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Warren Ellis: “I Admit That I Felt Uncomfortable When I Saw That Something Was Keeping Me From Making Music”

Dirty Three are back; make way for the instrumental rock legend

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Warren Ellis: “I Admit That I Felt Uncomfortable When I Saw That Something Was Keeping Me From Making Music” | PlayGround | Music Features

After a seven-year hiatus, the Australian trio Dirty Three is back with “Toward The Low Sun”. Warren Ellis confesses to having undergone a creative crisis; he talks about his composing methods and goes quiet when we ask him about Grinderman.


It must be frustrating to try to get together with your old group and find that the creative spark that used to be there fails to appear at all. To try over and over again without anything coming through. To think that everything that you are recording is mediocre. Something like this happened to Warren Ellis, leader and violinist of the Australian instrumental rock band Dirty Three, who also collaborates with Nick Cave in The Bad Seeds and (the extinct) Grinderman (he’s the one with the beard who looks like a vagabond). After seven years without releasing any new material with his band - since “Cinder” (2005) - last year he began playing with his two mates again, Mick Turner (electric guitar) and Jim White (drums), with the aim of releasing a new album. After a couple of failed attempts, something clicked; one fine day, the muses returned. The result is Toward The Low Sun, a gigantic album, soothing and painful at the same time, crisscrossed by passages of folk, Celtic music, guitar distortion and free jazz. We called Melbourne (Australia) to talk with Ellis about this work, his way of understanding music, and his special affection for Barcelona, where he will perform these new songs in the upcoming San Miguel Primavera Sound festival. The conversation is interrupted several times by dreadful noises (as if “we were in a jungle surrounded by savages”, says Ellis), keeping the conversation from flowing like it should.

"I feel the same

pressure in each one

of the things that

I participate in.

It isn’t a question

of pressure. Every

project that I get

involved in is a

challenge and I

have to give it

all that I’ve got."

Hello, Warren. How are you? So we’re finally getting together. I’ve tried to call you a couple of times, but you didn’t answer.

Yeah, sorry. I also called your mobile phone.

I prefer to talk from the landline so that I can record what you say.

OK, but we’ve already wasted about 10 minutes of the time that you have for the interview.

So let’s get started, then, right?

Of course.

Firstly, I’d like to know why you think it’s been so long since the last time that you did something together.

We’ve tried to get together several times to make music, but we couldn’t manage to find the right direction. So we started all over again. Besides that, we all live in different places: Mick in Melbourne, Jim in Brooklyn, and me in Paris. And we all play on other teams: I have been working with Nick Cave in his groups and on some film soundtracks, “The Road” (2009) and “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” (2007), among others. Jim has collaborated with artists like Cat Power, and Mick has been busy with his solo work. [Coughs and clears his voice]. Besides, we’re old now and we smoke.

Do you think that you feel more pressure with Dirty Three because it’s your own project, while with Nick Cave the spotlight isn’t as focussed on you?

No, no. I feel the same pressure in each one of the things that I participate in. It isn’t a question of pressure. Every project that I get involved in is a challenge and I have to give it all that I’ve got. But the thing is that it was hard to find our sound again. Since it is an instrumental proposal, you have to be more intuitive. If it doesn’t work the first time, it might be because it just doesn’t work.

You produced the album yourselves, with the aid of Casey Rice. Did you think about hiring someone else to make some decisions and get out of the creative slump that way?

I admit that I felt very uncomfortable when I saw that I could make music in other projects with no problem, but with Dirty Three something was holding me back. But that frustration has helped us to evolve and use ideas that we never had before and which have given us another way of seeing things. And we’ve done it the three of us together, without help from anyone else.

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