This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.
Nardwuar The Human Serviette is the G.O.A.T. Just ask Pharrell, Grimes, Tyler, the Creator, Diplo, ?uestlove, Drake, Mac DeMarco, and of course, Snoop Dogg. But even calling him that somehow feels like an understatement. The plaid-obsessed Vancouver native is up there with Brian Linehan, Howard Stern and Bob Costas as one of the greatest celebrity interviewers ever, but even his interviewing skills can't hold a candle to his incomparably vast knowledge of pop culture. Nardwuar is a music historian like no other and the closest thing we have to a walking encyclopaedia. His ability to dig up the most obscure, personal tidbits about his subjects is awe-inspiring and the envy of all music journalists. As both a radio disc jockey (for CiTR 101.9 FM in Vancouver) and a television and online video host, Nardwuar The Human Serviette (aka John Ruskin) has spent the last three decades building his lovably eccentric persona into a unique brand. His interviews—of which there are many—have become legendary because of his insistence on entertaining and astounding both his interviewees and his viewers/listeners. Along with his meticulously and magically researched questions, he brings a carefully curated selection of gifts that are of the mind-blowing variety (i.e. rare vinyl, collectibles tours, old gig posters).
Nardwuar has become the choice media personality for a number of musicians (and celebrities), and most recently he has found a huge following in the hip-hop scene, after scoring chats with every young rapper that matters. Maybe it's the promise of the specialized gifts—who doesn't want to see what Nardwuar would gift you?—but his capacity to unearth little-known facts is so damn impressive, he regularly makes jaws drop. Of course, it doesn't come without hard work. He devotes a solid week of research to every interview, and goes in with dogged determination, be it to get straight answers, as well as a "doot doo" to his trademark "doot doola doot doo" sign-off. However, not every interview goes accordingly (see Henry Rollins, Blur, Sonic Youth, Courtney Love, Kid Cudi, and the Strokes), but that's what makes Nardwuar so unique: whether it's a disaster that results in him getting his tam o'shanter stolen by a bullying Dave Roundtree of Blur, or a triumph that allows him to strike his signature mannequin pose (yes, Nardwuar was doing that years and years before the mannequin challenge), he wants you to witness the whole interaction.
On top of his media empire, Nardwuar is also the frontman for the Evaporators (as well as a member of the masked synth-punk troupe Thee Goblins), a Vancouver punk rock supergroup that could only come from the brain of the Human Serviette. Celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band, the Evaporators just surprise-released their seventh full-length album, Ogopogo Punk. Featuring future classics like "I Can't Be Shaved!" and "Eat To Win," it marks their first release in four years. Noisey had the distinct honour of speaking with the Canadian treasure known as Nardwuar to ask about his inimitable approach to interviewing, what names remain on his bucket list, the legend of Ogopogo, and how he got Drake to introduce his new video.
Noisey: So, who are you?
Nardwuar The Human Serviette: I am Nardwuar The Human Serviette from Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA. I sing for the Evaporators and I also do interviews for CiTR radio, and I do it with a video camera so I videotape the interview for… YouTube now, and then I tape the audio for CiTR and transcribe it for my website at Nardwuar.com.
I wish I were in Vancouver so I could start off by giving you a gift. I know you give them, but do you ever receive any gifts when you do an interview?
Yes! Most recently Anderson .Paak gave me the first Cramps 12-inch, which is amazing! Out of the blue, Anderson .Paak! And I was honoured because I did not have that record. I think he probably looked up and watched my interviews, so he brought it for me. But he didn't bring it to me in Vancouver, he brought it to me in Texas. So he had to get his friend to go out and get it. And actually, Macklemore, believe it or not, had a Derek Erdman jean jacket made for me that says "Nardwuar" on the back, during the interview. In other words, Macklemore phoned Derek Erdman in Seattle, and had it couriered to him for the interview and he gave it to me. Macklemore did. And that was totally amazing. So I guess some of the people who have seen the interviews before brought stuff for me.
How do you find being interviewed? Do you enjoy being asked the questions?
I love talking. In general, I just love talking. I love getting people's stories, too. I love getting tidbits of information.
I wanted to dig up some obscure information about you, the way you do with your subjects, but this interview happened quicker than I expected. What can you tell people about Nardwuar the Human Serviette that they might not know?
Well, that in high school I was the president of the student council, so I organized dances, etcetera, and that's how I discovered punk rock from Vancouver. Like people would say, "Go and get the Villains! They're a great mod/ska band." Or get Bags of Dirt, an all-girl band who I later found out opened for the Dead Kennedys. Obviously, we couldn't get the Dead Kennedys, although I tried. I did write a letter to Jello [Biafra] and the person at Alternative Tentacles did say that Jello was sorry, but he was in Brazil at the time. Unfortunately, they weren't actually in Brazil at the time. But I did try to get the Dead Kennedys. People would always approach me and ask me to get this certain band to play our high school.
To promote a lot of these dances and events, I would actually do these announcements over the PA with my friend John Irving. We would get out there and write a script. I would be Captain Highliner, and I remember this time we got in trouble because John wrote a script, and we were promoting the basketball game, and it read, "And at the basketball game I scored!" So we would do these announcements on the PA, and everyone would sit in their desks and listen to them. We would read out these skits and it was kind of like a captive audience. And then when we'd leave the office, people would come up to us and say, "I heard you!" So I think I have been doing this for quite a long time, and by that I mean getting the word out, and that was amazing. Just broadcasting to my students. Some people will say to me, "Oh, only 500 people watched my vid on YouTube." But, like, that's 500 people more than who heard my announcements when I did it in high school. That's amazing! Like, that was around the world too! I only had access to a couple of rooms! So, I think an integral part of me growing up was doing those announcements and getting out and realizing that I'm just so happy to play to 30 people sitting and enjoying my announcement. It doesn't bug me that only 30 people might hear or see something I do.
So you discovered punk rock all because you were student council president?
Yes, I knew nothing, NOTHING about music. I thought the Beatles and Cheap Trick were the best. But as Dean of Student Congress I would have a little notebook in my back pocket and I would pull it out and write down the names of these bands, like D.O.A., the Villians, Bags of Dirt, Rubber Biscuit, Grapes Of Wrath, Skinny Puppy, the Young Canadians, all of these different bands that were all local bands. So I actually tried to contact the Young Canadians, but they had broken up. Their lead singer, Art Bergmann, had a new band called Poisoned, and I got them to play a dance at my school. Because somebody had recommended his previous band, the Young Canadians, who actually thanked my high school in the liner notes to their, This Is Your Life EP. Because the Young Canadians had played at my high school during lunch hour I think in 1980. So almost ten years later we had Art Bergmann play, not with the Young Canadians, at my high school, and believe it or not, the first person I ever did an interview with was Art Bergmann, which you can see on YouTube. That is the actual first interview I did, and that is the backstory because I wanted to find out from Art Bergmann, why did you thank our high school? And finally, when I had the chance to ask him he said, "We thanked everybody else." Ahhhhh…
A lot of journalists, including myself, feel like you are greatest at what you do. What piece of advice do you have out there for aspiring journalists?
I am still doing it because I have a lot to learn. I have so much to learn. The minute you think you know everything is the minute you should quit. So that's why I'm still doing it. When I walk in to do my radio show at CiTR, at first I thought, "I know how everything works." But then I walked in there one day, and somebody had the microphone up to their heart. They were broadcasting their heartbeat. And I was like, "Holy moly!" And they were like, "Shut up! I'm broadcasting my heartbeat!" And I realized that I still had so much to learn. So my advice to people is the minute you know everything should be the minute you quit. Because the minute you think you know everything you won't be excited anymore. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to continue.
I think the whole world is envious of your Drake interviews, especially considering he rarely gives them anymore. You guys have great chemistry.
Well, I talked to him first in 2010, and I didn't talk to him for six years until 2016. And when he showed when I was at his place with 40, the first thing he said to me was, "I just saw you on YouTube." And I thought he was referring to our old interview. But know, he said, "I saw your Evaporators video for 'I Hate Being Late (When I'm Early)' with Andrew W.K. I enjoyed that." So afterward I got him to mention that, which was amazing. But he volunteered that information right off the bat. He knows all that's going on.
The way I got a hold of him initially was by going to South By Southwest, where I met the DJ Peter Rosenberg of Hot 97. A couple of months later I asked Peter how to get a hold of Drake and he said, "Here is his cell phone number." And then I called him up and got an interview with him. In fact, he put his recording of a song with Jamie Foxx on hold to do the interview with me, which was amazing. As you know, studio time is very important and interviews are done when the studio time is finished, or in between takes. But he was like, "Oh, I'll just stop," and gave us whatever we wanted at the studio in Vancouver, which was like thousands of dollars an hour. And it was all because of Peter Rosenberg. So I did the interview with him, six years passed, he walked out talking about the Evaporators, I did another interview with him, and here we are today!
Who is left on your bucket list for you to interview?
Well, there are many people still on the bucket list. I guess number one is Obama, then Little Richard, then Kanye West. Just a couple. Brian Wilson… any of the oldsters. The old rock'n'roll stars, like Paul McCartney. People who might not be around that long. Eventually, I will get everyone, but they may die, so I might not get a chance. Like I never got a chance to get Lou Reed, I never got a chance to get Prince, I never got a chance to get Leonard Cohen, I never got a chance to get David Bowie. All of these people are dying. I tried, but I never got a chance.
Is there one interview get that you're most proud of?
I haven't really done it yet. But ones that really stand out, on the phone talking to Iggy Pop was amazing. In person, getting Jean Chretien to say, "For me pepper I put it on my plate," which is a Canadian thing, was pretty amazing. Like a political interview. I couldn't believe he said that in a press conference, the Prime Minister of Canada. And also in person, Snoop Doggy Dogg, just because I've talked to him so many times since 2000, when he shot the movie Bones in Vancouver. Those are pretty much my favourites, but I'd probably reserve my absolute favourite for it hasn't been done yet! I'm still doing it.
Do you think Snoop Dogg will actually move to Canada like he says he will?
He has a pretty good deal right now with Martha Stewart. Those rock stars can move whenever they want. I think they have free rein to move any place they want to. In fact, I once heard that Eminem was once scheduled to play Toronto and it was cancelled. Then the promoter phoned up Jean Chretien, and said, "Listen, if the gig gets cancelled there will be a riot." So Jean Chretien gave a one-day reprieve for Eminem to come into Toronto, do the concert and then leave. In other words, Jean Chretien was down with Eminem, so I'm pretty sure Justin Trudeau would be down with Snoop Dogg.
How do you feel about the mannequin challenge? A lot of people are giving you credit and saying you're the original mannequin.
I appreciate people remembering me, but I am just a little fly in the air. I am not anything compared to other people. You know me Cam, but the general mainstream doesn't know me. It makes no difference to me, because it's no different than me making the announcements to the group of people in high school. And of course, I didn't invent it. But I have ended a lot of interviews posing like that, and I've thought that from now on people could think, "Oh, he's doing a mannequin challenge." It's interesting, because when people began doing the Harlem Shake, I interviewed A$AP Rocky. When I was standing still A$AP Rocky began doing the Harlem Shake before the Harlem Shake became the Harlem Shake.
Just a year ago you scared the world when you suffered a stroke. How has the recovery been since your surgery?
I went to the doctor recently and he said, "See me in a year." So that made me feel a lot better. I really appreciate the support. It was amazing when people told me they were behind me, because when you're in the hospital room it can be kind of scary. I didn't have time to be scared though, I had to reply to this email. And further investigation revealed that Bret Michaels had the same health problem as me. Bret Michaels of Poison. You can actually watch Bret Michaels talk about a PFO closure on YouTube. He had the exact same operation as me. Further investigation revealed that Bif Naked also had the exact same operation as me. So they told me I had a stroke and probably the reason was because I had a hole in my heart. Ohhhh! I have a broken heart. And as a result, a couple weeks later I had a PFO closure and they mended the heart. Bret Michaels talks about that.
So the Evaporators are back. I noticed that this is the band's 30th anniversary. Are there any celebrations planned?
Yes, 1986 to 2016. The first gig will probably be 2017, which will be 30 years of the Nardwuar show on CiTR radio. I guess the first gig will be Record Store Day on April 15th at Neptoon Records.
What inspired the surprise release of the new Evaporators album?
That is the new way to do it. My friend Leora [Kornfeld], who used to work at the CBC's Realtime said, "Why don't you do it the new way? You just push a button and it comes out." And then I pushed a button. People can, of course, get the vinyl in about a month or so, but they can pre-order it now. That is the new way of doing things.
This is the first album in four years. How does the process work when the Evaporators get together to make an album?
It's whenever everybody is together. We recorded this at Nimbus in Vancouver, which is operated by GGGarth Richardson, and that was recommended to me by Keith Parry, who ran Scratch Records in Vancouver. And then we took it to JC/DC Studio because John Collins is in the Evaporators and John Collins is also part of JC/DC, and he also does the New Pornographers and Destroyer. So whenever he had breaks we worked on it. I think in the same period that we worked on it the New Pornographers had two albums as well. So we recorded it at Nimbus and put it together at JC/DC Studio.
You ask about the Evaporators, and it's pretty much a group effort. Stephen Hamm, who played with the legendary Slow, he is in the band, and John Collins, and Nick Thomas, who also played with the Tranzmitors, the Smugglers, and now with the Vicious Circles, and Shawn Mrazek, who also played with Flash Bastard, who backed up Mötley Crüe and were kicked off their tour. Can you imagine that? Like, kicked off a Mötley Crüe tour. They were signed to Mötley Crüe's record label, and Nikki Sixx said to Donal of Flash Bastard, "Either you go or the Scorpions go." And they didn't want the Scorpions to go. This was probably in the late '90s.
What can you tell me about the mythical landlocked BC monster the Ogopogo?
Nobody has found it. Leonard Nimoy even searched for it on In Search Of…, so nobody has ever found the Ogopogo in Kelowna. This is Canada's Lochness. We are actually gonna have a video for the song "Ogopogo Punk."
In the liner notes to Ogopogo Punk you feature an old, obscure band from Montreal called the Rabble. What can you tell me about them?
I love Vancouver but I also love Canada, and we covered the '60sband from Montreal called the Rabble. They were Canada's answer to, well, they were Frank Zappa-ish, but amazingly recorded. All of our releases have always had covers of Canadian rockers. Like we covered the Checkerlads from Regina, we covered the Pointed Sticks from Vancouver, and so it was natural to cover the Rabble from Montreal. On this particular track, "Candy," it was Meghan Barnes on lead vocals with me kind of backing her up. They were an amazing band in the mid-'60s. They were incredible! I just love them. I just thought, "This is perfect for the Evaporators to do on the record." I always like having an ode to Canada on the record.
That was nice of Brother Ali to produce a song for the record…
I was so honoured. He took the gift that I gave to him and then turned it into a new song. That was amazing! He even added snippets of the interview I did with him. On every record I add snippets, but here he did the work for me, and he did a song, and he used samples from the records I gave him. It was amazing. He didn't have to do that.
Was it a surprise or did Brother Ali tell you he was working on it?
I had no idea. Because I have given many records to many people. In fact, I tried to give many records to Henry Rollins, and he was like [in a Rollins voice], "This can't fit in my suitcase." And he left them behind. So a lot of times stuff just gets chucked. But Brother Ali kept it and he made it into a song.
I read that you are responsible for hooking up Parquet Courts and Bun B, who have recorded a single together .
That was another connection through South By Southwest. I did an interview with Parquet Courts that I met at South By Southwest. First I met them at South By, then they came to Vancouver, I interviewed them and got them a Bun B autograph. A couple months later their publicist contacted me and said, "You got a Bun B autograph for Parquet Courts, so could you get me in contact with Bun B's people?" So I tried and it didn't work. Then a year later, at South By Southwest, who should be in the room? Bun B and DJ Khaled and me, so I went right up to Bun B and said, "Hey, this band Parquet Courts really wants to get a hold of you and record a song with you." And that's how it was all born. So it did take a little while, but I remembered.
I know you're a true garage punk at heart, but have you ever discussed any rap collaborations with any of the artists you've interviewed?
Well, the last record had something with Sage Francis, "Hot Dog High," which you can see on YouTube. And this record, I did try to get rappers involved, however, I think we may have been a bit too fast for them. Y'know, the songs are a bit too fast. However, they were more than happy to mention the song names as intros. For instance, in the video for "Mohawks & Dreadlocks," Lil Uzi Vert introduces that one.
You're such a cheerleader for the city of Vancouver and its music. What are a couple of local bands the world should know about?
Well, this record was co-released by Nardwuar and Mint Records, so I would be remiss not to mention Supermoon, who are on Mint Records, and Tough Age, who live in Toronto but started in Vancouver, and Jay Arner. But also there are a whole lot of bands like Dada Plan, Tim the Mute, who runs the Kingfisher Bluez record label, which has released more records than anyone in Vancouver in the last couple years, there is a new up-and-coming band called Winona Forever that is pretty good, the Vicious Cycles, the Tranzmitors, and of course, the Smugglers, and Hamm our bassist has another band, Sunday Morning, and the Dead Ghosts from Vancouver. The list just goes on and on and on.
Finally, I've got to know: what is your "favourite midnite snack"?
I love cheese. I'm still addicted to cheese. Although I have tried to cut back on cheese because that helps you lose weight, according to Courtney Love and Lisa Suckdog. I have cut back on cheese, but I still love cheese. It's great after a gig at midnight. The chips and the cheese and the salsa after you play? Oh, it's incredible!
That's it. So, keep on rawkin in the free world and doot doola doot doo…
Keep an eye out for new videos from Ogopogo Punk premiering on November 29 and December 6 over at nardwuar.com .
Cam Lindsay probably would've written this for free (He didn't). Follow him on Twitter.