Talk Of The Devil...

Reprinted (without permission) from
Sounds, Dec. 24/31 1988

by Ann Scanlon
Transcribed by ZuZu

Nick Cave not only made one of 1988's greatest albums, but also appeared in its finest film, Wings of Desire. But he's just glad he made it through the year - which has been marred by both a heroin conviction and a spell in a rehabilitation clinic. Ann Scanlon meets him in Paris to talk about Tender Prey, his ongoing acting career and his deep mistrust of the music press. Mary Scanlon gives him a light.

"I don't really remember that much about 1988," admits Nick Cave. "I'm just happy that I've managed to be able to hold on to what I've been doing - despite the circumstances - and that I've got something in front of me now."

For a man who not only came up with one of the best singles and albums of the year, but also appeared in its finest film, this is a surprisingly vague assessment of the past 12 months.

But Nick Cave - who has been accustomed to accolades since his first LP with The Birthday Party was lauded as "one of the greatest rock albums ever made" - treats both acclaim and criticism with equal disregard.

"Good reviews and bad reviews affect me in much the same way," he says. "Which is a fair amount of distrust..."

Far more articulate in his work than he'll ever be in front of a tape recorder, Cave's relationship with the press has rarely been easy.

He might not be mainstream enough for tabloid taste but, thanks to the increasing Grub Street mentality of certain sections of the music press, Cave's private life is now gaining more column inches than his music.

One article, in particular, was determined to expose the singer's heroin addiction, painting him as the baddest Johnny in the apple cart and making a severe moral judgement between the creative powers of speed and the nihilistic destruction of smack.

By a neat quirk of fate, the feature coincided with Cave's appearance before a London magistrates court, where he pleaded guilty to possessing heroin and immediately after entered a rehabilitation clinic.

Eleven weeks after his court case, Nick Cave is sitting in a Paris hotel, drinking mineral water with expresso coffee chasers. He and the Bad Seeds - Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler, Roland Wolf and Kid Congo Powers - are midway through a European tour, which began just five days after Nick came out of drug rehabilitation.

The prudence of such a move might have been questionable, but Cave's entourage are ensuring that his transition is as painless as possible.

Cave has agreed to a handful of interviews during the tour, but any unwanted enquiries have been pre-empted by a series of warnings - from everyone from the record company and PR to the manager and bassist - not to mention drugs.

No one needed to worry about the French TV journalist Cave had faced earlier in the day, who was clearly more interested in the singer's haircut than the state of his head.

"Why is it that you have side burns?" he had earnestly asked. "Is it because you want to look like Elvis?"

Nevertheless, Rayner Jesson - who assumed managerial duties at the start of the tour - isn't taking any chances, and forms a less than shadowy presence throughout Cave's interviews.

Cave himself is polite, but far from verbose. When asked about his latest LP, Tender Prey, he admits that he hasn't really heard it for months.

"I just saw it as being a record of total chaos and, in a way, it was quite a surprise that it was accepted and considered to be one of our best records."

Placed alongside the Bad Seeds' previous LPs - From Her To Eternity, The Firstborn Is Dead, Kicking Against The Pricks and Your Funeral...My Trial, Tender Prey not only evidences Cave's increasing power as a songwriter but also his relentless creative obsession.

"What's motivated me for a long time - I'm not sure if it motivates me now - is a desperate desire to rectify the artistic mistakes that I made before.

"With each album that we've put out, I've been in the unfortunate position of not really being able to accept them as good enough. So I've had to go and make another one to fix up.

"I could never really hold up a record and be proud of it. And I think, in a way, that kind of negative approach to things is possibly what's kept the standard of our records quite high."

Like the band's covers LP, Kicking Against The Pricks, Tender Prey is characterised by its complete inconsistency.

"Most of our records have a basic concept of some sort behind them - which usually arises towards the end of recording. But the common thread running through Tender Prey seems to be its diversity. The whole record is just a stew of different styles."

The resultant chaos is probably due, in no small measure, to the conditions under which Tender Prey was recorded.

"We ended up recording in about eight different studios. That was a lot to do with the way we were working, which was perhaps disrespectful to the people in the studio and the studio itself. So we kept having to move from one to another.

"It was also recorded in three different countries (West Germany, England and Australia) and, for that reason, it was hard to get a pointed idea on things.

"But once a record's been made," he concludes, "it tends to be put on the shelf and we start on something else. And I really don't have much to say about it once it's done."

One of the outstanding songs on Tender Prey is New Morning, an uncharacteristically joyful injunction enhanced by harmonica and tambourine: "Thank you for giving this bright new morning / So steeped seemed the evening in darkness and blood"

"That particular song is quite ironic, I suppose. It was written in a situation of complete disgust with myself and everything around me. But it seems to be a little bit prophetic now, in some ways. Things seem a bit more hopeful."

Cave's personal favourite is the jubilant Deanna, but it's the colossal execution hymn, The Mercy Seat, that was the easy winner of Single Of The Year. And while both these songs smash what has stylistically gone before, The Mercy Seat's "eye for an eye and a truth for a truth" returns to the well-trodden theme of retribution.

"Basically I believe in some sort of system of balance. The suffering that you've dealt out, you must live at some time. I don't really see that it happens in this life - people get away with too much - so I believe it must happen in another life.

I feel really different about the whole idea of an afterlife all the time. I tend to just fall into patterns of neatly organised thought, you know, This is OK, this seems to be a way of looking at things and so forth.

But, like any philosophical thought, it seems to be so full of holes that I can't really stick by it for that long, and I just sort of drift from one idea to another... But I do believe in a God or higher power just about all of the time."

The Mercy Seat was undoubtedly influenced by Cave's involvement in the Australian prison movie Ghosts (Of The Civil Dead).

"When the idea for the film was first conceived, I had to do a great deal of research - watching videos and getting through a lot of literature. So, I guess it's not an accident that just about every third song I've written in the last few years is about prison. It's got a lot of potential, that theme."

Cave's role in Ghosts expanded from scripting the early drafts to playing an outrageously psychotic inmate.

"There were gaps in the scripts where I was just supposed to expostulate, and it was basically..." he pauses, then laughs. "Improvised, should I say. I mean, for most of it, I just had to sit in front of the camera and be this person."

Cave wrote his first film script for Ghosts' producer Evan English, more than four years ago in LA. But the plot evolved into something far too complicated for the screen, and eventually became the basis for Cave's novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel.

Like King Ink - a collection of lyrics, prose and short plays, which appeared earlier this year - And The Ass Saw The Angel will be published by Black Spring Press (next spring). But the author, who has reached the "very final editing" stage, does not care to elaborate on the storyline, other than to say, "it's about a fundamental religious sect who live in a small valley, in a sugar growing area somewhere in the world. It's basically about a mute boy who observes everything and is quite obsessive."

In addition to his performances in Ghosts and Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire, Cave also appeared in Richard Lowenstein's Melbourne punk movie, Dogs In Space. In a rather briefer role than the director would have liked, Cave flashes up on a video screen singing The Boys Next Door's epochal Shivers.

"I was asked to act in Dogs In Space but I refused. It was supposed to be a film about a certain period in Australia which I have quite a lot of feelings about, and I was very much a part of, and I didn't really think it could be successfully put down in a film.

"And the part that was suggested for me was to be the narrator - like the character in Cabaret, I had to sing some songs, including a version of Lust For Life by Iggy Pop, so I...umm...just had to say no.

"But they managed to use me anyway, totally without my permission or money."

More successful was Cave's relationship with Wim Wenders in Wings Of Desire. The heroes of Wenders' story are angels, and both the Bad Seeds and Mick Harvey's alter outlet Crime And The City Solution appear as angels who've fallen from grace with God.

Wenders instinctively decided that From Her To Eternity was the perfect soundtrack to take the angel from eternity to her (the mortal with whom he falls in love).

"I think both Wim and I tend to have a very romanticised view of things," reckons Cave, "and basically look at everything from an outsider's point of view.

"Our part in Wings was quite small, we basically did it in a day. But it was really exciting to be involved in - working with people in the film industry is a real relief from working with musicians. There just seems to be a lot more genuine work going on.

The actual idea of putting our group in a film like that was really touch and go and could have been horrible. But Wim Wenders is a great film maker, and I think the end product is really brilliant."

Wenders' next movie is a sprawling sci-fi epic, with a screenplay by Booker Prize winner Peter Carey, that's provisionally titled Till The End Of The World. Set between 1988 and 2003, it's been described as "the ultimate road movie", and will be shot in 25 cities in 17 countries.

"I don't really know too much about it," confesses Cave. "But I think there'll be music and a group to represent each country. And we're representing Australia although, as the group is at the moment, we could represent a lot of places."

Shooting will probably start next June, but Cave is still considering other film work.

"I keep getting scripts, although they're usually pretty horrible. I got one a while ago that wanted me to play a luminous saint that glowed ghoulish green in the dark, because I'd been infected with this weird strain of AIDS!

"But I actually feel very conscious of the fact that I'm in a band, and I don't think it's very easy to direct someone who's made a name for themselves in the rock 'n' roll industry.

"When you've got an actor who's in a different role each film, you accept that person for what they are. But you can't help looking at a rock star in a film - no matter how well they act - without referring back to the way he presented himself or herself beforehand."

If Nick Cave has found it difficult to confound expectations in the past, then there are a few who would have expected him to cope with such a testing Euro tour.

"There seems to be a sort of growth process that's going on with our actual performance, and particularly with me and the way I'm able to put songs across.

"Before this tour, it was just a case of going onstage and doing the best that was possible under the circumstances. There was no recall - just one of disgust, perhaps - but now the whole thing is much more powerful.

"I know now that the way I used to feel about the audience, and the way I thought they felt about me, was totally unrealistic. It was all filtered through my own disgust with myself.

"A couple of arseholes shouting at the front could almost destroy an entire performance. I'd immediately feel put off by it, This audience doesn't deserve anything. F*** this! - and I'd go and sulk up the back of the stage. It was very unprofessional of me, I know."

The contempt which Cave once felt for his audience is now saved exclusively for the press.

"I don't think my feelings towards the audience were really justified, but I think my feelings towards the press are completely justified.

"The situation has arisen where I find I can't really be honest with the press - or at least with certain papers - because the whole system of trust has broken down. And I don't know how it could possibly be repaired.

"I've done so many interviews where I've sat there and basically tried to talk to the journalist. And they've sat there going, Yes, Nick and, Great, Nick and all that sort of stuff, and then when you read it it's a completely cynical representation.

"But I guess it's very much a two way thing - and very often I don't present myself honestly, because I've got so many defences built up over the years. I'm basically a very paranoid person, and, at other times, I think I've been honest and then I feel like I've been betrayed. I dunno..."

Three weeks after the Bad Seeds' Paris show, Nick Cave is back in his record company office in London. Free from the pressures of the road, there is no longer any need for the jurisdiction of his manager, Rayner.

"Things are quite new for me at the moment," he says. "I'm trying to settle down somewhere, and work on my personal life a little bit - and there tends to be even more pressure there, in a way, than touring.

"I mean, there's a routine that you get into with touring, and you have this apparatus around you that kind of protects you from everything."

It is only in hindsight that Cave realises exactly how apprehensive about the tour everybody was.

"When I look back on it, there was a remarkable absence of people backstage, dealing drugs and that sort of thing.

"But I had basically come out of this clinic and gone straight on tour, and everybody said it was the most stupid thing you could possibly do if you want to remain sober. I did it though, and I think everybody else was a lot more nervous about it than I was."

Cave is currently based in London - "Shifting my place of residence all the time has never really helped me very much, actually" - but he has no long term desire to remain here. Or, indeed, anywhere. He views the world with the restlessness of the eternal emigrant, and now views his homeland with only the vaguest sense of nostalgia.

"I feel rootless in that I don't feel any desire to belong to what Australia has become. When I was a child there it was a different place altogether for me, and I look back on those days with a lot of love and so on. But there are some really great parts in Australia, where I would really like to go."

In the New Year Nick Cave will appear on a charity album for Neil Young's wife, with the like of Swans and Sonic Youth performing a selection of Young songs.

In the meantime, the Bad Seeds are doing a handful of Christmas dates in Brazil. It's a trip to which Cave - who dedicated Tender Prey to the Brazilian actor Ferdinand Ramos (Pixote) - has been looking forward to for some time.

"Pixote is my favourite film, and when I heard about his death I was mortified. The situation there is incredible - the police in Sao Paulo shot something like 90 children last year, and that was considered a routine matter.

"They showed the Ghosts film in Brazil recently and Hector Babenco (Pixote director) embraced the director. He thought it was great - so that's nice."

But despite the films the books and the acclaimed records, Cave continues to define success by his own impossibly high standards.

"For me, personal success is a period of elation, which happens for a short time, when I realise that there's some proof in front of me that my creative powers haven't dwindled.

"Then, after that period of elation, I just start to worry about whether I can do it again. You know, I worry a lot, really - and that fear is basically the force behind my creativity."


Review of Tender Prey

Reprinted (without permission) from
Sounds, Dec. 24/31 1988

by John Robb

AFTER A year of workmanlike performances from timid rivals, it was damn refreshing to be smacked in the face by an album crammed full of soul.

Tender Prey is real 'soul' in a way that all those dreary plastic dance records pretend to be. Cave himself echoes the strained larynx of other wounded bull vox heroes of the past. The hulking brute of Elvis again casts a shadow over the proceedings and, at some points, Cave is even crooning like Bryan Ferry, totally negating his confession that he cannot sing.

The dark corners of this LP see the band facing up to the same demon that perched on Jerry Lee Lewis' shoulder. But instead of crackin' up, these cats confront and wrestle with the horny midget.

The opening track, The Mercy Seat, broods menacingly on the horizon, crackling like a pent up thunderstorm. Harpsichord notes dask across the scene like vultures picking the flesh of humanity clean away from the rockin' beast. The pop blasts of Deanna, and its memory-hugging toon, serve almost as light relief compared to its hideous Hogarth relatives.

Tender Prey sees a cranked up band exploiting their own very individual niche: using rock as a tool to search and destroy some very dark areas. The devil himself has been shackled into the recording studio to cut some tracks. Good job he hoofed together a band as fine as this to help him in his endeavours.


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