It was a little intimidating to meet Zander Schloss. He was Otto’s best friend Kevin in Repo Man, perhaps my favorite non-Chinese movie of all time, and he has played with some of L.A.’s most storied punk bands—not to mention Joe Strummer from The Clash, the first punk band I ever saw! He’s also a big guy. But it turns out Zander is a sasquatch-sized teddy bear with a booming laugh who has played at more than a few all-ages matinee benefit shows that I organize to support the music program at my daughter’s elementary school in Chinatown.
My wife, daughter, and I love bumping into Zander every now and then in my mother-in-law’s neighborhood, and when he mentioned to me that he was looking for a way to get people to check out his new video, I jumped at the chance to help out. His lovely, acoustic, patient songs are empathetic to the point of transparency and heartbreakingly beautiful explorations of human frailty. And, yes, they are punk rock.
To put “My Dear Blue” in context, I asked Zander some questions about his current music and how he got there. Just like how it is with his art and his hugs, he did not hold back when it came to answers.
Martin: Most punkers know about you through the Circle Jerks, Joe Strummer, Thelonious Monster, and maybe even the Weirdos. Can you share with them how you arrived at your new solo work, which is very different?
Zander: I suppose most people are familiar with the work I’ve done with these bands because these references are the most widely visible and available to them. Plus they’re great at what they do. Suffice to say, punk rock has become a very popular and important movement. Who’d of thunk it way back when? I consider punk rock to be the last real cultural revolution, which, sadly, we have been due for another unique social/artistic renaissance for about forty years.
I’m grateful to have landed in the right place at the right time to experience it, but I don’t really hang on to my past glories or stay stuck in that era. I’m about what I’m doing right now in the moment. I think many artists experience the gang (public) saying that you have reached your potential very early on once you have achieved something that is widely considered to be great. Well, I guess I must be punk rock because I say fuck that! Don’t put me in a box that’s labeled “this is your potential.” I got a lot more to do and I’m just scratching the surface of my potential now. If the punk rock cops say you’re not punk rock, I’ll do my best to prove them wrong. Conversely, if they say you are punk rock and that’s all we care about, I’ll grow my hair long, wear a suit and tie, and write the most soft and gentle, heartfelt music I can muster. Ha! Anti-punk punk.
I have always tried to be as authentic and open-minded of an individual as I could possibly be and follow my heart, so I really haven’t arrived at a so-called new direction in my solo work at all. A lot of people may not know that in my artistic journey, I’ve been working in many different genres of music all the way along: cinematic soundtracks, Americana, Latin, folk, jazz, et cetera. If it’s good quality and well-crafted, I like it. I always do what I want for myself and try to stay out of the results of what other people think of me or my work. I used to get made fun of quite a bit for being a trained musician and a non-punk back in the day.
My curiosity and diverse taste in music didn’t seem to bother Joe Strummer when he asked me to be his musical director and guitarist after The Clash broke up. Curiosity seemed to be his motivation in everything I observed him doing. Plus connecting with people, which is what I’m trying to do in my music by being transparent. I don’t see the need in acting tough and putting up a front. I don’t think it works. Ha! I hope Donald reads this part.
I haven’t really changed all that much in my approach to life and music in general or as a result of this pandemic. I’ve always done it for myself ’cause I love doing it and it’s therapeutic. If people wanna come along for the ride, they are welcome. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, I’ve always believed that we are all connected and vulnerable to outside forces beyond our control. In sharing my new music, I’m just doing my part and giving whoever wants to listen a little love. Hey! The world is fucked, so why not be cool?
Martin: Once I described your songs as “sad” and you corrected me that they were “melancholy.” Can you describe that nuance for us?
Zander: Funny, I think I got really offended when you said my songs were sad and became immediately defensive. My ego got involved because you had described my music that way in your promotion for the Chinatown music benefit, and I’m supposed to be some kind of punk rock icon. I think being on the bill doing what I do now, with all the other louder, more abrasive bands, made me feel a little sheepish and self-conscious at the time. It’s kinda difficult to lean into the fear and gather courage to bring it to the public, potentially risking their harsh judgment. I think that’s one of the reasons why I do it, too.
It’s exhilarating to go out there alone and exposed and walk on the high wire with no safety net, and I’m a little self-destructive to say the least. Much harder than going on stage with a band like, say, the Circle Jerks, fortified with aggression, speed, and volume. I often tell the audience that just because I’m playing soft, folksy music up here doesn’t mean I won’t jump off the stage and kick your ass. [laughs] I think I also get a sadistic thrill out of thumbing my nose at people’s perceptions of what a good ol’ punk rocker is supposed to be doing at the ripe age of fifty-eight. Getting back to your question, most of my music is melancholy rather than just sad. The distinction being that it’s tender, hopeful, and beautiful in the face of darkness, which I feel results in potential transcendence and healing. It’s that sweet spot where we revel in reminiscing about the good times and people in our lives as well as relishing our pain, heartache, and defeats.
To be perfectly honest with you, Martin, some of it really is just sad purposefully. I think it’s important for me to acknowledge some of those phantoms swirling around in my head and let them just be what they are without trying to fix them, push them away, or ignore them. There are legitimate reasons to be sad. If you’re not sad, you’re probably a dumbsky, repressed, crazy, narcissistic sociopath, and so on and so forth. It’s my personal crusade to let people know it’s okay to feel.
Martin: Your musical trajectory includes a detour into the movies of Alex Cox. That’s how you met Strummer, of course, but has it helped you as a performer on stage and in the studio, or even simply as an artist?
Zander: I don’t think playing bit parts in independent films really translates to any of my musical endeavors. In fact, I think that memorizing and performing music on the spot, whether being onstage or in the studio, actually informs the acting. Plus, I was always pretty extroverted and a class clown who did poorly in school and didn’t give a fuck, which allowed me to act in front of the camera, fifty crew members, and all the other actors. I never really cared about celebrity, so I wasn’t intimidated.
I will say this, though. I may have never met the Circle Jerks or Joe Strummer if I hadn’t been acting and contributing music to Alex Cox’s films. I met the Jerks on the set of Repo Man and Joe Strummer while I was in London playing guitar on the Sid and Nancy soundtrack. That’s what led to me joining the Jerks in ’85 and after two records and multiple tours, taking a leave of absence to join up with Joe to do the Walker soundtrack and Earthquake Weather, live in London, tour, and be his band leader for several years. I think I kinda owe it all to Alex Cox. Thanks, Alex!
Martin: The last time I saw you play, you mentioned that you looked forward to doing the Circle Jerks reunion shows and that you may bring your guitar to play your humble solo music at small bars, coffee shops, and living rooms between gigs. That is really going to happen, right?
Zander: I did look very forward to playing those Circle Jerks reunion shows, as well as I’m sure many others who have been waiting for ten-plus years to see us. We would have started playing shows and festivals all around the world starting May 2020. Seems redundant to even mention that the tour and all tours will be postponed until further notice.
“Good grief,” I selfishly thought at first. “I’m like the Charlie Brown of rock’n’ roll, I can’t seem to do anything right.” Well, it appears I’m not at fault this time. The virus is what’s happening now. I don’t need to like it, but I do need to accept it. Keith is a diabetic and at high risk, so when the news came out, all Circle Jerks rehearsals and activities were halted immediately. It’s a shame because we were sounding really good and building our endurance to go out there and lay waste. We’ll just have to see what the touring/live venue landscape looks like when things open up again. Are people gonna be in the mosh pit social distancing with masks on? It’s gonna be pretty weird. We don’t wanna be punk rock guinea pigs too early on, but I think we can still look forward to the 41st anniversary of Group Sex in spring of 2021.
I mentioned wanting to go down the block on off-days to play little acoustic solo shows on the side, and I would still like to do that with the permission of the band, management, booking, and anybody else who may or may not get their feathers ruffled by my anti-punk, furthest-thing-from-punk-rock aesthetic. Yeah, I’ll play your living room or local coffee shop while the baristas loudly steam that pesky milk for your soy lattes. Then you can come to the rock show and see a completely different side of me. What can I say? I’m a multifaceted, complicated man.
Martin: But while we wait for shows, can you talk about the “My Dear Blue” video as well as other new songs that we can look forward to checking out at home?
Zander: Hey, thanks for asking about “My Dear Blue,” and thanks to Razorcake for the video premiere and accompanying Q&A with you, Martin Wong. This video is directed by my friend Marco Vera, who I met down in Mexicali, Mexico. He directed the “Calexico and Mexicali” video for Sean and Zander. This video is also shot by my friend Gilbert Salas, who was the cinematographer for “Retablo” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” videos, also with my former acoustic duo project Sean and Zander. We wrote, scouted the location, cast, and filmed this video, guerrilla style, with no budget. The location being at La Cita downtown, shot during business hours while the doors were open for business. Gilbert owns all of his own camera gear and Marco is also an editor for Fender now so he was able to direct and edit.
The video is filmed in black and white and looks very cinematic. Almost like a Wim Wenders film. I mean, it’s incredible we were able to pull this off in the short time we were able to use the bar as daytime drinkers were whiling the day away before the entire city was ordered on lockdown. The premise for the video is, I think, very relatable to fellow acoustic musicians and songwriters who feel a disconnect with their audiences as they feel devalued by the public in smaller bar settings. That feeling of disconnection is portrayed as a vicious circle here, as a pretty girl comes to the stage, turns her back to the band and takes a selfie only to be hit on by jackals as she returns to the table. People seem to be in one state of disengagement or another as the video unfolds which, in turn, my performance is informed by, making me feel isolated and devalued as an artist. It’s pretty hardcore and real.
The song “My Dear Blue” is about depression and isolation, personifying “Blue” or sadness lyrically: “Blue, you’ve never been wanted, you’ll never be needed, not by me... and my blue, I wanna be wanted, I wanna be needed, not by you.” Some would say, Martin, that this is sad, but I think there’s a certain amount of redemption and healing in observing sadness and speaking to it directly. The video also makes a statement about the way people may or may not value music and its live performance which, in this case, only one person seems to appreciate during the course of the song. I imagine we are all feeling the loss of going to live shows right about now. Perhaps, as a positive side effect of the pandemic, we will all reevaluate the importance of its power. I will continue to trickle out singles and videos from my upcoming solo album Song about Songs on streaming services and YouTube throughout 2020.
Martin: Anything else to add?
Zander: Stay safe everyone, and good luck until we meet again.