MB Interview

Rip It Up Magazine (New Zealand), Jan 96

by Jonathan King
Sent by Cam

blah blah blah, author saw Nick in Auckland 1992, "was converted", bought Henry's Dream and then the back catalogue... blah blah

Over the phone from London, Nick Cave has been running late - taking his son to school, caught in traffic - but when I get him on the line he is friendly and happy to talk. I ask him about the genesis of Murder.

"It's an idea that's been around for years - I don't know if it's a very good idea... but it's been there. We'd recorded these two very long songs about three years ago, one was O'Malley's Bar, one was Song Of Joy, and they were too long and too ... obsessive, and they didn't seem to fit on any of our other records, so we decided to make a murder ballads record where they could sit comfortably. I think O'Malley's Bar is a great song, and I didn't want that lost along the wayside."

"And we wanted to make a record that was very quick, in a very open, spirited way, with a lot of people playing on it, with a lot of duets, something to make it have the appearance of a bit of an extra-curricular project"

So, did the rest of it come together easily?

"Yeah, it wasn't the most difficult record to make... It's basically a situation where, for me, lyric writing, it doesn't matter what's going on in my life, I can always write a murder ballad. That's an easy thing for me to do: sit down and write a story in verse form. It's much more difficult to write songs I have some emotional attachment to: about myself. So lyrically, it was quite a lot of fun to do this, to write these extremely long, rambling narrative songs. It's a comic record really - a funny, comic, light-hearted record."

Are you surprised people miss that humour in your work, only see and expect doom and gloom?

"Not really because there is a big part of me that is that way, that is seriously depressed about the state of the world and the state of humanity, and I write about that a lot. I don't see my job as an artist is to sit around and write happy songs that congratulate the world for the way it is. I think the world is fucked, and I think that there are a lot of humans behaving very badly in this world. One side of me feels that very strongly. On the other hand, I do have quite a broad sense of humour about things. I'm an Australian, I have an Australian sense of humour, and I like to give that a bit of breathing space as well."

Songs like The Curse Of Millhaven have an affectionate good humour. Do you have any of that sympathy for the more horrible kind of people that inhabit some of these songs?

"I'm kind of sympathetic to the tragic character, and I guess the murderer is as much a tragic character as his victims are. In a way there are murderers and murderers... I find it difficult to have sympathy for the idiot who walks into McDonald's and blows everyone away with a shotgun - someone who lacks any imagination and is a moral coward. But there are other killers who, what they do, are kinds of shouts of despair, which is a different thing altogether. I guess the McDonald's killer is a cry for help as well in some ways, but some things are hard to stomach. O'Malley's Bar is about that kind of killer - the killer who is just some dribbling lunatic, but who sees himself as some kind of winged angel of redemption."

"But having said that, this record isn't meant to be a serious look at the social ramifications of murder; it's supposed to be a pretty fast, off the cuff, comic look at this particular subject."

The record opens with Song Of Joy, which is a song from the point of view of the family of a murder victim...

"Yeah, that's not a funny song in any way. No, it's a nasty song... I keep forgetting about that one. Song Of Joy was written for the Let Love In album, it was mixed and recorded then, but we didn't want to put it on the album because it was kind of irrelevant. Let Love In was quite a personal record, and that song isn't."

And you find that kind of personal song harder to write?

"It takes much more out of me, and it takes a lot more editing and going back to the songs and playing with them much much more than to write The Curse Of Millhaven, which is just this rambling story that I have in my head. I'll be sitting on the bus and I'll go: Right, I'll write a couple more verses to that, or I'll put two more on a napkin, and I'll end up with fifty verses or whatever."

Are you interested in getting inside the head of real-life murderers like Rosemary West or Jeffrey Dahmer?

"I had far more interest in that. There was a time when I read those sort of books - the True Crime, the serial killer books - quite avidly, but I haven't really done that for some years. There was a time when it seemed you could find out something about the way we work reading those books, but after a while they became very repetitious, kind of boring." "In a way it's my boredom with the subject of murder that's created these songs. They're really about other things - they're about language and they're about rhymes and they're about humour and storytelling. The murder angle is the convenient dramatic effect that you can put into a song. The thing I like about traditional murder ballads is that there doesn't have to be any motive for the murder. There's just these two people and he takes her down to the river and he kills her and he throws her in the river and that's it. They've ended up in a murder ballad so one of them's got to die. It's a romantic gesture of some sort. It's an incredibly politically incorrect statement to make, which I also kind of like. These songs are kind of dinosaur songs. They really shouldn't be allowed, which is kind of what I like about them."

That romantic character of the Bad Man is something you've explored often over the years, such as in Your Funeral, My Trial.

"It's a genre that I've been curious of for a long time. It's a prehistoric, romantic notion about things that don't really stand up in today's world. You can't really push that across as a message: the romantic concept of the Bad Man. There is really nothing romantic about a guy who drives past a fucking school yard and lerts a shotgun off. But I guess my point there is that art is a world unto itself, with it's own morality - if it has one - and it's own beauty, and that's something I've always tried to say in the kind of songs I've written."

You've called Murder a full stop for this kind of song-writing for you...

"It's very much like that. I'd be very surprised if I write a song like those again."

So, do you know where you're going next?

"I've written another album. I wrote another album while Murder Ballads was being mixed. I quite like doing that: writing while the thing you're ending is on. Murder Ballads was such a disgusting record to make you kind of remedy the situation by writing a whole lot of very different sort of songs. Some kind of re-dressing the balance."

What made it such a disgusting record to make?

"What's disgusting about the Murder Ballads, what is very much about the way I write, is taking hold of an idea and running with it beyond any reason or rationale; taking an idea much too far - and I think my whole career has been about that in a way. It's been doggedly banging my head against the same brick wall, when everyone else is saying Stop, and I'm saying: No, there's more there. And it does make you feel kind of unclean to make records like that."

"I took this record home to my mother and sat with her - as I do with my records when I've made them - and she listened to it with great interest, but after three songs I said: Look, you listen to it, I'm going to go do something else... go and have a hot bath or something."

In Rolling Stone you described the making of the Where The Wild Roses Grow video with Kylie Minogue as close to a religious experience.

"Well, kneeling next to Kylie Minogue's semi-naked body and... touching it... how would that be for you? It was close to a religious experience. I'd had a long-standing obsession with Kylie since she put out Better The Devil You Know, and I remember seeing her sing that on the television thinking: Fuck, I'd really like to see her sing something slow and sad. I think that would be a beautiful thing to see - this pop star sing something that was coming from the heart, and I set about writing songs for her... which I couldn't bring myself to send... it didn't seem like the time was right, and I don't think it would have been either. There was a time when she wouldn't have been able to do something with me whether she wanted to or not. Then the Murder Ballads came up and I wrote this especially for her. It is a murder ballad, but that song is also a metaphor for my feelings about Kylie Minogue, and the video too. Although videos are kind of a cheap little vehicle, it was a very important full stop to that project. The whole thing seemed very appropriate and very perfect, and it all happened very easily. And Kylie was just amazing the whole time; very professional and understood exactly what was going on and had a very intelligent approach to the whole thing... it was amazing."

I saw the two of you on the English Top Of The Pops show.

"That wasn't as enjoyable. That was like taking your little precious idea and having it fucked up the arse by the pop world."

And you're playing the Big Day Out...

"Yeah, the concerts will be different from any we've done before. We want to get a lot of guests up with us. We're not touring the Murder Ballads at all, but with these we'll lean in that direction a bit, do some of the duets."

And will we see Kylie with you?

"Well, I dunno. I'd like to. We'll just have to see... "


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