Feelin' 7 Up: The Zander Schloss Interview
From Repo Man to Circle Jerks, Joe Strummer and more!
by Lee Sobel (10/12/20)
1984 saw the release of cult favorite movie Repo Man, which was the directorial debut of British expat Alex Cox. Between 1984 and '87, Cox would give us four amazing movies, including Sid & Nancy (1986), Straight to Hell (1987) and Walker (1987) before slipping under the radar and continuing to make movies on a quieter scale, while also teaching film to college students and writing books.
Appearing in all four movies was a young actor/musician named Zander Schloss who was very memorable as "Kevin the Nerd" in Repo Man, happily singing the 7 Up commercial jingle while helping Emilio Estevez stack up cans at their lame supermarket jobs. Schloss pops up a few times in the movie and was in some extra bits cut from the film that can be seen on the Criterion Collection blu ray for Repo Man. Schloss also appeared in and/or provided music for numerous Alex Cox movies, making him something of a member of Alex Cox's family which also included musicians like Joe Strummer (whom Schloss would collaborate with and lead his band), Courtney Love, Shane McGowan, and actors like Harry Dean Stanton, Sy Richardson and more.
Emilio Estevez and Zander Schloss in Repo Man
Schloss at this point is kind of like punk rock royalty. Although not an original member of the bands, he's been in and out of two seminal L.A. punk bands for decades, playing bass with Circle Jerks and The Weirdos. A multi-instrumentalist, he's been in so many other bands it's overwhelming: Thelonious Monster, Magnificent Bastards (with Scott Weiland), and Joe Strummer, to name a few. His music has appeared on many movie soundtracks, including the films of Alex Cox, Tapeheads, Tank Girl, and more. If you thought this guy was just Kevin the Nerd, annoying Emilio Estevez with his singing in Repo Man, he's a whole lot more.
Lee Sobel: Did you grow up in in L.A.?
Zander Schloss: No, I was born in St. Louis. My parents divorced when I was a kid and I moved with my mom to San Diego, where I went to high school. After that I lived with my jazz guitar teacher who I was studying with for a year and then I moved to Los Angeles when I was about twenty years old.
Lee Sobel: Did you move to L.A. because of the punk scene?
Zander Schloss: No, I didn't have any aspirations to be a punk rocker. What I really wanted to do was to become a film composer. I was hanging around UCLA film school quite a bit where my step-sister Abbe Wool (she worked on Repo Man and also co-wrote the screenplay with Alex Cox for Sid & Nancy) was
going. I met a grad student there named Alex Cox and he wanted me to contribute music to Repo Man. As we hung out together, he kind of thought, "Wow this guy's a character. I'm gonna put him in my movie."
Lee Sobel: Had you ever done any acting before that?
Zander Schloss: No, I hadn't. I'd always been kind of a class clown who did different characters and stuff. I was just a crazy kid. I found myself on the set of Repo Man the day after my twenty-first birthday doing the supermarket scene. I just thought, what is there to acting, except to remember your lines, hit your
marks and make some faces? (laughs) I don't mean to diminish the profession of acting. I think if you own the role and you're kind of a character to begin with, that can go a long way. Acting just came pretty naturally to me. I'm a performer of music so I'm used to being watched so I didn't care if there were fifty people watching me do a scene. I don't give a fuck. I was in a band playing guitar at that time called The Juicy Bananas, a funky R&B band down in the Compton-Watts area. My first concert in L.A. was the Watts Tower Festival.
Lee Sobel: You're a multi-instrumentalist, right?
Zander Schloss: Yes, but most people just think I'm a professional bass player, which I am, but there are only two bands I've played bass for, and that is the Circle Jerks and The Weirdos - the rest of the bands I've been in, I played guitar.
Lee Sobel: It's interesting to me that The Juicy Bananas and the Circle Jerks were so different, yet in Keith Morris' book My Damage, he claimed he knew you when he saw you on the set of Repo Man.
Zander Schloss: No, he didn't know me then. As a matter of fact, they just walked right by me when I introduced myself on the set of the movie. After the
movie had wrapped, I was living in this one room office space on Hollywood Boulevard that I rented out and acted like I had a little business in there but in reality that was my home. I was walking down the street and someone yelled out from a car window, "Hey you, Circle Jerks are looking for a new bass player." I was like, "Why are you talking to me?" They said, "Well, you look like you could use a job." I called Greg Hetson and he said, "Yeah, learn three songs." With my jazz training, I was like, "Learn three songs? I'll learn all three records you guys recorded." So I did and I went in with my fretless jazz bass I had used in San Diego and I really did enjoy playing bass. I think I auditioned last and they made me get up on stage and play the songs alone and then pretty soon they came up and joined me. It sounded like we were a band already. I told them I know all your songs and I'm ready to go. They asked me, "Why do you want to be a punk rocker?" I said, "Well I'm in this band called The Juicy Bananas down in Compton and Watts and I'm just afraid that black music isn't going to make any money and I want to join a punk rock band and get rich." They thought that was the dumbest thing they'd ever heard. They thought of me as just "Kevin the Nerd" because of the role I played in Repo Man.
Lee Sobel: When you met Alex Cox and you made Repo Man, did you have any sense that this was a movie that would become a cult classic like it has?
Zander Schloss: Not really. I'm just like the goofball who has stumbled into some situations. I was just hanging around UCLA film school putting up posters that said, "Hey, my name is Zander Schloss and I'll compose your soundtrack for free." I met a lot of people just hanging out in the halls at UCLA that went on to have careers in the major film industry. Alex was just somebody who we gravitated toward one another. He such a fun, funny, intelligent guy. We still talk on the phone pretty much weekly.
Lee Sobel: Emilio Estevez also wasn't a punk rocker but he was cast in the lead. What are your memories of him?
Zander Schloss: It didn't matter that he wasn't a punk rocker, just like it didn't matter that I was a musician and not an actor. He did his research and did a good job. He was just a young kid. I think he was just kind of starting out. He's Martin Sheen's son and kind of looked like Martin Sheen. He was a nice, affable guy. I can't say anything bad about him except that I guess looking back he seems to want to be more associated with The Mighty Ducks than Repo Man. I found myself in my trailer one time and Emilio came in with three of his friends he introduced me to: his brother Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise. They were all pimple-faced kids. What did I know? I've never really been impressed by
celebrities. I'm pretty chill when I meet people -- I'm just like, "Oh, you're another guy." That was the way it was with Joe Strummer as well. But I'm prepared to do my job. I've played the guitar since I was twelve, I went to music school and I studied with my jazz teacher. I think that's what appealed to the bands I've been in. Where punk rockers are just, "I pick up my instrument and do the best I can," I can actually play.
Lee Sobel: Do you remember any problems that came up during the production of Repo Man?
Zander Schloss: I don't remember any problems per se, except with the ending. They didn't know how to end the movie. Then they came up with this car that was glowing green and a couple of guys were up on ladders
throwing buckets of ice down and the car lifts off. I wouldn't say that was a problem but more of a surprise because it was written late in the shoot.
Lee Sobel: What did you think of the finished movie when you saw it?
Zander Schloss: I thought it was great. I'm lucky that a number of things I've been in or done are critically and historically remembered. Even though I stumbled into things, I always took great care that what I was doing had some sort of integrity. Out of all the things I've done, that movie is special. The script was chock full of memorable lines. The cast
was a very special group of people and I think we all knew we were doing something that was important. Now that's not what the critics or the movie industry thought, because they pulled the movie out of theaters after only a couple of weeks. But based on sales of the great soundtrack record that had all these amazing bands on it (Iggy Pop, Black Flag, Fear, etc.), they re-released the movie.
Lee Sobel: You worked on Alex Cox's next movie, Sid & Nancy (1985).
Zander Schloss: I wasn't in that one but I did contribute to the soundtrack. You know that scene in the alley where Sid and Nancy are kissing and the garbage is falling around them? That's me playing guitar. I'm on all of Alex Cox's movies, whether composing music, or playing guitar, I pop up on them one way or another. Working on Sid & Nancy was the first time I went to London and I met Joe Strummer and The Pogues coming out of the studio. I was staying at the Portobello Hotel in Ladbroke Grove and Joe Strummer lived right down the street. I think I drank with Bono in the bar of the Portobello Hotel. It's weird, I'm kind of like the Forrest Gump of rock 'n roll. I just kind of weirdly showed up in all these memorable historical situations. I didn't go on the
set but I did meet Chloe Webb who played Nancy Spungen and we became friends. I was on the set of Straight to Hell and down in Nicaragua for Walker for about three months during the civil war down there. That was one of the most interesting sets to be on with Alex Cox.
Lee Sobel: Alex Cox was on this incredible roll with his first four movies and then he was reportedly blacklisted by the studios. He himself said that in an interview I read with him.
Zander Schloss: Walker was a big budget film backed by Universal Pictures shooting in Nicaragua during a civil war where the Contras were being backed by Ronald Reagan and we were hanging out with the National Guard and the Sandinistas. That's pretty problematic right there with Universal and their perception of what we were doing. His far-left political views were not received very well. If you remember the Iran-Contra scandal and Oliver North and the Reagan era, it was a tumultuous time.
Lee Sobel: It's a shame that such a brilliant filmmaker as Alex Cox was blacklisted.
Zander Schloss (far right) in Circle Jerks
Zander Schloss: He's continued to make great films; they're just not as well known. Right after Walker he made a movie down in Mexico City called El Patrullero (1991) also released as Highway Patrolman. I did the music for that film and I think it's one of Alex's best work. It's in Spanish with English subtitles. He's made several films since then; they just aren't necessarily on the radar. It's like all the bands I've been in, some are just not really well known so it might look to some like, "He disappeared."
Lee Sobel: How did you like making Straight to Hell?
Zander Schloss: Alex Cox has this way of using me that always makes it memorable, whether I am getting beat up or singing a
song or whatever. So the way Kevin the Nerd was memorable in Repo Man, Karl the Wiener Man really stood out in Straight to Hell. That particular setup was a lot of fun. You had The Pogues, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Elvis Costello. I was just this kid with a guitar playing "Dirty Old Town" on the set with Shane McGowan and on any given day I would be playing "Alison" with Elvis Costello. Also I was learning flamenco music from the locals (the movie was shot in Almeria, Spain). That was a real party too. We were all smoking a lot of hash and drinking Sangria. Joe Strummer was in the movie and was kind of checking me out and that led to my first collaboration with Joe which was writing "Salsa Y Ketchup" which I performed in the movie where they're throwing stuff at me.
Zander Schloss (second from left) in Joe Strummer's Latino Rockabilly War
Lee Sobel: While you've been a member of Circle Jerks and Weirdos for many years, you've also put your own bands together, right? Like The Low and Sweet Orchestra which you were signed to Interscope Records and you put out one album with in 1996.
Zander Schloss: Yeah, that was a band I put together with James Fearnley and Kieran and Dermot Mulroney. I was also in Thelonious Monster and Two Free Stooges. It's definitely much more difficult trying to make a living as a touring musician starting a new band from the ground up than playing in a band that is already established like Circle Jerks and The Weirdos. But as far as from the public perception, not being an original member of Circle Jerks and The Weirdos has been like the bane of my existence. Even though I've played with those bands for decades I'm always perceived as "the new guy" because I wasn't a founding member. Even though I just did this duo for the past eight years as "Sean and Zander," and we made a couple of great records and gained a following, now I'm trying to do a solo career and finding it hard just to get some attention and get my foot in the door.
Lee Sobel: Having played thousands of punk shows, can you tell me one war story that sticks in your memory?
Zander Schloss: A lot of times people are disappointed that I don't remember each of thousands of shows I've played. The music is going so fast that you're hanging on for dear life and if your nose is in your work, you're not always paying attention to what is going on in the audience. Regularly at Circle Jerks shows there would be bouncers or cops showing up and beating up on kids. We played the Cameo theater in Miami and there was a huge contingent of Neo-Nazi skinheads. Keith Morris had the brilliant idea of telling the bouncers to stop beating up the kids and take a coffee break. So they did and then the
skinheads started beating up on the kids. One of the opening bands flipped off the skinheads and about fifty to a hundred skinheads came rushing up and beating the shit out of everybody on the stage, including us. I ducked behind my speaker cabinet and was waving my bass over my head, trying to protect myself. After the show, not only did the skinheads want to kill us but the bouncers wanted to kill us as well. I literally ran down the beach back to the hotel that night in fear of my life. That was extreme but it was pretty normal. There was a lot of violence back in the 80s at shows.
Lee Sobel: You've been in and out of Circle Jerks many times over the years.
Zander Schloss: Well at one point I was asked to be Joe Strummer's musical director, so people would get mad at me, but what would you do? It was like going from playing in this seminal hardcore band to playing with this punk rock war lord. It's a no brainer.
Lee Sobel: Can you tell me about Joe Strummer and working with him?
Zander Schloss: Joe was probably one of the fairest and most down-to-earth guys I have ever worked with. He was so talented and there was no ego about it with me. He treated me as an equal. He paid me handsomely and regularly I would be over at his house. He was still good friends with Mick Jones and Paul Simenon and I would be over at his house smoking joints and drinking with Mick and Paul. So it was basically me and The Clash. Joe was endearing and curious
about a lot of things. He would hang back and sign stuff and take pictures with people hours after a show and I didn't really understand that at the time. I was in my mid-twenties and my thinking was, "Let's get laid. Let's get drunk." But in retrospect I understand it - Joe was really on the level with people and Joe is remembered as much for the music he made as for encounters a lot of people had with him. He was very embracing and caring to people. That was what I took away from working with Joe and of course it was great to make records with him and play all those great Clash songs on stage with him. I got along well with him because I never acted like a fanboy with him. You know, when you go to the watering hole with the exotic animals you just go to the same watering hole and drink together.