Of all the of strange twists and turns in musician Zander Schloss’ life, the weirdest has to be inspiring one of modern film’s most memorable cult characters, Napoleon Dynamite.
OK, technically it’s unclear if filmmakers Jared and Jerusha Hess were inspired by Schloss to create their 2004 hit indie-comedy. But Schloss is certain his role as Kevin the Nerd in the 1984 cult film Repo Man was the basis of this character.
And since he based his portrayal of Kevin the Nerd on himself, it means that he inspired Napoleon Dynamite—or at least that’s what he assumed when he saw the movie.
“It was like looking in a mirror. It was unbearable for me. I couldn’t fucking believe it,” Schloss says. “I had the same hairdo. The same glasses. I probably wore the same suit to my graduation. Had the same attitude, the same mannerisms.”
Acting in underground films is only a small part of Schloss’ odd career. Around that same time, he played bass in seminal first wave L.A. punk bands the Circle Jerks and the Weirdos. Later, he played guitar and collaborated with a ton of musicians, most notably the Clash’s Joe Strummer.
Now, for the first time, he’s working on a solo record. He swings by Santa Cruz on his first solo U.S. tour, which follows a successful solo European tour. Despite such a long career, his biggest challenge is connecting with people that have been fans of his various other projects, but are likely unaware that he was part of them.
“I don’t think anyone really knows who I am,” Schloss says. “I jump around with genres. I do film scores. I act. I pop up in the strangest places. Maybe it’s to my detriment to not pigeonhole myself. I’m just a 55-year-old dude with 35 years of experience touring in bands and making records. Who’s interested?”
If people do know who he is, most likely it’s from his early ’80s punk bands, which are pretty far removed from the vulnerable acoustic music he’s playing nowadays as a singer-songwriter.
“It’s a terrifying concept. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but was always too scared to do. It’s personally coming from my heart, and if you don’t like me, I’ll just fucking die,” Schloss says.
It’s not entirely uncommon for aging punk rockers to go acoustic, but the ones that do tend to bring a raw, aggressive element to the stripped-down sound. Schloss’ music sounds like that of a weathered storyteller raised on roots music, which is essentially the case. His early bands were not punk. He grew up in St. Louis, and his first idols were Bob Dylan, Doc Watson and Neil Young.
“I’ve gone full circle back to the beginning,” he says.
He got involved with the punk scene after moving to LA to try to score films. He landed an acting role in Alex Cox’s Repo Man, and also got connected with the punk community. His roots may have not been punk, but it shaped his attitude from then on.
“The most punk rock thing I can do is be fragile,” he says. “It’s no longer about turning people into a frenzy and getting them to beat one another up. It’s mainly about, ‘Hey man, let’s connect. Let’s heal for a moment. Transcend this shitty world, just for a moment.’”
It was Strummer that encouraged him to give the guitar and songwriting a shot. The two worked together on Sid and Nancy and Straight To Hell—“he said to me, ‘What are you doing playing bass in a hardcore band?’”
The two worked on four albums together in the late ’80s, and Schloss has collaborated with several other people since. Now, with his solo debut in the works, he can’t help but focus on the stranger contributions he’s made to the larger culture. His Kevin the Nerd character, for instance, introduced the fauxhawk to mainstream America, and he happily takes credit for that.
“I believe in my crazy own mind that I created the fauxhawk,” he says, laughing maniacally. “You never saw the fauxhawk before that.”
INFO: 9 p.m., Friday, June 30, Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $8/adv, $10/door. 429-4135.