Dispatches from the Nard Nest
The Human Serviette offers up old interviews
‘Doot doola doot doo’ — Hark, I hear the call of Canada’s favourite guerrilla interviewer, Nardwuar the Human Serviette
Armed with a camera, microphone and that unmistakably grating voice, Canada’s own plaid-clad menace, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, cut his teeth on college radio and community access television in the ’80s. Steadily building a reputation for meticulously researched yet strangely awkward interviews, Nardwuar has had exclusive and revealing videotaped encounters with some of the biggest names in music. Known for stunning his unwitting prey with rapid-fire questions, he has a special penchant for steering the subject towards Canada, often referencing obscure facts.
A history major who wrote his thesis on the Kennedy assassination, Nardwuar has painstakingly archived his own journalistic trials and tribulations for posterity. This winter, he’s treating his fans to a dual dose of his zany antics in the form of Welcome to My Castle!, a double-DVD compilation of early exploits, and a full-length musical CD by his fun-loving pop-punk ensemble The Evaporators.
The new DVDs delve into Nardwuar’s past, from high school to 1999. “The earliest clip is from when some friends and I got dressed up to go trick-or-treating one Halloween and rented a video camera to tape the whole thing,” he explains. “We went to Jim Pattison’s house. He’s the guy who brought Expo ’86 to town. He’s like the Donald Trump of Vancouver. He actually invited us all in and gave us a tour of his mansion! It’s wild to reflect on it because now he’s a billionaire!”
Welcome to My Castle! offers hilarious tidbits, including clips featuring Bob “Gilligan” Denver, and one of Nardwuar’s personal favourites, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees. The dual discs feature five and a half hours of interviews with a dizzying array of famous and now infamous players, ranging from Ron Jeremy to former president Gerald Ford.
Not content to merely reminisce, Nardwuar continues to record and release his own original music with his bands The Evaporators and Thee Goblins. Taking inspiration from the people and landscape around him, he unflaggingly demonstrates his affection for his hometown and Canada in general on The Evaporators’ new Gassy Jack and Other Tales.
“The new CD is all about Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,” Nardwuar explains. “It’s an homage to the city, and there are all kinds of allusions to the Vancouver pioneers. We have a song about float planes, because those seem to be everywhere. We have a song about E.J. Hughes, who was a great Canadian painter who died in Nanaimo. We have a couple of songs about Saint Roch and navigating the West Coast. We even have a song about the sasquatch.”
Whether by default or design, Nardwuar has evolved into a professional celebrity interviewer; awarding him the unique position of an artist who is able to profile other artists and find out what makes them tick (or tick them off).
“I think that publicists these days are really good at warning their bands that ‘OK, this guy Nardwuar is a freak and there’s nobody like him,’” he says with a laugh. “But sometimes they forget. They leave the door open. Most of [the interviewees] probably forget about me the minute the interview wraps, although I was recently at a show and The Mighty Thor came up to me and said ‘Snoop Dog says hi!’”
Due to the combination of his dentist-drill-like interrogation methods, his ultra-nerdy appearance and his mild-mannered aura, Nardwuar has inevitably become the target of abuse by some of his interviewees. Sebastian Bach and Quiet Riot both reportedly destroyed his interview tapes. He’s been repeatedly robbed by Snoop Dog, mouthed-off by A Simple Plan, and Alice Cooper hung up on him mid-sentence. Despite this blatant mistreatment, Nardwuar has persevered over the years, earning both cult-status among music aficionados and the grudging respect of his would-be peers.
“The first time I interviewed Courtney Love, she scared the shit out of me,” he admits. “I wanted nothing to do with her ever again! But on another occasion, I won her friendship by buying her cigarettes, and she smuggled me backstage at a Nirvana concert. Not only that, but she also helped me to interview Kurt Cobain by helping along the conversation when he was only going to give me one-word answers. For example, I said to him, ‘So, Kurt, I hear that you’ve been surfing,’ and he’d just say ‘No.’ And she’d be like ‘C’mon Kurt, didn’t you dig clams at the beach that one time?’”
Nardwuar is all too willing to drop his notorious all-tartan wardrobe in the name of shameless self-promotion. He dares to bare his sasquatch-like chest hair inside the case of his new DVD, and has even produced an exclusive sliding pen that sees the usual curvaceous bikinied girl replaced with his hirsute form.
“Kelly Rowland once said she’d fly to Vancouver to watch if I ever got my chest shaved,” he recalls. “But I’d never shave my chest, not even for Beyonce! The Spice Girls are in Vancouver right now. I don’t think they’ll be talking to me, though. Which is unfortunate. I’ll talk to anybody — the formula remains the same. You go down the list and once you’ve gotten your answers, get the hell out. And by that I mean don’t stand around grinning like an idiot, like I did after I slipped into a press conference and asked Gorbachev which world leader wore the biggest pants. I should have headed for the door before anyone noticed I wasn’t supposed to be there.”
by Christine Leonard
Originally published December 6, 2007 in FastForward Magazine.