R.I.P. – Nash the Slash

I was saddened to learn of the passing a local Toronto musical legend, Nash the Slash. When I was 12 I biked 10 km in the rain to Square One to buy FM’s Black Noise at Sam the Record Man. When I was 13 years old I hopped on the GO train into Toronto and saw Nash the Slash with FM at the Ontario Place Forum. It was my first concert and it was amazing. My parents were furious when I came home and I was grounded for the rest of the summer. I had seen Nash the Slash perform many times over the years, at the Danforth Music Hall (when it still had seats) performing a live score to The Phantom of the Opera, at the Bloor Cinema, the Opera House but mainly at Stratengers on Queen West doing his multi-media show.

In 2001, I met Nash the Slash at Stratengers and interviewed him for a music website my wife and I ran (pre-kids, of course) called Utter Music. It was around the time he debuted his score for the 1922 film, Nosferatu. The entire (very lengthy) interview was hosted on a fan’s website for years but has since disappeared. This seems like a good time to post it.

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Legendary Toronto musician, Nash the Slash, has been making music since the 1970’s. Known for his work with FM and collaborations with artists such as Gary Numan (as well as for his trademark tuxedo and Invisible Man style bandages), his unique sound blends electric mandolin and violin with a myriad of synth effects and analog sounds. Taking his name from a psychotic butler in the first Laurel and Hardy movie, ‘Do Detectives Think,’ it is fitting that Nash the Slash has gone on to write soundtracks for silent movies such as Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and The Lost World, as well as recent features such as Bruce McDonald’s cult classics Roadkill and Highway 61.

Nash’s solo work has spanned four decades, and this past April has marked his first new release of the millennium. His newest project is a soundtrack for the 1922, F.W. Murnau film, Nosfertu. The CD release event was held on April 22, 2001, at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto and featured a live performance of the score accompanying a screening of the film. This month Utter Music found the man in bandages at Stratengers, his old hunting ground, and sat down for some beer and curry.

UM: I don’t even recognize this place anymore.

Nash: Did you see any shows here?

UM: Yeah, I saw a whole bunch back in the day.

Nash: It’s not the same.

UM: I went to one of your fan sites hosted by someone in England. That’s a very comprehensive site.

Nash: I think that’s cool to have a fan site all the way out in England, but I used to live there in 80-81. So I get a lot of fan mail and product orders from people over there and it’s neat to have him do that. The other thing is, before the advent of the internet, your typical artist like myself didn’t have a fan club or anything like that. I would send out a promo kit to a promoter and would have a picture and a one page bio, but with the fan site, Steve says ‘Nash, send me your lyrics,’ (strikes confused look) Huh? Why? ‘Because the fans want it. Send me a list of all the gear you use.’ Why? ‘Because the fans want it.’ And it’s true, as a musician you don’t really have a need or function for this sort of thing, but when you get to the fan site, it’s like ‘holy shit.’ He’s got stuff up there I’d never put up on my home site.

UM: But he also goes into a lot of detail that a lot of other fan sites don’t go into.

Nash: He’s diligent about it, he’ll e-mail and say ‘Nash, it’s time to do another interview.’ He’ll send me a bunch of questions, I answer them and he posts them. Just before the Nosferatu show in Toronto, I did a TV show, Bynon. It’s a half hour show, total running time of the interview is about 17 minutes. But I broke that into 4 sections and e-mailed to him for the site, again, the kind of thing he just loves.

UM: I thought that was kind of interesting, about all your gear. I thought I knew a fair bit about you, I’ve got most of the albums, and it’s great to see some it’s coming out again on CD. It’s great to hear things you didn’t pick up on vinyl. I was listening to Black Noise again for the first time in a while the other day. It’s one of my favourites and the first album I ever bought. I remember biking 10 km in the rain to the mall because Sam the Record Man in Square One had the only copy I’d ever seen. I had to carry it under my shirt on the way home so it wouldn’t get wet. Our old stereo only had one working channel, so I didn’t hear any of your backing vocals, and I guess the mandolin was bounced between the two, so I missed half of that too. So it wasn’t until many years later when I bought it on CD that I heard both sides.

Nash: ‘WOW! It’s in stereo!’

UM: Exactly. But it was a very stereo album, if you missed one side, you missed half the song.

Nash: Oh yeah. I’m just about to put it out on CD, not commercially released, but just burn CD-R’s as people want them, old demos of FM.

UM: Pre Black Noise?

Nash: Yeah. Some tracks pre Black Noise, some tracks live, some demos from 1985 as well. But I’m not hyping it as FM, they’re Nash the Slash archives, so the packaging is going to say Nash the Slash with Cameron Hawkins and Martin Deller. I’m going to call it Transmission Interrupted.

UM: When are you expecting that to come out?

Nash: Quite soon, in the next month or so.

UM: Are you still in touch with the other guys?

Nash: Just Marty. No one talks to Mr. Hawkins.

UM: Was there a falling out?

Nash: Oh yeah. Cam can be very difficult…doesn’t matter, it’s all water under the bridge. I still make music, he doesn’t.

UM: I noticed that, he always struck me as a little cheesy.

Nash: (nods)

UM: There always seem to be a bit of disparity in FM’s music between songs about spaceships and beach boy covers to something like Stop! Or Lost in Thought off Tonight.

Nash: The Tonight album I don’t like at all. It was basically a producers idea, and I just went along with it. Cam wrote most of that stuff and it was just FM trying to be a pop band and it didn’t work at all. Anyway, that kind of shit can happen a lot, people can come along and interfere with what your real focus is. For example, the producer we used on Tonight and Con-test, some of it worked but a lot of it didn’t. Everybody’s trying to go for that hit single instead of writing a good album, something that’s going to last.

Um: Let’s talk about your past a bit, how did you get started all those years ago?

Nash: The first performance of Nash the Slash was at the Roxy Theatre, March 16, 1975. I performed to a silent film, Un Chien Andalou by Salvador Dali, about 15-20 minute film. It was the midnight show, in a movie theatre; this is an interesting concept, opening for the Rolling Stones…Gimme Shelter (laughs). Yes, I opened for the Stones. Ironic that the first show I did was to a silent film and 25 years later everything has come full circle. It’s still getting me aces in the media.

UM: Was it because the mandolin and violin are tuned the same that you learned them both and use them in conjunction so often?

Nash: Yes.

UM: Self taught on mandolin and classically trained on violin, correct?

Nash: Yes.

UM: Did you ever do work with a quartet or an orchestra?

Nash: Well, when I was younger I played in the National Youth Orchestra, plus a high school orchestra which was very good. I did some ensemble stuff. I was in a music course at York University taking early music. We had a fun little ensemble with weird things like clem horns, harpsichords, and mandolins, and none of these instruments existed in the same time period! Just fun stuff like that.

UM: How do you look back on your time with FM?

Nash: I think FM recorded some really good stuff. The Black Noise album I’m very proud of. The reformation in the mid-80’s, we were actually the second highest grossing club act in Canada after David Wilcox. We were out on the road for 18 months straight and we did very well. Band dynamics are a weird thing and if people aren’t focused on the same goal and purpose, then things can really fall apart. Bands are really a bad marriage, you form a band with people you may not even like, personally, that much. You do it because the music works and a lot of bands break up because of that, it’s an awkward situation. And then of course if the band becomes successful, money becomes a big factor and the break up becomes even uglier.

UM: Speaking of money, you sued Pepsi back in the mid 80’s, for using your likeness in a commercial, did this set you up with a nice little nest egg or was it just mainly publicity?

Nash: Yes, I did get a lot of publicity from the case, so it was great that way. It ended up being that Pepsi essentially paid me what I would’ve been paid to do the commercial. The people who were the big losers were Rough Trade because they were the band featured in the commercial. Of course, the commercial was to run all summer long, in the states they were using Micheal Jackson and in Canada they were supposed to use Rough Trade. So they lost a lot of money because the commercial got yanked and they’ve hated my guts ever since (laughs).

UM: Did Pepsi ever approach you to do the commercial?

Nash: No.

UM: Which of your works are you most proud, FM and solo included?

Nash: I’m proud of it all, I can’t really say that I have a particular favourite. One neat thing is, that as an independent artist, I own all my material. Not too many musicians can say that, Kim Mitchell doesn’t own his stuff. Because I own it all, I can do whatever I want with it.

UM: You mean the publishing?

Nash: The rights to the music. As I’m reissuing old material like the And You Thought You Were Normal album from 81, I’m adding new tracks and re-mastering it. So as I blow the dust off it and listen to this album again for the first time in ages, I think, ‘fuck, that’s good.’ I don’t listen to the stuff, one doesn’t sit back…well I don’t sit back and listen to my own stuff. I’m listening and I’m very pleased with what I’ve got. So that’s a neat thing, to revisit one’s own material from the past and see if it still has a buzz to it. It’s fun re-issuing all that stuff, that’s for sure. When I re-mastered Children of The Night, that was re-mastered off of vinyl, there were no tapes of this stuff around. I was very diligent in making it sound right. When you do digital transfers off of vinyl and you run them through these computer systems called No-Noise to remove clicks and hisses, it changes the sound. It gets brittle and tinny sounding and harsh. For your final pass you have to go in and re-equalize everything to give it back some warm sound. It was quite a process.

UM: Wasn’t Children of the Night originally on a major label?

Nash: Yes. Originally it was on Sonic Diversion.

UM: So did you have to get permission to re-release it?

Nash: Nah, what the hell.

UM: Well is that label still around?

Nash: That’s the point, okay. Who owns Children of the Night? Well let’s see, there’s Virgin Records, that was bought by EMI, that was bought by Time-Warner. So in the long run Ted Turner owns Children of the Night (laughs), do you think he really gives a shit? Is Time-Warner going to send me a letter- ‘Cut-Throat records, cease and desist? We own the rights to that album.’ Oh? You guys want to put it out? You guys want to sell all 300 fucking copies? Is it worth the legal bill? I don’t think so. This is what is funny about copyright and ownership. Sure, I’m in breach of copyright, I’m bootlegging my own product, but I’m doing a better job than they could’ve on it. I have all the bonus tracks.

UM: In the process of transferring from vinyl, do you get the chance to add new instruments or overdubs?

Nash: I wouldn’t dare. I want it to be as pure sounding as possible.

UM: You opened for a lot of great bands back in the day, like the Who, Iggy Pop and Japan, is there one that particularly sticks out in your mind?

Nash: Opening for the Who was pretty amazing, opening in front of 70,000 people, and I’m the first act on the stage in the middle of the afternoon. One man, and I have to go knock their socks off. I did a 25 minute set, I remember I opened up with Dopes On the Water.

UM: That must have went over well.

Nash: Yup. Of course, I had Baba O’Rielly in my repertoire, and all my friends the day before were asking me, ‘you’re gonna do Baba, right?’ But no, I decided against it.

UM: Did you get to meet the Who?

Nash: Yeah, but they were in one of their moods. The Who are one of my favourite bands, but that was at one of the stages when Pete was drinking a lot and the guys weren’t really talking to each other much. Backstage was a little cold and indifferent. The only guy who was sociable was John Entwistle.

UM: Any acts you didn’t like or really pissed you off, maybe was quite rude to you?

Nash: Um…(Long pause)…yeah. Elvis Costello. I opened for Elvis Costello at his first gig in Toronto at the El Mocambo, upstairs, and it was packed. The El Mocambo had some weird hassle the week before with fire marshals or something, with it being over crowded, and they were being really strict about seating and about who was in the crowd. So after I finished my set, myself and my roadie pack up my gear and stand at the side of the stage to watch the show. And the manager tells us to leave. So I tell them to go get Elvis Costello’s manager, he couldn’t give a shit. Okay, so the opening act has to leave the building, which I did and I never got to see the fucker. But he could have had me stay, anybody could’ve let me stay there. The El Mocambo’s always had lot’s of standing room, but not that night. (imploring) ‘how come I don’t have a seat? I was on the fucking stage!’ Me and my roadie, the only two people in the building who didn’t have a seat. I wonder why, we’re fucking working, okay? We should’ve went into the kitchen and hung out with the kitchen staff.

UM: Well, that’s gratitude for you. How about your work with Gary Numan?

Nash: Gary was great, I had a great time working with Gary Numan. We did two tours together, and I played on the Dance album. Gary’s a great guy, I love his stuff. I’m not so sure about his new approach, but…

UM: It’s almost like he’s trying hard to keep current.

Nash: And he’s not being current because what he’s doing is sounding like Nine Inch Nails, and been there done that, that style is ten years ago. He’s a naïve kinda guy, a little isolated in his own little world. I bet you any money he doesn’t realize it’s old hat.

UM: I saw him a couple of years ago down at Lee’s Palace…

Nash: He was great at Lee’s.

UM: I was hoping you might come out of the sidelines for a few numbers. Did he contact you at all?

Nash: Oh, I was there, watched the soundcheck and then we had dinner together and had a great chat. I hadn’t seen him in about 15 years and it was really neat. But no, there were no plans to perform that night, but the gig was fantastic.

UM: He’s been experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity, with the Fear Factory cover of Cars. There are many artists today cashing in on their past popularity, which is worse-re-hashing your old sound like the Rolling Stones, or trying to keep current like Gary or David Bowie?

Nash: Well, the thing with Gary is he never stopped. It’s not as if he stopped for 15 years and came out doing a retro type show. But through the 80’s he did change his style. At one point he almost sounded like Janet Jackson, it was this sort of funk sounding stuff. Not very interesting musically. But for myself, I get asked to play retro bars all the time. Places that bring in Honeymoon Suite and the only original member is the drummer, know what I mean? Or Gord Deppe comes out and reforms the Spoons, who the fuck knows, except now it’s the silverware or something. There are bars that will hire these people to come out and rehash the old hits. I refuse to play those rooms, sure I do Dead Man’s Curve, but I also do Thrash. People don’t know it, but I’ve got a new CD out. I don’t play old shit, I play what I want, and the repertoire is way too broad to put myself in those places. I think it sends out the wrong signal to the fans, ‘every two years you can see Nash do Dead Man’s Curve.’

UM: But your show is entertaining enough, and engaging enough with visuals, grinders and whatnot, that lesser fans should be able to enjoy it too. I brought so many of my friends here over the years when you put on the Psychedelitron shows with uh…

Nash: Plexus, we’re putting those shows out on video.

UM: Those were fantastic shows, we used to sit by the stage and be pissed off if it was taken and we had to sit upstairs.

Nash: Excellent.

UM: But people who weren’t familiar with your material still enjoyed your show, it was very entertaining. But those retro bars, are there stipulations, like they only want you to play Dead Man’s Curve, Phasors on Stun, Just Like You?

Nash: Yeah.

UM: And then get outta here, you can’t even stay to watch Honeymoon Suite?

Nash: Ha! Exactly, that’s perfect. I did a tour with the Spoons, I quite enjoyed touring with them. We toured across Canada and I’d come out at the end of their set and join them for Arias and Symphonies, I’d play violin. So, it was great, but a few years ago, Gord Deppe calls me up with this very concept-go out on tour with the Spoons, like the good old days. I said ‘sounds neat Gord, but I don’t do retro. And I don’t open for the Spoons anymore, you can open for me.’

UM: The second part of that question is ‘is it important to you to keep working on new material?’

Nash: Yeah. I don’t conceptualize…you see a typical rock band will sit down every year-year and a half and say, ‘better hunker down, gotta put a new album out.’ I’ve got so much back catalogue that I could put out albums for another five years before I wrote another song. But without thinking of writing new songs or songs for an album, about a year and a half ago I charged ahead and wrote a soundtrack for Nosferatu. It was very important for me to get it done, it was just something that was really bugging me. It’s a big project doing a silent film, it’s an hour long and there’s 30 pieces of music. So it’s very time consuming and takes months of concentrated effort. I did that a year ago, and then 9 months later, January 2001, I finally get the CD. So as far as new material goes, well yeah, I just wrote an hour’s worth of new material a year ago.

UM: Fair enough. Your equipment was stolen a few years back, when you were opening for Medieval Babes?

Nash: Uh, no, but it was around that time. It was stolen out of my van and my shed. It’s a traumatic thing to go through, to say the least. But the most valuable things, like the mandolins and other things were in my house. Still, when racks of equipment gets stolen…and my equipment isn’t so much custom made as it is old and very specialized. I won’t use other things, I have to have a Roland digital delay, DDS 1000. I had two of them in a rack and they got stolen, so to find two more, oh god, it took three or four months to replace them. As I said, no other ones would do.

UM: That brings me to the next question, why haven’t you ever considered updating the technology or incorporating new things in your music?

Nash: Then I’d sound like everyone else. Have you ever been to MP3.com. Go to the electronica section, go check out some of the artists, they all have the same sounds and the same textures. It’s the ones that don’t that have the same sounds and don’t have the same textures, those are the ones that perk up my ears and I put them on my MP3 radio station, Cut-Throat radio. But 90% of it sounds the same no matter how original they think they are, they have the same drum machine sounds, the same keyboard sounds. People ask me ‘how do you get that sound on that particular song?’ Well, let’s see, I used a cheap crappy Krumar string machine going through a fuzz and an echo. You ever thought of putting your computer through a fuzz box? I betcha not. They don’t think externally these guys who write music on computers, it’s all internal. External is way more fun, because you have a bunch of toys, of foot petals lying around, at least for me, I have more of tendency to go ‘I wonder what it would sound like going through this,’ as opposed to ‘on my computer, how do I process this to go through this.’ Three hours later you’ve figured out the programming. All you want is a quick spontaneous, ‘what would it be like on a whim?’ There, whimsy, you can’t be whimsical on a computer, at least I don’t think so. It’s way too convoluted, so that’s why I don’t use a computer to make music.

UM: I’ve done a bit of recording myself, and the studio had a brand new synth which sounded great, but sure enough, about a month later, those sounds were everywhere. Do you think technology dates music in a positive or negative way?

Nash: From what I’ve just said, very positive, because…it’s a preference and my preference is for analog synth music. And if that says 1975-85, then that’s the era and sound that I like. I’ve got a huge record collection of a lot of music from that era, from Italy, Germany, I’d even throw my own music in there and none of us sound the same but we’re all doing similar type things with the same type of equipment and I find it very inspirational. I can name a number of artists people never heard of who inspired me.

UM: Okay, like who?

Nash: Micheal Rother, never heard of him, right?

UM: Nope.

Nash: Harmonia Deluxe

UM: Nope.

Nash: Neu, German group.

UM: Yes.

Nash: How about Manuel Gotching?

UM: Nope.

Nash: Ashra Temple?

UM: Yes.

Nash: He’s the guitarist from Ashra Temple. You know that little effect I do in, I do it in a lot of songs, actually, but in the beginning of Phasors On Stun, it’s like a triplet echo. I call them ‘dubba dubba’s,’ because that’s what you do, you play a poly rhythm to the echo effect and it comes out as a triplet. It’s a really neat effect and everyone uses it today. The Edge uses it all the time, Brian Eno uses it all the time, but I’m the only one who knows where it started and it started with Manuel Gotching, he was the first one to do it. He’d put out entire fucking albums of nothing but, side 1 and side 2 of (imitates rhythm) ‘dubba dubba dubba, dubba dubba, dubba,’ all these triplets, all these dubba dubba’s. And it’s boring as shit, but you heard it, from a musicians point of view, I’m going (scratches his head), ‘how is he doing that?’ And it’s really cool and when I first got an echoplex, I went ‘a-ha, I got it, I’m doing what Manuel Gotching’s doing?’ 1975 is when I first heard that effect and I bet the Edge doesn’t know where it came from.

UM: Well if I ever talk to the Edge…actually, I don’t want to talk to him.

Nash: Exactly.

UM: Going back to the technology, being a big fan of yours, I like the sound. But I have friends who have criticized it for being cheesy or dated. Take for example Lost Lenore, a friend once said that it would sound really nice with a conventional arrangement. Have you ever considered doing something like that?

Nash: You mean re-orchestrating it? Again, there’s something to be said about the sonics, where the things come from. When I re-recorded, for live use, Phasors On Stun, and I’d never put a FM song in my solo set because FM doesn’t exist anymore. But because I wrote the damn song and I’m proud of it, I thought okay, ‘I’m going to fuck with everyone’s heads because I have the original demo tapes.’ And those were without the drummer, it was just two guys. I also have the original drum machine and I re-recorded as it was originally done by Cam Hawkins and myself. And so that’s the version you get, this squirrly Roland 55 drum machine, sure I could’ve used a more contemporary drum machine with kicks and snare’s, but no, I wanted, (mimics drum machine) ‘papa chi chi, papa chi chi.’ The Italian wedding band sound, but that was it, that’s what it originally sounded like. But nobody in the audience says, ‘does that ever sound squirrly,’ everybody loves it.

UM: Why do you never play Lost Lenore live?

Nash: I do, you must have missed it. I do one of my sets is Bomabadiers, it’s one of my art shows which features the paintings of Rob Vanderhost, and all instrumental. And Lost Lenore is the first piece and that’s when I’d play it. And Fever Dream, and Blind Window/Countervail.

UM: Title taken from Edgar Allen Poe?

Nash: Which?

UM: Lost Lenore?

Nash: Yes. There’s Poe and Bradbury in there.

UM: Bradbury…The Million Year Picnic?

Nash: Very good. And Illa, both chapters from the Martian Chronicles. Poe and Bradbury are my two favourite authors.

UM: What are you listening to now?

Nash: Gosh, um…what’s turning my crank these days. In the more mainstream end of things, there’d be Radiohead. I have this thing for this band from Texas called Course of Empire. No one’s ever heard of them, they have three maybe four CD’s out, very prog. They sound a bit like Monster Magnet but a bit more progressive and just awesome, awesome writing. If you can find their stuff, I’d recommend them. But I like them because nobody knows them. When you hear them it’s such a treat.

UM: Those are always the best. That’s why FM was so great, they were my own little thing. Ever heard of Chris Connelly?

Nash: Why does that name ring a bell?

UM: He used to do a lot of vocals for Ministry. He went off to do his own solo thing and is another of my favourites. He was the first interview for Uttermusic. But he went on to do a sort of old Bowie, Scott Walkerish sort of crooner thing.

Nash: Ooo, you know Scott Walker? Very good.

UM: He did a 180 in sound.

Nash: Obviously, from Ministry to crooning.

UM: But he could always sing, you just couldn’t tell until you took the distortion away. But a lot of fans abandoned him. He was always a favourite of mine. Let’s see, there’s you, Chris Connelly, a British band called the Divine Comedy, and the Smiths are probably at the top of that list.

Nash: Including Morrissey solo?

UM: Yeah, including the solo stuff. More for because that was all I could access when I became a fan. I was too young to see the Smiths.

Nash: They never toured much here, though.

UM: No, and the summer they did come I was grounded from sneaking away to an FM show.

Nash: Ha! So that was a significant summer for you. Do you have a list of all the bands you missed that summer?

UM: Nah, just that one, but in the same way, did you find a great disparity among the fans who liked FM and who liked Nash the Slash’s solo work?

Nash: Very much. FM were signed to a major record company, had major label promotion and stuff like that. FM hit a mark with pop songs, their better prog rock music obviously wouldn’t be as popular with the same audience.

UM: But wasn’t Phasors on Stun a big hit back in the day?

Nash: Yeah, but I had left the group by then. I left just after Black Noise, so I wasn’t around when that was being hyped.

UM: You just collected the cheques?

Nash: Uh…I just went my own way. I went to England, I just got on a bus. A boat, I guess. No wonder it took me so long to get there, I took a bus to England. I just went my own way, I had a very clear focus of what I wanted to do. Going back to the whole band scenario, I don’t think FM had a very focused idea of what they wanted.

UM: What do you think of their work with Ben Mink?

Nash: Some was good, very spotty. Both Surveillance and City of Fear were…okay albums, with 2 or 3 good songs each that stand out. Surface to Air…I said to Cam Hawkins, ‘Cam, that’s the best FM song you wrote without me.’

UM: I’ve seen you live many times, and when you have technical problems, you only have yourself to rely on. What do you see as the being the advantages and disadvantages of doing a one-man show

Nash: The advantages…are subtle. It’s really not advantageous, this example alone, if you’re in a four piece band, each guy has a friend each, so now you’ve got 8 people. You don’t need roadies, when you’re one guy and you’ve got as much equipment as a band, it’s difficult in that regard. Set up wise, my stage set up takes 2.5-3 hours to set up. The advantages of being solo, well, let’s see, the machines don’t talk back, they don’t cost anything to feed, sometimes they fuck up. Sometimes you wrestle with technology and lose, but you have to be innovative. I’ve had some occasions, I play to backing tapes with live vocals and mandolin or violin, where the tapes or the machines don’t wanna work and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘well folks, I’m gonna be jamming now,’ and I have no idea what’s going to happen. That can be interesting.

UM: What made you interested in scoring silent films?

Nash: It’s not all silent films, it’s the interesting, quirky ones. These movies still get made today, these stories still get re-told today because these movies are based on great books. I’ll refer to things like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde-Robert Louis Stevenson, Phantom of the Opera-Gaston Leroux, The Lost World-Arthur Conan Doyle, Nosferatu, of course is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. These are great stories, and that’s why people keep making movies or re-tell the Dracula story. Steven Speilberg makes Jurassic Park 2-The Lost World based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, yeah right, Steven. In the silent repertoire, there’s only half a dozen films I want to do, and I’ve done three of them. I’m halfway there.

UM: So what are the other three?

Nash: Hunchback of Notre Dame-Victor Hugo, another great writer. The original Phantom of the Opera because no one has touched it and the original Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. But Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde isn’t as interesting a movie, but it is an interesting story. The silent version isn’t that great, but the later version, the talkie with Frederich March, 1947, that’s the best of the Jekyl and Hyde movies. It’s unique, the silent version with Lon Chaney Sr., in that he does the change from Jekyl to Hyde without make up. He’s in a white lab coat with his hair slicked back and the beakers are on the table and he wolfs down this stuff (mimics choking sound) and falls behind the table grabbing his throat. The camera just stays there and all he’s done, he has a great physical face, he’s just messed up his hair, takes off his lab coat, put some black shit on his eyes and it’s fuckin’ freaky as hell. But it’s all done in real time, it’s really neat. Other than that, the movie moves at a really slow pace; it’s a love story between the doctor and his bride. That answers the silent film bit, I guess I could go into the Mary Pickford catalogue, but I think it’d get pretty boring. Does Mary get eaten by a dinosaur anywhere soon?

UM: As an aside, what’s that film that you play to Children of The Night during your live set? It’s some sort of Jason and The Argonauts thing.

Nash: That’s exactly what it is, Jason and the Argonauts from the early 60’s. Ray Harryhausen, the famous animator, did the work for it.

UM: Is he the guy they brought back for Clash of the Titans?

Nash: You betcha. Ray is brilliant. He’s a student of Willis O’Brian, the guy who did King Kong. So there’s a chain of connection from King Kong, the little 12” high rabbit fur thing climbing buildings to Ray Harruhausen. He learned all his tricks that guy. Why King Kong was so cool is because the model was so small and it was done with rabbit fur and put a little air bag inside it with a pump so it could breathe. Nobody had done anything like that before, it was very cool.

UM: What made you want to score Nosferatu?

Nash: Well, I had been wanting to do it for years. I’ve been doing a piece of it live for ages.

UM: The part where Nosferatu boards the ship.

Nash: Right, I use a classical piece by Saint Saens, a French composer.

UM: Was there not an original score penned for the film?

Nash: I read that there was, but I’ve not heard it. All the prints I’ve got have piano music or bad music, tacked on crap.

UM: I’ve got a DVD copy with Type-O-Negative doing the soundtrack, but it’s just their songs overtop the film, absolutely ridiculous.

Nash: It’s the same thing Gergio Morodor did with Metropolis. He bought the rights to the film and he did one great thing and one dumb thing. The great thing he did was he cleaned up the print, inserted all sorts new footage or found footage, they sourced 20 prints of this movie to get as many scenes as possible. And then they tinted it, not colourized it, and appropriately, it’s very nicely done, so when the flood happens it’s blue and things like that. So visually, he did a wonderful job. Then what does he do for the music? ‘Oh, I think I’ll just go out and…hey, Eurythmics, wanna write a song? Okay gimme a song.’ And he throws together a bunch of pop groups as opposed to writing a score. It’s just dumb pop songs stuck on it.

UM: What made you want to incorporate Faure’s ‘Requiem,’ and Saint-Seans’ ‘Danse Macabre?’

Nash: I wanted to get classical in there. I had this concept, like I said Nosferatu had been sitting on the shelf as a project and as an idea and then it hit me, a light bulb went on. I knew exactly what I was going to do. The whole story of Nosferatu is, of course, a vampire coming from Eastern Europe to the west. So what’s the conflict here? You’ve social mores, religion, a whole mess of things enter into the picture. One thing that’s always fascinating, in vampire pictures, even to this day, the guy from the west, Johnathan Harker, from England, or Bremen, Germany in the film, and he’s going to Transylvannia to sign a real estate deal with Count Dracula. He stays at an inn and the innkeeper and the locals are all saying, ‘no, no, don’t go out at night, shut your doors, stay in.’ Don’t fuck around, Nosferatu is out there. Why is it all these people in the east who live with him in their backyard, they know what to do, they know you don’t go out at night, but these westerners go ‘duh, I’m going to go for a stroll, it’s a nice moonlit night.’

UM: Is that where it all started, the stupid characters that don’t listen to any sense?

Nash: I think so. The locals live with him and they have all the answers how to deal with him. If he’s in your midst you don’t go and wander around at night. But oh no, when he moves to London or Bremen, people get chewed up because they don’t understand it. I find it fascinating that there’s that dichotomy of culture. So I thought, ‘I’m going to apply, even though the story takes place in Germany, essentially, Catholic classical music to the protagonists.’ That is their theme, so Faure’s requiem, this particular piece is a beautiful, beautiful melodic thing, and it’s Johnathan and Nina’s music. ‘What will I contrast that with?’ How about Eastern Orthodox acapella male choir singing in weird dialects? So, that’s what you’ve got. Anytime you see Nosferatu, that’s what you hear, weird choir stuff happening.

UM: How did you get to use a male choir in Romania for the soundtrack?

Nash: Bulgaria, actually. I contacted somebody who contacted somebody and they snuck in…well, I guess they didn’t sneak in, they just walked into a church where a choir was singing and sat there with a microphone. I only needed about a minute. Just re-use it over and over again. But that was the effect I was going for, set it up with the classical side of things. It’s very subtle but you have Eastern Orthodox versus Western Catholicism in the music, very specifically placed.

UM: Do you feel like the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is trying to steal your thunder by putting on a performance of the film with full orchestra at the Toronto Film Festival this year?

Nash: Yeah, what a joke, I’m going to blow their thunder right out of the water. I read about that too, this is the year of the vampire, Shadow of the Vampire did very well…

UM: What did you think of that? I’ve yet to see it.

Nash: Oh, I loved it. You’ve seen Nosferatu, so go see it, it’ll blow your mind. I saw it and thought to myself ‘how many people in this theatre have seen Nosferatu?’ And the people who have seen it saw it years ago and might only remember a little clip. When you see Shadow of The Vampire, and the few segments where they actually re-enact scenes of the film, beautiful, absolutely perfect detail. Blew my mind, I loved it and I loved how they portrayed the Max Schrek character. Going back to the symphony, they’re playing September 14th and 15th, they’re going to be doing their presentation of Nosferatu at the Elgin Theatre. Well, I’m doing Nosferatu at the Bloor Theatre again in June and in August. Come September 14th and 15th, at the Bloor Theatre, I’m going to be doing the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The press will eat it up, Nosferatu? Symphony? I’ve done that already, it’s old hat. How to blow them out of the water is to bring the Nosferatu crowd through the summer at Bloor, and if you want to see another Nash show, it’ll be Caligari in September.

UM: I saw the TSO’s performance last year of Eisenstein’s Alexander Nievsky, they’ve got 100 people putting on the show. It’s kind of one man against an army.

Nash: That’s another cool thing. I thought about competing with them, but a promoter friend of mine said, ‘No Nash, don’t shit in their backyard, you’ve got your own yard to play in. Do something new.’

UM: When I saw Alexander Nievsky, it was at Massey Hall, it was an afternoon show. You could milk the same crowd who might want to compare and contrast. What did you think about Phillip Glass’ score for Dracula?

Nash: It didn’t really do anything for me. It was a neat idea, but let’s face it, that’s a talkie. What they would’ve had to have done is get a print of the film, strip all the sound off of it, and then orchestrate and re-insert the sound. Because sound is a combination of dialogue, sound effects, and score. So all that would have to be re-attached, of course this is much easier today with computers, but whether the end result is more interesting, I don’t know. I don’t think so, it didn’t really make a big impression on me. Another thing about silent movies, I would never do what he did. If someone came to me and asked me re-do the music for Wernor Hertzog’s Nosferatu, 1976, ‘Why?’ Why would you do that? The cool thing with silent movies is they’re allowing you the composer to create an atmosphere that reflects what’s on the screen. Silent films have this wonderful thing where they do these dissolves, when a scene ends it goes to black and then comes back out again. That’s punctuation, that’s the end of your paragraph. When I write for silent films I make notes, I’m going from this point to this point, there might be a black out in there in between, but the piece might only be two minutes, there might be two scenes that dissolve into one another, but it’s punctuation. It’s so beautiful to write to, modern films don’t do that.

UM: What about other soundtracks for Nosferatu, there must be a few?

Nash: Yeah, years ago there was a guy named Horace Lath, a Torontonian, too, a big band leader in the 30’s who was also a pianist. In the 20’s and 30’s he was famous for his movie house piano accompaniment to silent films. What they would do, when they sent the movie print to the movie house, they would also send a few sheets of paper which would outline the music and have notes on it-when this scene comes up, play louder. Horace would just ignore those notes and play his own stuff, and it was brilliant. If you’ve ever seen any Laurel and Hardy films today, 90% that the solo piano you’re hearing is Horace. He’s that famous. The prints I have of Nosferatu, I’ve got 3, one is Horace on piano, another with bad music tacked on. Sometimes they would put on a record and just tack on some classical music, this must have been done in the 60’s, I could tell from the sonics. It’s electric guitar, electric bass guitar, drums, and a lot of weird echo effects, it’s just really squirrly, dumb stuff. You never know what you’re gonna get, and that was the official Universal release of the movie. The neat thing with these silent films is that they’re in the public domain, so once you put you’re music on it, it’s yours. Universal can’t say to me, ‘that’s our print, our copy,’ because it isn’t, they don’t have Nash the Slash playing on it.

UM: Have you ever considered working with a full band or another musician like Plexus again to fill out the sound or add different instruments.

Nash: No. Plexus was fun because I’ve known him for years and we’re very similar in style. It was very easy to play together, but to try and sit down with someone else and try to be creative…I have enough fun by myself, messing around with my own toys.

UM: The CD release event was very successful, it must have been sold out.

Nash: Very close.

UM: Have you ever considered taking the Nosferatu show on the road?

Nash: Yes, I’m actually working on that right now. Part of the logistics is that I can call any booking agency in Toronto and say ‘get me a rock tour of Canada,’ and I can play rock bars from Halifax to Vancouver, no problem. But who do you call to say, ‘get me a bunch of repertory movie theatres?’ Got their numbers and addresses? I don’t think so. So it’s a lot of research on my own. You’ve got assume every decent sized city in Canada has an equivalent Bloor Cinema, it might not be as big, but it’s got to have one, and that’s what I’ve got to find out. There’s no network of them, there’s no association of repertory cinemas.

UM: What does the future hold for Nash the Slash?

Nash: Finding repertory movie theatre’s in Canada, (laughs) ask me in 5 years if I’ve succeeded.

UM: That’s it for the scheduled questions, but I do have others. Do you continue to practice your musical craft, take lessons or try to evolve or become a better technical player?

Nash: No, I’m as bad or as good at it as I’ll ever be (laughs). With electronics, there are so many toys out there. You know Keyboard Magazine? Well I call it Keyboard and millionaire magazine because you’ve got to be a fucking millionaire to keep up with that stuff. Keyboard players must go nuts, back the day, remember Kurtzweil? It was a monstrous synth, which was $30, 000 and it did everything. Today, I can buy a little box from Roland, a JV1010 for $600 and it can do everything a Kutzweil can. So if you were a keyboard player and you picked up a Kurtzweil for $30,000, a month later you’d pick up Keyboard Magazine and go ‘Oh God, they’ve got a new model,’ they must go nuts. Me, I just go to Long and McQuade’s to see what they’ve got. I don’t just look at guitar stomp boxes, I also look at DJ toys. Korg, Roland, and Elises are all making little boxes, devices, for dance DJ’s to put in noises, echoes, and sweeps. There’s one called a Chaos pad about this big (indicates a shape about 10”x10”) with a touch sensitive pad done by Korg, and you can dial up an echo, but with your hand you can make the effect do weird things, and it’s meant for DJ’s, not for guitar players or violin players, but it’s wonderful. So, I’m playing with that and rented a new Elises box which does the same thing. So that’s part of my fun. I can take the shittiest little keyboard and make it sound cool.

UM: That’s another thing, with dance music constantly changing, you reach a point where what’s old is new again and there’s all these digital synths trying to imitate analog sounds, and purists trying to search out the original equipment. I was listening to Blind Windows recently and I heard sounds that prove that point-what’s old is new again, or perhaps it was just ahead of its time.

Nash: There’s some fuzz violin in the background that’s all part of the texture of Countervail, for example, that are created by playing the tape twice as fast. I run the tape at 15 IPS and play the violin part and play it back at 7.5 IPS. So, the violin is lower and growlier, and weirder, and again, it’s using the tools. I don’t use a reel to reel tape recorder anymore, digital tape recorders don’t have multiple speeds, well, they do, but a pitch controller is not the same. I would invent things, I created a lot of different sounds with the mechanisms of a tape recorder. I used to take the tape off and flip it around backwards, ya can’t do that with a DAT tape. Now you buy an electronic device that’s called a reverser or something and it costs $700. I used to just flip the tape over. It’s experimenting with the hardware, with the equipment, and like I said earlier, I don’t think computer guys have any concept of that. Somebody once said Robert Fripp was in a session, and just brought his guitar along. They ask him what effects he wants and he asks for a fuzz. So the engineer goes through a milk crate full of crappy old fuzz boxes, pulls one out, puts a battery in it and gives it to Robert. And sure enough, it sounds like Robert Fripp. It’s Robert playing it, it’s the application of the player to the device. Robert Fripp could play the shitiest guitar on the shitiest fuzz box and it’d come out sounding like King Crimson.

UM: You played some gigs with Japan…

Nash: One. One gig. Actually, it’s a funny story, Japan was with Virgin music, and so was I. I didn’t like their music, not a fan. So I’d done the Gary Numan tour, the guys in Japan were Gary Numan fans. So the guys in Japan thought I was the cat’s ass, and these guys are bugging me-I never met them-but through Virgin and their management, they’re bugging me to do this gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. The wanted me to open for a one nighter and I hummed and hawed and said to Virgin, ‘I don’t even like these guys, they don’t rock, they pose. I don’t even have any hair, I have bandages.’ I kept dragging my feet for a week before I said, ‘alright, I’ll do the fucking gig.’ The greatest thing about the gig, I didn’t even stick around for their set-some headliners aren’t worth sticking around for-the London Times had a column review of the show and half of it was about Nash the Slash. I was like, ‘told ya so,’ but it wasn’t an ego trip, I knew I’d blow them off the stage.

UM: What about the stuff Fripp did with David Sylvian? Have you heard that?

Nash: Yeah, it didn’t do anything for me. I don’t like his stuff.

UM: How do you find younger audiences react to your work? There were a lot of young people at the Bloor Cinema.

Nash: I still do a lot rock clubs in Southern Ontario, and I do the Thrash show and it’s great when there’s 20-25 year olds in the crowds. They’re seeing it for the first time, no one else is doing what I do, and I think that originality guiles them. They say, ‘holy fuck, this isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before.’

UM: You want some food?

Nash: That’s not a bad idea, I don’t need a menu, I know it inside and out.

UM: Good food here?

Nash: Yes, you like Indian food?

UM: Yeah.

Nash: I highly recommend the Lamb Malai. I love the lamb, but you can get beef or chicken. It’s really different, it has a nice sour cream sauce.

UM: I’ve seen the Esso station down the road, Nash Garage, is that anything to do with you?

Nash: Ha! No, just a coincidence, it’s been there since 1925. As Python would say, ‘it’s just the name of the shop, we don’t have any cheese here.’ It’s just the name of the shop.

UM: Do you do anything outside of music to support yourself? Do you have a day job?

Nash: Nope, it’s all about hustling the music. The big thing now is working the internet. There’s business to be done and money to be made, we just have to figure out how. I’ve got my shit on MP3.com.

UM: Is it just Nash stuff on MP3.com or any FM?

Nash: Ah, yes, I put up a streaming only version of Only Way to Win to see if there’s any bites, any nibbles. It’s part of the FM demo stuff that I’ve got. I’ve been looking into other companies other than MP3.com because I think they’re a scam.

UM: Do they charge you to put your music up there?

Nash: Yeah.

UM: Do people have to pay to listen to your music on the site?

Nash: No, they avoided the whole Napster problem by making deals with record companies. People do pay to download stuff from them, but with the artist is $20 a month, U.S., to be ‘preferred’ member. I’m just trying this for 6 months to see where it goes. What MP3 does, I think it’s a pyramid scam to tell you the truth, I’m only figuring out now how my earnings are earned. They keep the formulas secret. You can look at your number of hits, and on this day I had 50 hits, and I made $2.00, on this day I had 80 hits and I only made a buck and a half. Huh? That doesn’t make any sense. Then you find out, the 50 hits on one day put me higher in the electronica chart, let’s say in the top 100 of artists being listened to and the 80 hits three days on the same song, no, no, there were other people higher in the chart, as it were, on that day and that’s why the pay is less. Fuck off. It’s convoluted and purposely deceptive, I think, that’s why I think it’s a scam. I’ve been looking at other music providers and their methods are much simpler and clearer and there isn’t this little head game going on. That’s what I spend a lot of my time doing.

UM: Do people have to pay to be a member of MP3.com to listen to your music?

Nash: No, the artist has to be a member to be a preferred member, it’s called ‘payback for playback.’ And if you’re going to get payback for playback, you have to be a member. What it comes down to is, you have to realize is that MP3 and these types of companies opened a huge can of worms. MP3.com goes ‘independent musicians, bring us your music, set up your own website, right here on MP3.com.’ Well, you’ve got everyone from Nash the Slash, a legitimate artist, to some wanker in his bedroom and MP3 wants to filter out that stuff. Imagine administering hundreds of thousands of artists and half of them are just jerking off. So that’s why they changed to this $20 bucks a month membership. Plexus, from Psychediltron called me the next day, just livid, ‘fuck Nash, they’re fucking me around. I’m not joining and now I’m not going to get any money and nobody’s going to come and visit my music.’ And that’s the way it goes. And they have other scams, I’m in the electronica category – by my choice – if I posted all my tunes as rock songs, well there’s a million of them. In electronica, there’s less competition. So, once a month, MP3.com lets you bid for your song to be posted on their electronica chart.

UM: Isn’t that payola?

Nash: That’s exactly what it is! And they brag about it. In the monthly newsletter they’ll say, suppose it’s me, ‘Nash the Slash is our winner this month for the electronica chart, he bid,’ it’s an auction, ‘he bid $500 U.S. to be on the chart.’

UM: Does that put you at number one?

Nash: No, it just puts you on the chart. But, their example in the newsletter is, ‘well, Joe Blow paid 500 bucks and look at that, they made $5000.’ That’s fine, but am I guaranteed $5000, is it just $500 I have to bid, or do I have to sit there and outbid Gary Numan who’s got deeper pockets? And it’s all in U.S. funds, so to us Canadians…I spend a lot of time on a lot of different aspects of the business that has nothing to do with performing or booking gigs.

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5 thoughts on “R.I.P. – Nash the Slash

  1. This was amazing, a fascinating read. Nash was one of my first musical obsessions, and right to the end I was still attending shows and begging for autographs *laughs*. The man was smart beyond compare, talented beyond belief, and way way WAY before his time. He’ll never get the true due he is owed, and as such I greatly appreciate that interviews like this exist to document his take on things.
    Thank you, really great job on this interview.
    R.I.P. J.P.

    1. Hey Grebo, thanks for the kind words. I was hoping fans would stumble their way here and have a chance to read the interview. Nash was really great, talented, of his time but timeless at the same time. Nash was one of my first musical obsessions too, so to have the chance to meet him and have a few drinks with him was the pinnacle of my short lived music journalism career. If you went to his shows in Toronto, there’s a good chance we could’ve been there at the same time. Cheers.

  2. I played with Nash in 2008 when we brought him to the UK for a few dates. He stayed in my house a few days too. A talented, unique musician, and a pleasure to play on the same stage with him. This was a great read! We were all really shocked to hear of his passing last year. A big loss.

      1. A pleasure – nice in depth interview. The most surreal part really was probably him asking me to drive him into town to go shopping for bandages. 🙂 But to be set up in rehearsals and hear him getting THAT sound from his violin…a great memory.

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