I had the exquisite pleasure of talking music, hairstyling, art, and tattoos (of all things!) with Wax Trax! alumni and industrial music legend Frankie Nardiello, known to most of us as Groovie Mann, charismatic and creative frontman of everybody’s favorite dark disco darlings, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Here he shares his fondest memories of Wax Trax! founders Jim Nash and Dannie Flescher, and takes us on a little journey of Thrill Kill Kult’s eclectic history from London to Chicago to LA. He also tells us more about the amazing new album (In The House Of Strange Affairs), and even leaves us with some indispensable wisdom about aging gracefully as an artist.
What was your favorite place to play on this tour so far? You guys played Albuquerque recently…
Frankie: Yeah, that was good! The Dallas show was good, Numbers in Houston, all the Texas shows!
So I know Curse Mackey and you guys go way back (Pigface, etc), how did you guys hook up this time?
Frankie: Well, like I said, we’ve known him for years, and we keep in contact with friends.
Yeah…well, this will be my fourth time seeing you guys, the first time I saw you was in high school (we both laugh, time flies!). And I was always really struck by how it’s [Thrill Kill Kult] has always seemed like a big family. And then that brings us back to Wax Trax, like when you came through for the Ministry show and the film screening [Industrial Accident]…
Frankie: Oh yeah, for Vans…
So what was that like, the tour?
Frankie: It was fun…I just sorta did my schtick (laughs) after the movies…and I watched some of it…Chris Connelly was doing the shows where I was watching [in Chicago]. But yeah, that was cool. It made me feel good to be a part of it. I grew up around the Wax Trax thing…when it all started.
Frankie: Yeah, yeah. I met them in ’78. And then Buzz moved to Chicago in like ’86 or ’87, he lived in Boston. I met him in ’86…he replaced the keyboard player in Ministry and I was out on that tour doing lights and set for Al, ‘cause I hadn’t formed Thrill Kill Kult yet.
Right, so you were involved with Ministry then…and I think I read, you also did the art for Stigmata right? The Stigmata single?
Frankie: Right, and then on the b-side I did the vocals for “Tonight We Murder.”
Oh yeah! And that’s the one on the [Industrial Accident soundtrack] album.
Frankie: Yeah, and I actually had the demo.
Frankie: That’s what’s on the album, so it’s a little bit more gnarly, it’s not edited like on the 12”.
It’s great, I love it. I love hearing the older stuff. So, I’m sure you’ve probably answered tons of questions lately about Wax Trax, the Q&A’s and all that…
A few! Well, what are some of your favorite moments from the [Industrial Accident] film and what are some of your favorite memories of Jim and Dannie?
Frankie: Oh, I think going out with them, or going over to eat at their house…hanging out with them and watching videos, and Jim showing us all of these outrageous things (laughing), videos that were coming out. He was a music guy, you know. He always talked about the music…we’d go out to eat and he’d be talking about the music, the store, it was like he always was working, you know. They were both very generous, I used to call them my parents. You know, I lived with them, in and out of my career. They set me up with knowing people, meeting people…they changed my life. When Bauhaus came, I met their manager, and he went back to London and had a band on his label, on 4AD…and he asked me if I wanted to be the singer. And I was like, ‘I’ll come over and try it.’ So, it got me work. See, that’s all a huge connection. Then, I came back [to the states], in ’83…I was working at the store…I was completely bald, I had shaved my head (I can’t help it; I crack up laughing).
(still laughing) Oh my god…
Frankie: It was gross. (Laughs) Ew! And…and then Cold Transmission was going out on the road with Al [Jourgensen] and Mars [Buzz McCoy]…this was ’87. [The birth of Thrill Kill Kult!]
Oh yeah. I saw you on your 30th anniversary tour!
So, the new album. I really like it. I like how it reminds me of some of the older stuff. I guess I’m kinda curious about where some of your ideas came from conceptually, the production process…did you use any of the old samples…you know…
Frankie: We sort of mingled in some older stuff. We repeat stuff…we just do what we do, you know. In The House Of Strange Affairs, you know, we created that album as if it was gonna be the third Thrill Kill Kult album. Instead of Sexplosion! This would’ve been the record that would’ve been there [in the chronology].
Interesting…so that’s why it has that sense of, “I’ve been here before…”
Frankie: Variety…yeah. But darkness, you know…yeah.
Yeah. Like “Chains Of Fame,” that’s classic Thrill Kill Kult to me…I love the vocals on that and just your delivery. Then you’ve got some of the weird disco stuff that reminds me a little bit of 13 Above The Night, I just think it’s really cool.
Frankie: Yeah I think so. It has that flavor.
Getting back to your artwork, did you do the artwork for the new album?
Frankie: That one, Buzz put together. We sort of share the work, with reversing things, colorizing things. Like I’ll bring something to the table and he’ll say “Do this or that” and I’ll do the same. We have a mingling sort of art department. (Laughs)
That’s cool. Well yeah, I know you’re a painter too. You had that painting at Cold Waves they were auctioning off…
So who are some of your influences as a visual artist? Who are you inspired by?
Frankie: Um…I guess I would say Basquiat. Warhol…Dali…Picasso. Peter Max…
Oh, I could see that. The colors…the kinda psychedelic vibe…
Frankie: Yeah…when I was a teenager I had all these Peter Max posters in my room. Cause they were so trippy and colorful. So he was an influence on me…the whole cartoon, surreal pop art thing.
What medium do you usually work with?
Frankie: I use acrylics, and then I use acrylic pens on top. It’s a layering thing, you know…sometimes my paintings can last for months. And other times I can finish them in like two days.
So getting back to the new album, was it a similar mentality? Where some of the songs came together really quickly and some of them took a while?
Frankie: Yeah…the first starter of the album came really fast, you know…and then some stuff had to be developed more. And towards the end, there were a couple that Buzz kept reworking. He’s gotta keep doing it until it’s right. He’s a perfectionist. But yeah, that’s how we did it. One track, we took out the chorus and put a different one in, and then the verse wasn’t working, so we took that completely out and rewrote something completely new… (I didn’t get to ask which song it was, so I’ll leave everyone to guess!)
So he kinda assembles things?
Frankie: Yeah…that’s what he does!
Well I remember in Industrial Accident, Al talking about getting the Fairlite sampler and how that kinda became part of RevCo’s sound…not being limited, per se, but just having a certain style because of the technology that was around at the time. When it comes to how technology has changed, how do you think these changes have influenced the sound of Thrill Kill Kult?
Frankie: Well of course, the computer makes it easier for retakes and all that stuff…melding stuff together…I think they’re a good thing. Buzz used two Emaxes, so that’s where a lot of the samples came from on our early stuff, until he got a computer…I can’t remember what year, the late 80’s I guess.
So, I know you did Trash Diety, and I know when we met at Cold Waves and talked a little bit, you were telling me about that project…are you guys gonna do another album?
Frankie: Yeah, I guess…I might start it in the middle of this [tour], but I wanted to stay focused on this.
Sure…well you guys seem like you’ve been really busy for the last couple of years. You had the 30th anniversary tour, then I saw you on New Year’s here in LA…
Frankie: I know, it’s like time’s running out!
Until the apocalypse! (Laughs)
Frankie: I get that way sometimes…(laughs)
It’s a weird feeling…we’re living in an age where it’s kinda accelerated I think.
Frankie: Yeah…you kinda get it at [age] thirty…like, when I got into Thrill Kill Kult, I was 28, 29, and I was like “god, I’m so old!” (Laughs) And I won’t say how many years later it is…it’s shocking!
Is it funny to see some of those old photos going around? There’s a really good one of you and Al in the Industrial Accident box set that came out.
Frankie: Yeah…it’s like I look at them and I’m like, it’s a different character. Young…I had long hair…
Groovie Boy… (laughs)
Frankie: (laughs) Yeah, I had like, waist-length hair and no mustache…I sort of did this big one (gestures to mustache) in honor of the Queen movie, it’s sort of tongue-in-cheek…I usually have kinda the villain look…this is like, the bad man! (Laughs)
Frankie: I know, I got that same shit over Bowie and Alice Cooper…like, my mom hated this poster I had of Alice Cooper holding a snake! And Bowie, the glamour…Yeah my room was plastered with that shit when I was like sixteen.
And then you guys were in The Crow movie…I love that movie. And the song you did for it (“After The Flesh”)…
Frankie: I was so like… (groans) when we went to Paramount to dance in front of the blue screen for the “Sex On Wheelz” video, they threw in the deal….
Weren’t there two different videos for “Sex On Wheelz”?
Frankie: Yeah, we did the one where we were on motorcycles, that was fun…that was our 80s one…I remember when I did it, I was like “ohh…this is so stupid!” (Laughs) That whole 60s retro rehash, I didn’t like it. But I was New Wave, once or twice…(laughs) Dark wave! I had a band, where Al was my guitarist…Special Affect. And that was ’78, ’79, that was New Wave and then dark wave into the 80s, ya know. I mean, shit, when I was in London in ’81, that’s when it was all the club kids…the real thing that New York copied, you know, dressing up…I caught the tail end of that. And it was fucking crazy, I mean that’s how I met Siousxie and all these crazy bizarre people, you know…
Frankie: And yeah, some [of them] became friends. This was in London. At this place called Heaven. And inside was this big disco gay club, it was like sort of underground. And there was a big room and they would have DJs there and they would call it the Cha-Cha Club. Anyway, that was like, a pretty exciting time for music. I was like…you know, Bauhaus was over there, and I’d see them come in…and Birthday Party, and I got to play with my band, Drowning Craze, we got to open for Birthday Party. That was the most exciting thing. But I have all kinds of stories like that!
You think you’d ever write a book?
Frankie: I’ve been thinking about it. You know, I just get paranoid, that I think “well if I write a book, I might die or something” (laughs)…isn’t that weird? Like I don’t want to tell it too soon, I would rather be alive.
Yeah, like you have to be at a stopping point somehow. Which…
Frankie: And being productive. And I feel like, when you write a book, you’re sort of stepping back and retiring for that time, to tell your story. Which is cool, because you’re not gonna remember it… (laughs) in your 80s…ugh, I don’t even want to say that! My mom turned 81 a couple of weeks ago, and she’s…she’s feisty! She don’t wanna hang out with old people! (Laughs) I can see where I get it from. Totally. She can’t sit still, she fights with the doctors…”I don’t want to take that medicine!” (Laughs) Complete rebel!
I’m curious, how long have you lived in LA?
Frankie: In February, it was eleven years. So…I’ve been coming out here since the early 90s, cause Mars [Buzz] always was out here. And I would do whatever, I liked it, but I was like “I couldn’t live here” back then…and I couldn’t wait to get back to Chicago. Cause I didn’t like the people, and you know, I’d grown up hearing that only rich people lived here, or were drug addicts…or, you know.
Yeah, there’s a lot of stereotypes.
Frankie: Yeah…but, once I got into it, I just thought, “I’ll never leave here.” You know? Anyway, I like it now. I think right now at this point in time, it’s becoming a place where everybody’s coming to that, you know, it’s like you gotta go to your source if you wanna be a fucking actor, or a singer, or performer…whatever it is. You have to go to the place where everybody else is, and learning how to do it. Yes it ’s competitive, but that’s what it’s about. But finding that sort of striking music or beauty is something that should just come naturally…if you’re striving too much to be something, you won’t really become what you are. If that makes any sense, you know.
Frankie: And that’s what I learned about my trip, you know. I wasn’t a singer, I was a club kid, I was out and somebody one night said, “we need a singer, do you want to try out to be a singer?” And I was like, “Sure! I’ll try it.” And that’s how this career started. Of…35 years! I mean, that’s just with this band. I mean, I had ten years of learning before that. You know, you get in your first band, play for a whole year, never get any reviews…then, you start to get your reviews, you go up another level…so, I learned from scratch. And fortunately I met Buzz, and he developed my vocal style and character. And he gave me more confidence to try out anything and everything. With our music. You know, that’s why there’s so many different styles, like soul, disco, funk, whatever. All those ventures. I just took ‘em on. Like, I don’t do disco, or whatever. I just applied myself, and jumped into the fire, you know. I think our differences too, in what we grew up on…though similar, that’s the other thing that made it sorta cool.
Cool. Hey tell me about your tattoos a little bit.
Frankie: It’s a double-headed snake. One was nice and one was mean, and I didn’t think the nice one really looked like anything…so I said, “Make ‘em both mean!” (Laughs) This Australian illustrator did the snake. And this stuff, (shows arms) I did every other year. Starting in the beginning, I would tattoo any time I got money or had a good idea of something I wanted. And I always had it hidden, you know, MY tattoos. Not like, showing off. And then I had that one done by this other guy here, and these…(laughs) and I did some on my knuckles with local friends.
Frankie: This guy Gene…he’s on Melrose, you have to call him. And the Australian illustrator, she’s here…her name’s Zara. I mean, tattoos are just…fuck. (Laughs) Here, I’ll show you…
(He pulls up his shirt to show a beautiful and intricate tribal piece on one shoulder blade)
Oh wow that’s awesome.
Frankie: I’m so proud of it, this is my favorite one. It stands for…it’s so evil, that it scares evil away. And the guy who did it, Thomas Hooper, he was in this place in New York and we walked in and he was booked for like a year. And the reason we got in was because his girlfriend LOVED Thrill Kill Kult. And so I’m like, “Yeah!” So my friend went Sunday and got it, and then Monday I got it. We both got the same one in the same spot. He’s covered solid, man, it’s crazy. But yeah, Thomas Hooper now, he’s so fucking famous, he lives in Austin. You can pick up any new tattoo book and he’s in it. (Gestures to hair) When I lose all my hair, my skullcap, I want him to do my tattoo. Like I was thinking a hand…something like that. But yeah, I wanna do…I wanna be the first person who can carry the like, half-bald and half-hair look into a new perspective. (Laughs) Like oh my god, there’s hope! This is the Dracula look, at least I didn’t get it in the back…
Yeah, you pull it off!
Frankie: Yeah, we dyed it two different colors, it’s kinda New Wave! (Laughs) I live with a hairstylist, so what else could you ask for? He’s like “Get over here!”
https://mylifewiththethrillkillkult.com My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult website
https://mylifewiththethrillkillkult.com/store# purchase the new album In The House Of Strange Affairs
interview by Adrian Halo
pics by Martha Schuster