In a Black Box
with Nick Cave

On The Street, May 1983

Interview by Rob Miller

Collected by Katherine B.

If male artists are, as Sigmund Freud once opinioned, simply frustrated neurotics trying to capture the traumas of the birth experience, then Nick Cave must be pretty close to getting back to his womb by now.

Perched on his narrow bed littered with a half-empty flask of scotch, a crumpled packet of Peter Jacksons, and an On The Street (of course!) in a sordid little Kings Cross hotel room, Nick is still tangibly more man than myth-even if on stage you can get a clear view of Mick Harvey drumming through those (Mum's cooking or not!) matchstick legs. Nick talks distractedly, and in an offhand way in the general direction of the cassette player, with, one suspects, a touch of disdain for the "pen-pushers and the quacks (We just want the facts! We've just come for the facts!)" - but in retrospect with surprising candour and honesty as well. He is really not the sort of successful artist who wallows smugly in the bog of self-congratulations.

Meanwhile, never one to miss an opportunity to sharpen up his pristine public image, bellicose bass player Tracy... 'buurrp' Pew lobs a parting shot - "Well...we'd better leave you two alone together then," as he walks out of the door with a shuffling and quiet Barry Adamson in tow and the interview gets underway.

ON THE STREET: How much of a distinction is there between The Birthday Party and Nick Cave as a songwriter - given that The Birthday Party had gone as far as it could go? Does that mean the The Birthday Party was not just Nick Cave as a songwriter?

NICK CAVE: I don't think that The Birthday Party was just Nick Cave as a songwriter. I don't think that the Man or Myth tour is just Nick Cave as a songwriter either. The main reason why The Birthday Party broke up was that the sort of songs that I was writing and the sort of songs that Rowland was writing were just totally at odds with each other - it was mainly a rift which developed between me and Rowland which kind of carried on through the rest of the group and made it tiresome for everyone else as well. It was certainly enough to make Mick Harvey quit, which is why The Birthday Party broke up officially. It probably would have gone on longer, but Mick has the ability to judge things much more clearly than the rest of us. We tend to get a bit carried away with things.

OTS: Your songwriting has undergone quite an evolution since the first Birthday Party album - it seems that these days you use much more conventional imagery.

NC: Yeah, I think so too. Even though I am using more conventional sorts of imagery, it seems to be much more difficult to write songs nowadays. With each year the process of writing a song becomes far more involved to ridiculous lengths. For example, writing Mutiny in Heaven was in the writing, lyrically anyway, for a good four months before we ever recorded it in Berlin. It's because you're using a cliche that it's like that I think - because people see something that they've heard about many times before, written about in a refreshing way, which is far more potent than just choosing a theme or subject matter that is obscure to begin with and writing about that in a conventional way.

OTS: Are you a lapsed Catholic?

NC: No, I'm not.

OTS: I guess it doesn't really matter what you are or aren't, really.

NC: I don't think it does. I've always had a very strong interest in that sort of imagery. I've always used it, perhaps now a bit more aggressively than I used to.

OTS: Do you like Louis Bunvel films?

NC: No, I don't. I hate Louis Bunvel films actually. He's... didactic, his films are didactic and the way I use that imagery... they're not making any particular statement about the Church, Religion or God at all. Not intentionally anyway.

OTS: Still - that seems like an incredible claim to make given that Mutiny In Heaven is so incredibly (although delightfully) blasphemous!!

NC: When I wrote that song it wasn't to make any deliberate insult to the Church or anything. I don't think in political terms like that. I was just happy with the way it sounded. I'm not stupid enough to be unaware that if particular people heard it, then they would find in offensive - but I wasn't being deliberately offensive or harbouring any particular prejudice against the Church when I wrote it.

OTS: Why then? Is it just a matter of exploring the emotional force you can generate from singing a song?

NC: Well, that particular song is different. The sort of songwriting I'm mainly interested in at the moment is far more narrative. Jennifer's Veil for example or a number of songs of the Man or Myth EP that's been recorded or things like She's Hit, this kind of half-story stuff, trying to build some sort of enigma around a particular character is mostly what I'm interested in, but Mutiny In Heaven is far more of an abstract thing, quite different from what I usually write.

OTS: Do you find there is much in the ways of film, theatre, bands or books that you want to consume yourself?

NC: Oooh - yeah - there are things that I like - but I'm just far more skeptical these days about what I go and see and what I read than I used to be. I used to do all I could to fill myself up with as much input as possible, but these days it seems much easier to predict what will be worth seeing or reading. I'm far more prejudiced than I used to be.

OTS: Are you still influenced by things? For example, by your immediate environment or the particular atmosphere of Melbourne where you grew up?

NC: I don't think that the environment has much impact - only in a really negative way. I really don't think that what happens to me day to day has very much bearing on what I'm writing about at all. It seems to be far more of an inward type of thing and far more to do with particular obsessions that have always been there - not that I could ever lay a finger on them - not that I even had a difficult religious upbringing which is the reason why I use a lot of blasphemous imagery - nor is it the influence of other musicians... or painters or books that I've read - although I could probably site some, mainly literature, that put me on particular tracks. The influences don't seem to come from anywhere anymore, they just come from your own past or what you've already created and what you can extend on from what you've already created. You review what you've already done and find that it's not what you've wanted to have done and you keep on wanting to repair your past... shortcomings.

OTS: I remember very strongly the Friday 13th gig at the Roundhouse last year, which some loved, some hated but which affected everyone. There was such immensely potent feeling coming off the stage for at least the first ten rows anyway because the sound in the Roundhouse was so horrific on that occasion.

NC: I thought that concert was really dreadful actually. I remember afterwards trying to cancel the whole rest of the tour. But the two at the Trade Union were much better...

OTS: - in a much more straightforward way though -

NC: I thought that all the concerts we did in Sydney were good in different ways, from what I remember of them anyway - and in retrospect. I liked the Roundhouse one, because it just, to me, showed a group in the process of falling apart. And it was those sorts of things that I thought were good about it - it just showed a group in its final stages and how we were making no qualms about how we appeared to the audience.

OTS: How did The Birthday Party go in America? How far did you get?

NC: Well, the last tour we did was great. It's fairly hard to tell in America how many people you actually draw and how many people just come to the club - people come to clubs with little regard for who's playing at all. All of the concerts we played were packed out - especially in new York and L.A - we played some really exceptional gigs, some of the best The Birthday Party have ever done. They were really inspirational.

OTS: Do you find you respond well to the challenge of playing to people who have never heard of The Birthday Party?

NC: Yeah, sure. America's really like that! You get the impression that you are able to shock and offend and that sort of thing all over again, whereas in London every time you play to the same kind of jaded, Pavlov's Dog type crowd.

OTS: Would you say that The Birthday Party were always a misunderstood band in that sense - that a certain contingent of the audience come along and get off purely on the aggression of the music without knowing or caring that it has much more to offer?

NC: Yeah, certainly. I don't know of another group who are playing music that is attempting in some way to be innovative that draws a more moronic audience than The Birthday Party. This is not everybody, of course - just people I see from stage - there's always ten rows of the most cretinous sector of the community.

OTS: And so is Berlin as exciting as we've been lead to believe?

NC: Well, I've always found it very exciting in the times that we've toured there. I just built up a collection of German friends - Berliners - who were really remarkable people and there was a real lot of activity going on that didn't even nod towards England for recognition. It was totally autonomous and very exciting in that respect.

OTS: In all areas of the arts?

NC: Yeah, sure. There was a group of about 25 people who just spent each night together at one of the clubs there - there were about five clubs you could go to in Berlin and they generally stayed open until 9 o'clock in the morning. They really knew how to live, the Berliners.

OTS: It always seems to light up just before a fall, Berlin.

NC: I don't think its ever really been very different. It's only when people who don't live in England or America got there and re-discover it, that it regains notoriety or popularity. I don't think it's ever particularly stopped there. I know that Berliners don't give a fuck who goes there or who uses their little creative island.

OTS: And so was it enjoyable doing the Immaculate Consumptive shows?

NC: Yeah, it was great. I'd worked with Lydia Lunch before, but it wasn't particularly stimulating this time. We were at each other's throats, it seems, the entire time, but it was really an education and very exciting to work with Marc Almond. He's just brilliant, that guy. I don't know what sort of reputation he's got here.

OTS: Obviously for lots of people, it's very easy not to take him seriously at all - that effete, camp sort of image.

NC: People really have the wrong idea of what he's like altogether. He's very aware of his public image and plays it up to hilarious extreme. But when he's doing things out of the Soft Cell or Mambas mode, he's really a very exciting performer and a great lyric writer. As far as I'm concerned, it was he who made The Immaculate Consumptive shows so exciting.

OTS: So what do you intend on doing after the Man or Myth shows?

NC: I'm not really exactly sure. Possibly we'll be looking at doing some concerts in America with this line-up, mainly because some of us want to get over to that side of the world. But all I've though about so far is to go to Mexico for a while and not do any sort of performing. If I thought I could live there, and if it was a likeable place to live, I could maybe get a job and just stay there for a long period of time. If I had the urge to, I could always record very easily. This is the thing about being solo, you can work from project to project which is what I want to do. I have no particular plans for doing anything in future in the music regard simply because I haven't thought of anything to do.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright by Rob Miller. Wholesale publication requires the written consent of the author. Contact site administrator for details.


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