Coming of age, in “The House of Strange Affairs”… Not really, it’s just “My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult”.
Of all the bands I have followed over the years, there are few that had such a “moment” for me than “My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult” or just “TKK” for short. They are a techno industrial dance music band, that has longevity, and sheer creativity doing whatever the hell they want, and for going well over 30 years. Having pulled their name from the title of a bad horror movie, they had the concept of making the name turned into a band … and what a band they are.
Consisting mainly of two constant members, lyricist Groovie Mann (Frankie Nardiello), and instrumentalist Buzz McCoy (Marston Daley). Their music has been in dark action films as “The Crow” and hits like “Sex on Wheels”, mocking everything from “conventional” social mores of sexuality and comedic references to satanism. Having played with everyone in the industrial scene from Chicago and across the world (as I soon found out) with albums such as “Cooler Than Jesus”, “Sexplosion”, “Gay Black and Married” … you get the idea of what AWESOME they have to offer.
I sat down to interview them at “Club Metro” in Salt Lake City on their 2nd night of the tour supporting the new album “The House of Strange Affairs”. It was one of the most surreal interviews I have ever done, Groovy Mann tells stories with a great nostalgia, some are incredible, beautiful, others painful. He answers everything with a wise approach, and even “Fondness” to some of the craziest and greatest things I have heard from a musician. Meanwhile, Buzz McCoy, with a mischievous smirk on his face, is a man of few words. He walked in and out of the interview, would toss in a line that was so funny, then leave. After identifying myself being from Instinct Magazine, and him saying “but, you’re not gay? are you?” as if his gaydar was off, (or it’s that obvious that I’m straight), after explaining how I am a staunch ally, and that I’m an “honorary member” of the LGBTQ family, he enlightened me with some of the greatest answers and stories I have ever heard from a musician. He took me to an alternate universe and made me rethink their music since I first heard them. He made me think of a new perspective of when I was a teenager, and just a weird punk kid, getting bullied, guys yelling “Faggot I’m going to kick your ass!!!” I got to understand how hard it was being a straight weird kid, he showed me a glimpse of how difficult it was being young, gay, and trying to just survive and make life happen.
Jeremy Hinks: So, we are the 2nd gig on the tour, I can see you guys are sounding great in soundcheck, probably still trying to get your groove for this one, but sound good so far.
Groovie Mann: Yeah, we had 4 days of rehearsal, then last night in Vegas, it was a smaller bar, but we are getting into it now. I always come through for myself, and I know it’s jelled, when the show kicks in
(actually, they NAILED it that night, I was beyond impressed).
Well, I’m interviewing for Instinct Magazine, and I’m wanting to expose the LGBTQ world, maybe the younger readers, who have been watching the mainstream artists, I’m hoping to give them a view of the edgier, punk, industrial type music that paved the way for so many current artists. You guys are clearly one of them.
Groovie Mann: Right, to show that there is a variety of musicians willing to talk about their sexuality.
And to get the history of it from your point of view, and more exposure.
Groovie Mann: Oh, They know who I am… (grin), the younger maybe not, but the whole section I wrote for the Chicago tribune was about Danny and Jim (The founders of WAX TRAX records, and a great gay couple) was all gay related, and I brought it all down to be more understandable. You don’t want to alienate straight people either, ‘cause there are still those kinds of people out there. So, when you’re cool, people like you, and your sexuality doesn’t matter. BUT, in regard to helping younger people, or people who are coming out, and be who they are, it still exists now in this day and age. So, I do believe in what you are doing in wanting to reach those people, to make people like me known to them, let them know it’s ok.
Well, I want to get you more exposure to them as well. For example, the image that existed when you came out. It was in the late ‘80s, that the only real openly gay artists were Liberace and Andy Bell from Erasure, and that was all in the “fluffy” or POP side of music, and here you are, pounding out this deep, dark edgy rocking music, I mean the whole thing with WAX TRAX was that you could be gay and tear it up.
Groovie Mann: Oh yeah, the stereotype, Marc Almond, Pete Townsend, Jimmy Sommerville it was all in that stereotype.
YES, that’s what I loved about it, when I first say you guys in ‘92, there you were, openly gay, openly sex positive, and you had no shame about it, and you ROCKED IT on that show. It was loud, intense, and clearly, nothing fluffy, and cheesy. It wasn’t stereotypical what the world at that time was expecting from gay musicians.
Groovie Mann: We just didn’t care, about it (laughing) and we still don’t. That was just part of the whole “Experiment” at WAX TRAX.
So, on to important questions, using the “K” for everything, why didn’t you use it on the album “Confessions”?
Groovie Mann: HA, we just switched back and forth, we thought it was a bit overbearing. Keeping it in the Catholic vein.
So, the new album, “The House of Strange Affairs”, phenomenal album, ‘cause you guys go wherever the hell you want, when you do something. This one had a totally different vibe to it. It was almost like the recent work by the band “Alabama 3”.
Groovie Mann: I don’t know them, who are they?
They are a band like yourselves, from England, did the theme for “The Sopranos”, that clash everything, techno, country, acid house, blues. And, this album has a lot of that same vibe to it. Caught me off guard but it was great. They toured with Chumbawamba in the late ‘90s.
(Buzz McCoy interjecting) Man, that was a LONG TIME AGO, I knew those guys.
Yeah, this new album had this dark bluesy gritty vocal a lot like the recent “Alabama 3” stuff. This new one is so different on the whole, I loved it. I’m not ripping on Sasha, from KMFDM, you can hear the same thing on every album, it’s the formula. So, my backstory with you guys, I was raised in a very traditional Mormon household, and when I wanted to go to see bands, my parents would question what I was getting into. So, when I went to see “Echo & The Bunnymen”, then the Dead Milkmen, they thought such a bizarre name, at least it wasn’t a threatening name. So, I had to get them used to the bands’ names. So, when you guys came around, my mom just asked, “Should I even take them seriously?” I told her NO, and … well, that was the easiest band I ever got to go to. You know, they didn’t think you were a satanic slasher type of band.
(Buzz McCoy interjects) THEY didn’t know that! You just told ‘em… (laughing).
Well, there was all the crazy fun sex content, and as long as they didn’t listen, I got to go.
Groovie Mann: My mom was like “Do you HAVE to say “devil” in everything?” she just was so naive it didn’t matter.
Were you raised Catholic?
Groovie Mann: My father was, but I didn’t have to go to church. My MOM however, she was a Jehovah’s Witness, so when we go see those grandparents, no Christmas tree, nothing like that. You know the TV was hidden in the attic and my grandpa would watch “Gunsmoke” with cobwebs hanging down on this little TV. But I was “Catholic”, but I didn’t have to do all that, my cousins were Altar boys, and they had to do all that shit, you know we would be at family get-together’s, and they would be telling us we are all going to hell because we didn’t go to church, you know that kind of upbringing. So, I never really got “damaged” by religion, but I really did witness other people getting damaged by religion, and brainwashed at an early age. So maybe what the political side of what Thrill Kill Kult is about, I think that kids shouldn’t be brainwashed like that. It’s like we are saving their souls, from being stolen by an organized religion and its really sort of hypocritical I think (lots of laughing from everyone on this one).
When I was that age, we were DJ’ing at a club, and the beats were fantastic, and we would play your stuff, sometimes 3 songs a night, and then Ministry and the Revolting Cocks, and then we would turn around and play Erasure and Depeche Mode. It all had a great beat, and fantastic dance music.
Groovie Mann: Oh well, Depeche Mode, those guys were ahead of their time, far beyond anyone. I saw them for the first time in England on the “Speak and Spell” tour they did, and they were sold out then, with everyone hopping up and down back then.
Wow, that must have been quite an experience. I loved how in the early days, I could listen to it, and not feel unsettled, but really enjoy it. And, well, some formative sex education from your stuff. I mean, “Daisychain 4 Satan” BRILLIANT name for a song.
Groovie Mann: I get that, there were a lot of people that weren’t afraid of it, but embraced it, like a lot of people I met doing the movie tour with WAX TRAX, people in Nashville would say “Kooler Than Jesus” Changed my life” because that was their PUNK anthem, that was what rebelled the system for them. I never had that sort of explanation from a 40-year old girl who grew up religious down south. I never even looked at it that way, and I was very impressed.
Do you guys still get flagged from the religious right?
Groovie Mann: I don’t think so, haven’t noticed recently. But historically it was constantly going on in the early days. There was a bunch of accusations about satanic groups using our music, and pictures of us that came out in the late ‘80s, we have even used these clips, there was the whole SATAN scare, and they would say “And here is the Thrill Kill Kult” and they use pentagrams.
YES!! I remember seeing that, and thinking it was just the theatrics of it all.
Groovie Mann: YES, we were just exploiting peoples fear of it, and its humor, and have a good laugh.
It was like GWAR, watching it, and thinking “you can’t take this seriously, they are just out having a great time”. So, more back story here. “Kooler than Jesus” was when I got into your music, I listened to a lot of New Order, PIL. And so, here I was, again, still pretty sheltered, and I was 15, and this friend of mine she was 19, and she told me the song “Electric Messiah” was really about vibrators. That freaked me out, first of all to learn that “OTHER PEOPLE” do “it”, and that a woman does it, AND that she uses a toy for it.
Groovie Mann: See, that wasn’t there, that’s just her interpretation of it. But, I can see it going that way.
Yeah, well, there it was, again, formative sex education from your music, as she is explaining to me a normal aspect of human sexuality. I was told my entire life as a teenager, by Mormon leadership that I was the ONLY kid in the world who ever masturbated. I was shocked to hear that from her and found it hard to believe at the same time. Again, I was 15.
Groovie Mann: So, you were RAISED Mormon then, that’s so funny cause I know this guy in L.A. who is gay, and has a boyfriend, has come out. He still comes back and forth to here, he will be here tonight. And when I got to know him as a friend and not just a fan, he told me stories that have a lot of similarities about how you grew up, and how he was gay and hiding it. But he still has Mormon family, so that must be a hard thing to do, being GAY, I mean, sounds hard enough being straight and Mormon.
Ok, so beginning of WAX TRAX, Jimmy and Dannie, it was all very open, no one cared. And Jim Marcus once said, “If you aren’t going to find love and acceptance with the techno dance music world, you aren’t going to find it anywhere.” No one cared, it was just everyone was happy to have someone else able to play this new music with.
Groovie Mann: That was how it was when Disco started when it went from punk into the gay bars, it was all mixed together. The gay bars that didn’t have business started to have punk Djs in there, then it brought in the punks, brought in the gays. Everyone was having sex with each other, no one was whispering “oh he’s gay”, I was sleeping with my girlfriend, she was sleeping the guy that I was sleeping with and didn’t know about it. So, when Al (Al Jourgensen of the Ministry) moved to Chicago, and I introduced him to Dannie and Jim from WAX TRAX, ‘cause we had already been in a band together. It was all really intricate, but we all knew and played music with each other. And if you got fucked up, you might have ended up in bed with them, it didn’t matter, our music and sex, drugs, was all crossing over into everything else with everyone else. Nothing had to happen, you just embraced people who loved you, and cared about you.
I saw it in the early days as a social experiment that happily went off the rails, you guys were breaking all the rules of traditional ideas of music, sampling, guitar, whatever, then the sexuality got into it, and there were suddenly no taboos. If you had a bassist, gay or straight, just hey, happy to have a bassist. I loved how that was ever-present in the sounds, meanwhile the pop and rock world were thinking “We can’t have any of that”.
Groovie Mann: Yeah, at that time, I really don’t think people realize what Jim and Dannie did for the community, just by pushing the music the way they did. They gave us the opportunity to be who we were, and the arena.
So, for the intensity, and hard edgy music you were making, did you get much flack for it, or were you just flying under the radar?
Groovie Mann: We sort of just did what we did, and if people liked it, they bought it. Buzz he was (is) the producer he writes all the music, I do the vocals and lyrics. We write as a team, it’s pretty simple, and complex. We created the new album as the 3rd album AFTER “Confessions”, so say “Sexplosion” didn’t happen. If we had gone and continued down the path of “Confessions” in an alternate universe, that is what “The House of Strange Affairs” is about or would have been.
So, now I’m gonna have to go back and listen to it, thinking “Sexplosion” never happened… (My mind is spinning at this point) Now I’m having to ask, and you just played into it, when you get into making an album, you do the disco song on “Confessions” here, then sampling and metal there, how do you come up with where you want to take it?
Groovie Mann: Yeah, it’s like that, when we came up with “SEXPLOSION” and people who had been with us up to “Confessions” and people were like “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?”, ‘cause some people really don’t like disco, then they started warming up to it more and more.
But I loved everything new, because it WAS different. (I’m really excited here, and he is thinking I’m just an overly joyous fan) That’s almost enlightening, it was SOOO different, and now you are explaining why.
Groovie Mann: YES, each album is a different facet of who WE are, so when Buzz and I start writing, he composes the soundtrack and framework, then I come over, he gives me the music, and I listen to it, and I have notebooks all the time that I keep writing ideas and lyrics in, (He has one that is very ornate sitting next to him, with all his notes and scribbling, the workings of a mad genius right in front of me), with catch phrases people say, what I feel, whatever just pops up as an idea, I write it down. So, I collect it all, I bring my books, I perform the lyrics, poetry, he records it, we put it together and work it. There are spontaneous moments in the writing still, more now actually. We get a lead, or a start into it, then I say it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Some comes together quick, other stuff we take our time.
Ok, your influences, I know you got “Einstürzende Neubauten”, love them, they are tight with WIRE, one of my faves.
Groovie Mann: I LOVE WIRE, Colin Newman his album A-Z, that inspired me a lot, as PIL did in the early ‘80s. What I was doing with “Special Effect” which was commercial, but there was this dark side that we never got to really exploit as we got to do later. When I had moved back from London, I was there from ’81 to ‘83, and Buzz was playing, and then the next year we started to collaborate, we would get pot, and beer, and just JAM, and create songs on cassette. And when Peter Kent brought Bauhaus over, he told me about this band called “The Drowning Craze”, I sang for them, then I came back, when Al (Ministry) was doing the “Twitch” tour and I was working sound and lights, and Buzz’s early band had opened for Ministry in ‘86. So, when their keyboard player Roland Barker, he left the tour, they brought Buzz in to play keyboard. It was so interwoven, and in the historical aspect of it, there I am exploiting my side of the story. (Which is REMARKABLE, the history in that paragraph is a music junkies dream) We opened for Bauhaus actually in ‘81. I knew Peter (Murphy) he was always “Frankie Darling”, he wished he was gay, charming, but he wasn’t gay, he has a wife and kids. I did speed with him in London at a party with Cabaret Voltaire. I’m not trying to name drop, but I was on Situation 2, so they were my label, I mean, I even played with Nick Cave and The Birthday Party. We opened for them, we got our first good review. We opened for Divine, we even opened for WIRE once. And let me tell you, WIRE, those guys were very serious. They were going into new sounds, after Colin solo album, but they were incredible, yes absolutely, trying to find themselves after the whole “punk” wave, they had to stay current. I have so many stories from all of it, I recently did the whole Q and A, so I have so much to just talk about.
But you are still kicking it. Let me ask you, when you came out, it was in the days of “You queer, I’m going to kick your ass”..
Groovie Mann: I consider “coming out” not when you say “Ok I’m gay” or whatever, it’s when you stand up for yourself. To understand, THAT WORD isn’t ok for someone to use that way.
So, I ask this of everyone, what would you tell those kids, the adult, the person who is afraid, or ashamed, in that vulnerable situation?
Groovie Mann: Well, move first of all, (everyone laughing) to some place more accepting and restart your life.
Buzz McCoy: Yeah, most people do.
Groovie Mann: Do your best to exist, and be strong, and just be who you are, and look over and above them. You can still have religion, and believe in yourself, and love for your fellow man.
Thank you so much everyone. Needless to say, they nailed it that night … the pictures tell the story.
About the Author: Jeremy Hinks
An indie GONZO music journalist in Salt Lake City, and an Anarchist behind the Zion Curtain. Jeremy Hinks is an obnoxious Type-A Male, who is embarrassingly straight and a staunch LGBTQ Ally with little tact, and a big heart. He has supported his LGBTQ friends since he was a teenager.
He has photographed on multiple tours U2, The English Beat, Peter Hook & The Light, and is somehow making a name for himself photographing Pink Floyd Tribute bands, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Britfloyd, Dead Floyd. He is one of the photographers for the LOVELOUD Foundation in Utah, an organization to bring awareness and support for the young LGBT community in Utah, and to bring an end to the epidemic of suicides there.
He also drives a Vespa, and wears kilts, is rarely seen wearing pants, should be considered armed and dangerous, so do not approach without extreme caution.