Bad Seed Warren Ellis On Smartening Up

As the Bad Seeds take to Latitude, violinist and guitarist Warren Ellis talks shoes, socks and beards. You don't want to be a mod, he tells the Quietus. Warren Ellis pic courtesy Warren Ellis.

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Every man smartens up one day

There came a certain point where I started looking sloppy, and it didn’t really suit my age. I like wearing something smart, as opposed to looking like a mess. I had a big clean-up in my life, and it all sort of came around the same time. It helps to focus. And in the Bad Seeds, I always wear a suit.

Tidy clothes, tidy mind

If you get up in the morning and feel like you look alright today, if feels like you’ve got off on the right foot. I used to always wear a t-shirt and jeans, or flares or something like that. I’ve always liked slip-on polished shoes, and watches. But there was a certain point where I certainly felt like I couldn’t wear t-shirts. I liked shirts, but I always cut off the collars because they got in the way when I was playing.

The 90s were a bad time for gentleman’s shopping

In the 90s it was so fucking hard to buy anything decent, shoes in particular. They were horrible, with big fucking soles on them. If you liked those brown 70s-style things or slip-ons you were fucked. Now it’s more in. There’s been a real change in the last five years. I know I can see more things in shops that I like. It was even hard then to buy a decent suit that didn’t have a crotch like some fucking old man’s nightmare, unless you got a tailor-made one.

Shoes have a strange attachment for me.

I had a great pair of boots I bought in LA, chisel-toed with a hard Cuban heel. They had a hard nose on them, fucking great, and they were really tight when you got ’em on and did them up. I could never find anything to replace them, it’s a real bore. I will get my shoes and take photos of them, because I can’t throw them out when they’re worn down. It got out of hand, I had so many. I took photos of them and had to let some go. But I can’t throw that stuff out.

You can see yourself in your shoes.

I always felt that if you look down at your shoes and they look good back at you, you’re fucking sorted.

How your trousers meet your shoes is important.

It’s hard to get it right. People want to put it down at the back and have it fucking sitting there like a fucking sausage hanging over. If you find out your inner leg measurement you can go to any fucking person and say, “Look, make the inner leg 81” or whatever it is, and you don’t even have to try them on, you get them back and you know they’re going to be right. I discovered that recently and it was fantastic because now I don’t argue with some fucker who goes “I’m not doing it like that” when you tell them what you want. Give them a number and they think you know what you’re talking about.

You don’t want to look like a mod.

If your trousers are a bit short, it doesn’t matter, right? [To not look like a mod,] make sure you have a pair of ankle-high boots. You want to see the cut of your pants, don’t you?

I like socks.

There was a place that I went to in Atlanta, Georgia. I bought about 20 pairs there and then the shop closed down. I like all-cotton socks, though they’re not the greatest looking socks all the time. I like light-coloured socks, and I don’t mind cream, and I like pattern – I’ve got some great white socks with black things down the sides. I can forgive an extra 7% nylon, sometimes.

I might be the Imelda Marcos of the Bad Seeds.

On this last tour, I did come back with a lot of shoes, which was kind of embarrassing. I came back with my first pair of lace-ups in probably about 20 years. I had a bit of a patent-leather thing, I like Italian shoes. I had a white pair that just fell to pieces, though I’ve still got them. I started the Bad Seeds tour with taped-up shoes – they’d split down the side. I knew they weren’t going to last even a week so I had to buy about eight pairs of shoes.

Every man needs to have a good cobbler.

They’re hard to find, too. I like those people where you go in and they say, “Yeah, I can fix that,” not just telling you to throw the shoes out. That’s something that’s really dying off. I had a great old guy, an old Greek guy. He was really getting on, it was just him and his wife. I remember taking a pair of shoes there and getting them back and one heel was higher and fatter than the other. I realised he’d gone past the use-by date. There’s always those emergency Mister Minit cobblers, but in places like in Spain and Portugal they’re still very hands-on about repairing things. If you’ve got a good one you have to hang on to him.

I don’t polish my shoes.

It’s part of the look, actually. I don’t polish shoes ever. Maybe they wouldn’t fall apart, but I do like them when they get that rough look about them.

I never buy black shoes.

Brown, cream, white, tan, whatever, but it’s very rare I get a pair of black shoes. Tan when it’s worn looks great.

There are no rules about beards in The Bad Seeds or Grinderman.

I come as I am. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing with or what band I’m in. I don’t know how long the one I’ve got at the moment will last. I’ve had it for a while now. It’s like trimming a hedge, it can go horribly wrong. You can end up with a George Michael very quickly, which is fine on a certain guy, and some people aim for that, but it’s not what I’d want to have. I remember a friend of mine had a bad trim and he came out and there’s was nothing he could do about it. I won’t let anyone go near mine. I think going in for a beard trim is, fucking hell man, it’s incredibly dangerous.

Beards and women never get on.

My wife hates my beard. It’s beyond hate, actually. It makes you want to keep it. It’s an unfortunate attribute I have. If I got a crack habit she’d probably deal with that more easily. If I offered her the choice between crack and the beard, she’d probably have to weigh it up. When it goes, it’ll be because it’s time.

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