Traveling Circus: My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult is All About the Spectacle
A lot changes between your late 20s and your late 50s. Especially in the music world. When My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, who will perform at Howiee’s on Front on Novmber 5, got their start in the late ’80s, the charts were ruled by the lipgloss and hairspray set. Industrial music barely even existed as a genre. But 30 years later, the band is still at it, touring, rereleasing its back catalog and working on new tunes.
“I’m 58 fucking years old,” says Frankie Nardiello, aka, “Groovie Mann,” one half of TKK. “It’s pretty surprising to me that I’m still here, but it’s where I want to be.”
And in the time since, the musical techniques of Industrial pioneers like TKK (heavy sampling, blends of electronic drums and rock guitars, sculpted noise) have conquered the music world, first through major breakthrough artists like Nine Inch Nails, and later as indie artists looked for ways to budgets and band-members minimal. Samplers allowed any sound, no matter how big or small or strange, to be triggered like a note on a keyboard, so explosive interpersonal dynamics didn’t need to be risked for a full-band sound. Mann says that was pretty much the point when he and Marston Daley (Buzz McCoy) formed TKK.
“We were both finished with bands,” he says of his time in the punk scene. “We just wanted the feeling of being one on one, cause we had never done that.”
Samplers also allowed found pieces of sound like dialog from B-movies to be incorporated into songs like a collage, which along with blending punk guitars and disco rhythm tracks, became a signature part of TKK’s style. Mann and McCoy’s project was actually originally intended to be an art film based around music, but evolved into a band. And they brought that visual bombast they had conceived for a film with them onto the stage by adding a rotating cast of performers including a parody of the Go-Go backup singers section they called “The Bomb Gang Girlz.”
“We were always talking about musicals,” says Mann. “And we were always talking about wanting to make a parody of that big band thing. But more tongue in cheek. Not too serious.”
Much of the band’s material centered around drugs, and pointedly anti-religious and sexual themes that would later come to be known as Shock Rock.
But Mann says there wasn’t really any deliberate attempt to go that route.
“We’re just naturally attracted to those themes, to drugs,” he says. “It’s stuff that we live around. Those elements are very alive in my life.”
The band signed with Interscope in the early ’90s, and did a lot of film work, most notably providing music for 1992 film, Cool World, best summarized as a subversive take on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. That was a high point for Mann, who had grown up as a fan of Cool World animator Ralph Bakshi, and his take on Robert Crumb’s character, Fritz the Cat, which was the first animated film to receive an X rating.
“We were big fans as teens,” he says. “It was the naughty show. And here we have this guy doing animation and doing our video for ‘Sex on Wheels.’”
TKK also made an appearance in iconic goth film, The Crow.
And though TKK isn’t quite as high-profile as they used to be, Mann says they have their system of dealing with the changing times down.
“Adapt to it—as an artist would,” he says. “We’re like sponges and we absorb what’s going around us, what’s good and bad.”
“I rent now, and I live as an artist from check to check, tour to tour, and that’s what gives me momentum,” he says.
My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, with 100 Watt Mind
8 pm, Thur., November 5
Howiee’s on Front, 16 N. Front St., Medford