Zander Schloss (Circle Jerks)

Zander Schloss

Zander Schloss - Zander Schloss

  • April 27, 2022
  • via E-mail
  • by Matt Horowitz
  • Blind Owl Records

Zander Schloss arguably got his “big break” back in 1984 appearing as Kevin “The Nerd” in director/writer Alex Cox’s cult classic, Repo Man, alongside leading man Emilio Estevez & The Circle Jerks. Schloss tried to approach The Circle Jerks, but says they wouldn’t speak with him on set, although, would officially become a Jerk himself later that same year.

Schloss played bass with the Keith Morris-helmed Circle Jerks from 1984-88, and again from 1989-1990, 1994-95, 2001-11, and most recently, 2019-present. Schloss has appeared on three Jerks studio albums, Wonderful, VI, and Oddities, Abnormalities & Curiosities, as well as a number of live albums, film soundtracks, and concert films.

Zander Schloss Songs About SongsIn addition to the newly-reunited Circle Jerks, Schloss has lent his top-notch bass-plucking abilities to The Weirdos and donned the guitar in acts such Joe Strummer’s post-Clash band, The Latino Rockabilly War, Juicy Bananas, Mike Watt, Sean Wheeler, The Low & Sweet Orchestra with actor Dermot Mulroney, The Too Free Stooges, Thelonious Monster, Bob Forrest, and Scott Weiland’s extremely short-lived band, The Magnificent Bastards. You may have even heard Schloss lend his musical talents or seen him employ his acting chops to Sid & Nancy, Straight to Hell, Walker, Tapeheads, Tank Girl, Fear of A Punk Planet, American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986, Repo Chick, or The Future Is Unwritten.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Schloss is currently on tour with The Circle Jerks as part of their North American Tour 2022 with The Bouncing Souls, Adolescents, 7Seconds, and Negative Approach celebrating 40 years of Group Sex. They’re headed out on a similarly-minded European Tour 2022 with The Chisel this summer starting on July 28th. We recently spoke to Zander  about his debut solo full-length, Song About Songs, now available on Blind Owl Records. The interview below has been lightly edited for general clarity.

1. How does it feel to have been able to record and release your first proper solo album Song About Songs, nearly 40 years into your musical career?

Thanks for asking. This has been one of my greatest dreams come true, but it’s been a long and rocky road to get to it. I’m very proud of myself for hanging in there when it was just me going after it and so grateful for all the support that I’m getting now. That being said, I still have mixed emotions about it.

Truth be known, there’s part of me that regrets waiting this long to do it. I’ve been putting off developing my own unique voice as a writer for many years to contribute in more of a collaborative sense. It can be a little scary being a solo artist. It can be hard to put myself out there for everyone to see. It takes a lot of guts to stay out of the results of what people are gonna think of you when it’s just you. This is, especially, true when you’re mostly known for playing Hardcore in a seminal Punk Rock band; OMG! “What will the Punks think of me?” I couldn’t even get started with that kind of preciousness.

It’s the death of art in the beginning stages; so in order for me to build up the courage to present my little inventions, I had to just say, “fuck it!” I’d tell myself, “stay in the laboratory, Zander, where nobody can see you working, failing, experimenting, making bad decisions, exploding and breaking things along the way. Take your time.”

I have a bunch of what I call “shoe box songs” that no one will ever hear. Only at the point that I write something that I feel is really true and necessary to bring forth, do I get into the real work and finish it. That’s when I start paying attention to all the details. I guess, between gathering the motivation to do it and innovating myself as a singer/song-writer and a solo artist it just took a long time. Not to mention, finding an awesome label (Blind Owl Records) for it, the best management (Tom Carolan,) and a fine marketing team (Michael Krumper & Missing Piece Group.) Long story short, I’m absolutely thrilled and feel an incredible sense of accomplishment.

2. How exactly does Song About Songs differ from your past non-band “solo” releases, Dear Blue (2017) & 2020 single “Straight to Hell?” What compelled you to release your own cover of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” originally co-written by your one-time collaborator and friend Joe Strummer?

I don’t, actually, see much of a difference. I think I was mining a lot of the same territory on Song About Songs that I had presented on my solo arrangement of “Straight to Hell” (“STH.”) The reason why I did my own version of that song was to honor my friendship and musical journey with Joe and all the time we spent hanging and playing together; plus, it seemed like good timing with the whole 2020 shit show. That was always one of my favorites to play in the set with him amongst the many other classics and new tunes we had recorded. The lyrics are so poignant and heartfelt and the music is so exotic and beautiful. In my opinion, it is the most melancholy Clash song, which I really tend to resonate with. It’s very fitting with the overriding emotional sentiment that I’m trying to portray on my own. Though, I have strong opinions, I stay way out of the political forum, but I do like to delve into the humanity of things. I, also, felt like it was a personal interpretation that I had always had of it in my mind, but, at the time, I didn’t want to openly show my “softer” side or for people to think I had a “tender” side beyond my “rough and ready” Punk Rocker persona. Though, it’s a softer more Folksy version of “STH,” I do believe I have Joe’s blessing now.

3. What did the writing, recording, production, creation, etc. processes behind Song About Songs typically entail?

Well, the writing all took place on my own outside of the studio. I had about 20 tunes written for the record and would sing and play them down for my producer, Gus Seyffert, who, also, played bass on the album. He would say “yay” or “nay,” then, perhaps, make a small adjustment, mainly to the keys they were written in. I ended up transposing everything down a minor third because that’s where Gus was really hearing the best of my voice’s true range and resonating potential. We would, then, bring it to the rest of the band (Josh Adams: drums and Jake Blanton: keys,) rehearse it once, and, then, do one or two takes live to tape, choosing the best master track out of two. This required me to sing and play master takes from front-to-back live to tape with a band as an overall performance rather than sniggling around in the box with Auto-tune, punching in, or doing multiple vocal takes. There’s no “fix it in the mix” mentality here. The production was quick and dirty over four days getting all the basic tracks and two days of minimal overdubs and mixing. Everything is analog and organic, not just to save time and money and limit options, but to give it that classic album feel that you can’t get if you have unlimited time to assemble and edit on a computer. Limitations are key to making an album like this, but you and your team have to really be on-point. I was very pleased to see that I was good enough to hold my own with these three great musicians. It could’ve been a real disaster otherwise.

4. What can you tell us about the concept and storyline behind your “I Have Loved The Story of My Life” music video?

It was a tall order to just write the song itself. First of all, it’s a song about my entire life up until now; hard to fit all of that information into four and [a half] minutes. Second of all, it’s pretty difficult to express radical gratitude and love for it all. Death, heartbreak, darkness, betrayal… everything thus far and what’s coming down the road for me with its many dips and turns. I figured in the video, that I might as well just focus on some of the victory’s and highlights that a few people out there who have followed me throughout my crazy and somewhat fragmented career might recognize. People often times ask me to sing the 7UP jingle from Repo Man or “Salsa y Ketchup” from Straight to Hell. I used to really resent that, but now that I’m older, I’m super-grateful for all that recognition. I figured I could give them what they wanted without having to act it out myself. Everyone loves puppets! Why not let the puppets do all the heavy-lifting? Besides, there’s nothing like puppets to disarm a cynical adult and bring them to their knees emotionally. I try to write my songs for these so-called “tough guys” and “edgy ladies” and beg them to uncross their arms, let down their guard, and have a good old-fashioned cry at how broken and fucked up things really are. I write lullabies for broken adults and make magical puppet videos. How Punk Rock is that?

5. When and where did you first meet Keith Morris and how did you initially come to join The Circle Jerks?

Circle JerksI tried to meet Keith and the band on the set of Repo Man the day they did their Lounge scene in the movie. They just weren’t having it that day and totally dismissed me. I’ve asked them about it since then. I think they were just too hot in their tuxedos under the lights and were unhappy with the catering or something. Probably didn’t get enough to eat. That’s the real magic of making movies. I heard much later that they were auditioning for a new bassist. I really needed a gig, so I switched over to the bass and pretended like I was a badass Punk Rock bass player. I guess, it worked. At the time, I was playing guitar in a Funk band called The Juicy Bananas down in the Compton & Watts [Los Angeles, California] area, living in a 10-by-10’ office space and counting pennies for burritos. After the audition, they asked me “why I wanted to be in The Circle Jerks?” I told them it was “because I wanted to get rich from it.” They all laughed their asses off and thought it was the dumbest thing they had ever heard. Now, look at me (still not rich) ha!

6. What were you able to take away from working with Joe Strummer (The Clash) on so many musical releases, film soundtracks, and cinema projects?

What a great guy he was. We had become friends working on Alex Cox’s films Straight to Hell & Walker, spending thousands of hours talking about everything before we had even played a lick of music with one another. I think we got along so well because we were both curious types. We never really spoke in the language of answers and definitions. It was always about questioning the possibilities and pondering the what-if’s. Turns out, we were both more philosophical than political. That was who he really was: a philosopher. It was surprising at first because the lyrics he wrote for The Clash were so biting and politically-charged, but I saw none of that in him [during] the time I spent with him. Could be that he really was both. Anyway, he was a good hang, creatively generous, and encouraging of me as a player, giving me lots of freedom to express myself in the studio, on stage, and otherwise. He treated me like an equal and that was a good lesson to learn. Especially, when I saw him treating everyone that way. Joe was a good example of how all humans should be with one another across the board without any exclusion. That’s what I took away from all of my time with Joe and I’ll keep practicing every day. R.I.P. J ❤ – Z.

7. Aside from (or in addition to) The Circle Jerks and Joe Strummer & The Latino Rockabilly War, what other bands have you been in or played with throughout your career?

Zander Schloss and Joe StrummerJeez, lots… Google me, baby. I used to really like to jump around from thing to thing. Still do. If it’s good and fun, I’ll do it. Back in the day, you might have had to hire a detective or dart me with a tracking device to follow all my various activities, but, now, you just gotta consult the oracle. I don’t really like running down the list, but there’s some obscure stuff, like Too Free Stooges, Thelonious Monster, [The] Magnificent Bastards, Low & Sweet Orchestra, [The] Weirdos, etc. etc. Some underground film soundtracks, too, that may not ever see the light of day. Somewhere Beautiful, The Beatnicks, Space Rage, and a porno film named Mother’s Pride, and many, many more. That’s The Great Mystery of Z.

8. What’s your secret to having been able to make music with everyone from Dermot Mulroney (The Low & Sweet Orchestra) to Mike Watt (Minutemen, The Stooges?)

Versatility, formal training, ambition, drive, affability, discernment, snappy dressing, absurdity, sense of humor, intuition, etc. etc. Basically, keeping an eye out for extraordinary and talented people and doing the best I can that, maybe, they might admire. Seeing a good opportunity that had integrity to it when it was presented to me, saying “yes” and making sure that I was absolutely overly prepared to do the job are all part of building a reputation and keeping a level of quality moving from project-to-project. It doesn’t always add up to massive fame, but I can, honestly, say I stand behind every decision I’ve made and am satisfied with the outcome of my many bizarre choices.

Zander Schloss9. Why did The Magnificent Bastards fronted by Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) have such a short-lived career and slim discography only consisting of two released songs?

R.I.P. Scott. We were working towards doing much more and it was a great-sounding band. I think we demo’ed several tunes over the course of a year or two that you’ll never hear. There are some tunes that ended up on his solo album, 12 Bar Blues, after we parted ways. I would have to chalk the lack of actual output from us up to frequent and abrupt interruptions due to drug addiction.

Scott had developed a morbid curiosity towards the drug world, even as far back as when I first met him as a fresh-faced kid, pre-Stone Temple Pilots. He asked me a lot of questions about the drug world when I was a 125-pound strung out addict. Scott had a little too much curiosity and admiration for some of us local junkie musicians and, of course, his legendary Rock “N” Roll junkie idols. Nothing like a [gnarly] heroin habit to give a guy or gal street cred.

I’m 60-years-old and only 17 years sober now. I hung on to that lifestyle until I was 44 and barely made it out alive. Maybe, that’s why I’m a D-list celebrity now. That kind of research can be fatal. A lot of my pals have been dead for a long time and some are just dying recently. I feel terrible for their families. So sad that both Weiland brothers are gone. Most of us overdosed or got sober. Some are still sliding down the slippery slope to either a chair in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] or The Great Unknown. Anyway, The Magnificent Bastards did get a little quality music done in-between our troubles.

10. How would you say your acting role as “Kevin The Nerd” within Alex Cox’s 1984 film Repo Man forever changed your career as an entertainer?

Clearly, it changed everything for me. Had I not been given the opportunity to play that role by Alex Cox and the film’s executive producer, “Monkee” Michael Nesmith, my life might look a lot different today. That was the flashpoint for all the great people I was to meet and collaborate with, the soundtrack work that I was to do, the bands that I was to join and make records with, the tours, [and] other acting roles in exotic locations, like The South of Spain & Central America, everything. I guess, I’m one of those lucky, crazy Hollywood stories where an ambitious, unknown kid from The Midwest gets discovered in Hollywood and goes on to become a super-star, achieving great wealth and fame. Well, maybe not wealth and becoming a super-star, but a little cult status and enough money for a cup of coffee and some cat food. I have had a lot of great times and done so much fun work with extraordinary people that I can say that I’m truly grateful and proud of what I have achieved. I’m only scratching the surface of my potential as a singer/song-writer and a solo artist now and moving into the next exciting and challenging phase of my career. Dreams do come true.

Circle Jerks11. What can you tell us, if anything, about The Circle Jerks’ long-awaited and long-rumored follow-up to 1995’s Oddities, Abnormalities & Curiosities?

I can’t tell you anything about it. It’s top-secret. Who told you there was a follow-up? Give me a name, Goddamn It! Honestly, if I did tell you, I’d have to kill you.

12. I know you’re currently on the road with The Circle Jerks for their 40th anniversary tour along with 7Seconds & Negative Approach… but what’s planned next for The Jerks?

We’re all really paying attention to and devoted to what we’re doing now. The band is firing on all cylinders and is as sharp as it has ever been. We’re stepping into our power and having a great time doing it. We have become a strong team and really good friends and enjoy working with one another now. That hasn’t always been the case over the years. To quote an old friend of mine, “the future is unwritten.”

I think as long as we’re having fun doing it, don’t suck at what we do, and have the energy to play 33 songs at 200 BPM in an hour and we’re loving doing what we do… well, anything could happen. I guess, the fucked up and wonderful world will just have to wait and see. (Stay tuned/not the end!)

Listen to Songs About Songs on Bandcamp.

Photos of Joe Strummer & The Latino Rockabilly War by Julian Yewdall