Written by: Allan MacInnis
Zander Schloss, previously interviewed here has some very cool associations in his resume, from
acting in punk films – most notably in Alex Cox’s films Repo Man, Straight to Hell, and Walker, but also in
more recent fare like An American in Texas where he plays a record store owner and promoter who helps a young punk band. He’s played bass for the Circle Jerks since the mid-1980’s, was musical director and guitarist for Joe
Strummer and the Latino Rockabilly War played in LA punk band the Weirdos and as of 2022, has
recorded his first solo album, Song About Songs, a collection of surprisingly gentle, introspective, and
highly tuneful reflections on life, many of which he’s been releasing rock videos for (a couple of which
are discussed at length below). It’s also on Bandcamp and available as gatefold vinyl through
Blind Owl Records.
In the second part of our feature, Schloss gets into how he joined the Circle Jerks – whose 40th
anniversary tour has gotten back on the road after Keith Morris’ recent ordeal with COVID – and the key
role of the late, great Michael Nesmith in Schloss scoring the role of Kevin in Repo Man (beating out a
young Chris Penn) – a story that Schloss also tells in the extras for American Hardcore, but which is
relayed more fully below.
[About the photographs, a big thanks to Alex Cox for sharing his marvelous photo of Zander, out of
costume, with Courtney Love, Miguel Sandoval, and Jennifer Balgobin on the set of Straight to Hell,
filmed in Almeria, Spain as a homage to/ spoof of spaghetti westerns. Schloss had not seen the image
himself prior to our conversation, and on hearing he was holding a crucifix wondered if maybe we’d
gotten him confused with Xander Berkley (who plays a priest in the film; note that all men – Alex,
Xander, and Zander – have the same given name, Alexander but choose to shorten it in different ways,
which has no significance whatsoever). Zander also has shared some images of the marionettes used in
his video for “I Have Loved the Story of My Life,” discussed below, while all live photos are from Zander
Schloss’ in-store at Vancouver’s Neptoon Records (taken by local photographer Bob Hanham) and from
the Circle Jerks’ concert at the Commodore Ballroom later that night, July 3 rd , 2022, taken by Hanham
and local legend Bev Davies, who had previously shot the CJ’s pre-Zander back in 1981, discussed on my
Could you tell me about the lyrics to that song, “Dead Friend Letter?” What was that inspired by?
It was an experiment for me, written in third party about a character who is a pretty tragic guy who
doesn’t have any family and he’s not the brightest bulb in the pack and he has one friend who basically he writes this letter to because he knows that’s the only person that’s going to find him. So it’s a suicide
letter, and he’s betting that his friend is going to find the letter and see him and be so dumb that he
doesn’t even realize that he’s dead, so he says, “And yes, I’m not okay,” because he’s thinking that his
friend’s going to go, “Dude, are you okay?” “No, I’m not okay, I’m fuckin’ dead!” …So it’s dark humor and
it’s kind of like a fractured fairy tale, done like a letter. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video…
Oh, no, I missed it!
Yeah, I’ve made a biker video, where me and this other guy [Stefan Lirakis] play vagabond bikers, and
we’re riding these choppers. My character has kind of befriended a sociopathic biker dude, kind of by
necessity, and in the letter he’s asking him to clean up the mess and take care of his body. So literally in
the video, it starts out with this guy contemplating suicide and writing the letter, then flashes back to
them on the road on these choppers and Triumphs. And he kills himself, and his friend shows no
sentiment or emotion, just goes in, drags his body out and throws him in a shallow grave, burns the
letter and rides off on his chopper. And I told the director and editor as it was in post-production,
“Please, this song and this video are not for the family and friends that are left behind that are affected
by the tragedy. I want this song to be for the person who is actually contemplating suicide. So it’s a very
hardcore video, and as you know, the song is tied up in a very light and bouncy package. It’s sort of one
of the more upbeat songs on the album, but the subject matter is perhaps the darkest on the album.
Who directed it?
A guy named Gilbert Salas directed it. He’s done a few videos for me in the past as cinematographer –
he shot a couple of videos for Sean and Zander, the duo I was doing, and shot a video for “My Dear
Blue.” But this is his directorial debut.
I don’t know if it’s how you’re picking it and I can’t pick out which song it’s reminding me of, but
something about the song reminds me of Mississippi John Hurt, and I don’t know if that’s that just in my
head, or if there is any influence there?
No, I mean it could be. I’m a great fan of people that have that kind of musculature in the right hand.
And part of the process of becoming a solo artist is like, I wanted the bones of the songs to be very solid.
You know, I approach it like a cabinet maker, y’know what I mean? So that being said, I wanted to
incorporate bass, melody, chords, all that stuff simultaneously, and the way into that is through those
influences of people who would play the guitar and sing… It’s a very direct sound and a very powerful
sound to me because it has such a direct channel to the listener. So yeah, Mississippi John Hurt is a good
read on it. You can also cite some of the other Delta blues guys and folk fingerpickers and stuff like that.
I saw the video you did with Alex Cox for the song, “Straight to Hell,” and there’s some really pretty stuff on the 12 string.
Is that the same 12 string you’re picking on “Dead Friend Letter”? Is there history there with that
Yeah, that’s the same one. I tuned it to drop D for the sake of having a deeper, bassier sound to it. It’s a
guitar that was actually given to me, I’ll say about 20 years ago, that I kind of carried around and it’s
really nothing special, as far as what people would cite as being like, a “high-end” sort of guitar. It’s a
Yamaha Dreadnought from, I think, the early eighties or whatever. But the guitar itself has like a very
magical feel to it and inspirational quality to it. That inspired me to write and play it pretty much
exclusively for a very, very long time. And it records really well. It just sounds incredible, it plays really
well. So I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say: well, why aren’t you using –umm… what would
be, like, a great brand of guitar? [Zander thinks for a second, draws a blank, then shrugs it off] Anyway,
I’m playing the guitar that inspires me and sounds good, y’know?
Are there any songs on the album that are more directly autobiographical than others?
Well, of course “I Have Loved the Story of My Life,” that’s a story about being grateful in spite of all the hurdles and obstacles that we encounter in life. A lot of that is due to my history of being a decades-long heroin addict and being 16 years sober, and my long
journey through the music industry, and what it took for me to jump into that, some of the hardships
there, and just life in general. So it’s a song about gratitude. It’s personal. And I would also say “My Dear
Blue” is almost like a statement to depression, saying, “Hey, you’ve never been wanted, never been
needed, not by me. I want to be wanted and I want to be needed – but not by you” – basically a
statement to having the blues or being depressed, and saying that you’re looking for something other
I want to ask you about the video for that – but first, I’m curious how that song got written.
I wrote the music first, and the melody, and then the premise… I wanted to write a song about having
gratitude and resilience about these things that I have personally encountered in my life. I haven’t had
the easiest life. But I wanted to also have it be so personal that it would encompass things that all of us
have to endure – the death of a loved one, a broken heart, or whatever; these things we all have to
encounter, sad stories, potential things we have to overcome. I wrote several stanzas or couplets,
probably about sixty, of which I chose maybe six, but I didn’t have a title or a chorus. And I was actually
on tour with the Weirdos, and I was driving across Texas, which can feel like you’re on another continent
or something like that. I think we were in West Texas, and I had done an overnight drive. At that
moment, I had not been smoking – I had been trying to quit smoking for some time – and I pulled into a
road stop, and all the rest of the band members were sleeping, and I went into the gas station and
bought myself a package of Camel non-filtered cigarettes and a large orange Fanta. And I’m drinkin’
down this sugary Fanta and smokin’ these cigarettes and it seemed like a perfect moment; the sun was
rising over West Texas and all of a sudden the words came to me: “Even though I’ve had to strive/ I
would never change my life/ I have learned from what it teaches/ Even when I fall to pieces/ I have had
my ups and downs/ But I’m still above the ground/ Even when it makes me cry/ I have loved the story of
my life.” And it was like, crazy – because it all came spilling out. I put it on a voice memo while everyone
was sleeping, and not only did I have this uplifting chorus, but I had the title of the song.
Because it’s like – honestly, how does one tackle that subject matter? It’s such a dense sort of thing to
cover, and so, in the couplets, I had to pick and choose the things I felt were the most personal but yet
overarching: “I am made of truth and I am lies,” y’know what I mean? Basically saying, there are some
things that are true, but throughout life, it’s like we’re writing our story as we go along, and some things
have been made bigger than they actually were, and some things have been diminished or edited, and
whole chapters have been torn out of our books. So I was trying to talk about perception there, and the
perception of what defines us as we travel this road in the earthly realm. And “I am made of reason, I
am rhyme” – trying to talk about justifying why we perceive things the way we do, and almost making a
pun about how I’m actually making a rhyme at that point… “I am of my loved ones who have died” –
hitting it with a hammer over things we can all relate to. Going along, I just tried to get to the meat of
certain things. “I am of my darkness out of sight,” that’s the shadow self that sometimes people don’t
see; sometimes people are not the same in the light as they are in the shadows, they appear one way
but when you get them alone they’re quite a different way… just tackling all these subjects…
To me, coming up with lyrics to a song, initially I was just, like, “I’m a musician, I’ll just come up with
lyrics so people don’t think it was an instrumental, and I can justify bringing people into my music,” but
then as I went along, it was like, “No, this is really fun, and if you come up with better lyrics, the song is
better,” and I started to see myself as a person who was looking for diamond clarity in what I was trying
to state. Every word is like a gem – this sounds crazy, but I pictured myself as a lyricist diving into this
cave of gems and mining these words… My criteria for a song is, “It is true? Is it necessary?” And then on
top of that, I’d like to add one more thing: “Is it beautiful?” And there a few subjects that I generally sing
about, the great mysteries – love, death, God; those are big umbrellas. You can write a lot about those
three important mysteries. And “I Have Loved the Story of My Life” encompasses all that stuff, they’re
all incorporated into that lyric.
Where did the idea of using marionettes to represent the different phases of your life come in?
It was sort of a lark. I had received a message from somebody who had found me through social media,
a guy named Michael Serwich, and he wanted to come over for a guitar lesson. And so as I’m teaching
Michael, I learn that he is a marionettist, and he had this incredible little snippet of a video that he sent
me of a puppet he had made in the likeness of Nick Cave. And he’s doing all these incredibly evocative
gestures and lip-synching the song at the same time. And the outfit that Nick is wearing is this little
sharkskin suit. It was such an incredible likeness and I saw that the puppet was really coming to life. And
in that moment, I thought about the song “I Have Loved the Story of My Life,” because I needed to make
a video for it, and I thought, “Well, what could be more disarming than to have it done with puppets?”
Because I think that people can be quite resistant, quite tough, when it comes to dealing with some of
these really vulnerable and transparent lyrics that I’m singing. These are things that people don’t really
like to say out loud, they don’t really like to take a look at, because it might mean maybe that they have
sadness, maybe they have fear, and this is what I’m trying to bring to light, in saying that: “Let’s lean into
our fears, let’s lean into our sadness, and gain joy and courage from admitting that we’re sad and
admitting that we’re scared.” And so I thought, if I could get this guy Michael Serwich to make a puppet of me, maybe it would get people to uncross their arms and lay down their defenses in listening to the tune.
Now, I remember a moment where I was a child, and the mothers in the neighborhood used to get all
the kids in the neighborhood together for one day a week, and we’d do different little art projects and
stuff like that. And one day, we were walking through this apple orchard, and all of a sudden, out of the
apple tree, appeared these hand puppets. They were putting on a show. I remember it like it was
yesterday, it was so magical; I couldn’t see who was operating the puppets, but – it just creates magic.
And then I talked to Alex Cox, and I was asking Alex to come up with a treatment for the video. And Alex
simply said, “You should have the puppets portray different iterations of your career”—Kevin the nerd,
from Repo Man; Karl the Wiener Man, from Straight to Hell; Latino-Rockabilly-War Zander, from my
time with Joe Strummer; punk rock Zander from the Weirdos and the Circle Jerks, and your modern-day,
scruffy-haired narrator. And it was all up and running – I didn’t need Alex to write a treatment; he’d just
done it. And I went back in and wrote a six page story which the puppets follow implicitly – a storyboard.
I did the storyboard, Alex did the initial concept; then I went back to Alex and said, “Can you do some
illustrations for the sets of these films? …the grocery store from Repo Man; Blanco Town in Almeria,
Spain, for Straight to Hell; a “Rock Against the Rich” stage for Joe Strummer; a punk rock stage; and a
tiny little folk venue.
So Alex came up with the initial sets and sent me sketches. Upon filming with the
puppets, we found that the measurements were maybe not right and we couldn’t do rotoscoping, 3D
lighting, or panning across – all these fancy things the animators wanted to do with it. So they were re-
rendered by Mackenzie Lageson, one of two brothers who made the video, so we could have Karl the
Wiener Man walking along in the Almeria desert, and he meets a jackrabbit who he befriends, so he’s
not so lonely anymore. And Kevin the nerd interacting with the cans and subsequently being pushed
into the cans. Then we had the idea of an ejectable limb, so that when he falls, at the line “even though I
fall to pieces,” he’s trying to gather up the arm that has come loose. And for “I’ve had my ups and
downs,” you see punk rock Zander leaping off the stage, and as he lifts off the stage, he’s miraculously
suspended in the air until the end of the video. All these little elements, like the flickering flame, the
dust of the desert rising up as Karl is walking along, these animated cans that Kevin gets knocked into –
just really cool classy elements with 3D lighting, so that the grocery store looks different from the
diffused sunlight of the Southern Spanish desert… I was so pleased with it.
You have a bit of Elvis bling in one of the iterations, what’s that about?
I’m saying he’s the king of rock’n’roll – I mean, I love Elvis! I’m bringing to light that particular phase of
my career, with the Weirdos or the Circle Jerks, my rock’n’roll era. And whatever you want to call it,
hardcore, punk rock—it’s still rock’n’roll, and Elvis comes in as a reminder of who the king is. We’re all
There were a couple of other things I wondered about: Kevin losing his arm, Karl befriending the
jackrabbit, the cat that we see in the background—does any of that have a personal connection to you,
beyond illustrating the lyrics of the song?
Well, the cat, actually… I was hosting some garden parties at my house, putting on concerts, and we’d
have forty of fifty people that would come down to this outdoor area that’s got kind of a roof and some
walls and surrounded by shrubs and plants. I built a little stage there. And my cat Wolfie would come
down and he’d sit on the stage with me when I was performing. And rather than just using a typical folk
venue, the animators and I came up with the idea of using this garden room and the cat being involved.
The jackrabbit was just an idea to sort of have an uplifting moment where Karl, the melancholic hot dog
salesman, finds an ally in the desert.
It’s heartbreaking what happens to Karl in that movie. When you try to audition for the gang and they
Yeah. And a lot of that was for people like yourself who have expressed that they love those movies. I
want to invite people who know me from my history – hence the four iterations, the highlights of my
career. I want to invite them into what I’m doing now. Call me manipulative or whatever, but I’m trying
to cross-market and utilize my story, especially since it’s a song called “I Have Loved the Story of my
Life.” I want to bring people who might be thrilled at seeing a puppet of Kevin the nerd acting out the
scene in the grocery store, or Karl, or people who were fans of Joe Strummer, rest in peace, or who had
seen some of those concerts that I’d done with him. And of course the Circle Jerks and Weirdos. So I’m
not just trying to disarm people; I’m trying to invite them, people that might be familiar with different
iterations of my career, into what I’m doing now.
Absolutely. So – okay, let’s get into some meaty questions, here. Much as I enjoy Repo Man and Straight
the Hell, Karl and Kevin are not very flattering representations. Alex Cox and I have talked about how you were kind of not so thrilled with how much you get abused and tortured in those movies. But – especially with Repo Man – they’re probably what
you’re best known for. Is being identified with them ever irritating or otherwise problematic?
Well, of course, when I’m promoting my new record, which is a pretty serious record, when someone
chimes in and says, “Are you going to sing the wiener song on it?” – it’s a little obvious; it’s a little
cloying and annoying. But at the same time, I have to also be grateful for the fact that somebody knows
me from my history. Whether I played a goofball in a movie or not, that’s not the point. The point is that
I’m trying to bring some of these people into what I’m doing now, and they love those characters and
they love me singing the wiener song and they love me singing the 7-Up song in the grocery store. And
yeah, it did annoy me a lot in the past, but at this point I’m in acceptance and gratitude for all the great
opportunities that I’ve gotten, y’know what I mean?
Right, right. Do you still get money from Repo Man?
I mean, over time, the arts have been sort of like, showing diminishing returns as far as royalties and
residuals, but yeah, when it shows on cable or goes to a foreign market, I might get enough to buy a
couple of cans of cat food and some coffee, or something like that. But it’s like, dude, if you do these
things – and they’re great things, that have been beloved by people who love independent film—don’t rest on your laurels, you have to keep moving forward, creating new content, creating a new catalogue of songs. And I don’t want to be put in a box anyway; that’s the one thing – when you asked the question before
about whether it’s annoying: it’s annoying when people want to define what your potential is, when you
know you’re still striving for your potential, scratching the surface of your potential. It’s like – “You can
put me in a box, but I’m gonna wriggle my way out and show you that there’s more. So bring it on; I’m
just getting started.”
Also curious about something else from the previous part of our interview: you mentioned living with
your jazz teacher. I didn’t know what to make of that; how does one end up living with one’s teacher?
And this was a guy who woke up at 6 in the morning, would do an hour of meditation, and then do an
hour of Hatha yoga, both of which he taught me. And then he would practice his arpeggios and scales.
He transcribed Charlie Parker and John Coltrane solos, so I would do some transcribing. By
lunchtime—he would eat a vegetarian or vegan lunch, so I became a vegetarian; and then take a five
mile run on the beach, which I would do. And then I would come home and have some free time, in
which I would get into the meat of learning a Charlie Parker solo or a Cannonball Adderly solo, or John
Coltrane’s Giant Steps. I wanted to wrap my mind around the most sophisticated music, and see what it
took to become a fully self-disciplined human being in all respects.
It was incredibly helpful, but at a certain point I started to see that, y’know, he would be going out to
bars and playing for fifty bucks, playing this incredible jazz, and people would be talking over it, laughing
over it. And all the songs were old, he was just doing versions of songs that had been written long ago.
And I was like, “Y’know what, I kinda want to move to Los Angeles and play some rock’n’roll and get
some chicks and maybe do some drugs and drink and, y’know, have bigger audiences and make more
money.” I wanted to be a rock star. I figured, “I can get back to this jazz stuff when I’m old.”
But what it did help with, I got into music school when I got to Los Angeles, as a way to continue my
studies and get into the competitive stream. And what I noticed about my jazz studies was that they
helped me to be quick in the studio. People would say “Do you want a chart?” “No, I already learned the
song when I was tuning the guitar” – because it was simpler music that I was playing now.
I’d be able to come up with one part, and a variation; and I knew all my inversions and variations of chords and how
to improvise and run changes, so it made me much quicker, much more versatile. So when the Circle Jerks
said, “Learn three songs,” I was like, “Heh, I’ll learn all three albums and be ready to go on the road with
you in two weeks.” So it gives you a competitive edge to have a disciplined study in a traditional music, whether it be
classical or jazz or bluegrass. I have knowledge of all these things – Latin, jazz, bluegrass, classical. If
punk rock goes out of vogue, I can transition over to something else, or do film scores or transcribe for
strings and choral sections and horns, whatever it is I need to do. Or teach. I just want to be a musician
and pursue my love of music – I don’t necessarily want to be put in a box. It all shows up in my solo
record. You can’t really hear all those influences, I’m not wearing them on my sleeve, but everything up
to that point is in the playing and the writing of those songs.
Okay, coming back to that Circle Jerks audition, do I assume that you meeting the Circle Jerks during the
filming of Repo Man played a role in your joining the band?
No, it didn’t! There was absolutely no recognition whatsoever. At that time, I was living in a 10X10 office
space off of Hollywood Boulevard. My dreams of becoming a big Hollywood actor had crashed and
burned, and I was basically working temp jobs, working at the Chinese theatre as a popcorn boy and
selling tacos and stuff like that, really just menial labour, and I’d say something or do something that got
me fired from all these jobs: I wasn’t qualified to sell popcorn or sell tacos. I’ve been fired from every
little job that I’ve had. But anyway, I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue any more little jobs that were
not music-related, and I moved into this little office for $100 a month. And every once in a while I would
take a job, I’d go down to the unemployment office and see what was on the board. I set up the circus
when it came into town. It sounds Dickensian, almost, like, nobody would believe it, but I pulled up
those circus tents with elephants and a bunch of homeless guys. And I was basically indigent, y’know
what I mean?
But at any rate, I was coming out of the doorway of the Palmer building, which was the office building
that I lived in, and a car pulled up, not unlike Bud in Repo Man. And the two people that were in the car,
one of them was a still photographer on the set of Repo Man and the other one was the actress who
played Debbi in Repo Man (Jennifer Balgobin). And they said, “Hey, the Circle Jerks are looking for a bass
player.” I was like, “Why would you tell me that, man, I’m not a bass player, I’m a guitar player.” And I
was probably in dirty clothes, counting enough pennies to get a taco, or something, and they said, “Well,
you look like you could use a job!” And they gave me the number for Greg Hetson. And he said, “We
want you to learn three songs, we want you to learn ‘Coup d’Etat,’ ‘When the Shit Hits the Fan’ and
‘Wild in the Streets.’” And I was like, “I’ll learn all three albums and blow away the competition.”
And that’s what I did. I had this fretless Fender Precision bass left over from my jazz days, and I went in
there and I played this jazz bass. I guess it was the end of the day, they’d auditioned about fifty guys,
and they asked me a question at the end of the audition, after we had played together: “So why do you
want to be in the Circle Jerks?”
And I said, “Well, I’ve been playing in this band called the Juicy Bananas, down in the Compton/ Watts/
Inglewood area for the last two years. And it’s a funk band; I’m the only white dude in an all-black funk
band.” And I said, “I just don’t foresee that funk and R&B is ever going to make any money. I want to
join a punk band and get rich.” And they thought that that was the dumbest thing they’d ever heard,
and they thought, “Who is this fuckin’ crazy nerd who thinks he’s going to get rich playing from playing
Were you going to punk shows at that point?
Yes, I was. I would go down to Madame Wong’s and see Fear. I loved, uh, not the Cruzados – the Plugz,
who ended up subsequently doing the score for Repo Man. I had met Tito Larriva and Steven Hufsteter
and Chalo Quintana and Tony Marsico. So I’d been introduced to punk, and as a result of being in Repo
Man, I was also in a Suicidal Tendencies video, when I was still trying to be an actor.
“Institutionalized.” I was just an extra – I don’t think there are any, like, featured shots of me. Anyway,
I’d been invited by the director of the video to see a Suicidal Tendencies show at the Olympic
Auditorium about two weeks before I stumbled into the Circle Jerks’ audition, and I was like, “Holy cow,
look at this moshpit! Look at all these people!” And all these people are jumping up on stage, there’s like
ten or fifteen people at a time skankin’ around on the stage. Like, “Holy crap!” Well, I found myself in
the Olympic Auditorium not more than three weeks after I’d auditioned for the Circle Jerks, and I sort of
got a taste of what that was like.
Was that your first big gig, playing punk rock?
We’d sort of gone on tour and done a west coast run before. I think they made me wear a tuxedo for the
first three dates, or something – some sort of hazing or whatever. And I could remember the first live
show that I played with the Circle Jerks, up until that point, we’d been rehearsing, and everybody had
just been sitting or standing when playing the music. Live, they count off the first song, and all of a
sudden Greg is jumping in the air and Keith is writhing around like a madman, so I thought, “Well, I
better do something, I better get crazy!” So I’m running all around playing and stuff, and then the song
ends and everybody is like, “Hey, Zander from Repo Man!” And I’m shaking hands in the audience as the
next song is being counted off. And I missed the beginning of the next song. So they put out a piece of
duct tape about three feet in front of my bass cabinet. For the rest of the three month tour, I had to
stand behind this piece of duct tape.
Hah! Okay, well. I don’t want to keep you too much longer, but I’ve got a couple final questions. I did
read Alex Cox’s book X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, and he
talks about the story of how you beat out Chris Penn for the role of Kevin, and it sounds like Michael
Nesmith played an important role, there. Was hoping you could tell the story from your own side of
things…? [Note: Cox’s version of the story is quoted here, though fans of his films should definitely seek out the book. Did you know that Cassavetes/ Kubrick regular Timothy Carey was once considered for the role of Bud in Repo Man? I didn’t either, until I read
Yeah, I’ll give you the inside skinny on that. The story is that originally Alex had wanted me to contribute
music to Repo Man, but I think as we became friends, while he was writing the script, he sort of
incorporated some of my life into the character of Kevin. He may not cop to that, but I’ll say it out loud –
y’know, I was working all these shitty little jobs In grocery stores, and stealing groceries and bringing
them back to Alex. Alex hired me as a production assistant on the set, because I needed work, and that
was the lowest job on the set. I’d have to clean up cigarette butts after the shoot and just do the worst
stuff that nobody wanted to do. At any rate – they cast me in the role of Kevin, the producers and Alex
got together and said, “You’re going to play Kevin the nerd,” and I’m like, “You’re damn right I am!”
And so I went out with the stylist and bought all my wardrobe and stuff like that, and came back to the
set and they said, “Well, we have bad news for you and good news for us; we just negotiated with Chris
Penn’s agent and you’re no longer going to play Kevin the nerd, Chris Penn is going to play the role.”
And I said, “Well fuck you, I AM Kevin the nerd, you’re making a huge mistake, you’ll see.”
And that night I went home and took out a trimmer and shaved off the sides of my hair into a Mohawk,
but not quite all the way down, because I thought, “Yeah, Kevin wouldn’t do that.” It was kind of a Travis
Bickle move, but I shaved my head into a faux-hawk and I came back to the set next day and put myself
in character, just to show them they were making a big mistake. Chris Penn comes on to do his first
scene, and he was fucking horrible, dude. Y’know, rest in peace, Chris – maybe you didn’t have the
experience back then or something like that. But… he sucked!
And so as a PA, one of my duties was to deliver the dailies, the film that had been shot, so it could be
viewed at the end of the day. And so I bring these reels of film in and I’m lurking around the corner as
Michael Nesmith and Alex Cox are watching the footage of the day, and I’m watching Michael turn to
Alex and say, “Holy shit, this guy is just terrible! What are we going to do about this?” And Alex said,
“Well, originally I had wanted Zander to play the role of Kevin the nerd,” and Michael said, “Let’s give
him a shot.”
Now, nobody had ever told me that that had occurred; I had been eavesdropping from around the
corner. But I knew. So I continued to show up on the set and do my job, almost in the character of Kevin
the nerd, and then two weeks later I show up at work and there’s a star on a trailer with my name
underneath it. And it was the day after my 21 st birthday that I did the grocery store scene. I’d never
acted a day in my life, but I will tell you this, I was a class clown and I’d performed on stage many times
and I really couldn’t care less if somebody is watching me doing something. Fifty crew members and a
camera don’t bother me. I went up there, I read my lines, I played the part, and I guess I did a good job,
because Alex kept on hiring me in all these other movies.
But I’d say that was the flashpoint of my entire career. If Michael Nesmith had not given Alex the green
light to have me play Kevin the nerd, I don’t know if I would have met the Circle Jerks or Joe Strummer or continued contributing music to Alex’s films. I wouldn’t have acted in all these other films or had anyof these opportunities. So I really owe it all to Michael Nesmith, rest in peace. And Alex.
I also want to ask you about Straight to Hell. You were cast with some really larger-than-life people in
that film – Joe Strummer, the Pogues, Elvis Costello, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Jim Jarmusch, Courtney
Love… it’s quite the cast. Do you have any particular stories or memories from that shoot? Who were you
closest with? I don’t know where the gold is hidden, here, so I don’t know exactly where to dig, but I’m
sure there’s gotta be a great story there.
Well, you know, it was an incredible cast and, y’know, because I’m such a lover of the guitar, I always
brought my guitar on location with me. And I think we might have talked about this, but upon landing in
Almeria and walking into the hotel lobby, I was met by Joe Strummer, who said, “Hey, man, your
character needs a song to sell his hot dogs!” And so before I could even unpack my bags, I was sitting
down with Joe and Miguel Sandoval and writing the lyrics to “Salsa Y Ketchup.” And that was kind of
start of it. And so I bring my guitar to the set, and there’s Elvis Costello, and I find myself, like, playing
“Alison” with Elvis Costello, just one-on-one, playing guitar, him singing. Or with Shane McGowan
playing “Dirty Old Town.”
But Joe Strummer was lurking around the corner watching me, and I think that mainly what impressed
him was that I was learning a lot of flamenco tricks from the locals. Because everybody in Spain plays
guitar better than anybody in the US. They’re just incredible. It’s part of their culture. So I was very
curious about that music, and buying instruments from the local music shops – Flamenco guitar and
Spanish laúd [AKA “laúd árabe,” the Spanish term for the Arabic oud] and playing these things. So you
say Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Shane McGowan, and Joe, y’know – that was great, but I remember
when we had the wrap party, there was a guy named Juan Torrès in the movie, and Juan Torrès was a
famous flamenco singer; and his whole family came out to play this wrap party. The son was playing
guitar, and the grandson was playing guitar – so three generations of men in the family, and the
daughter was dancing. There were all these celebrities around, but I was sitting in front of the stage with
my mouth agape, just basically in total wonder of these incredible players and dancers, and all the
celebrities disappeared for me. Because I was like – yes, there are very talented people, but oh my God,
the passion in this music and the tradition in this music, and the culture… it set me off on this whole,
like, research of Latin music, which carried on into Nicaragua, when we made Walker, and subsequently
was the catalyst of Joe asking me to play all the stringed instruments on the Walker soundtrack, because by then I had collected guitarron, vihuela, charango, bajo sexto and laúd, classical guitars and requinto guitar. I had all these incredible Latin
instruments and learned how to play them all in their traditional tunings from my jazz training and
knowing theory and composition and stuff. And everything informed everything else.
So yeah, it was great to be around all that celebrity, but had I been starstruck, I don’t think Joe would
have ever treated me as a peer and asked me to play guitar and be the musical director in his band. So,
Thank you very much, Zander. I don’t have anything else, but is there anything I’ve missed?
Well, just put it on blast that my solo album is now available through Bandcamp and through Blind Owl
Records. There’s a beautiful gatefold vinyl coming out of the Czech Republic. All these experiences I’ve
had, all of the things we’re talking about are incorporated into this record, so if you’re a fan of my past
work, please follow me into the present and check out my debut solo album. After having a 40 year
career, professionally, I was well-prepared to make this album, it’s a very important record for me, and I
think it’s a very good album, I’m very proud of it. So please buy it and listen to it and let me know what