Nardwuar the Human Serviette
Published Feb 29, 2012Love him or hate him, Nardwuar is an original. And while some might accuse the Vancouver based-media personality and musician of serious bouts of self-promotion, there's no denying that his ultimate goal is to share the music he loves ― mostly obscure Canadian punk and garage rock ― with anyone that's willing to listen. So it should come as no surprise that along with featuring a half-dozen tracks from his band the Evaporators, his latest compilation, Busy Doing Nothing, finds international rock stars like Franz Ferdinand and the Cribs covering songs from defunct Vancouver groups like the Pointed Sticks and the Dishrags.
You've done compilations before, but Busy Doing Nothing is a little different in that its half a compilation and half an Evaporators record.
How it started was, with Andrew WK, the Evaporators did a split seven-inch called A Wild Pear, that was in 2009. Andrew WK covered the Leather Uppers from Toronto, because he really loved them, and the Subhumans from Vancouver, and the Evaporators covered Les Hou-Lops, a band from Quebec in the 1960s and an original song. So it was one side Andrew WK and the other side the Evaporators. Then I approached Franz Ferdinand about doing the same idea ― they would cover the Pointed Sticks and the Evaporators would cover the Pointed Sticks. It would be another seven-inch. We were going to call it Another Wild Pear. A few years before the Wild Pear seven-inch, 2007, I put out a punk rock calendar with local Vancouver photographer Bev Davies. It was filled with great punk rock pics as well as an interview with Bev talking about all the photos. It was almost like a zine kind of thing. It was hard to get it out though. I'd phone up record stores and ask if they had a zine rack or a calendar rack and they'd say, "No, we don't stock those anymore." And a calendar is only really hot in November and December. People were hesitant to stock it, even though there were amazing pics in the calendars. I was thinking, "How do I get a calendar out there?" Then I thought, "Why don't we have a seven-inch that comes with a free calendar?" You buy the calendar and it comes with the seven-inch and it will be stored in the seven-inch rack. And nowadays more stores are having seven-inch racks and vinyl racks. Before they weren't. This was going to be a great way to get the calendar into the store. And we made the calendar good from 2012 to 2014. Then going over the costs, it seemed like it was going to be as much to make a seven-inch as it would be to make an LP and it would make more room to shove the calendar inside the LP [sleeve]. Then a couple other bands seemed interested in being on the seven-inch. So I decided to expand it to an LP. So the bands that were originally going to be on the seven-inch were going to be Franz Ferdinand and the Cribs, who said they were interested in covering the Dishrags. The Cribs I met through Franz Ferdinand and Kate Nash, who's dating Ryan from the Cribs, I went to her gig and said, "Would you like to maybe contribute to this seven-inch compilation calendar?" And she's like, "When's the deadline?" I couldn't believe that. How many people say "When's the deadline?" Then we approached Andrew WK again and said "Do you want to add some piano to a song that we recorded by a 1970s truck drive rocker guy called Doug Rutledge?" so he's on board as well. By this point it was too many songs for a seven-inch so I decided to make it an LP and then there was extra space for tracks, so we decided to throw on a few extra Evaporators tracks with special guests and stuff.
The covers that Franz Ferdinand, the Cribs and Kate Nash did were all written by older Vancouver bands. Did you suggest those or did they choose them?
When Franz Ferdinand and the Cribs were in Vancouver and Alex from Franz Ferdinand was producing the Cribs, I took them to Zulu Records and I bought them a copy of the Last Call compilation. And that had a bunch of great Vancouver historic punk rock on it. The theme of the record was covering Vancouver punk rock. So when I approached Kate Nash I said, "Hey, maybe you'd like to cover cub?" What's interesting about this is that out of the blue, Fuad and the Feztones who are the guys from the Gruesomes emailed me a song and were like," Hey, we just covered a song by the Evaporators." Out of the blue. And I said, "Do you want to put it on a compilation?" and they were like, "Yeah, sure." So that's how that came about.
Is it weird having another band cover you?
Well I didn't see it coming. But they did such a radical reworking, it's incredible. It's such a great frat rocker. They also covered "I'm Going to France" too. It was just great timing how everything came together. Then in the calendar we have some pictures of the Pointed Sticks and the Dishrags. I mailed some tracks to the Cribs that they'd consider and they picked the Dishrags. Jade Blade from the Dishrags loves the track too. I sent her a copy of the record. So it's a continuation of the theme. A Wild Pear was based upon the record A Wild Pair by the Guess Who and the Staccatos from the 1960s. So it was a continuation of the Canadian theme that started with taking the idea of A Wild Pair with Andrew WK. So the seven-inch was expanded to a seven-inch with calendar to an LP with a full 42-page calendar.
With everything you do ― your interviews, your radio show, your compilations ― there is this intense desire to share Canadian music, especially obscure Canadian music. Where does that come from?
Basically it was my mom dragging me to historical society meetings when I was younger, the North Shore Historical Society. So I was always into history. She had a TV show called Our Pioneers and Neighbours where she'd interview local people from Vancouver. They weren't stars but their stories were incredible. I'd come home from school and see my mom on channel 10 and say "Oh God, my mom's on channel 10!" because the next day at school the people would be saying "We saw you mom on TV," which really embarrassed me. Now looking back that was kind of cool. Therefore the first compilation record I ever released in 1989 was Oh God, My Mom's on Channel 10. The next compilation was Clam Chowder & Ice vs. Big Mac & Bombers in 1991, then there was Skookum Chief Powered Teenage Zit Rock Angst, named after Tomahawk Barbeque in North Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, known for the best burgers in the world. And there's a picture of the Tomahawk on the back of the Busy Doing Nothing record. In many ways it's sort of like a follow-up to the 1995 compilation. I was interested in the history of it. Plus when I was president of the student council, I was in charge of organizing dances and everybody would recommend local bands but all the bands were broken up by that time, like the Pointed Sticks or the Modernettes or the Dishrags. But the records were still available, so I grew up idolizing these bands. So when it came time to do a tribute to Vancouver those were the songs that I grew up with and that I've always loved. And they actually took my suggestions. Somebody actually listened to me. It was incredible. Of course, they didn't have to listen too hard, because the music speaks for itself.
How do you meet Bev Davies?
She put out a punk rock calendar in 1980 and when I met her she showed it to me. And then I showed the calendar to Randy [Iwata] at Mint records and he said, "Look, you've done interviews with Bev Davies, why don't you take all the interviews and all the photos and put it together for a calendar?" And how I initially met Bev Davies was, I needed some photos of Henry Rollins and everybody in Vancouver knew, Bev had the best Henry Rollins pic.
When you're putting together the calendar does she pick which shots get used?
The only pic that she really, really wanted was the U2 pic at the back of the calendar. That was taken at the US festival that was put on in the '80s by Steve Wozniak, who later dated Kathy Griffin. People say Steve Jobs was cool but he never put on a giant music festival. As for the other ones, she has tons of pics. We had tons picked for the 2007 calendar, so these were other ones that I thought would be interesting to put in there that she might not have thought of. Like New Order, or what about the Minutemen? We didn't even think about those last time. Or Robert Smith from the Cure. And it tied in nicely because I'd done an interview with Mike Watt so we could talk about the Minutemen, I could put an excerpt of that interview in the calendar. I did an interview with Johnny Rotten and we could have an interview with Johnny Rotten talking about that particular photo. And when I interviewed Joan Jett, I brought a picture of Bev Davies to Joan Jett and Joan talked about them. It kind of just all fell in place.
Does Bev still shoot? Yes she does. And you can check her out on Flickr. Just put Bev Davies in. She's out probably every weekend. She's still out there rocking.
When you're choosing who to do your interviews with, do you think about who would work really well with you?
Well when you look at Franz Ferdinand, the first time they came to Vancouver, I listened to their music I saw that they were wearing what looked to be cool clothes and they turned out to just be an amazing interview. After I did an interview with Alex from Franz Ferdinand a few weeks later on MuchMusic he said he wanted to come back to Canada and tour Canada with the Evaporators. It took me about two months to hook up with his management, but eventually we ended up opening for Franz Ferdinand at the Roseland in New York and at the Metropolis in Montreal. Some time you can kind of guess it, but other times you just have no idea. For instance, who would have thought that Kate Nash would end up on a Nardwuar the Human Serviette compilation? But I had a feeling that maybe she'd be into it because Ryan from the Cribs is dating her and said that she's into that sort of stuff. You never know. Every interview is completely different.
Are there any specific qualities you look for when you're choosing interview subjects?
I really love bands that have an appreciation of the past and a lot of rap bands have an appreciation of the past with sampling. Snoop Doggy Dogg loves dolls of Redd Foxx and old comedy stuff. Franz Ferdinand appreciate Vancouver punk rock. But not as many punk rock bands these days are doing the obscure covers. Like the Gruesomes, I totally learned about music from them and [bands like] the Cramps. But with hip-hop they cover bands and they sample bands and you can learn about the bands through the sampling. It's like the modern-day garage rock with all the samples they use. The ones that I enjoy and that I really want to talk to are the ones that appreciate history.
Why do you think a lot of the punk bands shy away from it these days?
Well there's a section of bands that still do that but they don't do it so overtly. Like in interviews, where they talk about the bands they really love so much. I think some of the garage rock bands don't have the liner notes. There's garage rock bands covering punk rock songs, but you never learn about them in the inserts. I love the insert. You buy a record, you can eat cheese while reading the insert as well. I should say there are bands covering punk rock and obscure garage, it's just harder to find out who's doing the covers, because they don't brag about it or indicate it in the liner notes. Since my mom got me interested in history, I've always been interested in the history of punk rock. Every record I've put out has always had interesting covers on it and detailed liner notes. I love the idea that when you buy the record, you can read about the Dishrags. You can see what their 45 looked like. And that these bands took the time out to cover these songs. Sure we'll cover a song you suggest. A lot of people are really picky with their music. That's what I mean — there's a lot of punk bands talking about loving bands, but I think if you love a band, cover that band.
Now that the record's out, what's next for you and the Evaporators?
Well Andrew WK has just happened to book a tour from Vancouver to Texas and the tour starts three days before the record comes out and he says we can open for him on a few dates. We're going to open Vancouver, Seattle and Portland and we're going to join him in Texas. We're going to do some gigs at SXSW as well. Its just amazing how it all works out. Then hopefully in subsequent months there'll be some more Evaporators rocking and rolling. Andrew WK was totally amazing for the video we shot at CITR. He partied the night before, totally hard. Like intensely. Then he had to get up a 6 am to catch the ferry to Vancouver to do the video shoot. It was no problem. He did it. He's so accommodating. We sent him a track and he added some piano on it. That's the track we did with Jill Barber. I asked Jill Barber, "Hey, do you want to sing on a song?" And its Jill Barber and me do a duet together. And "I Hate Being Late," the genesis for that song was SXSW last year. The Evaporators couldn't make it, so me and Andrew WK and Cole, the drummer from Beach Fossils put together a little band and we played the Mint party at SXSW. And I said to Andrew WK that we should do a song together. So we wrote the song over Skype in one hour. It was amazing.
What about you and your music makes people want to get involved?
It takes a few years. Look at Nardwuar Records. 1989 was Oh God, My Mom's on Channel 10 and 1995 was the last compilation. I guess I have had a few years to work on it. It's the same sort of thing for an interview. It was once presented to me once, I missed it though, it was kind of an opportunity. At the gig we played with Franz Ferdinand in New York, Lou Reed was on the guest list and guess who his plus one was, and its not Laurie Anderson.
I have no idea.
Who would be the ultimate person that he'd hang out with?
Pretty close. David Bowie. David Bowie and Lou Reed were backstage at Franz Ferdinand. Now I was trying to find a place to sleep that night. So I missed Lou Reed and David Bowie walking backstage with Antony, from Antony and the Johnsons. John Collins and Dave Carswell of the Evaporators told me this. Now what would have happened if they'd walked by me? That would have been incredible. But I bet if they walked by I would have said, "Fuck, I'm not prepared." But sometimes you've gotta just go for it. But I probably would have been stupid and said I'm not ready can I talk to you in a year and you'd never get those two in the same room again. So I think it's the preparation. That's why I'm able to get success with interviews. Some people can wing it. I can't. Same thing with a compilation. "Can you do a compilation Nardwuar?" Okay, give me three years. It's just the time that does it. That's what makes a successful interview and same thing with a compilation. You just keep working at it and it naturally comes together.
Anything else you'd like to add before I let you go?
Well just thanks you again for all the support. And doot-doola-doot-doo…