An Interview with Groovie Mann of the Thrill Kill Kult

Kevin Keating
Buzz McCoy, Groovie Mann, Mimi Star of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (Photo: Anabel D'Flux)
In the post-punk era of the 80's, WaxTrax! Records, a small Chicago-based record label became the epicenter of the modern Industrial music scene and helped launch the careers of artists such as Ministry, KMFDM, Front 242, Frontline Assembly, Meat Beat Manifesto, and dance floor favorites, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (TKK). In fact, it was 30 years ago when TKK released their first full length album, I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits (iTunes). They're celebrating the anniversary with a tour that hits the Bay Area next week. On Monday, October 30th, they'll be in San Jose playing at The Ritz (tix here), and on Halloween, they'll be in San Francisco at the Brick & Mortar (tix here). We had the chance to speak with lead singer Franke Nardiello, aka, Groovie Mann, earlier this week and our full interview is below.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Hi Groovie, thanks for making the time today. Let me first start by saying that I can't believe it's been thirty years since I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits was released on WaxTrax!. I wanted to get your sense about those early days. Back before you were signed. Can you tell us how you met Buzz McCoy and how you started playing together?

Groovie Mann: We sorta met each other out on the road, doing other things and just became friends first, and then, a year later, it sort of evolved into being together and working together. Marston (Buzz McCoy) moved from Boston to Chicago and I sorta helped him get settled. He lived with me for a while and then got a place of his own down the street and was working at the store. Once he settled in, we started to goof around with our ideas, but both of us were in agreement that we were finished with the band thing. And then, you know, immediately turned into a band. Ha! It's so ironic. We were electronically collaborating, like I said, I had a bunch of stuff that I was doing on my own, as well as Buzz, he had a previous band and projects. And I would listen to experimental music, and put together tapes of weird sounds and crap. In my own world and time, so yeah, we just sort of hooked up and partied and created some music together. It just evolved into... eventually... we told Jim (Nash) about it [Ed. Note: Jim Nash was the co-founder of WaxTrax!], and he was like 'yeah, let me hear it!' It just sort of took off. So we charted with our first EP, and then, we came up with the concept to go to Belgium to record our first album, sorta to get out of the loop of everything that was going on in Chicago, which you know, Al [Jourgensen of Ministry] had at the time, was dominating a lot of the outlets because of his, I guess, rise in what he was doing and his affiliation with Sire Records. We were all working around it sort of. Some of us were part of it, some of us were not. But it was all going on at the same time. A lot of people think we were all involved with each other, and it really wasn't that way. You know, the only way we were involved, was like, 'when do we get the studio?' 'Room A?' He [Al Jourgensen] always hogged that room. So we'd go in at 2 and 3 in the morning, even 4! Once we could get into Studio A, because Studio B was small and everything, whatever, but it was all that kind of shit going on.

SFBayAreaConcerts: And the studio you're talking about, is that Chicago Trax?

Groovie Mann: Yeah, absolutely! Yeah. You did your homework! I mean, I'd never thought it was a big deal, personally. I thought it was kinda small, but you know, it's location and the buzz, you know?

SFBayAreaConcerts: Well, you guys were signed to WaxTrax really near the start of this modern industrial movement, and there's a handful of bands that are really synonymous with WaxTrax -- you guys being one of them. What was it like at the time? Did you guys have a sense of what was happening with the genre?

Groovie Mann: I don't know, it was sorta like every band for themselves. I mean were all locked into what we were doing at the time. But, we were just being creative and creating together me and Buzz. We had the same sense of humor, and sensibility about things, and what we were doing, so we were creating around all this stuff. With the freedom of just seeing what happens. I mean, it's like, sorta like the punk attitude. Because punk opened up the creative doors, because it was like break the rules, nothing mattered. It doesn't matter if you're a singer, it doesn't matter. Where as 'Industrial' was like 'it doesn't matter if you don't have a real drummer.' It's this kind of music. It's electronic music. Our first show, when we got on the road, we didn't really, we had a van for a couple of events in the beginning, but we weren't a solid band yet. And a lot of our early shows, which was like, fog, mirror balls, and music playing, you could never see who was what, and what was there. But it was there. Sometimes, it was just fragments of it. And it was more based on the mirror ball and the fog (laughter) you know? playing the songs out. We retooled a lot of our so called Industrial or darker things into disco things, and that's when we created the Inferno Express, which was the 'recycled machine' of, taking something that was say, dark, and turning it into 'la, la, la', you know? Disco fun. And, just flipping the coin like that, flipping the listeners, you know? And that's why, like the two first albums are what they are, and then the third album is like 'doying!' What? It's disco? What do you mean, disco? I don't like disco, I don't like that record. Then a bunch of people fell, and dumped us, and then we got more people interested in us too, at the same time. Like 'I love disco, it's my favorite thing, you know?' So, all that crazy, unpredicted behavior was just basically us being who we are as people. We get bored fast, we need something new every time. Formulas are formulas, yeah, we get formulaic here and there too, but, it's not what we are. We're like a book with short stories or long stories. Like Night Gallery, a bunch of little stories that are weird. You know, a la, a book. I just think that My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult is one big audio book or whatever it's called now. You just put it on and it tells the story in your head.

SFBayAreaConcerts: That's funny that you say that because that was actually my next question, you know, I was a fan of your earlier stuff, and then I heard your sound morph into this disco dance stuff, I had no idea of why the shift and what you guys were doing. I was like what did I miss?

Groovie Mann: Yeah, which brings me to, I have to mention, which is probably your last question, we're working on a new album. We created the new album with the concept of, well, if it wasn't Sexplosion (iTunes), and we continued to go along our way with Spirits and Confessions (iTunes), then the third album would have been another one like that; and that's the album that we're making now.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Excellent.

Groovie Mann: It's almost finished, we just have about four tracks that we need to still work on. And we're thinking we're going to go out in the spring. So I would say early next summer with the new album.

SFBayAreaConcerts: That sounds great!

Groovie Mann: Right now it's the 'untitled book' (laughter) we don't have a real title yet. I make 'em up for myself, but I don't throw 'em at Buzz when we're riding. We have enough going on there! Like today, I decided to call the album, "The Beginning of the End." And then the next day, it's like, 'I know, let's call it "The End of the Beginning." Not really, but (I avoid) that type of monotonous stuff.

SFBayAreaConcerts: This fall, we've seen a number of Industrial bands hit the road either in support of anniversary releases like your tour, or supporting new albums. Do you feel like there's a resurgence for Industrial music today?

Groovie Mann: When I go out and search for it, which isn't much, I sort of, I don't know, I'm almost wishing that it would take off to another level. I know it exists, and it is out there strong, but as an artist, I think that in the creative world, I think that there needs to be something, a step up, or a drastic change in it, to give it some contrast in the music scene for the young people. Does that make sense?

SFBayAreaConcerts: I think so.

Groovie Mann: Like, something new to it. I mean I know we're soaked in everything now, but, I sort of look at that as giving up too. I mean, creativity is using your imagination, and dwelling on who you are, and your ideas and exploiting them. So I just think that rather than be borrowing from other peoples music, and I know we take samples and stuff, but we also create samples... I think it just needs some more dynamics to it, and some more input, I mean, I don't consider us naturally industrial, but I mean, I will defend the genre and the sounds that are still 'Industrial', and the people. But honestly, a lot of the young people need to know what that means, and the history. I'm going from the 
experimental era into the alternative era, into Industrial music.

When I was starting out in music creatively, because I wasn't a singer, I was just getting involved because I was asked to, and I thought, alright I'll try this out. So that's why my approach is a lot different than, well not a lot different, but not everybody wants to be a singer in a band. For me, it was like, it was another facet of creativity. I know that wasn't one of your questions, but just for the record, that's how I got into music in the late 70's in the punk era. That's why my view is this way.

SFBayAreaConcerts: You've just touched on another one of my questions, your albums have used sexuality and satanic references for satirical purposes which caused some controversy back then. Doesn't today's music seem relatively subdued comparatively?

Groovie Mann: I know and I agree. I thought that too. We toured with sexuality, 'come out, come out wherever you are' sort of mentality. But, I think it's less than now. It's more like, I don't know, shielded or something. I mean, we're not talking about hip-hop music! ha ha! You know what I mean? That's pretty blatant still. That's really not quite my cup of tea, but I like the blatancy of it sometimes.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Any specific names of artists that are pushing the bounds?

Groovie Mann: No, I don't really listen to that kind of music, but, sometimes I'll hear it in the background, or it pops out of someones car and I'll catch an earful, and I'll think it's sort of like, 'oh that's kind of demented', or 'god, that's so filthy!' It makes me laugh that it's so filthy, and I'm like 'shame on them.' It's just another generation of rebelling. You know? Of course 'bitch' and 'fuck' and all that stuff pisses people off. It's the weapon, it's to make the parents mad. You need those elements, and they're there, and people use them because they cause response. They cause anger and whatever, whatever you use music for. There's all different categories for it to be used. It's a product, it's a thing. It's yours to control in your mind, as sexuality is. I mean really, who's to say who's what. And what's what? I mean, who gives a damn if you're straight or gay, or anything, Jesus! What you do, is what you do, and it's nobody's business. If you want to share it, and march the streets about it, do it. I don't care. I might be marching with you too, but you know? At the same time, I'm not going to be telling you what I do behind my closed doors, unless, I need some in -- ha ha -- like the marriage guides, like 'what do you when they're bored?' and they let you know it? Ha ha, right? I mean, really.

SFBayAreaConcerts: So, I've got a couple more questions, and back when I was a kid, I was twelve years old when when I first heard you guys, so that dates me a bit.

Groovie Mann: Oh my God, that's too young! ha ha ha.

SFBayAreaConcerts: I didn't think so at the time. ha!

Groovie Mann: No, I've had 8 year olds that... I'm like, 'does your mom know that you listen to that album?'

SFBayAreaConcerts: When I was kid, to discover new music, I had college radio and 120 minutes on MTV; Today, kids have endless options to discover new music, but it feels like it's harder to find compelling acts away from the mainstream. Do you have any particular views of the music industry as a whole and how it's changed over the last thirty years?

Groovie Mann: It seems more closed. With everybody downloading, and the year of the Napster... I remember when that hit, it was sorta like a bomb to me. Everything got seared in half. The royalties, and all the stuff that you had worked for, with your art, were seared in half. Down to nothing. And your whole, that whole sort of, like the music world was beginning to dissolve in a good and a bad way. I remember seeing how, there would be really great bands that couldn't break through, that could have and should have, but because they didn't know the right people, or do the right things, that they didn't made it, and it just ended up falling apart. Just having the luck and chance to do it, you know? I think that's how it changed. I just think it's all sort of a big like fort.

SFBayAreaConcerts: I'd like to get back to WaxTrax! if you don't mind? There's a new documentary that's had select showings across the country. In fact, the only West Coast showing is happening in Los Angeles on November 9th. Can you talk about your involvement with the documentary?

Groovie Mann: Yeah, I went to Chicago for the opening there, and did the Q&A. Kudos to Julia [Ed. Note: Julia Nash is the daughter of the late Jim Nash, co-founder of WaxTrax!] And yeah, when she comes to LA, we'll just be back from our tour. I think our last show's on the fourth at the Teragram Ballroom downtown LA, and then a couple of days later, I think it's the ninth, is the film and the Q&A. I think also, during that week, is the Cold Waves thing going on?

SFBayAreaConcerts: Yup, right after.

Groovie Mann: Yeah, after! So maybe I could say hello to some of the guys. I think [Chris] Connelly is in that event.

SFBayAreaConcerts: What about when you guys left WaxTrax to Interscope, do you have any regrets?

Groovie Mann: Oh, it was all such a mess. With the WaxTrax! bankruptcy or whatever, I can't remember, it was a whole huge transaction of things. And then we were on TVT, and then there was a sort of technical blur, and in the end, we were courted by all the major labels. We sort of decided where we'd be the best. We were thinking about Def American. We had Rick Rubin driving us around Hollywood taking us to strip joints. It was kinda cool, but I wasn't really sure. We were gonna go with them though, and then Interscope happened. Jimmy Iovine was just great. Here's this crazy Italian guy, and actually I loved that about him. He was just energetic and enthusiastic, and I kept looking at him thinking 'oh, that's the guy who produced such and such', or 'he was with Patty Smith'. It was all cool. We met Irving Azoff at one luncheon, one of the worlds richest man, and there's a picture of us all standing around him in the newspaper.

How did that luncheon go? I'm curious!

Groovie Mann: That was great! Well, once we had a luncheon with the guys from Giant too, and I remember a big fancy restaurant eating tuna steak. It was all so surreal though. Back in Chicago having white stretch limos honking at night... When we first got signed, and we were going out there and checking out the labels, all the neighbors... I lived in Wicker Park, when you couldn't get a cab there, because it was a bad hood. And I'm like going out, and all the neighbors were looking out their windows to see 'who lives on our street that has a fucking limo pick them up?' right? It was so awesome. I'll never forget that shit. That was like, I was like, 'Oh, my god, is this real?' Because, you've gotta understand, for me, I mean, this was, it was just like, luck! I mean we worked hard and believed in what we were doing, but I had no idea that Sexplosion would sell so big. Like 300,000, or whatever it was. I mean, damn! I think people, kids will miss that journey. There was more of a reason to be motivated and to be excited. It wasn't like, 'oh yeah, I was on the Internet yesterday and saw blah, blah, blah'. '

SFBayAreaConcerts: Well, Franke, that's all I've got. We can't wait to see you guys next week, and thanks for the time!

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