THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 104
Feels like I'm constantly running to catch up these days. A touch behind on work responsibilities. Never really able to keep up with what needs to be done around the house. I don't know how anyone is able to keep up with the busy schedules that we all seem to have nipping at our heels.
That is the primary reason why this newsletter is coming to you a bit late in the day. I had a review of Nathan Fielder's new series The Rehearsal (brilliant, btw) to get done. Records to price. Stuff to mail. People to look after. And still things are piled up and unfinished around the house and my life. Mercy me.
Still, I must count my blessings and move forward. And thank you for dipping into this regular missive from my desk. Excited this time around to include an interview with My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, a fantastic band that I fell hard for in the early ’90s and have been loving ever since. This interview is in the same vein as my recent chat with Grant-Lee Phillips where I got them (I think it was Buzz who did the answering) to comment on a variety of video clips featuring TKK or their music.
What else to report? Been reading Runnin' With The Devil, Noel Monk's unblinking memoir tracking his time as Van Halen's manager. No one, not even Noel himself, comes off looking good in his recounting. Got to see a rare 35 mm screening of Ugetsu last night, which left me breathless. Been enjoying The Old Man, FX's new series starring a haggard looking Jeff Bridges. Listening lately to new albums by Wu Lu, Tyler Mitchell, Luke Stewart's Silt Trio, and Plínio Fernandes. Bought a bunch of records from some regular contacts and now my office looks like hoarder's paradise. (If you want to buy some, let me know.)
Alright, let's get to the goods. I'll see you on the other side.
My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult
In the months and years after Nevermind shredded the record industry rule book and began erasing the lines between underground and mainstream music, there ceased to be any way of predicting what former cult favorite would catch commercial fire in some small or large way. So when Sexplosion!, the 1991 album from Chicago electro-sleaze ensemble My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, began appearing in places like my small town department store, it felt less like a surprise than a strange inevitability.
To that point, TKK and its co-founders Groovie Mann and Buzz McCoy had earned a humble, but dedicated following via their seamy, beat-heavy sound and provocative lyrics and stage shows. They were a natural fit for Wax Trax Records, as early efforts like 1990's Confessions of a Knife and singles like "Kooler Than Jesus" dovetailed nicely alongside the work of labelmates like Front 242 and Front Line Assembly. But with Sexplosion!, the group started to emphasize the influence of Chicago house, exotica, and glam on their work, producing a gender neutral musical fuckfest. Much to their delight, the record caught on in dance clubs around the world as DJs dug into the funky groove of the title track and the nasty spirit of follow up single "Sex On Wheelz." Before they knew it, they were fielding offers from major labels (they signed with Jimmy Iovine's fledgling imprint Interscope) and writing songs for Ralph Bakshi's 1992 film Cool World.
Though Sexplosion! was TKK's commercial apex, they've continued to produce fantastic albums, including their 2005 disco homage Gay, Black and Married and their equally great 2019 release In the House of Strange Affairs. And as you'll read below, they are continuing to move forward, even as they spend a little time looking back with last month's 30th anniversary vinyl re-release of Sexplosion!, which includes a never-before-heard track from the album sessions and a handful of remixes, and this interview, conducted via email, that looks back at some of their promo videos, their work in films, and watching their music soundtrack a routine in Dancing With The Stars.
This version of the video was directed by the great Ralph Bakshi. How did you come to work with him on this?
We worked on his movie Cool World, writing five songs for the film. They also used our song "Sex On Wheelz" in the film, which is how Ralph ended up directing the video. He was awesome to work with!
This was obviously a breakthrough song for the band. What was it like to experience that kind of bump up in attention and sales surrounding this single and Sexplosion!?
We were touring at the time the song took off, and immersed in that. We weren’t really tuned into much else at the time. It was amusing when "Sex On Wheelz" became the so-called “hit” off the album and got radio attention. We actually wrote the track to mock modern rock radio... And then that’s the song that ends up on the air! Guess the joke was on us.
When you were working on the album, was there a sense that you were hitting a new gear as songwriters? Did you know you had something special on your hands?
Not at all. We were just attempting another album with no expectations. We write for our own amusement, and this time we were thinking, “What’s the opposite everyone is expecting from us?”
How was it to work with Shawn Christopher on the Sexplosion! track “Princess of the Queens”?
We were Chicago nightlife friends. She’s just great! It was one of those things when the bar’s closing at 4 am and you ask, “Wanna come over and sing into a mic? I've got wine!” Shawn also toured with us under the moniker Jasmine Night and was heavily featured on our 13 Above the Night album.
Following this you left Wax Trax to sign with Interscope. Was that an easy decision to make?
It was hard emotionally because both owners Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher were very good friends of ours... more like family. But there were some heavy duty labels offering us some very lucrative deals, and we had to decide if we were really gonna start taking this band thing seriously. We both worked at Wax Trax and knew they were having some difficulties at the time, and they were in discussions to sell off the label.The future of the label seemed unstable and we thought it was best to cut the strings despite the relationship. Fortunately the friendship lasted and Jim even laughed about it later saying, “Boy, you guys sure would have been pretty stupid not to take that Interscope deal!”
Were there outsized expectations on the part of Interscope about the sales of your albums?
We had no idea what Interscope's expectations were. We were one of the first artists signed to the label, and they really had no idea how to promote us, but for some reason Jimmy Iovine really liked what we were doing and gave us free reign. We were never very marketable. We really don’t fit into any genre. We weren’t looking to be famous or care if we were on the charts. We were grateful just to be able to make the music we wanted without the pressure to make radio hits, and Interscope gave us that freedom, which is very cool for a major to do
This whole video feels like a precursor to TikTok and Instagram with people lip syncing bits of dialog or their favorite songs. Was that something that you had in mind to do for the video or was that the director’s concept?
The video was the mastermind of our friend Dion Labriola. He was a DJ at Berlin Nightclub in Chicago. He approached us one night with this idea he had for the song. We did the lip-sync parts at a bar called Dreamerz, and he did all the artwork and editing... frame by frame.
Did you have any hope that a clip like this would land on MTV at some point or did you know that the title of the song and the images in it would probably scare them off?
We never cared about MTV. Actually we were against all that stuff. None of the bands or music we listened to at the time would ever be played on MTV!
With a song like this, do the samples that you used for it inspire the song or do you already have the bare bones of a song in place before you start looking for the right samples to help take it over the top?
We had the groove, and it was just matter of dropping the right samples into place.
What do you remember about getting the call to make an appearance in The Crow? How did this happen?
The producers were fans and needed a band to write and record a song in a few days days time, then fly to North Carolina to perform it on set. Though we didn’t have any new lyrics written, we did have a new track we were working on at the time, and it fit the style they were looking for. We borrowed lyrics from one of our previous songs called “Nervous Xians”, and re-recorded them for “After The Flesh” the night just before the shoot.
What was the experience like filming this scene?
Well, it was freezing cold. Like 15 degrees inside an abandoned cement factory in Wilmington, NC. It took two very long days to film a 30-second scene. It was a little surreal. We drank a lot of vodka to keep warm between takes.
Did you have occasion to spend any time with Brandon Lee?
We spent some time in the make up room together. Small talk. He seemed a little shy, yet curious in what we were all about. And then a few days later, he was gone.
You music has been used in numerous films: Cool World and, of all movies, The Flintstones. It seems like something you embraced as a band. How did you go about choosing what projects to license your songs to?
It’s really an honor for any director to consider our music for their projects. Seeing another’s visual translation in using one of our songs for their creative endeavor is much more artistically satisfying than any album sales or streaming plays.
Do you know of any folks who became a fan of the band after hearing a song like “Hit & Run Holiday” in The Flintstones, or something that was used in a movie like BASEketball?
Was this a point of pride for the band in some way?
We must admit, being featured in an episode of B&BH was pretty awesome. Much better than just getting a play on 120 Minutes, and their commentary for the video is so friggin’ funny and spot on!
Did you get the sense that secretly a lot of artists wanted to get their videos made fun of by cartoon characters like this?
Hmm, it’s probably 50/50. Some artists are just WAY too sensitive to get trashed by cartoon characters! lol. Hopefully the other 50 percent have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves.
This is another slightly surprising place to find a TKK song. Were you aware ahead of time that this was going to happen?
We knew it was going to happen. They requested a license fee, but we were on tour at the time and didn’t get to see it when it broadcast. Both our moms recorded it for us on VHS so we could watch it later.
Have you fielded other strange or surprising request for a use of one of your songs?
It was a strange surprise when we found out that, in addition to featuring one of our songs in the film Sexy Evil Genius, TKK was actually written into the story line of the movie. That was very cool. The writer was a fan. We got to go to the studio and meet the cast and crew. They were all intrigued to meet this mysterious band that was part of their script.
What do you think of their performance?
The Dancing with Stars performance looks like it was inspired a lot by the Paul Verhoven film Showgirls, which we originally wrote the song for.
Do you still enjoy playing live and touring?
Sure... It’s what we do. Actually it’s all we know how to do now after all these years! Playing live is always a high. Being able to connect and meet the fans who have stuck with us all these years is always satisfying.
I noticed Groovie using some lyric sheets for this performance. Was that just because this was a new song or is that something you’re utilizing more on stage?
That was a prop for the Strange Affairs tour. He’d turn the page with each new song, as if he was reading a story from a book to the audience.
Putting most artists under a single genre heading seems like a losing proposition, but it never felt entirely appropriate to simply call TKK an “industrial” band. Do think that’s a fitting descriptor for what you and the band have done over the past 35 years?
We’ve never really referred to ourselves as an industrial band, because we‘re not. When we started, music like ours was more in the death rock vein. We’ve been called “industrial-disco” and that may be a little more fitting, but we’re really so much more.
What comes next for the band?
We have a new album in the works. Maybe a late 2023 release? We’ll see. Maybe some shows in 2023 as well.
How 'bout that, eh? I so wish I could go back in time and tell 16-year-old me that I'd have easy access to interview TKK. And a few other important things. Past me needs to know.
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Next week, the return of Deeper Into Movies with a look at Prince's filmmaking career. It's... not great.
Do no harm. Take no shit. Fuck Marjorie Taylor Greene. Wrecka stow.
Artwork for this edition is from Robin Jebavy's exhibition Seeing is Being, which is on display at the James Watrous Gallery in Madison, Wisconsin through August 14.