Zander Schloss (of the Circle Jerks & Joe Strummer) shares the video for his song “I Have Loved The Story of My Life,” and discusses stepping on his own, his roots, and, well, the story of his life.
Stream: “I Have Loved the Story of My Life” – Zander Schloss
I learned that when you get an opportunity, you say yes. And then you come overly prepared. And that will lead to another opportunity. And literally, I just kept snowballing and snowballing as a result of that attitude.
There’s a myriad of qualities which can dub an artist as “great.” For some, it’s perfection in their style, an unrelenting commitment to the tradition that they’ve designed. For some, it’s precision, technical perfection. For Zander Schloss, it’s range, an ability to adapt and challenge his own talents to a diverse spectrum of genres. Though best known for his work in punk bands like the Circle Jerks or Weirdos, or accompanying The Clash’s Joe Strummer, Schloss’s background was built on an assortment of sounds. In his earliest years, his siblings informed his music, with his sisters tastes ranging from motown to acidic jam bands like the Grateful Dead, and his brother preferring the Beatles/Joplin/Doors lined Top 40 of his childhood.
“When I turned 12 years old and my brain was forming and able to make my own musical decisions,” Schloss chuckled, “I started listening to a guy named Bob Dylan. He inspired me to want to pick up the guitar, and it turns out I had a pretty good ear, so I learned how to play guitar by ear…Dylan’s Nashville Skyline was the first album I ever learned front-to-back.” Schloss paralleled Dylan’s transformation in moving to New York with his own transformation when moving to California with his mom during his adolescence. While Dylan took on a “duskbowl-ish, Woody Guthrie” character after moving to NYC, Schloss took on a Dylan-esque persona in his voyage out West.
This Dylan-centric origin story partially informs Schloss’s newfound sound in his first solo release, “I Have Loved The Story of My Life.” The song, as the title suggests, is a reflection on Schloss’s colorful history, with the music video illustrating that past with marionette puppets. Though, to some, puppets are derivative of the unmatched terror of Goosbumps or Stephen King, Schloss’s use of the medium harkens back to feelings of tender, childlike joy. “When I was a little kid,” he said, “the mothers in the neighborhood would kind of take care of all the children in the neighborhood and like, give them games that pay instantly to cash app and other activities as well. One day they took us to this apple orchard and as we were walking, a puppet popped out behind the tree branch. I remember it so vividly, it was like magic and I had no idea there was a person that was controlling that puppet. For the video, I thought that the puppets would be a little disarming. Many adults get into this adult way of thinking where it’s like, I’m tough, I’m not sentimental, I’m not tender. But the puppet, it reaches this tender, childlike place in us where we put down our guard.”
The puppets, all made up to resemble Schloss, represent him in different roles that he’s played in his life, both figuratively and literally. A part of Schloss’s diverse background comes from his roles in Alex Cox films, a colleague and friend of Schloss’s. The first puppet represents his role as Kevin The Nerd in Cox’s film, Repo Man, with the second being Schloss as Karl The Weiner Man from Cox’s Straight To Hell. Schloss and Cox became acquainted while Schloss was playing with a band called The Juicy Bananas and when Cox was a grad student at UCLA. “I used to go down there and put up flyers saying ‘I will score your student film for free,’ and I ran into a graduate student named Alex Cox there, who was quickly leaving UCLA film school and making his first feature film which was Repo Man.” After Alex became aware of The Juicy Bananas, he opted to use their music in the soundtrack. From there, after a series of casting changes, Cox chose to give the role of Kevin The Nerd to Schloss, thus landing him his first featured role in a film.
Many adults get into this adult way of thinking where it’s like, I’m tough, I’m not sentimental, I’m not tender. But the puppet, it reaches this tender, childlike place in us where we put down our guard.
Kevin The Nerd, clandestinely, was Schloss’s introduction to the Circle Jerks, for whom Schloss’s fourth puppet represents. After Schloss’s big break didn’t quite stick the landing, he was informed of an audition to play bass for the up-and-coming punk band, the Circle Jerks, who had provided some acoustic stylings for Repo Man. Schloss, who was trained as a guitar player rather than a bassist, was hesitant at first. “My acting aspirations kind of quickly turned into like a horror story where I ended up living in a 10 by 10 office space with no running hot and cold water, no bathroom, no kitchen, no television, no telephone. And I’m walking out on Hollywood Boulevard counting change for burritos, and a car pulls up. A couple of people that had worked on the film, said, ‘hey, man, did you know the Circle Jerks are looking for a bass player?’ And I said, ‘why are you talking to me? You know, I’m a guitar player.’ And they said, ‘well, you look like you could really use a gig to upgrade.’
Schloss attended the audition with a fretless bass, and was given the job of playing “music that is almost humanly impossible to play at so fast.” During his time with the Circle Jerks, who are currently touring, Schloss continued to act in Cox’s films, where he met Joe Strummer. After a series of chance encounters, Schloss began asking Strummer for the chance to play together and Strummer, at a graying 34, claimed himself to be too old to start anything new. While working on Cox’s film Walker, the third puppet in Schloss’s video reflecting his time working on the film, Strummer asked for Schloss’s aid on Spanish musical stylings for the soundtrack. “Joe said ‘bring your Spanish guitar,’ to which I said, ‘fuck you, I’m bringing all my Spanish instruments!” This has always been Schloss’s attitude, to one-up any request made of him. Play in a punk band? Hell, he’ll play the hardest punk bass lines he can find on a fretless bass. Bring a Spanish guitar? Sure and he’ll bring his timple, cajón, bandurria too. “I learned that when you get an opportunity, you say yes. And then you come overly prepared. And that will lead to another opportunity. And literally, I just kept snowballing and snowballing as a result of that attitude.”
“I Have Loved The Story of My Life” knits the core memories, the stepping stones, of Schloss’s career together in one, with a sound reminiscent of his earliest inspirations and with visuals that capture deeply meaningful moments. With this being his first solo release, Schloss was eager to put his identity at the forefront. “It’s hugely gratifying,” he said, “and we all know the heartbreak of working in bands, people pulling out or betraying one another. I’m gonna do something on my own and I won’t be able to point the finger and say, ‘it’s your fault.’”
One of the opening lines of the track is, “I am made of truth and I am made of lies,” which pairs exceptionally with an auto-biographical story of his own life done on the medium of puppets, a fake representation of himself. The image and the idea parallel one another, that these real stories are being done on a figure of representation, rather than having Schloss act the scenes out himself. “If I was a book,” Schloss whimmed, “here would be some chapters where I elaborated my story, some chapters or stories that had been diminished and edited the parts that maybe I didn’t want, say. And there would be whole pages that are ripped out, you know, that I couldn’t possibly look at. So in saying that, you know, I don’t mean to sound cliche, but I’m partly truth, partly fiction.”
The song touches on themes of gratitude, on sentimentality, on magic, and on memories and paints such a vivid tale in both its lyrics and its video presentation. It details the life of one who’s lived so widely and experienced such a great deal. Schloss’s solo record, Songs About Songs, debuts on March 4th on all streaming platforms, and Schloss is currently on tour with the Circle Jerks around the US.
It’s hugely gratifying, and we all know the heartbreak of working in bands, people pulling out or betraying one another. I’m gonna do something on my own and I won’t be able to point the finger and say ‘it’s your fault.’
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? © Geoff Moore
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