Nick Cave

American Music Press, Issue #22

Interviewed by Marc Gander
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Whenever I see Nick Cave perform live I cannot help but equate him to some crazed Southern evangelist. His appearance, tall and wiry with a penchant for black suits and his mannerisms, arms and eyes raised heavenward as if delivering a sermon, add credence to this analogy and it appears that it is not entirely accidental on Cave's behalf that such a comparison should be drawn. He has a well documented fascination with with both the bible and the South which he admits 'got a bit out of hand at one period.' The U.S., however, both South and North, has not reciprocated this fascination and, although Cave has an extremely loyal and devoted following here, he has never achieved widespread popularity. Cave is undeniably irritated by this atheistic sub-continent's refusal to heed his calling and, although he exhibits an unyielding faith in his work he is also exasperated by the masses' failure to realize his genius.

"We've just gone out on our own so many times," Cave explains, "and it's just been the same situation time after time and, eventually we just said, 'fuck it we're it not gonna do that anymore, we won't tour America anymore,' basically that was our decision when the Lollapalooza thing came up, which was a significantly different situation, and we decided that we'd do that, I mean I'm only interested in doing something if there's some development there or at least it's different from the last time we did it and that wasn't happening in America at all." At this point Cave's voice changes, from a matter of fact tone he takes an air of disgust and indignation, his slight Australian accent becoming more pronounced. "We kept releasing a record, we kept doing the same gigs, same amount of people and it was just...," he trails off, searching for the right words, "very repetitious," he concludes, but his intonation betrays the fact that that his feelings are actually somewhat stronger. This seeming lack of progress is understandably frustrating for Cave, but to write-off his fans in an entire country and refuse to perform for them simply because there are not enough of them seems a little callous, never the less, playing the Lollapalooza festival will give Cave the exposure that he seeks. Whether America's Live 105 [a San Francisco radio station -EW] kids will take his brand of twisted blues to their hearts remains to be seen, however. His music, after all, is a far cry from the Seattle Grunge sound of British indie pop which comprises the majority of the 'alternative scene' today and it is not instantly accessible, but Cave has always been more interested in being innovative and original than in commerciability.

Cave's musical career began in the late '70s in his native Australia where he fronted The Boys Next Door, a fairly mediocre punk-pop band. The Boys Next Door released an album Door Door (notable for the song 'Shivers,' which features in the excellent Dogs in Space movie.) After the release of Door Door, they promptly changed their name to the Birthday Party (after the Harold Pinter play) and began to play some of the most raucous and influential music to come out of the post-punk scene in the early-eighties. I asked Cave what prompted this dramatic change of direction.

"Well, you're quite right about The Boys Next Door,' Cave says, "but in fact, The Boys Next Door were a little more than a standard post-punk group - we just put out a really bad record. In fact we were a lot more direct and a lot more aggressive than that record makes us out to be. We were just saddled with a complete dickhead who did the production on the record and turned into the kind of powerpop record, which was what he wanted us to do and we were young enough and stupid enough to allow that to happen. But, having said that, we were a terrible band as well and writing a lot of crappy songs. We were very influenced by a lot of English and American groups that kind of filtered over to Australia. And, I think what happened was, we eventually left Australia and went to England and lived there for a while, and saw what these groups were really like and got rid of our frustration for other bands and started to create our own kind of music, as an alternative to that kind of music."

He goes on to say, "Anything that came from England was kind of very mysterious to us and seemed to be imbued with this incredible power and it was really getting over to England and seeing what it was like first hand, and how disappointed we were with it and how disappointed we were with England as a country. We thought it was going to be kind of, the answer to all our prayers and all of our problems. Consequently we ended up making very angry music, we were just pissed off about everything."

The Birthday Party released two excellent LPs, Prayers on Fire and Junk Yard, before splitting up in 1983. Soon after Cave formed the Bad Seeds and released the debut album From Her to Eternity. Since then Cave has been nothing, if not industrious, releasing a total of nine albums, a book of poetry (King Ink Black Spring Press), a novel (And the Ass Saw the Angel - Harper Collins) and has contributed to the soundtracks of, and acted in, several movies; notably Wim Wender's Wings of Desire and, more recently, the Australian Ghosts of the Civil Dead, in which Cave plays a prisoner. I mention to Cave that I have not seen Ghost playing, even at the art cinemas here, and it is not available on video either. This seems strange for a film which received critical acclaim both in Australia and Europe, Cave's appearance alone would, one would think, guarantee an audience. 'It's never been screened there [America],' Cave says. 'Probably because it doesn't have happy ending.'

It is odd that Ghosts was not screened here, when Romper Stomper, an Australian film about Skinheads, which is undeniably violent and controversial, recently enjoyed moderate success, on a limited release in the US. 'I think Ghosts blows Romper Stomper out of the water really,' Cave says. 'I mean Romper Stomper is kind of enjoyable, I guess, I never thought it was a particularly good movie. Ghosts of the Civil Dead is a truly brutal movie and I don't know why [it hasn't been released.] It's very anti-American, it's very un-American in a way, possibly that had something to do with it. I don't think people could find anyone who was willing to show it, really it's not even that violent, it's just the point that it is trying to make as a film is quite a brutal observation of the world and the way power works.'

Cave also had a hand in writing the screenplay for Ghosts, 'it went through about eight different drafts and I worked on the first three or so,' he says. 'I don't know if I did it particularly well, I think I helped invent some of the characters and some of the scenes of mine, but at the same time, I was not as involved in the film as the producer and the director, who did a lot more research on the film than I did. So basically, my contribution was more in character development and stuff like that, I would say. It's by no means my script, I enjoyed doing it. When I wrote that script I was kind of practicing to write my novel really.'

Cave's novel is something very close to his heart, he even goes so far to say that, in the future, he could foresee himself giving up music in favor of writing. Not surprisingly, when you listen to Cave's lyrics it is obvious that he has a deep love for language. His novel And the Ass Saw the Angel is very intelligent, incredibly twisted and very dark. It is not by any means easy reading; the premise is that of a deaf-mute, born of inbred, hill-billy parents living amongst a strange religious cult in the American deep south. He is slowly sinking in quicksand and as he sinks he is remembering his short and brutal life. To find out more you will have to buy the book, but suffice to say it is not something that will put you in a happy, uplifted mood. Keep a dictionary handy too, as Cave's vocabulary is phenomenally expansive.

Cave says of And the Ass.... 'I think the book that inspired that book the most was the Bible, particularly in the rhythms of the language and the way words are used and so on, definitely it was the Bible, which I read a lot... it's a very exciting book for me. I think that particularly the New Testament, and the life of Christ, is an amazing and mysterious story, very beautiful, very seductive.' Although writing is something that Cave is tending to do more of he is not, at present, writing a new novel. 'I want to write another one,' he says, 'I'm just gonna need to find the time to do it really. I would just have to put a stop to all this music stuff for a while, for a considerable amount of time which I don't necessarily think is a bad idea, it's just very difficult to do that at the moment.'

At present, music remains Cave's primary artistic outlet, 'I really enjoy making records,' he enthuses. 'I love writing songs and I enjoy the fact that I'm getting better at it and I can see that it is actually leading somewhere and I don't really want to terminate that until I see where it ends up.'

Cave's pen-ultimate studio album, Henry's Dream was an epic. A collection of short stories set to music, at times haunting and at times savage it was, also arguably his most commercial record to date. Cave, however, was not entirely happy with the way Henry's Dream turned out, 'I just don't like the production on it, that's all. I think the songs are great and the initial concept of the record, if it had of been the way we wanted it to be, it would have been a masterpiece. As it is it's just a good rock record, y'know, and that's not what we wanted it to be. I wanted to make an extremely violent aggressive record basically only using acoustic instruments. A really nasty, brutal record. Unfortunately we got a producer who wasn't really compatible with that train of thought and who, I thought, turned it into a rock record and that was the last thing we wanted to make.'

Hot on the heels of Henry's Dream Cave released Live Seeds, a collection of songs recorded live in Europe and Australia throughout 1993. Live Seeds features many of the songs from Henry's Dream and was, perhaps, an attempt by Cave to make available recordings of the songs on Henry's Dream without the 'rock' production. Live Seeds is an excellent live album and includes the best version of The Mercy Seat in my opinion, which Cave has yet released.

Nick Cave's latest album Let Love In, is somewhat of a return to his earlier style, 'production wise Let Love In is great,' says Cave, 'It's not the record we wanted to make with Henry's Dream, we didn't try to make that record again, it's a completely different sort of record, it's very good. It's got a very full production on it, but I'm just keeping the ideas I had for Henry's Dream in the back of my head, and I'll make that record one day properly.'

'I'm quite happy with my life at the moment,' Cave tells me and this is reflected in Let Love In, which is thematically, one of the most positive records he has released. Part of the reason is his marriage, which he gushingly describes as 'good,' and his young son, for whom he wrote the song Papa Won't Leave You, Henry on Henry's Dream. He also recently overcame an eight year addiction to heroin, I asked him if 'cleaning up' had affected his creative processes.

'Well, I don't know,' he replies, 'I can't really tell, when I was taking a lot of drugs I didn't look back at what I did, I just pressed on and took drugs and wrote,' he pauses, 'I don't know, I can't remember!' Well, drugs will do that to you, so remember kids - just say no! [Yes, he really wrote that in the article :-) EW]

The Lollapalooza tour embarks this month and will be at the Shoreline Amphitheater [Mountain View, CA- EW] on the 27th and 28th of August. [Nick played a show at the Warfield, SF on 26 August- EW] Whether this will afford Cave with the recognition he desires and deserves remains to be seen. It seems that in this topsy-turvy world of rock and roll intelligence and originality are generally usurped by a pretty face and a catchy three chord tune. Cave will be backed by his band, the Bad Seeds, on the tour although his longtime guitarist (and the leading force behind German noise merchants Einstuerzenden Neubauten) Blixa Bargeld will be unavailable for some concerts (possibly due to his long running problem with ingrowing cheeks) and will be replaced by Gallon Drunk's James Johnson. If you can't make it to Lollapalooza but want to get a feel for life on the road with Nick Cave, you can always rent a copy of Uli M. Schuppel's film The Road to God Knows Where, which documents Cave's 1990 tour of America. The film is shot in B & W and shows the harsh reality of life on the road, with no attempt to add glitz and glamour, 'I thought it was good, it was a really funny film you know,' Cave says, 'I thought it was a pretty accurate account of what life on the road on that tour was like, I mean, all [of our] tours aren't like that. I'd just come out of clinic for a start when I did that tour, so I was just sitting there terrified by everything, basically and everyone else was on their best behavior, y'know, but at the same time it was kind of interesting,' he goes on to say, 'It's a boring film, I like the idea that the audience who watches that has to sit through a couple of hours of what it's like for us.'

He isn't kidding when he says it is boring, direction is very minimal, in fact, most of the time one gets the impression that somebody left a camera running accidentally in the corner of a room, so I would only recommend it to very devoted fans, though some marketing genius did splice 5 full color videos at the end of the movie so it's worth renting just for that reason, for a straight live performance Live at the Paradiso, filmed in Australia and Europe on his 1991 tour, is a better bet.

After the Lollapalooza tour Cave is planning to do the soundtrack for a film called Jungle of Love, which he describes as 'a sort of violent melodrama set in Papua New Guinea.' [This was later titled 'To Have and To Hold'] He is also hoping to get more acting parts, 'I would really like to do more of that [acting]' he say, 'I get a lot of scripts but I haven't found anything that I am prepared to be involved in... I'm not in a situation where I have to grasp at roles, if something I like comes along I'll do it, but until then I'd just as soon wait.'

Whichever avenue Cave eventually decides to pursue, whether it be music, films or writing it is certain that he will inject his own humorously twisted style and brutal intelligence into that field. His ability to traverse many artistic genres and his unwillingness to compromise has kept him on the cutting edge in everything that he attempts and has afforded him with a longevity seldom seen in 'indie' music circles. Hopefully playing the Lollapalooza festival will increase his popularity in the U.S. enough to encourage him to tour here again, if not it will be our loss as he is one of the most vital and important entertainers currently performing.


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