My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult began as a film idea that Frankie Nardiello and Marsten Daley had that never fully came to fruition. The two met while touring with Ministry, and in 1987, inspired in part by disco, exploitation films, the industrial scene happening around them in Chicago and a mutual love for campy horror movies, the pair formed a creative partnership that produced something better than any movie they could have made. With Nardiello taking on the stage name of Groovie Mann and Daley performing as Buzz McCoy, the two larger-than-life characters have been making larger-than-life music and putting on incredibly entertaining and gloriously colorful (in every sense) shows ever since.
TKK, as the act is sometimes known, had a breakthrough hit with the irreverent "Kooler Than Jesus," and its 1991 album, Sexplosion!, made the band an underground sensation. In 1994, TKK appeared in the iconic film The Crow and did music for that accidental classic of sleaze Showgirls, which helped solidify the band's reputation even more as a noteworthy act, as the excellent soundtrack fared better in reviews than the film itself.
Since then, Thrill Kill Kult has been on numerous tours and released five albums, including its latest, 2009's Death Threat. Early Satanic imagery and lyrical themes included in the humorously lurid aesthetic of the band, TKK has not been a group that has taken itself as seriously as it has the execution of its music and putting on a compelling live show.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the band's frontman, the witty and engaging Groovie Mann, about his time in the early Chicago punk and industrial scene, his witnessing of early Ministry, Lydia Lunch, working on The Crow and the personal appeal of doing the kinds of shows for which his band is known.
Westword: How did you get involved in making music?
Groovie Mann: I always liked music, but I never wanted to be in a band or anything, but I liked going out. So when I was going out a lot of the punk era had started in '77. I was going to school in Chicago for photography, and I would just go out in the local punk bar -- a gay bar turned punk, because that's what all those places changed into to get business. Some guy came up to me and said, "We need a singer for our band, do you want to try out?" So I was like, "Sure, I'll try it." That's how it happened. I went through different phases and different bands until Thrill Kill Kult came about at the end of the '80s.
What clubs did you go to?
I would go to a place called La Mère Vipère, O'Banion's, Exit, Medusa's, Neo and any bar that popped up out of nowhere that opened and closed within two months. [I also went to] Ratso's.
When and how did you become familiar with Chicago house?
I came back from London in '83/'84, and house sort of seemed to be going on. All the after hour places were happening. I went to them a few times. I knew who Frankie Knuckles were and all those people. But I wasn't a big participator in the house scene or going out to those places. Once in a while, we'd be fucked up, staying out all night, and we'd go there and dance because we couldn't crash. I remember it all happening, and Vince Lawrence got famous, and all that stuff took off, and all the other bands were milling around and developing their sound.
Around that same time you toured with Ministry. How did that come about, and did you see Ministry before they became more of one of the definitive industrial bands?
When I came back from London, I saw Al doing the With Sympathy gig way, way in the beginning. We were in a band in the beginning. I hired him as a guitarist for my first band, and we split up in '80, and I moved to England. He showed up in England and played With Sympathy for me on his Walkman in the pub.
I was in a band on 4AD and Situation Two [called Drowning Craze], and I was on a label with The Birthday Party and Bauhaus. My dark sort of...you know, that era. So when I heard [Al's tape], I was just sort of like, "Oh, that's cool." It was so not what was going on in my world, you know? But yeah, I saw a show here and there.
When I toured with him, when I came back from England, I did lights and helped set up because I was bored. This was pre-Thrill Kill Kult. Mars[ton Daley] had come into the picture, and he replaced their keyboard player. That's how I met him, originally. We weren't friends. We didn't even talk to each other. We were just sort of in the same unit of people.
Then he ended up moving to Chicago, and I helped him do that by letting him stay with me and move all his stuff over. He moved across the street, and I used to go over there, and we started jamming. I had a bunch of notebooks and stuff of things that I collected in London and leftover songs from the band I was in before. And samples and weird ideas.
We just meshed together, and he had recorders, and we talked about how we hated being in bands and being over the band thing. Now it's kind of funny because sort of evolved into a band anyway. It was funny because we would say, "Oh yeah, I hate being in bands now," and "Oh yeah, me too."
So you were in Drowning Craze when you were in England?
[Yes,] I replaced a female singer, and they did one record then. She left, and then Peter Kent, who discovered Bauhaus and ran the Situation Two label, the other alternative label under Beggar's Banquet -- the other was 4AD, [Ivo Watts-Russell's] label -- [recruited me].
I did two more singles, and we did a John Peel Session, and then the band just sort of fizzled out. They weren't happy with the drummer, but they were friends from school, so they couldn't fire him. In the end, Simon Raymonde went on to join the Cocteau Twins and became a producer and had the Bella Union record label. He did quite well. I last talked to him about ten years ago.
You worked with Lydia Lunch for a bit. How did you get her to work with you?
I met her in '81 at Beggar's Banquet. She came in. She was looking for someone to put out 13.13 in England. I was working in the record store at the time. Everybody came in. Gary Numan would come in with his dad. His dad would, like, shop the store from a list, and Gary would stand by the door and wouldn't come in. He'd have on a trenchcoat and I'd be like, "Uh...he's stuck up," or whatever, sort of making fun of him. I saw all those people all the time.
Anyway, she came in, and I was talking to her, and we just got along sort of. She was really interested in working with Nick Cave. Then, eventually, what was that record that came out? "Drunk on the Pope's Blood" [from The Agony is the Ecstacy split 12" with the Birthday Party]? Did you ever hear that? That collaboration she got that out, but I don't know if they ever put 13.13.
So that was the hook-up with her. Through the years she'd stay with me when she'd come through Chicago to do spoken word. She'd stay with me at my apartment or my house for a while. That lasted for years and years and years. Then we got our deal with Atlantic, and we were out here recording 13 Above the Night -- oh and before that with 'Cuz It's Hot. She was in town, and we had a session with her. I think there's a little bit of her on Sexplosion! and 13 Above the Night. She's in Barcelona now, and I haven't talked to her for a while. She does all these things in Italy and performance shows, sort of cultish and underground.
Obviously you've toured with Lords of Acid. Are there any funny moments that stick out in your mind touring with touring with that band or just with Praga Khan?
Oh god...They're crazy. Praga Khan is, of course, the nucleus of it. They're amazing. I like a few people that he's worked with, but every grouping is a bunch of different kids, so nobody's really that memorable. Ruth McArdle, who sang on Voodoo-U came back and worked with us. She worked on the The Reincarnation of Luna album. There's some scatterings through The Bomb Gang Girlz. That's the tie-in. Being with them was always wild. Praga Khan was always wild. I don't even know.
When you guys came through Denver last with Lords of Acid, he was playfully pushing his bandmates off stage into the audience.
Yeah...I think he smashed the bus window one night. Like the windshield? When he gets loaded he is wild man. I'm not one to talk either, but I don't break things, unless I'm at home in my relationship. But when I'm in pubic I do somersaults or dance in my underwear or whatever but not much anymore. Yeah, it was a complete madhouse both times. Lots of sex, drugs and electronic madness.
What is it about the films of Russ Meyer?
Boobs. I just like them. They're gritty and sexy. They're just funny. I love them. I like all of them. Didn't he do Return to the Valley of the Dolls?
Yes, he did that with Roger Ebert writing the script. What was the first one you saw?
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. I saw it on TV, like on a Sunday. I remember thinking how white that lady's butt was. I was a kid and I had never sort of seen sexy, sexy before. I don't know what it did to me but...
For this 25th anniversary tour, are you doing anything above and beyond your usual spectacle for the performance?
The Bomb Gang Girlz album came out, and I sing a song with Beki Colada, our new girl, and we're performing that live. It's called "Sez Who," and it's fun. We had fans write into the website to suggest what they wanted to hear, so we put together a set of a variety of things, stuff from 13 Above the Night, The Filthiest Show in Town. We sort of have a performance show kind of vibe, instead of all the hits. It's fun to be doing "Cadillac Square" and "TV Sista" and "Velvet Edge" and "Sex on Wheelz," of course, and "After the Flesh." So yeah, it's a bunch of newer things with a bunch of, I don't want to say, "oldies."
How did you become involved with the movie The Crow?
I think they actually came looking for us for that movie. Like they contacted our management that they wanted us specifically. So they had us do a song for it. That was a week of shooting down in Wilmington, Virginia. Virginia, virgin. Yeah, that was a trip. It was in a cement factory. It was dark and cold, and we saw Brandon Lee four or five times. We were in the lunch room with him with the make-up. It was very exciting. I like when people discover us that way. That's such a good introduction, I must admit. I was like, "Shit, I lucked out."
It was all that way with us. We didn't have big fucking rock star attitudes, like people that got so big that they were too big. We never care about that. We just do our best and when we got a record deal or we got that, it's because we stuck with it and believed in what we're doing and we love what we do. Sometimes people don't understand how music was or is.
People are like, "How come you're not filling up places like Nine Inch Nails?" Well, we're not like Nine Inch Nails. We're a cult band. We're not mega crossover. That's the same with Marilyn Manson. He's still doing his thing, and I respect what he's doing. And all that people say about him is, "Aw, it's the same shit, and he's getting fat." You know? I mean, I wouldn't trade for that kind of attitude from people. I'd rather have them say, "Yeah, they're still making records, but I still don't know what to think of them."
Because we just keep changing, and that's what's been so much fun -- to have different identities that you can go into and become with the music and the performance of the music. Not elaborate costumes all the time, you know, like Lady Gaga. "I'll dress up like a bird on this song, and then I'll, like, jump into a fire pit where a giant Bjork monster is."
Around the same time as The Crow you did some music for Showgirls. Did Paul Verhoeven give you any direction on the kind of stuff he was looking for?
Marston worked with him at his house in Malibu when they were scoring Showgirls stuff. I met him once before that. We were working on a bunch of tracks for that. After I did my stuff then Marston worked with Paul Verhoeven. He's wild. I think [he and Buzz] worked on that lap dance song. We do have a sense of humor and we have to laugh because if you're so serious about it, it's fucked. Then it's like going to school again or something.
The PMRC had some choice words about your earlier work. Did they contact you with their "feedback"?
I think they contacted Wax Trax or something.
Do you run into that kind of resistance to your music these days at all?
I haven't noticed. In the old days they didn't want to press our records because the companies were owned by Christians -- places that pressed Christian CDs and records -- so they didn't want to press our stuff. We eventually found someplace else. But that was the problem Wax Trax would have with Revolting Cocks and us.
Oh yeah! With Revolting Cocks the name speaks for itself. With you guys, the song titles speak for themselves.
I know. I guess they did a reunion for a benefit in Chicago Chris Connelly put together with Paul Barker for somebody who passed on. I guess that was just last week, but I haven't looked [too much into it].
Have you read Chris's book, [Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible, and Fried: My Life As A Revolting Cock]?
Oh yeah. It's funny. It's pretty accurate. For some of the stories, the timing is off a little bit, like where they're placed in the book. But everything's right on. There's some good clips about how it was. A lot of people don't understand what Wax Trax was about. They think, "Oh, it was Al Jourgensen's label and those are all of his bands." No, no, get it right. I introduced him to Dannie [Flesher] and Jim [Nash] in 1979 or something like that. They were my friends. I worked for them in the beginning at the record store. Al [wasn't even around that whole thing] then.
Yeah, before that they started the store in Denver.
Yup. That's right. I mean, shit, you know where they're from. They brought it to Chicago and opened up the store. I knew about them through some girlfriend that I had. They were saying, "Aw, this cool record store opened up in Chicago." That was when everything was happening. The New Wave scene was going on, you know. Then the Dark Wave. Fuck New York. Then it turned to alternative.
Oh yeah, there was a time when the music that eventually fit under that umbrella wasn't called alternative.
No. And it wasn't U2. It was experimental in '83, '84 and '85. and when Einsturzende Neubauten, Coil and all that weird shit was coming out that was more experimental. Then alternative. It was sort of a weird blend of shit for a while. Then they would say, "U2 is alternative." And we would say, "Fuck, they're not alternative." They're just saying that so they can keep afloat. They just had good management. That's why they got so big. Their songs are so sappy, but whatever. I like, "I Will Follow."
Your shows are some of the most entertaining, bombastic, humorous spectacles anyone will ever see. What is it about that kind of thing that has appealed to you to keep doing it all these years?
I kind of just let myself go with the music. So when we do our shows, it's sort of like a passion play or it's sort of like a piece that's never going to happen again, sort of emotionally charged with madness. So I kind of just let the music and everything around me take me, as it's sort of puppet. I start to develop a show kind of thing, but I usually like to let each experience be of that moment that's happening. I want all my shows to be consistently good but different, if that makes sense.
We rehearse like five days in a row doing the set, and by then I'm already raspy and then I got do the first few shows, and by the time I have a day off, I'm like, "Yeah, don't talk to me" [in a ragged half-whisper]. The other night, someone in the other band was like, "Man, you need to try this. You need get whiskey and then put lemon." I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, I know all that shit." When you've been doing it this long, you just do it. You know how to attend to your voice. Sometimes there's not shit you can do about it.
You have to still perform and do those songs and you find ways of expressing them and still fucking singing them and making them work. And that, in itself, is the challenge to me and the art of what I do. It is music. But, like before, I just got into this as an art to see where it would take, so I had no expectations. I didn't want to meet girls. I didn't want to be a superstar. It was like, "I'll try it." So I got lucky, I guess, because I love it. Buzz and I really dig what we do still, and we care about it.
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