James Sclavunos is an American drummer, multi-instrumentalist musician, record producer and writer. He is best known as a drummer, having been a member of two seminal no wave groups in the late 1970s (Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and 8 Eyed Spy, both alongside Lydia Lunch). He is also noted for stints in Sonic Youth and the Cramps, and has been a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds since 1994. Sclavunos has led his own group the Vanity Set since 2000.
Sclavunos, a half-Greek and half-Italian from Brooklyn, New York (known for his exceptional height at 6'7"), was memorably described in the pages of The Wire as an "infamous elegant degenerate". He has long been a prime mover in New York City's vibrant underground music scene, helping to kick-start the vital no wave movement in the late 1970s with Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and 8 Eyed Spy (both with Lydia Lunch), before playing with Sonic Youth and the Cramps. He has also recorded albums with Grinderman, Sonic Youth, Tav Falco's Panther Burns and Congo Norvell as well as recording sessions with many artists including Marianne Faithfull, Iggy Pop, Beth Orton, and Seasick Steve. He has also toured with Lunch, Alex Chilton and Wreckless Eric.
A key member of the Bad Seeds since 1994 and a founding member of the Bad Seeds offshoot Grinderman, he also formed his own New York-based musical ensemble The Vanity Set in 2000, releasing two studio albums to date.
Further to his work as a musician, Sclavunos has produced a wide range of bands including Gogol Bordello, the Horrors, the Jim Jones Revue, Black Moth and Teenage Mothers (Lead guitarist and co-vocalist Raph Brous has dedicated his upcoming novel, Empire of Ants, to him).
He has done several remixes, both on his own and as one half of Silver Alert (along with Vanity Set bandmate Peter Mavrogeorgis). In 2012, Silver Alert performed "Faustian Pact" at the Perth International Arts Festival in Western Australia, a live adaptation of FW Murnau's film Faust, produced in collaboration with director/choreographer Micki Pellerano.
In 2012, Sclavunos began an ongoing collaboration with Australian performance artist/musician Michaela Davies on a composition titled "FM-2030" (named for the transhumanist philosopher Fereidoun M. Esfandiary) utilizing programmed electro-muscular stimulation of classical string players to generate involuntary playing movements. The composition premiered at the 2013 Sonica Festival in Glasgow.
While attending NYU School of Arts, Jim Sclavunos co-founded No Magazine, an underground fanzine devoted to coverage of NY punk rock and the burgeoning No Wave movement. He briefly fronted his own band Mimi And The Dreamboats, before joining No Wave bands Red Transistor, and The Gynecologists with avant-garde composer Rhys Chatham and Nina Canal to play drums.
In 1977 Sclavunos joined Lydia Lunch’s band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks as bass guitarist, releasing both an EP Baby Doll (1979) and a compilation mini-album on pink vinyl on Lust/Unlust. A short-lived side-project with Lydia called Beirut Slump, features Sclavunos’ first recorded work as drummer on the group's single "Try Me / Staircase" (1979) on Migraine. Following their European tour in June 1979, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks broke up, and Lydia and Jim joined 8 Eyed Spy.
In 1981, following the death of bass player George Scott, 8 Eyed Spy released a self-titled album on Fetish (UK) and cassette compilation on cassette only label ROIR (US). Sclavunos designed the covers for both the ROIR 8 Eyed Spy release and for Suicide’s Half Alive album (1981). In 1980, Lydia and Jim formed a short-lived blues project, The Devil Dogs touring the Midwest. Jim also did a short East Coast tour with Alex Chilton, before moving to Memphis and joining Alex’s side-project Tav Falco's Panther Burns, ultimately releasing an EP Blow Your Top (1982). Playing saxophone on Lydia Lunch’s In Limbo album (1984), Sclavunos meets and plays with Thurston Moore. Invited to join Sonic Youth following year, he played drums on their first album Confusion Is Sex for Glenn Branca’s Neutral label.
Co-founding Trigger & the Thrill Kings with Dutch singer Truus DeGroot, the duo toured extensively throughout The Netherlands and Germany with various line-ups including Jim Duckworth on guitar and Annene Kaye on keyboards. His recordings with Lydia Lunch are re-issued as part of her 1986 compilation album Hysterie and Confusion Is Sex is re-issued on SST Records.
Sclavunos recorded with Kid Congo Powers’ band Congo Norvell releasing Lullabies (1992, Fiasco). His recording sessions with The Cramps produced albums Look Mom No Head! (1991, Restless) and EP Blues Fix (1992, Big Beat). In the Fall of 1991 Sclavunos left Los Angeles to be reunited with Lydia Lunch, touring Europe with her and Rowland S. Howard under the band name Shotgun Wedding; live recordings were later released under various titles, including Shotgun Wedding Live In Siberia.
Sclavunos both lived in and toured Europe with Wreckless Eric and Tav Falco's Panther Burns in the period 1992 – 1994. While living in Vienna, Austria, he played drums on, and arranged Panther Burns’ Shadow Dancer album in 1992 (released on Intercord in 1995). He records Music to Remember Him By (Priority, 1994) with Congo Norvell, produced Mick Harvey of The Birthday Party and Bad Seeds. This collaboration led to a subsequent invitation to join Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 1994 Let Love In European tour as organist/ percussionist. Sclavunos stayed on for their US Lollapalooza tour and became a permanent member that same year.
Sclavunos generally plays a variety of auxiliary percussion with the Bad Seeds (e.g., vibraphone, maracas, cowbell, tubular bells), while Thomas Wydler plays a standard drum kit. But when Wylder was sidelined with health problems circa 2013 and unable to tour, Sclavunos took over the drums and has also doubled on keyboards during live performances.
Playing percussion and drums, Sclavunos records the Murder Ballads album (1996, Reprise) with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, including the UK charting duet single with Kylie Minogue "Where the Wild Roses Grow". In 1995 Sonic Youth’s Confusion Is Sex was re-issued on Geffen. In 1996 Sclavunos plays drums on the Congo Norvell album The Dope, The Lies, The Vaseline (Priority, unreleased) produced by Joe Chiccarelli. The following year, in addition to drumming, Sclavunos coproduces the final Congo Norvell album Abnormals Anonymous (Jetset, 1997). He records The Boatman's Call with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1997, Mute/Reprise). Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform at Royal Albert Hall; the recording is later released as Live At the Royal Albert Hall bonus CD with Best of album (1998, Reprise). An 8 Eyed Spy compilation album is released on Atavistic (1998). That same year Sclavunos produced Introducing The Gunga Din, debut album for NY-based band, The Gunga Din (1999, Tractor Beam). He also played drums and produced sessions for NY singer/songwriter Alice Texas, included on her album Gold (self-released, 2000).
Sclavunos’ first solo album The Vanity Set is released in 2000 on Naked Spur Productions/Hitchyke. He joins The Gunga Din as drummer, touring and playing on their 2nd album Glitterati (2000, Jetset). He produces Gogol Bordello’s Voi-La Intruder (2002, Rubric) and mixes Boss Hog's "Fear For You" on their Whiteout album (2000, In The Red). No More Shall We Part, Scalvunos' third studio recording with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ is released on Mute Records in April 2001.
Sclavunos produced his second solo album, Little Stabs of Happiness (2003, Cargo) under the banner of The Vanity Set. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released Nocturama (2003, Anti) and Abbatoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004, Anti). Throughout this period, Sclavunos toured extensively, drumming with both Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and in Nick Cave’s solo performances in the stripped-down line-up that would eventually become Grinderman. The same line-up of musicians also recorded several tracks with Marianne Faithfull for her album Before The Poison (2005). Sclavunos played drums and percussion on Nick Cave’s score for the Icelandic theatre company Vesturport’s production of Woyzeck, performed at the Barbican Theatre in London in 2005, as well as a cover version of J.B. Lenoir’s "I Feel So Good" for Wim Wenders’ Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues – The Soul Of A Man. In 2005 The Vanity Set released as the B-side to their "The Big Bang" single, a cover version of a previously unreleased Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds song "Sheep May Safely Graze" featuring guest vocalist Alice Texas (She-He-It Records). In 2006, Sclavunos produced a session for The Horrors, which resulted in their first two charting singles on Universal, "Count in Fives" and UK charting "Gloves"; both songs included on their debut album Strange House (2007, Stolen Transmission/Universal). Sclavunos produced the track "You Hang The Moon For Me" for former bandmate Kid Congo Powers, which ultimately appears on his compilation album Solo Cholo (2006, New York Night Train).
In 2007 Grinderman released their first self-titled album and debut in the headline slot at All Tomorrow's Parties in April 2007. Sclavunos drummed on Cave's score for the 2007 soundtrack, The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released their 14th studio album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008, Anti), which won the MOJO Honours List Award for Best Album 2008. Grinderman headlined major European festival dates including Roskilde Festival, Latitude Festival, and Summercase. Sclavunos played drums on "Just Like A King", a duet with Seasick Steve and Nick Cave which appeared on Seasick Steve's 2008 album I Started Out with Nothin and I Still Got Most of It Left.
Grinderman 2 was released in 2010 and Grinderman toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and Australia. That same year, Sclavunos produced and performed on Beth Orton’s cover of The Beatles' "I Me Mine/Dig It" for the Mojo Magazine special edition vinyl release of Let It Be Revisited (Mojo Proudly Presents The Beatles Final Album From 1970 Re-Imagined). He also produced The Jim Jones Revue album Burning Your House Down (2010 - PIAS). For Record Store Day 2011, Mute Records released a red vinyl 12" of remixes of the track "Evil" off Grinderman 2. Silver Alert (Jim Sclavunos and Peter Mavrogeorgis) contributed their version featuring The National’s Matt Berninger. 2011 also sees the release of another Sclavunos remix, "Faith Unfolds" by S.C.U.M. (Mute). Sclavunos produced David J. Roch's album Skin & Bones, the title track of which was used repeatedly in routines on the US television series Dancing With The Stars.
On Valentine's Day 2012 Sclavunos presented Faustian Pact, a multi-media film and live magic ritual performance and musical improvisation piece at The Perth Arts Festival with Micki Pellerano. Sclavunos produced and contributed lyrics to The Killing Jar, the debut album by Leeds-based metal band Black Moth (New Heavy Sounds); produced and added keyboards to Raise Up The Sheets by the NY-based band Freshkills; and produced The Jim Jones Revue’s The Savage Heart (PIAS). He co-wrote and contributed vocals and synth to the track "Lost American" from the solo album On The Mat And Off by fellow Bad Seed Thomas Wydler, and produced and played on Am I Vertical? (Inner Ear, 2013) by Greek art noise-pop band The Callas. Sclavunos’ remix as Silver Alert of Philip Glass’s composition "Etoile Polaire" appeared on Rework: Philip Glass Remixed (Orange Mountain, 2012). Also a Depeche Mode track remix "Should Be Higher" (Columbia, 2013) is credited under his own name. In February 2013 Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds released Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd) and toured the album extensively around the world. At the end of their North American stint, a stripped-down version of the band (including Sclavunos on drums) recorded the album Live from KCRW, which was released that same year. Sclavunos begins his collaboration with Australian musician and performance artist Michaela Davies on a composition utilizing EMS to create involuntary movement in performing musicians. The piece entitled "FM-2030" (and dedicated to the Futurist philosopher of the same name) premieres at the Sydney Opera House in 2013. At the end of the year, he played drums on sessions with Wendy James on her album The Price Of The Ticket (2014) alongside James Williamson (Iggy & The Stooges) and ex-Sex Pistols’ bassist Glen Matlock.
In the early half of 2014 Sclavunos produced a second album for Black Moth, Condemned To Hope (New Heavy Sounds), Away From The Water for London-based band Lola Colt (One Little Indian), and the single "I Am Mark E Smith" by Fat White Family. Axels & Sockets (The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project) is released with the featured track "Nobody’s City" mixed by Sclavunos: a duet with Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, with guitar by Thurston Moore. More touring ensued for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, with festivals and a second run through North America. 2014 also sees the release of Nicole Atkins' Slow Phaser album featuring three co-writes Sclavunos has done with her, "Red Ropes", "We Wait Too Long", and "Above As Below". Following a run of North American dates with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Sclavunos produced and played drums on Beth Jeans Houghton’s Welcome Back To Milk (released under the name Du Blonde on Mute, 2015). He also plays drums on Versa Vice (2015, Bronzerat Records), the first solo album from Joe Gideon (of Joe Gideon & the Shark). Sclavunos also plays a one-off gig with Dave Davies of The Kinks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, filling in for drummer Dennis Diken (The Smithereens).
2016 sees the release of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds documentary One More Time With Feeling, as well as the band’s 16th studio album Skeleton Tree. Sclavunos is reunited with Truus DeGroot (recording as Plus Instruments) recording drums for 3 tracks on her Signal Through The Waves album (2016, Blowpipe) while on tour with her in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Two more Sclavunos productions are released this year: All Your Happy Life by The Wytches (2016, Heavenly), and Half Kiss Half Pain by The Callas (2106, Inner Ear).
Extensive international touring with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds followed the release of their Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds compilation album (2017, Mute/BMG). In between, Sclavunos remixed "Beaches" by the Belgian band Warhaus (PIAS) and is reunited with Tav Falco to play drums on Tav's single "The Drone Ranger" (Blang). "A Night of Serious Drinking" and "Brokedown Luck" two songs co-written with Nicole Atkins were released on her solo album Goodnight Rhonda Lee (Single Lock). One More Time With Feeling is released as a DVD.
More international touring including North, South and Latin Americas with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds is framed by the release of Distant Sky (Live In Copenhagen), both the concert film and an EP of the same name featuring excerpts from the film. Sclavunos produced the Pop the Bubble EP for female duo Dolls (Death Waltz Originals), and plays drums on Sterling Roswell’s 10" limited edition vinyl release The Lonesome Death Of Johnny Ace.
2019 - Present
The Last King, an album by Irish singer songwriter Pat Dam Smyth and mixed by Sclavunos, was released in June on Quite Arch. Production of Sclavunos' as yet untitled duet album with Nicole Atkins has continued; but earlier in the year they made their first official live appearances at SXSW, Willie Nelson's Luck Reunion festival and a benefit for London venue Heavenly Social, and released "A Man Like Me", a teaser track from the album. In addition, Sclavunos travelled to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama to record percussion for Atkins' upcoming solo album, and to Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee to perform a live soundtrack to the cult film Carnival Of Souls with members of Mercury Rev. He has also recorded drums for Wendy James' upcoming album Queen High Straight, and has produced and engineered as well as recorded drums and percussion for Joe Gideon's single "Expandable Mandible" and his album Armagideon (Clouds Hill). Ghosteen, the new double album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released in October 2019.
Selective list of bands
- The Gynecologists (1978)
- Information (1978)
- Red Transistor (1978)
- Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch (1978–79)
- Beirut Slump with Lydia Lunch (1978–79)
- 8 Eyed Spy with Lydia Lunch (1979)
- Devil Dogs (1980)
- Sonic Youth (1982)
- Tav Falco's Panther Burns (1983, 1993)
- Trigger & the Thrill Kings (1983–86)
- Congo Norvell (1990–1998)
- The Cramps (1991–92)
- Shotgun Wedding with Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard (1992)
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1994–present)
- The Gunga Din (1999–2000)
- The Vanity Set (2000–present)
- Grinderman (2006–2011, 2013)
- Silver Alert (2012–present)
- Joe Gideon (2015–present)
- Nicole Atkins and Jim Sclavunos (2019–present)
Selected producer credits
- Boss Hog – "Fear for You" (1999)
- Gogol Bordello – Voi-La Intruder (1999)
- Bellmer Dolls – The Big Cats Will Throw Themselves Over EP (2006)
- The Horrors – "Count in Fives" and "Gloves" (2006), Strange House (2007)
- Beth Orton – "I Me Mine" (2010)
- David J. Roch – Skin & Bones (2011)
- The Jim Jones Revue – Burning Your House Down (2010), The Savage Heart (2012)
- Black Moth – The Killing Jar (2012), Condemned to Hope (2014)
- Freshkills – Raise Up the Sheets (2012)
- The Callas – Am I Vertical (2013), Half Kiss Half Pain (2016)
- Fat White Family - I Am Mark E Smith (2014)
- Lola Colt – Away From the Water (2014)
- Du Blonde – Welcome Back to Milk (2015)
- The Wytches - All Your Happy Life (2016)
- Dolls - Armchair Psychiatrist (2017)
- Pat Dam Smith - The Last King (2019)
- Joe Gideon - Armagideon (2020)
Selected remix credits as Silver Alert
- Grinderman – "Evil ('Silver Alert' Remix)" featuring Matt Berninger of the National (2011)
- S.C.U.M. – "Faith Unfolds (Silver Alert Remix)" (2011)
- Philip Glass – "Etoile Polaire: Little Dipper" – Silver Alert remix on REWORK_Philip Glass Remixed (2012)
Selected remix credits as Jim Sclavunos
- Breathless – "Next Time You Fall (Jim Sclavunos Remix)" (2013)
- Depeche Mode – "Should Be Higher (Jim Sclavunos from Grinderman Remix)" (2013)
- Warhaus - Beaches (Jim Sclavunos Remix)" (2017)