Knocking on Nick's Door
An interview (sort of)
with Nicholas Cave

On The Street, February 1988

Interview by Rob Miller

Collected by Katherine B.

Saint and Sinner, Misogynist and Misanthropist... as famous in his own way as AC/DC or INXS (Australia's most well-known musical exports), Nick Cave is a bad boy of international proportions these days. Recognized as one of the major talents of the '80's in culturally elevated circles from London to Berlin and New York, there's no small irony in the fact that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (or even The Birthday Party for that matter) are virtually unknown to the average music-listening Australian. And out of those that do acknowledge Cave in his own country, a fair proportion can't decide whether they love him for the brooding emotional soundscapes he and the Bad Seeds conjure or despise him for the blatantly arrogant attitude he displays to his listening public.

In equal parts misanthropic, exceptionally talented and wantonly self-destructive, it's also kind of unfortunate that the notoriety surrounding Nick Cave (which he does little to dispel), the tales of the man's narcotic over-indulgence and prima-donna arrogance have tended to overshadow the erratic brilliance of the Birthday Party/Bad Seeds career. Speaking for myself, a shameless fan since the early days of the Birthday Party, rarely have records been so eagerly awaited or as obsessively consumed as those by Nick Cave and his cronies. Yet in all that time I've never felt tempted to shoot up hard drugs just because that was part of the Nick Cave mythology. The price I've paid has been when my interest spilled over into curiosity to interview Cave, who's hardly the most receptive candidate for questions (which with the reputation is perhaps understandable).

Certainly when trying to separate the Man from the Myth, when you're second in a line of four phone interviews is a quest only for the foolhardy, especially when the questioning turns to the relationship between Cave's fabled decadence and his creativity...

"You're asking me if I take drugs?"

No, I'm not. I don't care particularly. I'm just interested in the what makes the records the wonderful experiences they usually are...

"Well, I guess I do. I don't know why you're looking for external factors. You're talking to the reason why those records are wonderful, I don't think that's got anything to do with drugs. I'm not on drugs at the moment, and as you can see, I'm still speaking with wit and intense as ever..."

Actually one gets the impression that these days Nick Cave would rather be known as a workaholic rather than for any other kind of obsessive behaviour.

"The last year I've been working my arse off," confides Nick. "It may not appear that way since no product has come out, but I'll reap the fruit this year. I've written a novel. I have two books coming out this year. I'm involved in a couple of films. Um, yeah, records and that shit."

Is music still a primary focus for you? Do you still consider yourself primarily a musician?

"I've never considered myself that way, but yeah, it's still very important to me. I've always felt that my areas of creativity were fairly open. But it's only in the past couple of years that I've actually had the chance to become involved in other things."

Long noted for his innate and formidable 'sense of the dramatic' by former Rich kid turned video producer Evan English, Nick cave has been based in Melbourne for the past few months where he'd been playing the part of Manyard in Ghosts (of the Civil Dead), a film about life in a high-tech maximum security prison. "I played a psychopath with a leaning towards self-destruction and shooting his mouth off," explains Nick. "It's about the authorities deliberately provoking a situation, where a series of violent events occur, so that the prison can be put under what's called lockdown, that's kind of twenty-four hours a day locked in the cells without any privileges or whatever. And there's that story plus the following of one particular character who goes into the prison a smalltime criminal and comes out a killer."

Along with Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld, Nick Cave will also be scoring the music for Ghosts, but is adamant that it will bear little resemblance to the Bad Seeds.

"The Ghosts film is the first I've done any music for. Apart from Wings of Desire, but that was only playing a couple of songs from our repertoire on stage. It wasn't actually doing music for the film as such. For Ghosts, I'm actually having to compose music to suit a certain type of atmosphere and so forth to kind of please the producer. And in that way it's kind of the first time I've had to do anything like that and it's quite a challenge. Usually I'm only pleasing myself..."

With songs like Knockin' on the Joe and Jack's Shadow (based on the story of Norman Mailer's friend Jack Henry Abbott, who wrote In the Belly of the Beast), Nick Cave has long been interested in the brutality and twisted emotions of the jail experience. Yet once again, attempts to prove Cave's seemingly fatal attraction towards these things merited an unenlightening response.

Have you mellowed over the years or are you still drawn to these sorts of things?

"I've written lots of prison songs... there's two or three prison songs on the next album"

Yet it seems prison is only one of the ways you've attempted to deal with various extremities of experience...

"The basic theme in my latest record are death, isolation and prison, basically the same things I've always been harping on about..."

What about sex and violence?

"Yeah, well, sex and violence of course. (Said with barely a trace of humour.) There's a good deal of sex and violence in it."

Is it still in the production stages?

"We've recorded quite a lot of songs for it, but we're still interested in recording more. Basically we want to make a better record than the last one even though I'm very happy with the last one. And I won't be really happy until I've done that."

Is Your Funeral... My Trial your favourite of the Bad Seeds records so far?


Although it is as yet untitled, Mick Harvey, who OTS spoke to last week (but that's another story!) is confident that the new album will be more than just a worthy successor to Your Funeral... My Trial. Incidentally, Cave will also be contributing to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' next movie (Paris, Texas), who he met whilst living in Berlin and between whom there is apparently a mutual respect.

In fact, diversity - surprisingly enough for those whose perception of Cave would favour him as an apathetic, drug-ridden layabout junkie - has been one of the characteristics of his career in recent years even if it hasn't necessarily improved his sense of humour or sociability. From the well-received album of covers, Kicking Against the Pricks, to Cave's long-awaited novel And the Ass saw the Angel, from which an excerpt, Atra Vigaro or the Vargas Barking Spider appeared on the Smack my Crack compilation last year, Cave has doubtless in his own inimitable fashion been hard at work.

Is the novel to be published soon?

"Yeah, it's being typed up now. There's still a few more weeks work left to do on it, but it'll be out this year sometime. But the first book that'll come out will be a collection of other writing apart from the novel of lyrics and extra-curricular writings called King Ink. My publishers are actually compiling it but I think it'll have hand written pages and the odd doodle and that punctuating it. That'll coincide with the album, which will come out in a few months."

And what of Nick Cave's immediate plans? Does he intend to stay in Melbourne?

"Well, I'm just here for two months and then I'll go to Berlin, I think. We plan to do a fair bit of traveling this year. We've got our eye on visiting Brazil and Argentina. I'd quite like to stay there for a while."

A few years ago you said you'd like to go to Mexico and be a gas attendant for a while, and the suggestion was, get away from the pressure for a while. Is having a lot of preconceptions and expectations foisted on you what's ultimately a drag about being Nick Cave?

"Well, it keeps me on my toes, I guess. I've never managed to do that; to cut myself off from obligations is a near impossible thing. But yeah, there is a lot of pressure to fulfill a lot of contracts, but ultimately that sort of situation is one I work best in."

Do you still enjoy playing live? It seems to me that you've always had a fairly ambivalent attitude, almost take us as you find us...

"Yeah, sometimes, I've always had the attitude that I can't really give anymore than I can give and I always try to give as much as I can. Basically that's the way people will find us and the way they'll have to take us."

It seems like a very brief tour that you're doing this time, only half a dozen dates spread over ten days...

"It seems to me like a very long tour!"

Will you only do one date in Sydney?

"I don't know. Are we doing a date in Sydney?"

Thanks for the interview, Nick! Reprinted with permission. Copyright by Rob Miller, 1988. Wholesale publication requires the written consent of the author. Contact site administrator for details.


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