Nardwuar: Our Man in Canada
Interviewing the World's Best Interviewer
Nardwuar the Human Serviette (his legal name since 1986) is a Canadian treasure. Aside from being an exemplary celebrity interviewer who has talked to everyone from Nirvana to Tame Impala—often catching his subjects off guard with his thorough knowledge of the interviewee's personal history and his attempts to steer the interview toward all things Canadian—he also contributes to the world's culture trove as a member of bands the Evaporators and Thee Goblins, each holding true to the ethos of the classic punk sound. I recently turned the tables on Nardwuar via e-mail, and we breezed through the topics of the music of the Pacific Northwest, George C. Scott, and why he now wears a tartan tam.
We have a few things in common: Macklemore gave you a jacket of your face that I painted. Where is that jacket now? Have you ever worn it in public?
Thank you (and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis) for that incredible creation! I've worn it quite a bit, and I am thinking if I ever interview Neil Young or Kanye West, that is the jacket I will be sporting!
Do you think the prevalence of the internet has been a good thing for music?
I am not the best person to ask about these music-industry things. I once heard a prerelease tape of Green Day's Dookie and thought it would be a failure. I could not hear one hit on it!
Do you think that discovering the entire lineage of a band in a matter of minutes removes some of the, uh, magic that we as preinternet music fanatics had to endure?
I have been lucky as a volunteer at CiTR—the University of British Columbia radio station—to be exposed to a tremendous amount of music from the minute I walked in the door! The station was packed with records, a clippings file on artists, and, most importantly, DJs who were eager to share their knowledge with me and the listeners. In fact, the magic never stopped—the internet has only intensified it!
If I were doing this interview in person, I'd do my best to give a nod to the history of Vancouver and present you with a poster for my favorite horror film, the 1980 George C. Scott movie The Changeling. Would that mean anything to you? Have you ever seen that movie?
That is so nice of you, Derek! I do know The Changeling was filmed in Vancouver! However, George C. Scott makes me very excited, as he reminds me of George Segal, who shot the movie Russian Roulette in Vancouver, which in turn makes me think of my favorite George Segal movie, The Hot Rock, which Sleater-Kinney named an album after!
I just finished reading I, Shithead: A Life in Punk by Joey Keithley. Are you a fan of D.O.A.? When was the first time you saw D.O.A.?
D.O.A., Pointed Sticks, Modernettes, and Subhumans have all influenced me severely! I first saw D.O.A. on New Year's Eve 1985 at the New York Theatre in Vancouver. Joey has an incredible new book out called Talk - Action = 0 that's basically of scrapbook of all the punk artifacts he has kept over the years. And boy, is he a collector of the coolest rare stuff! I once went to a garage sale at his house and picked up the Mentally Ill's "Gacy's Place" single for two bucks!
Are you familiar with the term "fuck band"? Is that a common term in Vancouver? If so, what does it mean?
After a while, the first wave of punk bands in Vancouver decided to have some fun and switch instruments and create "fuck bands" with punks from other bands! The most famous one, Rude Norton, had Nick, the singer of Pointed Sticks, on drums, Wimpy, the singer from Subhumans, on bass, and Dimwit, the drummer for Subhumans, on guitar. All this is explained in the incredible Bloodied but Unbowed documentary about Vancouver punk. There still are fuck bands today in Vancouver, including Eating Out and Heavy Chains, who share members with White Lung and Nü Sensae.
Do you have any memories of the Vancouver punk venue Smilin' Buddha?
The only time I went there was in 1989 to see the Gruesomes from Montreal. Everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Hüsker Dü have played the Buddha, though! It's long been boarded up, but when I am in the area, I like to go into the alley behind the club and search for old punk graffiti. An amazingly tiny logo of the band the Scissors survives!
Who would win in a fistfight, the Evaporators or Thee Goblins?
As the Evaporators sometimes join forces with Thee Goblins to become Thee Skablins, Thee Disgoblins, and Thee Technoblins, it would be unwise to engage in any fisticuffs.
Are you familiar with the Goblins from Chicago? Has there ever been tension over having such a similar name?
Derek, you are so astute! We have played with the Goblins from Chicago! The gig was billed as an "international border clash," and we made an eight-track tape (no joke) to commemorate the occasion! Who won? The Goblins from Chicago kicked our asses! However, we did survive to play with another masked marauder, Blowfly.
Do you love Seattle? Do you have any memorable Seattle stories from the olden days? Or even the newer days?
I love Seattle so much, and I will never forget the time Janet from Fallout Records gave me Steve Turner and Mark Arm's phone numbers! That changed my life, as then I was able to set up an all-ages gig for them and Beat Happening in Vancouver. Later, Mudhoney contributed the track "Fuzzbuster" to a Canada versus USA battle of the bands compilation I put out called Clam Chowder & Ice vs. Big Macs & Bombers! Furthermore, I remember one time coming down to interview Dan Quayle in Shoreline, and he didn't know who the prime minister of Canada was! It didn't bother me, though, as the real purpose of my visit was to go to Gorditos.
Are there any lesser-known Seattle bands from the past that you liked but never really seemed to get their due?
The Fallouts, HEAD, Dead Vampires, Aaiiee, Flop, Thee Sgt. Major, Visqueen, Mighty Squirrels, Gas Huffer, Night Kings, Tiny Tony and the Statics, the Viceroys, Rocky and the Riddlers, Blue Scholars, Source of Labor, Kid Sensation, Paper Dolls, Mr. Epp, Death Wish Kids, the Meyce, the Dynette Set, Sicko, the Calabros, Rockin' Rod and the Strychnines, Ze Whiz Kidz, the Dehumanizers, Diddly Squat, and can I also add 10 Things Zine, Backlash magazine, Pool Dust, The Canadian Penny, Peter Blecha's Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, and every band that ever played the Funhouse.
Do you harbor resentment for people who don't respond well to your interviews? I used to be a huge fan of the band Blur, but I have to say, after the Dave Rowntree incident where he bullied you (even though he apologized), not so much.
No, not at all. That is life.
How many interviews in the familiar character have you done?
I started my radio show on CiTR in October 1987, so every week since then, I have pretty much done an interview.
When was the character developed?
Believe it or not, the first interview I ever did, even before my radio show, was with Art Bergmann from the Young Canadians. They were a great punk band out of Vancouver circa 1979. On their second EP, they thanked my high school in their liner notes! I was shocked! So I just had to find out why, and on September 26, 1985, I did my first interview.
Can you tell me what happened with the Quiet Riot interview? Things got heated?
I still don't know or understand, as they destroyed the videotape from the interview! I figure they just wanted their interview erased from history. Sebastian Bach of Skid Row also smashed the videotape I was using to capture his interview. The shitty thing was, the tape contained interviews with former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Sandra Bernhard, and George Clinton! Plus, he stole my favorite toque. That is why I wear a tartan tam—Baz stole my toque! So it seems I always have trouble with the "hair farming" bands. When I interviewed Gene Simmons, I brought my friend, Canadian heavy-metal legend THOR, along in case anything went wrong. As it turned out, nothing happened! Gene was a sweetie! Although he denied his wife was born in Dildo, Newfoundland.
Do you currently live in Vancouver? If so, what are your favorite places there?
Yes, I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada! My favorite restaurant is Tomahawk Barbecue in North Vancouver. Bryan Adams once worked there as a dishwasher! I always have the Skookum Chief hamburger, which contains egg, bacon, wiener, meat, and cheese. Basically, it's three meals in one. The 'Hawk also appears in the Evaporators' "Hot Dog High" video! Aside from eating burgers at the Tomahawk, I love to check out Beat Street Records, Red Cat Records, Scratch Records, Zulu Records, Audiopile Records, Scrape Records, Dandelion Records, and Neptoon Records where we Evaporators have done quite a few in-store performances, including several with Andrew W.K.!
In Montreal, they sell a thing called "smoked meat." Have you ever had it? How do you feel about Montreal?
I have indeed! Schwartz's delicatessen in Montreal is the most famous smoked meat place in Canada. I love Montreal, too! The Gruesomes, who I mentioned earlier, are from Montreal and got me turned on to an amazing cache of priceless Quebecois 1960s garage rock. Bands such as Les Lutins, Les Hou Lops, Les Sinners, Les Miserables, and my current fav, a bunch of kids wearing sailor outfits called Les Mousses!
Do you watch television? What do you like?
I don't watch a lot of TV, but I do enjoy the Cramps' "TV Set" from their live bootleg LP Totally Destroy Seattle!! recorded on May 20, 1982 at Astor Park.
Back to your interviews, what is the longest that you've ever held the pause once somebody has successfully completed a "doot doo"?
Perhaps, Brother Ali?
Are you a record collector? What are a few of your most prized pieces?
I actually have more fanzines than records, but one of my prized pieces of wax is a double LP released in 1980 by the first punk band from Newfoundland, Da Slyme! It's filled with wonderful tunes such as "Truck Stop Nun" and "Newfie Rastaman"!
Are you married?
Do you have pets?
No. I had a cat, but she died.
Do you have a car? What kind is it?
A 1979 Fiat Spider.
What is the most important piece of music to you?
A song that was recorded in Vancouver, BC and is one of the most sampled songs of all time, "Apache" by the Incredible Bongo Band. A new movie, Sample This, was just released telling the whole story behind it!
Is there anything you'd like to add to the people out there?
C. J. Frederick from Daswasup Gig has been putting on a bunch of amazing shows in Seattle for a while now, and I am so excited to finally play one! Also, thank you, Derek, for caring, and please keep on rawkin' in the free world! Doot doola doot doo...