In Search of Nick Cave

Hypno, December, 1994

by (Rex Edhlund?)
Transcribed by jmoor01@unix.cc.emory.edu

As I can't determine the name of the author/interviewer from the piece, I'm assuming its the work of the editor (Rex Edhlund), but I'm not at all sure of this; if anyone can clarify this point, please advise/correct.

It started the night before Lollapalooza, swerving through the streets of downtown San Diego, trying to avoid bumping into the homeless and the people who had never seen the homeless before. I was headed for the band's hotel hoping that I'd be able to get the interview over with there instead of having to go through the backstage hell I usually have to. The standard mid-show chaos combined with having to deal with a legendarily horrible interviewee was not what I wanted. It was all worth it, though. Nick Cave is someone I have always wanted to interview. He's one of the most consistent and mind-blowingly diverse artists that has ever, and I do mean ever, created music. Yet American press just seems to gloss over him. That should all change with the new album.

Once I got there and wiped off the noticeable sweat that I was working up in anticipation of being abused by someone I think is a genius, I called up from the front desk to talk to Rainer Jesson, the tour manager. Bad news. Nick got wasted on the flight, no interview tonight. Go directly to backstage hell.

Surprisingly, backstage at Lollapalooza was a remarkably non- hellish time. Since this was the tail end of the tour, everyone seemed very at ease among each other, and the barriers of the hastily prepared dressing rooms didn't seem to exist. Members from A Tribe Called Quest hung out with the Breeders, George Clinton was just milling about using the Beasty Boys juice machine, and they all seemed perfectly comfortable rubbing elbows with the Tibetan Monks that Adam Youch (MCA of the Beasty Boys) had brought on tour with them. Everyone was just one big happy family. Except for one room. That's where the family knew scary Uncle Nick was. Nobody went in and out of the Bad Seeds sanctum. It just wasn't done. So, we did the same. We left backstage and took our place at the side of the stage just as our band of choice came on.

Brilliant. That's the only word that could begin to describe the intense performance that took place that afternoon. The look in the eyes of both the unfamiliar photographer I had with me, and the eyes of the probably unfamiliar audience, said that this Australian born mutation had gained a lot of new fans that day. I'm sure it was a nice contrast from a lot of the staring blank faces he said that he had encountered on some parts of the tour.

I'm sure the look of stunned amazement happens to a lot of new initiates to Nick Cave's moody, poetic and rattlesnake-strike world. His music is so varied from one song to the next that it's easy to be caught off guard. His blues-inspired monstrosities of romance and legend have gained him a worldwide reputation as an extremely formidable songwriter and his live performance channelling those energies have made his live shows a necessary experience.

"Ask me what you want to know and I'll tell you," was Nick's first statement. It's obvious his reputation as a hard interview isn't unfounded. But I had planned on this. The night before I had made an investment. I put together a tequila fund and took bassist Martyn P. Casey and Blixa Bargeld's replacement for the tour, James Johnston of the British band Gallon Drunk, out of the lobby and out on the town. One or ten dive bars later, I was lucky enough to have some insight into getting an interview that was longer than the five minutes he was giving everyone else. It worked, and I'm sure that this was the first time in my life that I can say I was smart to buy some tequila.

'I understand that your next album will be a mini-album of murder ballads.'

"Yeah, we're in the process of doing that at the moment. Mini-album is the wrong word. It's going to be as long as a conventional album. I've written and recorded two songs. One's fifteen minutes long, one's eight minutes long, and both are very singular in their theme. It's basically very indulging; an excuse for me to write some words that are very violent -- lyrics that I always seem to get a kick out of. I just want to write about five or six songs, various songs, and not be the central focus of the record. I mean there are two songs that need to be sung by a woman -- one is a song about a woman that's dipping her hands in the blood of others, and the other is sung from the point of view of a dead woman. So I'd like to get some female singers to sing them on the record instead of me. I'd basically just write them and sort of organize things. It's just a side project."

I saw a reference in another interview that you wanted Kylie Minogue to sing one of them, and then in the photobook Fish In A Barrel, I saw a picture of you with a tour bag with her name on it next to you. Has this been an ongoing appreciation of her?

"Well, yeah. I would love to get her to sing one particular song. It's called Where the Wild Roses Grow, and it's set from the point of view of a dead woman, and it's very beautiful, slow, touching song that I think she could do remarkably well. It remains to be seen if we can get her to do it, but she's responded positively."

I've had it pointed out to me that your music and most of the music I personally listen is extremely visual. You're a storyteller that, most of the time just sets it to music. I guess with that in mind, it's not so unusual that you and the rest of the band are so involved with the world of film.

'I do kind of consider myself a storyteller in a lot of ways, although that's not to say I don't write about myself and that I only write about other people. I'm finding that increasingly I'm writing about things that concern myself and entering into an area that I'm finding increasingly interesting to write about -- which is the effects and mysteries of a long term relationship. It's something that I could write about as I got older, the mysteries of domesticity. I'm actually becoming more and more concerned about writing about myself and writing a far more personal kind of lyrics, but still very often putting it into a narrative form as if I'm telling some kind of story. I often times use characters to tell these kinds of stories instead of an I, I, I kind of story, but it shouldn't be assumed that these things aren't a part of my life."

How much ad libbing do you actually do on the records? I've got the Loverman single that has a grab bag sort of mix of studio outtakes, and some of them are songs that I'd really like to hear completed.

"We loosen up occasionally in the studio -- well, loosen up in the pub first, and then just go in and sit down and make stuff up as we go along. I'll just sit down at the piano and just start banging away and singing off the top of my head and sometimes someone will join in, or someone will start up a little riff or something. We do a lot of that sort of thing. In a particular mood I have quite a talent for just singing what might appear to be reasonable or meaningful lyrics off the top of my head."

I understand that is how Red Right Hand came to be.

"Yeah, that was one of those songs, and I changed a few lines, but it was basically done in that way."

What songs are your particular favorites? "I think Nobody's Baby Now is a great song, and I think that some my slower songs, the ballads, are the ones that I really respond to and enjoy playing the most."

It's interesting that one of my favorite songs, and also the song of yours that I've noticed appalls the most people, is The Carny. I play your music in front of a lot of people, and most everyone is blown away and comes up to me commenting that it's some of the most incredible music they've ever heard. But The Carny usually leaves them with this horrified look on their faces.

"Really? Why should that be? Because it's just sort of lyrically morose?"

Well, I guess it just sort of paints a somewhat grisly picture. It seems to affect people at some base level.

"It's only a story of a horse dying, but, thanks, that's nice to hear." Nick seems extremely pleased to hear this. "The Carny is just a straight story. When I recorded that, basically everyone had gone home. There was a bit of piano music that was written, and when it came to the singing, I just had myself an armchair, a table, a typewriter, various sorts of paraphernalia around me, hundreds of lyrics, a microphone, ashtrays, lots of alcohol, and just sort of sat down there in the armchair the whole night and just made up the story and sang it into the microphone. It was an enjoyable song to create."

So, about your domestic life, how long have you been married?

"Five years, but I'm not actually married."

I understand you have a son. What's his name? (This is one of the questions I was told to ask during my Tequila Inquisition the previous night. I realized this was obviously good advice when Nick adjusted the seat to be closer to the microphone for his answer.)

"Luke."

Good Son or Bad Seed?

"He's just a tremendous child." (pause) "You know, you go on something like this tour, this Lollapalooza, that's two and a half months long... I think the only way I could actually do something like this is if I knew I had something else in my life. If I have something I know I could return to, and that's my wife and my child. They've brought an entire new dimension to my life and I think that it makes things like this more bearable. If I had to just go home and wait for the next tour to start, I'd be doing something else. I'd be washing cars or working in some record shop."

You're doing more book writing these days, aren't you?

"No I'm not, but it's something I want to do more of. I'd dearly like to write another book. I simply haven't had enough time to do it. I have ideas for one, but I haven't even got time start it."

Are you going to take some time off after this tour?

"Yeah, I'm going to take some time back home. Try to do as much writing as I can and stay at home."

What about the film work that you've done? Acting in Johnny Suede, working with Wim Wenders, etc.?

"Well that stuff is all enjoyable to me. It's like being a small cog in some greater thing, to be one small part of something that's far bigger than you are. Although I find it quite difficult to trust in something that that I don't have complete control over. It's frightening working in films because it might turn out to be just complete shit, and if you're in a bad film, you're in a bad film forever. So I'm very picky about what I do. I get lots and lots of offers for film, but I turn most of those down. I haven't really given it a shot. It's not something that I feel I can really dedicate myself to. If it's a part that's not too challenging, then I'll do it. I don't think I could really act a real role through an entire film. I just don't have the patience for that sort of thing."

Do you have any more film work coming up?

"I have a Scorcese film coming up. I think he's the executive producer or something. I forget who the director is, but it's got Christopher Walken in it, the great Christopher Walken, and John Turturro, Dennis Hopper and a few other people in it. It's an incredible film, and they want this sort of brooding Morricone-esque music for that. I'll be doing that hopefully, if I get the time to do it. I'm also doing the music with Mick and Blixa for Johnny Hilcoate's second film, Jungle of Love. [This was later renamed To Have and To Hold.] It's a very violent, domestic melodrama set in Papua New Guinea. Johnny Hilcoate also did Ghosts ... Of the Civil Dead, the prison film that I was involved in."

I heard that some sort of acting is why Blixa didn't make it for the tour?

"He's acting in some theater in Germany at the moment, some version of Faust I believe. Then he's going to Vienna to be some sort of Professor there teaching something or other for a few months. I don't know what he's getting into these days -- it just keeps getting stranger and stranger."

Well it's just another thing to pull from when making music. I've got to hand it to you and the rest of the band -- you're all very richly diverse in your influences and the worlds you draw on. Do you think living in Brazil influenced you much?

"I live in London now, but yeah it did. It has had a big influence over me. Not necessarily their music. I mean, if you live in Brazil, you live with their music. It's everywhere, they're constantly playing their music. They love it, all that Samba and all that sort of stuff, and you hear it everywhere. That's not really what I'm influenced by in Brazil, but as a country itself, atmospherically, and the people... the amount of time I actually spent on my own. I spent a lot of time there by myself. That's been a big influence on me."

Do you think that the things like the death squads, pollution and babies being born without brains in Brazil has made a lasting impression on you and your music?

"I think Brazil is a remarkable country in the kind of corruption and the brutality of the government and the social situation there and what it does to people is so evident and so in your face and so inescapable that it can't just be pocketed away. In that respect, it's far more brutal than say some place like New York. At the same time it's much more bearable for me somehow -- it's more honest in a way. I mean even when you get robbed there. I've been robbed two or three times, and I don't feel any kind of bitterness. They're not going to blow your head off for kicks. They're not going to drive by your schoolyard and shoot a shotgun into it like it seems to happen more and more regularly in America. It's awful to see what's happening to the people there. I didn't live under a palm tree when I was there; I lived in Sao Paulo, which is the third largest city in the world. It's just this huge, massive business center in Brazil.

"We made the Do You Love Me? video there. We just sort of pulled together street people there -- transvestites, hookers and took them into a sort of sex club there and performed the song to these people who had no idea what the fuck my music is about or anything about me. I got to dress up with a toupee and sort of like a B-grade nightclub singer, and I sang it to them.

"The transvestites there do very odd things like using the sort of industrial silicone that you'd use for your tub, and it's not the right type. So when they would inject it into their cheeks, a month later it would be in their jowls. It drops and deforms them. A couple of doctors started working to fix these people up, so it's not as prevalent as before. They only did it because a transsexual there makes more money than a straight guy or a straight woman. When they get ugly, they can't work so there's no money and they just live in a cardboard box in the street. It's much more dangerous in Rio, though. That's where the police are killing children in the streets. I'd say that if you went there and stayed a week, there's at least a ninety percent chance of you getting robbed. It's appalling, really, and you don't even have to go to the so-called bad neighborhoods for this to happen."

I've heard that you also feel appalled by America.

"I've never really said that, but I do have certain problems with America. I have certain problems with the world really. I just think that America seems to be leading the world into a direction that frightens me really."

I agree. I guess I really only look for little microcosms that I can appreciate.

"I intend to do that too, but I don't want to have to run away and hide from the world. I mean, I don't want to have to disassociate myself from the world simply because I have no control over it. What I do on occasion, and the prime reason I lived in Brazil for three years, even though Brazil is a terrifying place in itself, is sort of escape -- escape from what I just couldn't tolerate in the modern world. I don't really want to do that [anymore]. I mean, I have a child, and I don't want to gather up my family and sort of escape somewhere because of what the world is becoming, but sometimes it seems like it's the only thing you can do."

What do you think people should do to make it not so horrifying?

"I don't know. I don't have any answers for that sort of thing. This is just one of those quivering messes. I just don't know."

This interview was conducted with an almost selfish approach. The questions asked were not necessarily for those unfamiliar with the works of Nick Cave. We do hope that it spurns some sort of interest because we think it's well worth it.
-- the editor(s) of HYPNO.

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