Interview: Jim Sclavunos on The Bad Seeds, No Wave, Collaborations and his debut Solo Single

Jim Sclavunos was a major part of New York’s ‘No Wave’ scene in the late 70s/early eighties. He played in Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, 8 Eyed Spy, Beirut Slump, The Gynecologists, Red Transistor and Sonic Youth. Since then he has worked with artists as diverse as Iggy Pop, The Horrors and Wendy James. Since 1994 he has been a member of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and is a founder member of Grinderman. As well as releasing previous solo work under the moniker The Vanity Set, ‘Holiday Song’ is his first official solo record. All proceeds from sale of ‘Holiday Song’ for the month of January were donated to the Grassroots Music Venue Crisis Fund set up by the Music Venue Trust. This is helping out musicians hit by COVID and their ability to work throughout this crisis. On top of all this he also hosts a monthly show on Soho Radio.

I spoke to Jim at length about his lengthy varied career, No Wave, COVID-19, Wendy James, The Bad Seeds, Victorian English Gentleman’s Club, ‘Holiday Song’ and everything else in between. I have to say that as a big fan of his work, it was an absolute joy to speak to Jim and we could have spoken for a lot longer.

IH: How was the outbreak of the pandemic for you? Have these series of lockdowns been hard? And apart from ‘Holiday Song’ has anything positive come out of it?

JS: Well I was just moaning to a friend of mine this morning how many projects I am juggling at once and I think I got a little bit too excited when I was looking at the prospect of spending a lot of time at home for a change. I think I took too much stuff on and now I am having trouble actually finishing stuff because I keep going from one project to the other and not quite reaching the finish line with a lot of them but I had set a deadline for ‘Holiday Song’ because it was written a couple of years ago a couple of hours after New Year’s was over and I was still wide awake and you could still hear the occasional reveller out, you know, dragging their ass through the street.  So, I thought, well it’s time because I have got this opportunity.  The song was connected with this holiday and I released it on New Year’s Day.

Bandcamp makes it a lot easier and possible to do things kind of more spontaneously.  My wife Sarah was helping me organise everything and, I mean it was really a last-minute thing because it’s been sitting in a sort of nascent state for quite a while.  I recorded a demo with Dave Sherman who was on the last Bad Seeds tour playing piano.  He played piano and shortly after that we went into the studio and recorded some stuff, and that track was just one of them, but it was just vocal and piano.  

Then a few months after that I got Terry Edwards from Gallon Drunk in to play some fluegelhorn and pretty much kind of left it at that and forgot about the song. Then Sarah pointed out that the Music Venue Trust had a fundraiser going on, their #SaveOurVenues campaign, and we thought we should do something to help that and so I decided the time was nigh.  I had a last minute recording session with Spider Stacey (The Pogues) on tin whistle. We recorded it on Saturday, mixed it on Monday and mastered it on Tuesday and a week later it was ready to go up on Bandcamp and we just announced it on New Year’s day. You can be productive, depending on what targets you choose and how you go about doing it

IH: It’s an incredible collaboration between Terry Edwards and Spider.  Were they easy to recruit?  Are they close friends or yours?

JS: Yeah, I have worked with them before.  Terry has done a lot of recording sessions with me over the years, you know on and off. I have a duet album that I have recorded with Nicole Atkins, she is a US singer songwriter currently residing in Nashville.  We’ve done a duet album together and Terry is all over that playing various horns. Terry was one of the first people I met when I started spending a lot more time in London.  I met him through the Bad Seeds and by association with Gallon Drunk.  So I remember very early on meeting Terry and just always getting on with him and he is always up for a session and oh yeah he did some session work on a Wendy James record that I was deeply involved with, her last album which was a double album that he played horns on and he was just like, yeah, my go-to guy for horns. 

Spider is another old friend you know, actually a friend of Sarah as well and we spent a lot of time or we were spending a lot of time visiting New Orleans on and off over the years, Spider was living down there so we would always look him up and then a bit more recently, although not that recently but I think it was 2017? A couple of years ago anyway, he and I collaborated with a band called The Lost Bayou Ramblers and they are like a Cajun band from Louisiana and they were hosting a sort of art event, an anarchic art event down in New Orleans at a very unusual venue there called Music Box. Spider suggested me and that was a good enough reason for me to travel down to New Orleans and hang out a bit and yeah we had an amazing time down there. It was a very memorable live show for me. 

Without getting into the details, it’s hard to do it justice but basically the venue is unique in that its sort of like a playable musical sculpture, the entire venue is sort of like a musical sculpture and it’s round and it’s outdoors and so you go to these various rooms and structures and towers and phone booths and all sorts of stuff that’s within the venue and the crowd just kind of moves around inside this space, as do the musicians and there is no stage proper but each sort of playing area has some sort of built in percussion instrument or wind instrument or something like that.  So, we were all like kind of piling in playing Lost Bayou Ramblers material and it was a bunch of semi improv semi set pieces.  It was quite a spectacle.  Even people who don’t like Cajun music were telling me that they loved it.

IH: Was it ever recorded?

JS: Not as far as I know.  Who knows there’s some funny pictures I’ll tell you that much.  Me playing sax in a phone booth with the singer from Lost Bayou Ramblers screaming at me.

IH: That is nothing new from what you have experienced…

JS: Well, singers screaming at me is par for the course.

Jim Sclavunos and Louis Michot (The Lost Bayou Ramblers) taken at New Orleans Airlift Music Box on (9th Dec 2017 by Sarah Lowe)

IH: It’s apt you should say that ‘Holiday Song’ was written about a New Year because I think there is a beautiful melancholy involved in it. You recorded prior to the lockdown, but I think Spider’s Tin Whistle is particularly haunting I think and it’s almost like a postscript of ‘Fairy-Tale of New York’, that sort of ‘what happened next’.

JS: Maybe, I never really thought of it that way, but I mean I can see how people would easily make the association because you know one’s a Christmas song and the others a New Year’s post-holiday song and yeah, it makes perfect sense.  I was conscious that there could be potential connection, but I never really thought of it as a postscript, that’s an interesting take on it.  You know the tin whistle was a real, like I said, a real last-minute addition and it was mainly because I’d just kind of been in touch with Spider and he was on my mind.  I was like: I wonder how a tin whistle would sound on this? Because I was trying to figure out what the heck to put on there.  I wanted to get some tuba but couldn’t find a tuba player so…

IH: It just works perfectly…

JS: I went totally the opposite end of the spectrum.

IH: Yeah, I mean it just adds to the track, it is just fantastic.  And then the horn comes in at the end and it just binds it all together.  I think it is just a fantastically haunting track.

JS: I told Terry to go for a kind of Salvation Army band type vibe, like mournful. That’s the funny thing about the Salvation Army band, they always kind of appear around Christmas and they are supposed to be playing these cheery Christmas songs but they always sound like a funeral to me.

IH: My music listening and art appreciation changed pretty much overnight in 1989 when the Charles Atkas doc Put Blood in Music was aired in the UK on the South Bank Show one Sunday evening.  I had never heard of John Zorn or Sonic Youth or anything like that and even by that time the No Wave Scene had disappeared and gone away. In Byron Coley and Thurston Moore’s brilliant book on NO Wave, you’re in there throughout

JS: I have not read it, I have got a copy but I haven’t got around to reading it.

(I show Jim the first picture in the book which has Lydia Lunch, James Chance, etc all leaving up against a car)

IH: Is that you?

JS: Yeah, that’s me when I was young and innocent, and slightly psychotic.

IH: I mean, that is quite a crowd isn’t it?

JS: Yeah, a real bunch of rogues.  A real rogues gallery.

IH: I am just absolutely fascinated by that time in New York. What was it like working and living with you know and performing with Lydia, James, Rhys Chatham and everybody else?  What was it like?

JS: Well, you know, I mean it was different things for different bands, but as far as the No Wave Bands go, I’ve said it before many times, but we were not liked by a lot of people in the punk scene.  Our music was considered too abrasive and it was intentionally so.  We were a very kind of nihilistic bunch and sort of you know, I think back then punk was many things. The perception of what punk is has become narrower and narrower as time has passed, but a lot of the bands that were playing CBGBs in those days or the West Coast punk scene for that matter, they were very diverse.  You had like power pop, you had like retro sounding bands you had things that sound like cabaret and you know all these bands were playing CBGBs and Max’s and any other kind of pop up type punk venues from that era, Club 82 you know. The roots of it all were in glam rock but also you know bands that liked The Ronettes or bands that liked 50’s Rock and Roll or The Beatles so there was a very wide spectrum and nowadays it tends to be kind of defined by bands that look more like the Ramones, the enduring names, the big names of people that you know kind of were highly influential. And its right that punk should be largely defined by those people, but it is I think worth remembering that originally punk was a lot more diverse.

Having said that, although there was a lot of tolerance for diversity of styles, we weren’t much tolerated.  People considered us a room clearer and didn’t want us on their bills and generally speaking was had to get the gigs.  There were fortunately, a couple of club promoters that were sympathetic to us like Peter Crowley at Max’s and stuff but if it were not for bands like Suicide for example we would not often be invited to, or allowed I should say, to be an opening act on a bill say at CBGBs. So we were very much outsiders in an outsiders’ movement and, you know like any kind of scene it can be quite cliqueish and we just formed our own clique and we all knew each other – some of us were fucking each other and some of us were just playing in bands with each other, but we all kind of knew each other and kind of loosely socialized. 

Even though we had friends outside that small enclave of No Wave bands, the only other group that was aligned sort of spiritually let’s say or aesthetically perhaps with us were what we call the Soho bands and The Gynecologists were one of those bands and the Theoretical Girls and I am one of the few people that kind of was involved in both bands, very very explicitly and those bands were actually kind of in competition with the No Wave bands.  I don’t know if it’s myth or truth, but allegedly Brian Eno wanted to record a wider spectrum of these kinds of bands for the compilation album of No New York but  allegedly Lydia and James convinced him not to and just to focus on the four.  Whether that is true or not I think it was the chagrin of the Soho bands that got let off.  The artist space event encompassed all those kinds of bands and more and that was kind of where you got to see most of those bands I think.  It certainly, clinched the deal for some of them.

IH: The loft parties, I’ve read the Sonic Youth stories and Kim’s work doing cut up lyrics from style magazines and things like that. I know it’s a different world now, but is there anything you actually miss from all that? The ability to have a space to make noise or the sort of types of people?

JS: I think there is always space to make noise.  Obviously, the world has completely changed probably 10 times over by this point.  You know, New York was a rotten place at the time but it created a very fertile environment for creative people especially young creative people that were guilelessly sort of pursuing something without much second thought you know, they weren’t like thinking you know is this the right thing? Am I building a legacy here? I mean there was no legacy building with No Wave at least not that I was aware of.  Everybody was kind of like “Oh well, we are doing this because we are bored or because it amuses us or because we are angry or whatever”.  It wasn’t like we were thinking “Oh yes, 30/40 years from now people are going to be writing books about us,” that would of sounded preposterous to us as we could not even fill a room with 10 people.  I mean literally most times we played gigs they were empty, so the idea of a legacy was… even if it was some sort of fantasy harboured in the deepest depth of somebody’s subconscious it couldn’t possibly have found any parallels in the receptions we were getting at the time, but I think because we were young, because New York was so lawless and because there was so much going on it was easy to feel like you should and could do anything you wanted creatively. 

There was also sort of a sense for me anyway of like the great New York era of art is over, it’s passed, I missed it and the beatniks have gone, the hippies are gone, Pop Art is over blah blah, everything is over its all been done. I’ll just hang out and see what’s left you know.  It did not feel like a momentous occasion. Punk didn’t feel that momentous, it felt exciting to be around.  There was an energy to it and it felt fresh, but it didn’t feel like this is something people will be talking about for decades to come.  The Ramones are going to be the most influential ground-breaking band of all time.  I mean, they turned out to be vastly influential in a way that can only be compared to, I think, The Velvet Underground. They tore up the rule books that we didn’t know existed, but it wasn’t like anybody was thinking this is something for the ages. Maybe Patti Smith was thinking that, but she always seemed very savvy about myth building and legacy. I think everyone else was just bumbling along and trying to make ends meet or trying to get the best drugs or the most booze that they could on day by day basis.

IH: I think you do your legacy a disservice. I think the No Wave Scene has led to Café Oto and Upset the Rhythm’s nights. I think they’ve tried to emulate that sort of scene.

JS: Yeah, but No Wave didn’t invent dissonant music, experimental music. We were doing experimental music and what made us different was what we were doing was experimental music in spaces that weren’t art spaces.  Prior to that you would always expect to see art music in art spaces like a gallery or at a happening or in a concert hall or a museum. But we didn’t actually, or at least Teenage Jesus and The Jerks and The Contortions, if I may speak for both of those bands, we didn’t call it art rock – we considered ourselves, if anything, anti-art. One could argue that is art.  Without getting into the semantics or the particulars of that argument let’s just take it at face value, we thought of it as anti-art and we didn’t think of what we wanted to do in an art space.  We wanted to play in a club and we liked the confrontational aspect of playing music that challenged people and that sort of channelled our aggression and our frustration and our rage and our negativity and we didn’t apologise for it and that was particularly an aspect of Teenage Jesus and The Jerks and the Contortions, albeit in very different forms of expression.  I think with Mars and DNA there was a much more complex intellectual motivation behind it, but they shared a lot of the same frustration and outsiderness and alienation, so I think they were very much kindred spirits in that respect.

IH: So, the list of bands that you have worked with and then also we have production work and your stint on the drums for The Cramps and Kid Congo Powers, producing The Horrors, Jim Jones, Fat White Family.  I have got two questions, and this comes back to what you earlier hinted at.  Are you a little bit of a workaholic?

JS: No, I mean, maybe, I don’t know. 

IH: I don’t mean workaholic in a bad way, as you said you spread yourself out and you have got a lot of projects.

JS: I just like a lot of things and despite the efforts of forces beyond my control to grind me into the ground, I keep rising like a phoenix from the ashes of frustration pursuing musical things that I enjoy.  Sometimes I am a little bit sceptical about something when I take on a project but I figure if I have a certain amount of trust that if they think I am the right person to work with them, then maybe I am and I should give it a go, whether that’s as a musician or a producer.  I don’t question it too deeply and I don’t always pretend to know why I am drawn to things or I don’t always grasp quite what it is I am going to be able to contribute to it, but I like to think that I always, in the end, do make some kind of significant contribution.

IH: My second question is linked to the other one.  Who have you liked working with in the last few years?

JS: Nicole Atkins, we have been writing songs together for a long time now I think since possibly 2012.  We kind of met cold and were just thrown together in a room by her manager and expected to start writing something at some point, but the very first day we wrote three songs so I mean we just found that we worked really fast together even though we didn’t really have that much in common in terms of our backgrounds at all, and that was one of the things I was sceptical about. I was like “How is this going to work?” But we just found we somehow complemented each other so we always found we worked very fast together and it is always very fruitful, and if anything we probably write too much, more than we have any use for.  It is sometimes hard to kind of figure out what we’re going to do with the stuff.

I also like writing with Polly Scattergood.  She and I have a little bit less of a history together. We are currently writing songs together as well and I think we’re working pretty fast and that is a good sign when you can work fast with people.  I enjoy working with all my collaborators, and all the people, all the bands. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is my mainstay and that’s a really special thing, so unique on so many levels, but also has so much of its own history that you feel like you’re pretty much part of something greater than the individuals in it.  It’s because it is such a mammoth thing now with a long discography.  It’s a lot easier to talk about particulars, whereas with the Bad Seeds I have to talk about its entire history, it just encompasses so much

IH: Yeah, well I was going to come onto the Bad Seeds in a second, but I had very few female crushes when I was in my teens, and Wendy James is definitely one of them. Her poster was on my bedroom door. She was due to play in Swansea last year in April 2020. When I first heard you were collaborating with her, I couldn’t believe it. How did that come about?

JS: Well Wendy literally just ran up to me in the Bowery Hotel shouting my name. I didn’t know her from Adam and she just kind of dashed up to me and she’s very unabashedly enthusiastic about her enthusiasm for rock and roll music – she is one of these true believers and likewise in terms of the way she interacts with people.  I think sometimes in interviews she can come across as very proper but when she is interacting with musicians, she is just like one of the guys and just so enthusiastic and so positive about it.  She loves music and she is not afraid to show it and someone like me is quite a bit more cynical and jaded.  You know I am sure she has every reason in the world to be jaded as much as I do but she isn’t, she is just like, she is on fire all the time

IH: I think you are right there. She was thrown into the limelight by our British press. As you probably know what our press is like and Transvision Vamp were very much seen with a bit of suspicion and scorn because they went straight to the charts so I think her credibility was called into question. Probably mostly by men I would of thought.

JS: If you listen to the music objectively and measure it against a lot of other things that were going in the 80’s,I think its earned it place and I think a lot of that is very much coming from a sort of a male regard for women and all the complications that entails.  I was never a fan of Transvison Vamp. I was barely aware of them. I was living in the States and they weren’t as big there and I wasn’t really following much on MTV or in the charts or anything like that so a lot of Transvision Vamp stuff I had never heard until I started playing with Wendy. So I come to it from a very different angle, I don’t have that historical context and I certainly don’t have any of the media baggage that might kind of influence people’s opinions.

IH: Yeah, I do think she went through the mill a bit.

JS: I am sure she did, and I am sure women still do.

IH: Yeah absolutely, nothing much has changed.                

JS: That is something I have never really understood, I have always… I am not going to make any claims for myself as any kind of feminist minded individual, I mean it’s just a given to me… Why wouldn’t you treat a women exactly the same as a man within reason.. I mean you can’t kick a woman in the balls, god knows there have been some times and I think “God I wish that woman had balls so I could kick them,” but I mean from the get go I’ve worked in bands led by or with women in the ranks and never thought twice at all about why shouldn’t a woman be there, why shouldn’t a woman call the shots, why should a woman have to justify anything more than any other musician does.  If a woman wants to dress a certain way, why not… all that is a given to me and I don’t know how it can be any other way but obviously it is.  I mean that’s a bit like racism, how exactly would you explain that, but yes, it is clearly something very deep rooted in civilization, so it is not unique to any one nation or group of people but sort of universal.  It is just that some places cope with it better than others. I have a lot of respect for Wendy. She really works hard and she is really committed and I think these people that question her credibility, I have to question theirs because I don’t think they’re being very objective about her.

IH: Yeah absolutely, it’s a shame, I mean Covid has put a spanner in the works for all sorts of things, but certainly like Wendy coming to Swansea.

JS: She will be back, she is raring to go

IH: Ok. The Bad Seeds. Two questions. You were due to play Cardiff last year. Are you keen to get back in saddle live wise? And two, the whole of The Bad Seeds have been going at this for so many years now. Is the recording process and the writing process as intense as I think it would be?

JS: I never… I mean maybe I’m just used to the intensity of it you know… Listen, it is different for everybody.  I think some people are… I’ve been working in studios a long time and I’ve always enjoyed it and I feel very much in my element and I understand a lot of what is going on and I don’t moan about it, I don’t think ever… I mean sometimes maybe, especially when I’m doing more engineering, it’s sometimes… but I enjoy most of it and always have and I think other people don’t have as quite as much patience with it or like some aspects of it and hate other aspects of it.  It think it’s true in the Bad Seeds and I think it’s true in other bands without saying anything specific about anybody because I think every musician must have their kind of trepidations about things, but we keep going in and making records so obviously we must love it on some level whether its nerve wracking or boring or I mean sometimes you end up waiting around for hours while the engineer’s doing something or doing takes or something breaks and that’s not much fun. 

I guess especially if you are the songwriter or possibly the singer then you invest so much more in it emotionally, I think than when you’re playing bass or drums or saxophone or something, you know, there is a much more incisive involvement in the textual meaning of things and therefore if you’re the front man you know you’re probably thinking how am I going to put this across?  Am I communicating the right thing? There is this whole maelstrom of insecurities that can arise when a project is more focused on you because you’re the singer, because you are the mouthpiece, you’re the direct conduit to the audience here, the one communicating verbally so I think there is a lot more occasion for nervousness and anxiety and insecurity and frustration when you are in that position.  You feel like more is hanging on you and I suppose it is like integrity or a credibility thing or like, “Am I really delivering this the way it deserves or needs to be, or is it good enough?” things like that.

I think the recording experience for every musician in a band runs the gamut and if I go in and play drums on a session the basic tracking is like I’m in the crosshairs you know, it’s like I’ve got to deliver otherwise nobody else can do anything. You can’t get off the ground until the drummer’s laid down all of his drum parts.  You can actually, but that’s another matter. I mean there are things you can do in the studio obviously but the whole process is so artificial too because every aspect of everything you are doing is hyped in some way, a microphone is placed near or on something and that is run through a mic preamp and that’s run through a console and that’s eq’d and that’s compressed and reverb is added to it so you know, even in the most naturalistic sounding recording it’s been so processed by the time anyone hears it, it is a very synthetic artificial process and I think that works on people’s nerves too because you know, for most musicians the experience of playing music is you go in a room with some other people and you go toot-toot-toot or bang-bang-bang, but again I mean there is such a wide range of how people make music and why they make music and what styles. 

No matter whether you’re in a jazz band or folky or you’re a DJ or you play electronic music or you only use samples or music concrete, whatever, it is always artificial because it has to go through a microphone and it has to come out of a loudspeaker and that’s all there is to it.  Anybody who describes any aspect of the recording process as being ‘natural’ is talking bullshit and so I think when you subject yourself to that artificial process, like I said it can work on your nerves, you have to have a lot of faith in the machinery and the people that are running the machinery that it is capturing what it needs to capture and that you’re actually putting across what it needs to put across because playing in the studio isn’t always like playing live. 

IH: I want to come back full circle and back to ‘Holiday Song’ again which I think is fantastic.  January proceeds from the release went towards the Grassroots Music Venue crisis fund. Because of Covid, the music industry is in a bit of crisis at the moment. So combine that with Brexit and the touring visas and things like that. What challenges do you think the music industry has got?

JS: I think the challenge is to survive

IH: It is as simple as that.

JS: But adapt.  Artists have always had to be adaptable and always have been adaptable.  Being in the vanguard, the Avant Garde and like looking for the new thing, the new way of doing things.  So, there is a positive side to it.  There is some Ezra Pound quote about artists being the antennae of their race or something like that, you know, just always kind of feeling out what is out there before anyone else says it and moving towards it or away from it or whatever needs to be done.  So I mean, abstractly all I can say is: yes we are going to have to adapt and we are going to have to roll with the punches and all those kinds of clichés and this ‘unprecedented’ cliché. If I hear that word… one more time…an unprecedented use of the word unprecedented. So that is the abstract way of answering the question, the practical way of it is, like, you have just got to survive and it isn’t going to be fun and it is going to get pretty desperate, I think, for a lot of people pretty soon and people are going to have to revaluate all their plans, assuming they even managed to live because we are in the life and death situation here, a very slow moving life and death situation and all the ones that are around are lucky to be around but we don’t know when any of our numbers are going to be up so it is a very precarious kind of situation we are in financially, health wise, socially. But the history of the world is full of those scenarios so nothing is new, it is just new to us so I guess we will just keep calm and carry on. What the hell else can you do, panic? What is that going to do? It is perfectly understandable that people would panic, but you know when push comes to shove it does not really accomplish anything. No, you have just kind of grimly go about figuring out the solution to whatever the dilemma is and put up with a  lot of shit.

IH: You were a founder member of Grinderman and made an absolute cacophonous noise. So ‘Holiday Song’ I think has come as a bit of a shock to a lot of people, certainly me. But I do think it is beautiful.  What has the reception been like?

JS: Yeah, it’s the first record I’ve actually put out there on my own name and so I’ve explained to other people the main reason I haven’t put stuff out under my own name in the past is because I just didn’t think people would be able to spell it and that’s a real dilemma because I was always kind of determined to keep my name, I always felt a bit of a phony trying to come up with some kind of snazzy stage name… it didn’t feel like me, it was not that I was  worried about losing my identity or coming up with a fake identity more like it just didn’t feel like I could pull it off. That is literally the only reason I never did it before and also the other side of that is that I’ve always had so much enthusiasm and enjoyment for working with other people so it was always easy to fall into other people’s projects and dedicate myself to it wholeheartedly because I loved what they were doing.  The Bad Seeds, I mean I shudder to think how many years I have been in the Bad Seeds now and it still feels fresh to me and exciting and so it took some time and took a pandemic to make me realise there is absolutely no reason why at this point in my life I can’t just start putting out records under my own name, there is no excuse for it.  People don’t really have to spell things anymore anyway computers do it all, you just click on likes.

IH: You are not just the Bad Seeds drummer though. You are Jim Sclavunos. Same as Blixa Bargeld. Warren Ellis. Nick Cave. Etc.  

JS: I am more important than all those guys… (JS laughs). I have been weaving in and out of different scenes and stuff but absolutely if I don’t get some kind of memorial plaque after I’m gone I am going to find some way to rain down vengeance on humanity…

IH: What is next?  Are you building on the success and the momentum that ‘Holiday Song’ has created?

JS: I have got a bunch of tunes that I am going to strive to record in one shape or another over the coming months and put together as an album.  I am reissuing the Vanity Set stuff and I’d like to get the first album out very soon. I am in the middle of working on that.  I have got some unreleased Vanity Set stuff as well that I would like to put out eventually.  Nicole Atkins and I have an album in the can and we just starting to look for a home for it so that is on my immediate horizon and I’ve got ongoing collaboration with Joe Gideon and Polly Scattergood and all that so we will see what comes of those.  Like I said I have been juggling four or five or six distinct projects all at once right now so I don’t know what is going to come out next, but I guess whatever finishes first.  I am trying to make the most of this different kind of way of living and working.  I am trying to make the most of it and revisit things that I have long neglected and pursue avenues that I haven’t wholly devoted myself to before so if there are people out there willing to listen to it, I’ve got stuff for them to listen to and if they like it then great.

IH: Well it’s a time for introspection isn’t it? Jim thank you so much it has been an absolute pleasure. 

JS: I have one question for you.  Did you ever hear of the Victorian English Gentleman’s Club?

IH: I have heard of them.

JS: I produced one of their albums, I love them. I don’t think they exist any longer, but they were based in Cardiff for a while. They were the kind of band who were so eccentric and so unique that they just never did themselves any favours of connecting with media or anything like that.  I absolutely loved that band and I think we did a great record together, but they sat on it for a good three years and then released it in this one bizarre limited-edition deluxe version that is impossible to find.  They put out at least one other album possibly two I am not sure. They were a cool band and they are no longer together.  That is my only other experience of Wales like on a personal level is we went to the place where that TV show was shot… Portmeirion, but on the way there I nearly got beaten to a pulp by a Welsh boxer who claimed to be a friend of Tom Jones.

‘Holiday Song’ was released on 1st of January 2021 on Lowe Amusements Records. The song features Jim Sclavunos on lead vocals and celesta, accompanied by guest musicians Spider Stacy (The Pogues) on tin whistle, Terry Edwards (Gallon Drunk) on fluegelhorn, Dave Sherman (Nicole Atkins) on piano and Sarah Lowe backing vocals.

All proceeds from sale of this release for the entire month of January were donated to the Grassroots Music Venue Crisis Fund set up by the Music Venue Trust (#saveourvenues).

You can listen to and/or order the single from Bandcamp here:

Interview by Ioan Humphries
Cover photograph by Kerry Brown
Telephone Booth photography by Sarah Lowe / / /

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