that this MuchMusic thing has really been catching on, now that you’re on Much On Demand all the time, that people are coming to the Evaporators show more to see Nardwuar than to see a good punk show?
Any way to get the kids out, I’ll be happy. The only weird thing about it is that, sometimes I’ll have a kid say “I didn’t realize you had a band,” and I’ll say, “Yea, we actually started on February 20th, 1986,” and then somebody will say, “Wow, I wasn’t born until 1989.” So it’s kind of weird when that happens. Any chance that anybody comes to the gig, I’m totally happy. Any of the records that I’ve put out on Nardwuar the Human Serviette records – and this latest one is a Nardwuar slash Mint release in Canada, and it’s on Alternative Tentacles, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedy’s label in the United States of America – all the records have included little tidbits of interviews, so it’s all been intertwined. So I’m happy if somebody comes just because they’ve seen me on MuchMusic, or they’ve heard me on CITR Radio, and I’m happy if somebody shows up because they’ve heard the music and know nothing about the interviews because I think it’s all one giant thing. The first record I put out in 1989 had interviews on it, like interviews with Jello Biafra, as well with ex-President of the United States Gerald Ford, so it isn’t just rockers, it’s politicians. It’s all just one giant jumble. I love it.
So you don’t really see a separation between the two?
Not at all, because I include both in the presentation of our music, because its fun to offer something extra. When you buy an album, it’s fun to have liner notes, its fun to have little interview snippets to be able to listen to as well. It’s the entire package. Some people say its all about the music, and I say yea, it’s a bout the music, but it’s also about the packaging. I love packaging too.
If it wasn’t for the packaging, you’d see a lot more people downloading music. That’s one of the main arguments I’ve heard from my friends is that you only get the music, none of the packaging, liner notes, everything you’re talking about.
The pathetic thing about that though, I don’t think it holds too much weight because the packaging is so pathetic, that once they get it, they’re like “What the fuck? There’s nothing there!” You can go to Amazon.com and print off the cover, and get the credits from All Music Guide, and make your own packaging a hell of a lot better than a lot of the bands. So yes, for a lot of the bands that have really cool packaging, I think you can’t really download it, but for the others, I don’t think it makes any difference because people don’t put any effort into it.
You were talking about Jello Biafra before. He was in a movie in 1999 called the Widower, which I hear you had a cameo in?
Yes, I played a donut boy.
Your name isn’t mentioned on their website, or on the IMDB reference to the movie. Are they trying to hide you?
I don’t think I had any lines. I was just in the background, although I do know that “Doot-doo-da-loot-doo” I think was dubbed in. There is actually a picture of me somewhere on my website of me as Carl the Donut boy. If you go to the Nard Gallery on my website Nardwuar.com, and there’s a little search thing in Nard Gallery, type in “The Widower” or “Carl the Donut Boy” and I think that’ll come up, so there is proof floating around.
Would you ever consider doing another movie, or is that just sort of a one-off, cameo appearance?
I was in that movie “A Girl is a Girl,” put together by Reg Harkema who helped edit Hard Core Logo, and that was another cameo in a record store. And actually the Evaporators song “I’m Going To France” played during the sex scene, when a guy’s cock was exposed, so I thought that was quite an honour.
I was going through the Nard Gallery, and saw a picture of you and Jello Biafra with three albums. One of them was Mae West’s Wild Christmas, but I couldn’t make out what the other two were, or whether he was giving them to you or just showing them off.
He was just showing them to us. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember what the albums actually were, because I didn’t get a chance to write them down. We were at his house, and he just had them floating around there. The Mae West record was an obscure record that he had got in Australia and was really really rare. But it was really neat, because we got to stay at his house and he showed us lots of his records, and I did an interview with him that you can actually listen to the most recent interview that I did with him at Nardwuar.com. And he actually put out our record, which is pretty incredible considering that in 1989, when I put him on our record, it was a compilation record I put out called “Oh God, My Mom’s on Channel 10,” I thought that he hated me. And he did probably hate me. But after 15 years of bugging him, we ended up on his record label, so don’t give up kids. You never know what will happen.
That’s the moral of the story here?
Things have come around and now he’s a good friend. He puts out our records and still gives me interviews.
It seems like you have that kind of effect on people. A lot of them seem to dislike you initially, and then you grow on them with your persistence. Is that something that you find happens a lot, like with Courtney Love, with Chris from Sloan, and apparantly with Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys? Why do you think that people have that initial “I don’t know what to make of him, I don’t like him all that much” reaction to you?
I don’t know. I mean, if I knew that much about myself, then I don’t know if I’d be here right now because I’d probably be winning the lottery. I just act like myself. The only thing I can think of is that I do my radio show every week at CITR, the University of BC, and again you can hear clips at Nardwuar.com of my shows over the years, and having to do a show every week, you have to come up with something every week. So if someone comes back to town, you think “oh I might as well try to talk to them again. So if it doesn’t work once, well maybe try again.
I interviewed Henry Rollins before, and I thought the interview went pretty fun, I don’t think he liked it. When the interview was over, he was like “You need to get fucked. When’s the last time you were fucked?” Unfortunately, none of that got on tape. But he still said that “next time you talk to me, make sure you floss and brush your teeth, because your breath is really really intense.” So the way he said “the next time,” I thought that’s an invitation. So he’s come back to town a couple of times, and I emailed him, because he does answer his email, just go to his website or whatever, and you can hook up, that 2-13-61 website and you can hook up with him that way indirectly through his publicist, but he’s always emailed back with “No. Your act is pathetic. Leave me alone, I don’t want to be interviewed by you.” And another time he said, “Ian MacKaye of Fugazi played me some interviews you’ve done. Some of that was good shit, but your act is tired and I don’t want to talk to you. Please don’t bug me again.” Every couple years he’ll tell me that when I ask him for an interview. So it doesn’t always work.
Some people I’ve been able to bug over and over, and somehow been able to win them over and get lots of good interviews out of them, and we’ve become good friends. But with Henry Rollins, I still want to be his friend, as Chixdiggit say, but unfortunately nothing has really come as a result. However, indirectly, he did inspire the song Salad Bar on the Evaporators’ new record, because the song Salad Bar is inspired from his book Get In The Van, where he talks about when Black Flag are on tour and they’re really really hungry, he can feed the whole band by going to a salad bar. And they don’t just buy a plate – well, they buy a plate, and put the plate on a tray, and they use the tray basically as the plate, and then everyone eats of the tray, so they only have to buy one plate, and they just put it on a tray and it’s a giant mound. So that’s what the song Salad Bar is about, on the Evaporators record.
On the new one, Ripple Rock.
On the new one, Ripple Rock. And, if you want to see how I’ve related to Jello Biafra over the years, you can just pop the Evaporators CD into your computer, it’s an enhanced CD, and you can watch 14 or 12 years of me talking to Jello Biafra between 1989 and 2002. It has all the video clips all included there. You can also check that out at Nardwuar.com, but it is on the CD too as an enhanced feature, which I just think is awesome, because you get videos as well. So that’s an added little feature with the packaging.
You were saying that Henry Rollins was saying your “act” was tired. Do you think of it as an act?
I just go out and go for it. I just get excited, and sometimes my voice goes up a bit because I’m excited. It’s like Henry Rollins. This is a guy that’s had beer bottles thrown at his head and it hasn’t bugged him at all, so who knows what he’s going to do to me. So I just get excited, and I just go for it. I think some people just don’t understand, you become a super fan boy in front of these people. I mean, what else can you be but nervous?
You do have a considerable amount of knowledge about the music scene, you’ve done a lot in terms of documenting the musicians that have come through Vancouver. You try to bring awareness of older Vancouver bands. Do you feel that you’re a little bit underrated, for lack of a better word? Do you ever wish that you could be more respected in the journalism community?
I do feel that I’m respected, because I’ve been able to do a show on CITR UBC Radio since October 1987, touch wood. I’ve been on the air continuously since then, so I think that certain people in the community have given me a chance, so I’m forever grateful for them for letting me do my show every Friday since October 1987. I figure if I was doing it wrong, they would have yanked me by now. But I think I’m just totally honored that I’m able to go there and just do whatever the hell I want, whether it be interviewing a porn star, a politician, a band, a conspiracy theorist guy, it’s just great to be able to keep on going.
I would however one day like to get my own TV show, that is a goal of my own. To be able to have my own show where the Evaporators play, and I come running out and sing the theme song, and sit behind a desk and interview 50 Cent or whatever, or go on remote and interview 50 Cent or Brian Wilson. That would be my goal. I do have that goal, I’d love to do that.
Speaking of TV theme songs, the theme for Nard Wars is also “Nard Nest” off the newest album, is that right?
Yes it is. Thank you for noticing that, that is amazing, and like I say, thanks for digging around for all that information. This is just amazing that you actually know all this stuff. I’m just totally blown away.
I appreciate that. It just seems like the least I could do considering the effort you put into interviews with other artists. The question I was going to ask, though, is about the Nard Nest itself. [The Nard Nest is Nardwuar’s message board on his web site, http://www.nardwuar.com.] You seem to have a lot more contact with your fans than most artists I can think of. Do you think it’s important to keep that close of a tie with your fans?
The Nard Nest is pretty easy to respond to because there aren’t a hell of a lot of posts. It was kept alive by basically two people, Fergo Overdrive and Zooey Katooie. These two girls, they posted amongst each other like 900 posts each, just back and forth, using it as their own personal message board. So when someone else posts, I feel that I should go out there and try to respond to it. Plus I love doing it, I love seeing what people want to know and little tidbits of information. There’s hardly any posts, really, and that’s why we wrote the song Nard Nest. If you listen to the refrain, its “There’s four people online, all the time” and we don’t even basically get that. I think the most we’ve ever had at one time was when there were eleven people on in 2002, and I don’t know how that happened. I think some of that was like cookies, searching out the site. It has that thing on the bottom of the message board of how many people maximum have been on the site, and its really not a hell of a lot. But its fun responding to people, and also trying to get information from people. People help me out by giving me suggestions of things to ask people when I’m doing interviews, etc, etc.
It looked like that came up for the Blur interview, although unfortunately it didn’t look like you got to use too many of the questions before your hat was stolen.
I did actually get to use them. I’m not sure if the entire interview is posted there –
I think it was just the clip that aired on MuchMusic.
What actually happened there was I showed up and Dave, the drummer, didn’t seem to be too pleased with me, and as soon as I walked the room, he just started roughing me up. Ripped up my questions that I was going to ask him, threw away my hat and my glasses, and for all intents and purposes just stormed off. And I was like “OK”, and just continued on the interview with Damon and Alex, and it went totally normal, and I asked him pretty much all the questions. It was just weird how that happened. I think other people, if they had that happen, would’ve just fucked off and been like “Hey, I’m out of here, I’m not going to do this interview.” But for me it was just like, hey, this is just a drummer, I don’t want to really speak to him anyway. I wanted to talk to Damon and Alex, and when I talked to them they were totally normal. It was just bizarre. I had spoken to them before, and the interview went just fine, you can actually read that interview at Nardwuar.com, if you want to check that out. So I don’t know why the guy would be angry this time.
It’s not the first time you’ve had stuff stolen from you though, right? There was the Sebastian Bach incident, and also at one show, apparently a couple of kids came up to you and one of them stole your hat? And you and Chris Murphy from Sloan had to tackle them and ransom it off?
Its pretty amazing isn’t it, that a guy who I interviewed in 1991, Chris from Sloan, who stormed out of the interview, ten or twelve years later ends up getting back my hat that was stolen, that he lets us stay at his house when we play in Toronto with the Evaporators, and when I had my first ever MuchMusic special, Chris was the host of it. It’s just incredible that all this happened. He’s just a lifesaver. I mean, that was just amazing that he was able to do that. I’m just so in debt to him for doing that. This was a guy that really didn’t like me, and then all these years later he’s my friend. And he’s still turning me on to stuff. I mean, when we’re at his house, he exposed me to the movie Office Space, which I enjoy. And also the drumming of Buddy Rich, so that was pretty cool because I never would’ve gotten into those things otherwise, so thank you Chris Murphy.
If you like Office Space, there’s another movie you should look into called Haiku Tunnel, I’m not sure if you would’ve heard of it. It’s another sort of office comedy, and it’s a little bit off beat.
Do you play in a band yourself?
Not at the moment. A few high school things, and a few local bands that went nowhere and didn’t play any shows. Just more of a fan of music and movies in general.
Had you ever heard of the Evaporators before, because we had played Calgary a few times over the years.
The Evaporators I’d heard of but never really checked out outside of the one or two videos on the website, which to be honest I wasn’t so much into. But having heard Ripple Rock it seems like a huge leap forward in terms of songwriting, I’ve actually liked it quite a bit more. But I haven’t actually seen you guys live before, if that’s what you’re wondering.
Yea, just curious, because we have actually played Calgary over the years a few times, including Alberta, going back a few years to the Highwood Music Festivals. Those were in ’93 and ’92, these giant festivals that they had with bands like the Muffs and Mudhoney and Social Distortion play, and I remember we played one year and our check bounced, so that was pretty funny.
So they couldn’t actually pay you for it then?
No, not the second year. It was great exposure though. It was pretty funny too because there were bands playing at all hours of the day. There was a band Bum, who I love, from Victoria, and they played at like 8 am. They woke up out of their tent and crawled over to the stage and played, and actually there were quite a few people there to see them. Not as many as, you know, bands that played in the afternoon.
Not a lot of that crowd is too big on the morning shows. Now, you were given a Piss Troll, is that correct?
Yes I was. Oh my God.
Do you still have that?
Yes I do. It’s right beside me. It was given to me by this girl Sarah, she didn’t tell me if there was piss in it or not. She just said “it’s a piss troll. Deal with it.” I tend to believe her though, because her friend Jones, that’s how I met her, is friends with this guy called Senor Amore, who is a friend of ours from Los Angeles. And Senor Amore has told us many stories about playing badminton with Lenny Kravitz and how Janet Jackson once gave him a Jackson 5 T-shirt because he went to school with Janet Jackson, so I kind of believe this Piss Troll story just because all the stuff to do with them is pretty much all true. So I haven’t been able to figure out if they’re liars or not. So I’m totally down with that piss troll, so it’s sitting right on my desk, and hopefully its not evaporating. All the piss is not evaporating into this room. Maybe that’s why I’ve been sick recently, hopefully the lid is on tight.
You haven’t actually checked to see if it is piss?
No, I haven’t. It’s sealed up very nicely. And again, I’m amazed that you’ve dug around there, that’s incredible.
You have said one of your favorite things to do is smelling things. This just hasn’t piqued your curiosity?
Well I can see it now, it’s just on the other side of my computer, but it’s not in total view. So I think if I moved it out in front of my computer, get back to me in a couple months and I probably will have smelt it. I’ve just kind of got it out of sight, so maybe that’s a good thing. I’d probably be picking at it right now if it was in front of me.
If people are interested in hearing the Evaporators, as you hadn’t heard the Evaporators, we do have theevaporators.com where people can hear clips from the new record, and the old record, and watch some of the vids and stuff like that, and visit the Nard Nest. So http://www.theevaporators.com and http://www.nardwuar .com, in case anybody’s wondering what the hell’s going on, so people can read about the Sebastian Bach story there. And the Courtney Love story and the Jello Biafra story.
You and Mark Kleiner, who’s now in the Mark Kleiner Power Trio used to have this fascination with the band Enuff Z’nuff. Is there any other band now that you’d like to bring up from relative obscurity into relatively less obscurity?
Again, I am just so humbled that you have dug so deeply, and brought up a band that I love so much. Thanks so much, I mean this research you’ve done is amazing, I mean this is really just making me very, wow, I don’t know what to say, Enuff Z’nuff. Yes, Mark Kleiner, another great name to bring up. Thank you so for reminding me about Mark Kleiner, I mean how could I ever forget about Mark Kleiner? For years I would just interview punk bands, and then one day Mark Kleiner said “Screw the punk bands, go for the true alternative.” And I’m like, what are you talking about? He says “Bands like Green Day and Rancid and all that punk shit, they’re getting played on the radio, they’re getting played on MTV and MuchMusic. All the hair metal bands have totally died off. They are the true alternative. Why don’t you interview Slik Toxik?” They were that Canadian heavy metal band, I don’t know if you remember, they crashed their limo after the Juno awards. And there was a rumor that they had changed the name of their band to Slack Toxik, to capitalize on generation X, you know like slacker. So I interviewed Slik Toxik, and then it was natural to go after Warrant, and then after Warrant and all these other heavy metal bands like Skid Row and stuff, you started getting into the second-tiered, double named heavy metal bands like Danger Danger and Enuff Z’nuff.
And every interview that we did, we would always refer back to Enuff Z’nuff because they seemed to have gone through the school of hard knocks. They had supported Cheap Trick all these years, and yet when the Cheap Trick tribute album came out they were knocked from it. They’d been supported by Howard Stern all these years, but then when Howard Stern finally had his movie, at last minute, who got the axe? Enuff Z’nuff. So every band we interviewed, we would always mention Enuff Z’nuff. We would even make up fake rumors about Enuff Z’nuff just to get people’s reactions, all these other metal bands that we interviewed. And then one day we did interview Enuff Z’nuff, and then of course I had to throw in the lyrics “LA Guns, Enuff Z’nuff, they come to mind but that’s not the stuff…”
(The tape ran out at this point without me realizing it, so the rest of the conversation is lost. Basically, Nardwuar mentioned that the one thing he’s consciously trying to bring back is the 8-track player, and he sells many of the Evaporators releases in this format. Following a lengthy explanation of how the 8-track works, including demonstrations of highlights from Jimmy Smith’s “Living It Up” on Verve records, Nardwuar realized he had to leave, and with his ever-present salutation of “Doot-doo-da-loot-doo,” he was gone.)