Mick Harvey Interview
"Effigy" zine, 1988
Interview by Robert Brokenmouth
E: Have the Bad Seeds been to Japan again?
M: No, no, we haven't...
E: Will you get a similar riotous reception?
M: I think most people who go there get some form of riotous reception...
E: Yeah, they're really into pop stars over there, aren't they?
M: Yeah there's a real pop star problem there, so you get very strange behaviour. I think most people do get this, if they're well-known to be taken to Japan, then there's going to be that sort of response waiting for them there. It is quite hard to go there, since that tour, we've tried to organize another, but with the Japanese, it's got to be tied in with the new album release, and also at the right time of the year, so it gets quite complicated... I mean, Neubauten, who toured there, were massively successful, they sell more records there than anywhere else in the world.
E: Even in Germany?
M: Yeah, 'cause the Japanese really like the Germans, y'see, they've got this long-standing thing going...
M: Well, it makes sense to me, they've both got a national mind, they're both totally efficient, they both lost the last war, they're both really rich countries, they've got quite a lot in common...
So Neubauten represent one extreme of... 'German/European avant-garde music'... because every form of music has an audience in Japan, because they like its style for one reason or another... everyone directed their attention at Neubauten, and so they were really successful.
But they haven't been able to do a follow-up tour in two or three years for the same kinds of reasons as us, they're going there again when their next album comes out, they put off the release of their next album so that the timing's right for Japan, and then the Japanese go 'Oh, uh, no, no, not now, not now, it is not the right time.'
E: What did you feel like walking around Japan?
M: Quite strange, because I've always woken up at six in the morning! Nick said it was like going to a health farm for a week... although I'm no expert on Japan, so I'd rather not come up with some mundane observation.
E: What happened to Barry Adamson? He was advertised for this tour...
M: They must have just picked up some old record and thought he was still in the group... well, he had kind of a tempestuous stay in the Bad Seeds anyway, pretty much blighted during his time with us, in his personal life, which I won't go into for obvious reasons. He actually stopped playing with us for a while because things had simply gotten totally out of control in certain areas, and then it got better and he came back again.
After The First Born Is Dead, he went through a really bad stage with these certain problems, and so he went out for about six months, and then he came back again, he'd gotten over these problems. Then we did the tour of Australia, he was really good that tour, great... great... he's a really fantastic bass player. I think he'd had enough of groups, I think he'd just decided it was about time he did something for himself rather than just make everyone else sound great.
E: How interesting!
M: That's kind of an outrageous statement to make, but, um, it's true, he does do pick-up jobs occasionally, he needs money like everyone does... he left when we'd done Kicking Against The Pricks; he didn't come back to Berlin to finish the record. He talked to me, he said 'Oh, I just don't want to be on tour all the time,' and he set to work on doing soundtracks and stuff.
He's been doing that for about two years now, he's practically recorded a whole album, which is the soundtrack to his feature film that he's writing the script to... and the soundtrack album comes first!! Some of it's really great. He's got it scripted, y'know, the atmosphere and the music all set up, he also did five minutes for one section of the new Derek Jarman film, and some ad... he's just been trying to get into that field, really.
He toured with Iggy Pop the second half of last year... I saw them on that tour and they were just fantastic, really good. I've seen Iggy several times over the past few years and always thought he was really disappointing, for obvious reasons. But last year the band were really good, and he was fantastic, great. I don't know if he'd selected his songs, maybe he finally sat back and listened to what he'd done over the years, and realised what was good, and decided to play the good songs... and the band handled them really well, I thought. There were only a few times that they didn't really cope.
That was really good to see, and Barry really enjoyed doing that... he was going to be doing Iggy's new album, but I think he ran into problems with the management, and they just went 'ahhh... forget it'. Shame in a way, because I think Barry would've helped him do a good record.
E: Did you hear his (Iggy Pop) last record?
M: No, just the singles.
E: I thought they'd mixed the drums up really loud, to get everyone dancing...
M: Yeah, probably... Iggy was apparently complaining about that... he didn't like the production on it... he, um... obviously went back to working with Bowie, 'cause his two best albums were done with him, and he probably realised that eventually... but I don't think he like the way it went... but then it was successful. So, he's got his 'most critically successful' albums, and he's got his most commercially successful albums. He really wants to make a similar album without 'old droopy drawers' around... I mean, he probably wanted Barry to get in a whole lot of people to play with him 'cause he realised that Barry had the right idea in his head, and he really wanted Barry to help him choose people to play on the record. Well it hasn't happened anyway, seems like Iggy's got hit record and stuff, he's 'in those channels'...
E: I didn't know what to expect when Nick released his first LP.
M: No? I was surprised, too.
E: I was impressed by it.
M: It's alright, for a first album, it's not that great.
E: I don't like Wings Off Flies very much, though...
M: Oh, it's just really... everything's obviously done in a completely different manner to the way we'd done things before. Some of it worked, and some of it didn't.
E: Which were the songs that you thought didn't?
M: Dunno... it's overall, in a way, I mean Cabin Fever doesn't really work, although its got some great things about it; the same thing with From Her To Eternity, that doesn't really work, although it's got great things about it; it's actually just a kind of mess.
E: Maybe I should ask you what your favourite Bad Seeds songs are?
E: Well, you've said that so many of the songs seem to be patchy...
M: No, that's just the first album, which is not to criticise the songs necessarily, its just the way they were handled or recorded, or whether they were effective. I mean, From Her To Eternity is a great song, and we've actually recorded a version of it for the Wim Wenders film. (Wings of Desire -KB) There's a new version with this line-up in it, which is a very different version. I'm not sure it's totally the way it should be, it's kinda like a live version of the song, and it's a lot stronger than the old version on the first album.
E: Who the hell is Tim Rose?
M: He's this strange guy... he used to be in this group called the Fug (? text blurred) Three in the early/mid sixties, and who's done a few solo albums. One of them had a song he wrote called Morning Dew on it, which has been covered by quite a few people including Lee Hazelwood, Marc Almond, and Neubauten on their last album... but I think Neubauten did a bad version of it...
E: Their version of Sand was good.
M: Yeah! Their version of Sand was good, but I don't like their version of Morning Dew... but a lot of people have done that song anyway... there's this one Tim Rose album, I think Blixa got it from some Canadian radio station, I think he stole it, this really rare record! It's got some great stuff on it, a great version of Hey Joe, long before Hendrix's, Long Time Man... I've got a tape copy of it back in Berlin, but it's a pretty scratchy record, I should think it would be impossible to find, I've never seen a copy of it anywhere.
E: Do you think the Bad Seeds will do any live albums?
E: No? I gather not...
M: No, we wouldn't be organized enough. I don't think there's much need, there's enough bootlegs going round, about three or four live records going around in Germany, from different concerts, I don't feel the need to do that. If people really want it, they can get it.
E: Just wondered... I mean, some of the things that happen on stage, some of the things Nick says, are just kind of peculiar to the stage... like Black Betty last night, with you and Blixa with those big silly grins...
M: Singing out of sync with each other?
E: Yes, that was wonderful!
M: Well, we don't exactly practice that song...
E: How often have you actually done that song?
M: Um..er... about twice...
E: It sort of showed...
M: Well, we actually did a really great version of that in Italy once, which went for about fifteen minutes because Nick was just really drunk, and improvised the whole time, so we kept going. It was much faster, and we had a stage with wooden floorboards, so everyone was stomping and stuff. It was great, and quite funny. I mean, it must have been alright if Nick kept it going for fifteen minutes. I think he went straight into some song, and we had to start playing it, going, 'What the fuck is he doing?!'
E: Tell me about the Bad Seeds new album.
M: Why? Why d'you want to know?
E: 'Cause I'm nosy.
M: Well, we've recorded about fifteen songs, we just have to finish a few of them, and decide which ones we want on the record, which ones we want to go ahead and mix for the album. It's extremely varied in style, so I couldn't tell you what the album's going to end up like, 'cause it all depends on what we choose, we could choose a few particular songs, and the headlines would scream 'Nick Cave Records a Pop Album!'... but they probably won't be on the record, so I won't say that. It's a lot more 'up', the songs are more... pacy, a lot of our records have a lot of slower songs on them.
E: Are you going back to England to do another tour?
M: I'm not going back to England, hopefully, for any tour!
E: Well, the Bad Seeds, then.
M: Well, we might do a couple of gigs there... by default!
E: I gather you don't like playing there?
M: No, not at all. It's a shithole.
E: Other than climate, why?
M: There does seem to be a severe problem in England that the people have preconceptions, England's the worst place for that by far. You can smell it in the air, and you can't combat it really, so it's like, apart from maybe 10% of your audience, it really feels like you're wasting your time, because they've got a set idea about what they wanted before they arrived, and very often they get it, even if they didn't get it at all, because they wanted to get it, that's how bad it is.
It's very difficult, we do play there occasionally. We didn't play there at all last year, but we didn't play in a lot of places last year.
You can play and get a reasonable amount of money in London, if you can discount the British audience problem being at its worst in London... it's just the conditions... once you go touring around the country... the way you get treated by the clubs... the food you have to eat that's always in a lump... y'know, it's kind of unpleasant, you just don't really have a good time... each club varies, of course, but it's just everything really.
By contrast, when you get to the Continent, you just get treated so well by everybody... usually they have all the right equipment, they take you out for dinner, and they're really interested in the group. Most of the people in Europe who run clubs and do tours are really interested in the groups they're working with, whereas in England they couldn't care less.
E: You've just repeated a lot of what Lizard Train told us about Europe.
M: Yeah well, that's what it's like, that's the way it is, it's so patently obvious after the first few minutes of being somewhere how you're being treated, that you can't help but notice. It¼s just not very pleasant, playing in England.
E: Kind of a shame.
M: No, not really, why bother playing there? Germany and France are much bigger markets than England, if you want to talk about markets. There's also this press thing in England, where so many people pay attention to the British press.
E: It does seem to be rather an annoying situation, then.
M: It is, yeah.
E: The thing is, we can't get European music papers out here, except for the English ones, and even if we could get the European ones, most of us wouldn't be able to read them, so we'd have to go by the British ones, which are often wildly inaccurate.
M: Yeah, we can't get around that, unfortunately. We just go to England, put in a minimum number of gigs, just to make an appearance in the country... the situation exists because of the appalling state of radio in England. The music press exist to service the youth of Britain who are interested in music, usually they're in their late teens and have no decent radio to listen to. It's completely different in Australia, if it were the case here, then RAM, and papers like that would be influential. They're not influential, they're just a service.
E: I think that the music papers in England tend to say that a band is 'such and such and such' and the reader thinks, 'well, that sounds like the sort of stuff I'd be interested in', and they go and see the band, and if the band's not like that at all, the reader will blame the band for not living up to the promise that the music paper ascribed it to; when of course, it's not the band who've made the mistake, but the music paper. On top of that, if the music paper had've been more accurate, that same reader who'd been manipulated into disliking the band for 'false pretenses' might've actually liked them.
M: Yeah, but also, people don't often get to hear and decide what the group is like in England; they decide before they've heard the group, 'cause of the music press... as a consequence, the music press has become very powerful, and they sell a lot of papers; they cover a broad area, all sorts of groups that are up and coming, and people in America and Australia get to hear about these groups in that way too.
If there was strong radio in England, the music press wouldn't exist in this form, they couldn't. They wouldn't get away with what they get away with now because people would hear the music first, and then make up their minds, and we wouldn't get these journalists being able to completely bullshit the whole time about things.
One thing I've noticed is how many groups in Australia still seem to be able to follow their own path... there still seems to be the potential for groups to be really good here, untainted somehow.
In England, the lures of big money and fame is just so close, and just so easily accessible that people fall for it really quickly, early on in their careers; they see the temptation, and the ones with the biggest egos who are usually the singers and songwriters, they go and get taken in by it. But here, that just don't exist really, unless you always intended to be commercial anyway, you're given years to develop, to feel bitter, to work it our over and over.
E: Ollie Olsen's been going for a while now.
M: Yeah, I know...
E: He's done some very good stuff...
M: I know, I know he has, he's quite bitter, too!
E: Is he bitter, or... ?
M: I think, actually, he is quite bitter, yeah. We all started off in Melbourne around the same time, and there is... although I don't get involved in it... a very strong level of competition between the people who started off around that time; there was in the late seventies anyway, a very bad competitive streak running through... it can be healthy, I suppose, but usually it isn't... Ollie's always had a bit of an obsession about Nick anyway, and one about Rowland (Howard), because Ollie and Rowland were in a group together (The Young Charlatans) at one stage; writing half the songs each, and singing half the songs each...
Ollie's still here, still struggling, trying to get a start in some way, and I think he must feel pretty bitter about The Birthday Party going overseas and getting popular, and now Nick's band... I really like a lot of Ollie's stuff... if he wasn't so bitter he'd probably like a lot of our stuff too.
E: Don't he like it?
M: Oh, I don't think he'd allow himself to...
M: Is Adelaide really dead these days? It seems to be.
E: Not many people go out to gigs as much as before, I think... they go out and see that crud that support you now...
M: The Mad Turks?
E: Oh, they're the most dull bunch of...
M: Yeah, they did seem quite dull to me.
E: They pull fairly big crowds, though...
M: Do they? But not last night, cause it was $12?
E: The best bands, I think, in Adelaide at the moment are The Lizard Train and Bloodloss, and a couple of other bands aren't bad.
M: I just remember Truck. Truck were wonderful! Truck were great. I like Truck!
M: Truck are a good band!!
E: You should have seen their first few shows, they were funnier than the time they supported you...
M: I bet! They were all funny... in fact, they might be doing a guest spot tonight for twenty minutes. I invited them... Well, after The Mad Turks I thought we need something, we were a bit stunned backstage with that group... we were going 'Oh my God... what a throwback... '
E: What do you think of the Swans?
M: I don't go for the Swans really. Nick thinks the Swans are just unbelievably fantastic.
E: How's your hearing?
M: Oh, it's fine. Seems to be better than most people's. Although I think I have slightly damaged my right ear from one night, when I was playing drums, and I had a monitor on my right. Barry was giving the monitor mixer some kind of instruction, which he interpreted as 'turn my guitar up full on Mick's monitor', and it just went BANG, like that..and this guitar was coming out of here, for three quarters of Avalanche, at, like, white noise level, you know that level when your ear just sort of turns over an you don't hear anything anymore? Just the eardrums going CCZZZZCZ-SKSKSKSYZSKSY, it was like that for about five minutes, and I couldn't get away 'cause I was stuck playing the drums and the monitor man couldn't see me... but that's all. The general level we play at hasn't damaged my hearing at all.
Crime and The City Solution
E: What happened to Crime and The City Solution?
M: Well, it got to the end of '86, and I don't know... we weren't really agreeing on what we were doing, and we had two camps within the group,. which is always a problem... it was horrible... I don't know what the other three-Rowland, Harry (Howard) and Epic (Soundtracks) wanted... I think they wanted what they've got now, which is Rowland's group (These Immortal Souls).
They certainly didn't seem to be there at all to work with Simon (Bonney), which, when Simon's the singer in the group, you have to do, because he can't sing like a normal human being...
E: Er, could you clarify that?
M: Well, he can't sing in time, he has no sense of timing whatsoever.
E: He goes very much for the lyrical flow, doesn't he?
M: Yeah, he goes for the lyrical flow, and he can sing in tune the whole time, but he can't ever sing the same thing twice, and he very rarely remembers his lyrics properly anyway. So it just becomes this organic flowing thing which you just have to follow, you really have to be locked into what Simon's doing. So I think those three were more interested in having a band that played pretty straight, and they didn't work directly with Simon, and a lot of the time, their decisions about what they wanted to do were very much without Simon.
E: What camp were you in?
M: I was in the me, Simon and Bronwyn (Adams) camp, which was completely geared towards working directly with Simon's singing. Well, singing is always the most out-front in a group, it's what most people listen to anyway. With Simon being so idiosyncratic, I really felt that you had to play with him the whole time, just to try and make it work.
By the end of '86 it had gotten much worse, arguments about the stuff that's on Room of Lights, and just finishing it in the form it was done in, was all... it just went on and on... these arguments about what was going on with the album... I just figured out that the other three weren't very happy playing with the group anyway, so what were they doing there?
And Simon had moved back to Berlin, and I decided it was about time I moved back to Berlin, as both my singers lived there. So I did that, and the other three were in London, so we just never got back together.
E: That's sort of sad, really...
M: No! It's not at all sad, no!!
E: Oh? It's not?
M: No! Because in the middle of '87, we put together a new Crime in Berlin, which is infinitely superior, because everyone in the group wants to work with Simon!
E: Has it toured? Will it?
M: Well, we've played three Berlin gigs... and we're meant to start touring at the end of April, we actually start with a tour of Eastern Europe...
M: We're playing Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia...
M: It should be good, actually... East Germany's supposed to be rough, though...
E: I thought you had to play things called 'rehearsals' with an invited audience, rather that 'gigs' in East Germany?
M: Yeah, there's a bit of a problem in some places, you can't play an official gig, you're being a, aah... tourist in transit, traveling from Germany to Hungary or something. Czechoslavakia's particularly difficult, you stop off, and you go into some basement where everyone who heard about it via the grapevine shows up, you put a hat at the door and that's about it... I've never played there, although the Go-Betweens have.
E: It must be awkward darting back and forth between two bands, how do you stay committed for both?
M: It's not really a matter of commitment to one or the other, it's just what I do. A few people have asked me about that, but it's not really an issue with me... I don't really think about it, I just do it.
E: Does that mean you like the people you're involved with just as much as you enjoy the music?
M: Oh yeah, yeah, I really do like the people in the groups I play with... and the new Crime is particularly... fabulous... Bronwyn's playing violin now, we've dragged her out of her bedroom where she'd been writing her lyrics... we've got a guitarist (from Neubauten! I've got a Neubauten member in both of my groups now!) and a bass player (who you wouldn't know, some old Mothers of Invention fan... ), and I'm playing drums again, which is a good change... I really feel that the people in the other camp did not play with very much 'feel', and the new Crime's got that very strongly.
Crime's new single should be out in mid-March, 12" I think... they're releasing our stuff locally, the old Crime's compilation stuff is already out, and out new album's meant to be out in April, on Rampant.
E: Good, I'm getting sick of spending lots and lots of money on your imports.
M: Yeah, I know, I don't want that situation any more, but Rampant have said that this compilation is coming out, and they'll do the next album.
E: We weren't too happy about the price of Your Funeral, My Trial
M: How much was it?
E: $30, $32 or something... maybe it wasn't that much...
M: No, it probably was...
E: It was fairly expensive...
M: It's a great record, though...
E: Says he, with a big fat grin on his face.
M: It's a great record!
E: Were there any really good crime gigs that really stood out? (the old Crime)
M: Well, yeah, there was some, that's hard to say, I'd have to go back... we did a tour of Germany in September '86, 6 dates. That was really successful we were playing really well every night... but the new line-up's going to be twice as good as the old, I'm quite looking forward to that... the new album's completely different to the old Crime... most people look at me and go 'Oh yeah? That's you talking', and then they hear it, and then they're telling me a couple of days later, and I'm saying, 'Yeah, really? It's really different? You think so?'
E: In the old line-up, about how much of the music did you actually end up making... or was it more a case of following Simon, as you were implying earlier?
M: Well, ummm... about half of it, usually there'd be some music that Simon would sing to, and sometimes they'd be arranged to suit him, although I couldn't always force people to do that, but the new Crime, ummm... well... there's not really any real writing of music... if you can believe that... songs just aren't written at all.
E: Is it more improvisational?
M: Well, we went into a demo studio, and we just, uh, didn't have anything basically except a couple of people who wanted to work with Simon! Simon put down some songs to a click-track, just singing them the way he wanted to sing the words; and a couple of things were recorded at a three-chord pattern, over and over to begin with, and Simon sang from that, and then we completely changed it, just so there was a melodic structure for Simon to work something to, and the other songs he'd sung the click-track, we played the music behind his vocal, so it's a bit hard to say, isn't it? I mean, if I sit down and write three chords, A, D and F, it's hardly as if I've written the song, is it? Especially the way they end up, they're often nothing like the original three chords at all...
From the outset, it's a totally different way for us, of working out the songs, that's why the whole thing's so different with this group, it just sounds really different... Simon always seems to have immense paces to sing his words in, that the group creates for him.
E: I did notice the amount of space he seemed to have, in the old Crime...
M: Not enough.
E: Not enough?
M: Not enough space, no.
E: I remember seeing him in the old Crime at the beginning of '86, thinking "Fuck, this guy can perform!"
M: He can show off, yeah. No, he is quite into the idea of performing. Most people find him... indigestible, basically, his performance... people don't 'buy' it.
E: Maybe they expect him to stand at the mike and wave his arms?
M: I think they think he looks like a nancy-boy... I get this from people, they don't like the way he flails about... I don't really think about it one way or the other, it's what he wants to do, so I leave him alone.
E: The album, Room of Lights, wasn't there an argument about one of the tracks on that?
M: Well, there were arguments about several of them.
E: Oh dear. Perhaps I'd better not ask then... I know, Untouchable took along time to come together...
M: Well, we did one version, Simon put down his vocal and decided it was perfect, and Rowland and Harry and Epic decided we had to record the basic track, so we recorded it, I think it's a very stilted version, no real dynamic potential, and, uh, we put Simon's vocal back over it, spun it in on tape. Simon was totally unhappy with that situation, he felt they'd lost the feel of his vocal, and I'd have much rather used the original version, which was a bit sloppy, but I didn't mind, if it sounds right, it sounds right.
E: Were there any songs from the old Crime that stick out, that you really liked?
M: I really liked about half the songs very much...
E: I really liked '(Text lost here! Sorry! -KB)'
M: Mmm, mmm.
E: I like Adventure...
M: Yeah, I like them, yeah...
E: Rose Blue
M: Yeah, yeah, that one, yeah...
M: I don't like Untouchable, for instance.
E: Yeah, I thought that was a little clumsy and I was wondering why it didn't come off more.
M: No, it doesn't explode in your lounge room, like it was meant to. It was too sanitised, deodorised.
The Boys Next Door/Birthday Party
E: There was one question I wanted to ask you, which comes from an old interview you did, and I've never known the answer to it... you asked the interviewer if he'd like to now the reason The Boys next Door kept going after you'd left school, and you said it was an unusual reason... but the interviewer didn't follow it up... so, what was the reason?
M: The Boys Next Door?
E: Would you like me to dig the interview up?
M: It might explain something to me, yeah. Maybe you missed a word out, I don't quite follow what you're talking about...
E: It's in some old Adelaide fanzine... have you heard of DNA at all?
M: DNA? Yeah, they've been around for years. The group, you mean?
E: No... no, the fanzine.
E: "Birthday Party, 16 Page Interview With Mick Harvey!"
M: 16 Pages!?!? God's Salt!
E: Yes, I know... date: September 1985.
M: Was that when the Bad Seeds were here, or... ?? Did they do that in England?
E: It was done on New Years Eve, 1981.
M: God. Hahahah!
E: It took ages, didn't it? Just ignore the page on your left.
M: 'Punk Metal? Punkmetal?!', Oh here it is. (mumble mumble) "Do you want to know what our motivation was for carrying on and taking it so seriously? It's unusual."
E: Yes, it puzzled me too.
M: Um, maybe I've forgotten!... not... I don't remember. I think I was making it up, actually. I might have been being sarcastic... "Do you want to know what our motivation for carrying on and taking it so seriously? It's unusual!!!" I was probably going to say something like "Money!", which is something that never quite worked out.
E: D'you remember playing in Adelaide in '82?
M: Yeah! It was so hot! Some barn out near the beach, the... Shandon?
E: That's right. It was quite funny, half the people crammed up the back and tried to ignore you 'cause they were suburban yobs, and the other half were up the front going 'WAUGHHH!'.
M: Yeah, no, I remember those concerts... and then we played at some... The Governor Hindmarsh, is that it?
E: You're correct. It was extremely hot, and nobody could perform.
M: It was really SOOOO HOT! How can you play a sparkling energetic performance when it's like that? People were probably going, 'Oh, I paid $6 to get in here and they're all lying on the ground!' Fuckin' hell, you're only human!
E: Well, they didn't have air conditioning, I don't think, and it was 42 degrees Celsius in the early evening...
M: Y'know, that thing that used to be said about The Birthday Party, that we incorporated cliches, and used them and stuff, which we did do a lot of, we used deliberate cliches, and in the context of what we were doing, they were just like a joke; or sometimes by accident, they'd be made really effective or something...
Reprinted with permission. Copyright by Robert Brokenmouth, 1988.
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