The Only Songwriting Genius Left

Village Noize, Issue 13, 1992

Interview by Marlena Sonn
Typed in by Laura Kelley

Seven is almost universally a lucky number. I'm sure it's mine 'cause for Nick Cave's seventh album, Henry's Dream, we sat down and talked. He didn't hate my guts; when dealing with Cave, that's an accomplishment for an interviewer. He was funny and guarded, put through the press junket wringer, and still perfectly composed. Cave is the kind of person who walks down the street and strangers know he's somebody 'cause he stinks of celebrity. It's a good smell, though.

VN: Henry's Dream is a lot more lyrically complicated than The Good Son (1990).

NC: Is it?

VN: I think it is.

NC: There's a lot more lyrics on this record. I think it's more pointed and more aggressive.

VN: The new album returns to a more lyrical, epic style that The Good Son, for the most part, didn't have.

NC: It is a lot more narrative. There's a lot of stories and characters which is what I do best. I think that the violence that bubbles under The Good Son has eaten through to the surface of this record.

VN: Is that why you went down to Brazil after 1989's Tender Prey? The heat, the madness, the religion?

NC: Well, it was originally, yeah. Actually, that's nicely put. I've always been trying to think of an answer as to why I went to Brazil and I might use that one in the future. "The heat, the madness, the religion..."

I went there as a kind of pilgrimage; it's a country I've always been interested in, even though I've known very little about it. It's quite a different place than I had imagined it to be. I found very beautiful, friendly, intelligent people for one thing. Very simple people. That's what I enjoy about it; that's why I've stayed there. Rain and madness.

VN: Rain?

NC: It rains a lot, yeah.

VN: It seems as if 1990's novel And The Ass Saw The Angel had a very important effect on the way you write songs.

NC: I had created this environment with the book in which I found it very difficult to write things outside of. I have a lot of songs set in the same sort of arena in which And The Ass... is set. But now that I've finished the book, I feel I've been able to get out of that.

The book has so much to do with the language that I tended to drift towards more simple lyrics, particularly on The Good Son. I was disgusted with words, in a way. I was sick of rolling around sentences, working out the best way to say things. It took a lot of patience to write a book like that, where every sentence is very much considered.

VN: To read it, too.

NC: I can imagine. Glad I didn't have to do that. Yeah, the lyrics became simpler.

VN: It also seemed to me that there's been a drawing away from your main theme of the American South after the book. There are new images, especially on the new album, of the Australian Outback and Brazil.

NC: That's a very refreshing thing to hear, actually. People still say, "Well, this is another record about America," and it's not about America at all. All the mystery and romance of America I once had left me. It was an ignorant view, really. Very wrapped up in its mythology and its songwriting tradition.

I come to New York, for example, and I can't tolerate it anymore. It's just such a disturbing place to be. It operates in such ludicrous extremes. It's quite a frightening place to be in.

VN: That's interesting because in a recent interview I read you were moving here.

NC: Well, I was, but that was an idea I had about a year ago, that we'd leave Brazil, my girlfriend and my son, that is, and come to America. But I've had to look at things in a different way, from their point of view, not just from my own perspective.

VN: Has family life mellowed you out?

NC: I think it just made me more intolerant of things. The new record is post-baby; I don't think it's mellower than the other ones.

VN: The new album also has its tenderness, like on Loom of the Land, but I guess that's always been there too, such as Watching Alice.

NC: Well, that has tenderness, in its way...

VN: Is Watching Alice about a nun?

NC: No, no, absolutely not. I mean, it's morally unsound for sure, but no, it's not about a nun. It's about a young girl dressing. It's voyeristic, masturbatory. Young as in over the legal age.

VN: John Finn's Wife - not necessarily lyrically, but musically - it almost seems like a Tupelo Part II.

NC: Does it? I don't know what to say about that. It's not supposed to be a Tupelo Part II. It never occurred to me.

VN: OK, so would you ever shoot a man for his wife?

NC: Oh, it would definitely depend on the wife, I suppose. I mean, I don't ever think I'll need to, really. I'm not a homewrecker.

VN: That's not what my Mom would say...although The Birthday Party is past history for you.

NC: You too, probably.

VN: So how do you see yourself in a music tradition? You always do a lot of covers.

NC: I don't know. I don't know if I do. As far as I go, I'm kind of a novelty act that sits out on a limb by myself and bags away. I would say, in the most humble fashion, that I was in the same league as someone like Dylan or Leonard Cohen, simply because of their complete ignorance towards what's going on in the music world, and their utter belief in what they do, their own sense of expression.

VN: John Lennon?

NC: Yeah, possibly.

VN: I've always wanted to ask you why you do interviews. You're so legendary for hating them.

NC: I have this problem with my record company in that we're kind of a family and like each other very much. We respect what each other has to say about things. Not being an enemy of my record company, as most critics are, I don't feel as if I can say to Mute, "Well, fuck off, I don't want to do interviews." Every year I say, "I don't want to do interviews. I hate it, it's bullshit." I go through this speech that goes on for hours why I shouldn't do interviews. And in the end, they say, "Please do these interviews, because if you don't, we won't sell any records." And I hate doing them. Usually they're so drab and so automatic. They're just so stupid.

VN: I'm interested in your opinion on fans because I've been one since about 14.

NC: Good grave, no wonder your mother worried about you.

VN: You never seem very close to us. You've always seemed like some mythical character.

NC: Certainly in The Birthday Party. They were just an object to heap as much loathing and violence upon as possible. But that's changed considerably. To do a great live performance now I need a certain amount of audience participation, which I didn't used to need.

VN: You've got a lot of idol worship going on in the minds of people

NC: Good.


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