MB Interview

Seconds Magazine (US), June 1996

by Althea Morin
Sent by althea
Additional notes by maurice

Int: I wanted to ask you, why did you decide to do the Lollapalooza tour?
NC: I was against doing it, I didn't want to do it. There was a lot of pressure from a lot of people to do it and eventually we kind of relented and did it. I really wish we hadn't. I mean, I generally find that I'm quite intuitive about things. If there's something nagging me about something, and with the Lollapalooza thing I had a big problem about doing it, it's usually the wrong thing to do. But we went ahead and did it, against my better judgment and I thought it was awful.

Int: Blixa was involved with a theater project in Germany. Is that the only reason he didn't come, or he just didn't want to be involved with it?
NC: He was conveniently involved in something else, I would say. but I mean I understand that, I don't think Blixa could have tolerated it. He wouldn't have tolerated it. He wouldn't have lasted. I can understand not coming.

Int: So there's no plans for a tour for Murder Ballads, is there?
NC: No, no.

Int: Any particular reason?
NC: Well I think we've had enough touring, and I find that I keep having to say no to things cause I'm on the road all the time. I dunno, I think I find the whole touring thing a bit self-defeating. There're just too many other things to do. We deliberately made a record that was virtually impossible to tour. Which is what the Murder Ballads album is... some of the songs, there's only a couple that you could really play live off of that. So we made it very clear that we weren't going to tour this record before we made it. We'll be doing a few concerts - we have done a couple of concerts, I guess, that are based around the Murder Ballads thing where Kylie Minogue's gotten up.

Int: I saw you have some dates planned for Japan.
NC: We're gonna do a small thing in Japan, yeah. You know more than I do.

Int: So you said you're involved in other projects now, what are some of those?
NC: Well, I want to make a record with The Dirty Three, do you know this group?

Int: Yes, they're all instrumental, right?
NC: Yeah.

Int: So you would be singing with them?
NC: Yes, so I would sing, they're going to make their own album soon, and after that we'd like to make a short record with them. Oh, and some soundtrack stuff. There's quite a lot, really. I'm going to make my own album in a couple of months.

Int: A solo album?
NC: No, with the Bad Seeds. its just written and ready to go.

Int: You were going to be doing a solo for the soundtrack for the X-Files?
NC: I did that, which was with The Dirty Three, it was me singing with The Dirty Three, we just wanted to extend that, it was so good. It's a great song.

Int: Has that been released yet?
NC: I'm not supposed to say this, actually. I think this X-Files record is being released, but we're like a mystery track on it, or some bullshit like this, where I think people are supposed to find out who this track is actually by. It has something to do with the X-Files being a detective program, I dunno. Anyway, apparently we're on it, we're just this track that appears.

Int: Are you a fan of the show?
NC: I haven't really seen it, to be honest. I saw one program, but I don't watch TV. It seems quite good, though. The song we did for it is fantastic, its a really, really beautiful thing.

Int: What's it called?
NC: It's got a really long Latin title which you'd get wrong anyway, and I can't remember it. It's "Dread the Passage of Jesus For He Will Not Return" in Latin. So if you wanna get your Latin book out... whatever.

Int: I also heard you were recording something with Current 93?
NC: Yeah, shit yeah, well I did, yeah.

Int: How did you get involved with them? It seems sort of out of your usual circle.
NC: Yeah, well I'm just a good friend of David Tibet who I guess is Current 93. We became quite close friends because we have similar interests. He collects Louis Wain (1860-1939) paintings. He's the English cat painter... he painted cats in the early part of the century, went crazy and still kept painting cats and did all these amazing paintings of cats. He actually collects them and I do as well. He has very strong Christian notions about things. Anyway, he started giving me a lot of books to read, a lot of information, and it was very, very generous, about his ideas and so on. And so I just went and sang on his record to return the favor.

Int: what do you mean when you say David Tibet has "Christian notions"?
NC: Well, we have similar ideas about things, similar interests. and he's kind of like "well, if you're into that, read this book, and read this book, and read this book." He's one of those kind of people, and I have a few in my life that are like that, who make it their business to research particular things, which I don't, I don't have the time for, and are incredibly generous with what they find out about things, particularly with literature. I have another friend, Mick Geyer in Australia who's a kind of musicologist, and with the Murder Ballads thing I ring him up and say "I'm making a record of murder ballads, get me murder ballads," he'll send me tapes and tapes of hundreds of murder ballads. David is like this about Christianity. So the thing for Current 93 was really neat, and a gift back to him just to sing something on his record to repay him in some way.

Int: I just find it interesting, what you were saying about Christianity, because it seems that most people think he's more into the occult.
NC: I think he went through that, and pretty much exhausted that area and ended up... he's genuinely a good person, he's just ended up being more interested in that sort of thing. I don't really know too much about his spiritual growth, but he has some tattoos and stuff that betray certain other things I've certainly never really been interested in.

Int: So you've never really went through a phase where you were interested in the occult?
NC: No. No way. I've always been on the side of good.

Int: Would you consider yourself a Christian?
NC: I wouldn't, no. because I'm not comfortable with a lot of the notions of it, but I would say that Christ informs my life pretty strongly, but a lot of it I don't believe in. I don't believe in the resurrection or the virgin birth or a lot of things like that. There is a sort of Christian humanism which is kind of a belief in Christ without believing in a supernatural intervention as God, which I would be closer inclined to believe in, but I don't really feel that I need to call myself anything. I read the Bible a lot, I read the New Testament a lot, and a lot of associated literature.

Int: It definitely shows a lot of references in your lyrics, in a way it seems though that your new album a lot of the lyrics are more coarse and less poetic, is that intentional?
NC: Well, it's about a different thing. They were written much quicker and they're basically comic. It's just really about storytelling, and a lot of them are deliberately perverse in the extremity of their nastiness.

Int: In a way it seems recently it sort of like alternated, one album will seem to be more autobiographical and the next will be more narration, has that been intentional?
NC: It has been going that way, and it will continue that way too. I find that these sort of patterns grow organically and they're certainly not intended that way. But I know that the Murder Ballads was definitely to write a record that would take the pressure off me writing about myself. Sometimes when you, particularly with Let Love In, where a lot of that stuff was very painful to write and once it was all kind of finished, you don't want to have anything more to do with it, you just want to take a hot shower and go and do something else. The Murder Ballads was very much like that, to make a record where I didn't have any real emotional commitment to it. It was basically sitting down and writing stories, an academic exercise. But the new songs I've got for the next record are highly personal, far more so than Let Love In, and they're all that way, I think. In fact, I don't really want to talk too much about it, we'll do that next year, I guess.

Int: When you write autobiographically does it tend to be more emotionally biographical, or literally?
NC: It does. What I like about it is that you're writing about things that actually happened, and you're writing very often to somebody, so you're kind of referring to incidents the person who you're writing to knows about, so there's kind of an enigmatic quality to a lot of the songs, they hint at things that have gone on, and I like that about songs that are very personal, if you know what I mean. Yeah, this new record is very much about what's been going on, and a lot has been going on for me. I find that I'm writing for a different purpose these days, in that it seems like I'm kind of writing a song that celebrates a particular thing that I'm going through at the time and it's... oh, I dunno. But anyway, it's something like that.

Int: Some of the references you've made to being sick, doing the intense murder thing; going on to other things, some people thought you were implying that you were going to go on to do happy pop songs.
NC: No, I don't think I could ever write happy pop songs. I'm sorry. Unless something changes very strongly in my outlook on things, I don't think I can write them. I don't have that outlook on life. I'm just not very happy with life, or very happy with the world, and I'm not very comfortable with my position in my world, and I never really have been. I never have been that comfortable being myself. and I'm writing about that a lot of the time. That's not to say that I wallow in misery, because I don't. I work a lot and I know how to exist in a reasonably contented fashion, but at the same time I have to exercise certain things in order to get there. There's a basic foundation under my life that is a feeling of discomfort with life, and it's always been that way.

Int: Do you know why?
NC: No I don't, really.

Int: You say you're not happy with your position in the world, what about it? What position would you see as being ideal?
NC: All the things going on in my life are ideal. but I don't really feel like I'm happy, and this is what I'm trying to say. I have a beautiful child whom I love so much, and my career is exactly as I want it to be. I couldn't think of it in a better light than it is at the moment. I don't want it to be any other way than it is right now. I'm in love, I have a girlfriend, I have a lot of the external things around my life are incredible, but there is something that goes on, I think, that prevents me from enjoying that stuff as fully as I should. This is turning into a bit of a therapy session. I don't know why I'm talking like this, you must bring these things out of me. It's women. I should never be interviewed by a woman.

Int: At the same time now, do you think that this sense of angst with the world helps you write?
NC: It's not angst, I don't want to sound like I'm miserable, because it's not like that, I'm just kind of uncomfortable, and I know how to deal with that.

Int: What attracted you to Kylie Minogue's music?
NC: I don't think it was her music that particularly attracted me, it was Kylie Minogue herself as a person. I thought her music was ok, and I thought some of her songs were quite exceptional for pop music. But then again, I never really listen to pop music particularly, I used to like it, but it's not that I would sit down and play it. I always had a deep fascination with Kylie for about six or seven years.

Int: I talked to Mick Harvey the other day and he said you hadn't known her at all before you called her up.
NC: No, I didn't at all. It was all very exciting. It was a highly charged time.

Int: Did you ask PJ Harvey to collaborate around the same time, or was that afterwards?
NC: That was after. I've always been kind of friends with Polly, we'd talk a lot on the telephone and stuff like that. She came and sang the song, and we were seeing more of each other, and we did a video, I don't know if you've seen it or not, it's beautiful work. We cuddle a lot. We've been cuddling ever since, really. There you go, there's a scoop. Yeah, we get on very well. I definitely shouldn't do interviews with women.

Int: Whereabouts are you living now?
NC: I'm living in London now.

Int: Do you think that where you're living at the time affects the album that you're working on, or no?
NC: They were saying there's a ghost in this room, actually. There's all these weird things that keep happening. It definitely has an effect on things, because I'm writing about what's happening in my life. if I was living in India or someplace like that, I'd be writing about completely different things.

Int: Why did you choose London?
NC: Because my son lives there. I don't live with my wife, I was never married anyway... the mother of my child, we don't live together, but I have him living with me half the time. I mean that's just where he lives. I'll never take him away from there, so I live there as well. I don't mind that, I'm quite happy to be there.

Int: So how long has it been since you've lived in Australia?
NC: What year is it now? 96? About 16 years or something like that.

Int: Do you see yourself as an Australian musician?
NC: I do. I definitely consider myself Australian. I go back there and I feel pretty Australian. I like Australia. I really like Australian people.

Int: You said before that you don't like America.
NC: I promised that I wouldn't say anything bad about America this time, which would be impossible to keep. Look, America's fine. Everyone struggles. Every place is struggling with their own problems. I mean I just get a very strange feeling particularly in places like New York. I get the feeling that life really is fucking shit, whereas in other countries I don't, it seems like life is bearable. I get the feeling in New York sometimes that life is shit and that God is dead and we have been abandoned, and people are just sort of running around not knowing what the fuck they're doing. On the other hand, it's a lovely place, and I like American people. I really do.

Int: I would imagine that doing the Lollapalooza thing would not give someone a good impression of America.
NC: Well, no. I don't have much time for young people anymore, anywhere, I've gone through being young. I've done that. To do 53 concerts, or whatever it was, playing to an audience with an average age of 18 was pretty difficult. Well, its all right. Lollapalooza was... Lollapalooza. what more can I say. Everyone knows what Lollapalooza is like.

Int: So how do you feel you've changed, if you say you don't feel young anymore.
NC: I feel really different about life, I feel like I understand it much more, and I'm much more angry about things, but I'm much more tolerant about other things. I'm more tolerant of people in general. I understand that all people are trying to do is just to get on and survive, and everyone's trying to do the same thing, and I feel more compassionate in that respect, where I didn't used to be. Consequently I'm angrier at the forces in the world that make it difficult for people to survive.

Int: How does that come into the Murder Ballads album, I mean, would you see Murder Ballads in one sense as a railing out against this, or more of an amusing gleeful relation of these things.
NC: I'd say, I mean, there are a couple of songs... O'Malley's Bar is a fairly angry kind of song although it appears funny. It seems like a comic song, but there is a fair amount of rage about a world that makes a person of this type do acts of such despair as this, as this particular character does in the song. But then I don't feel very sympathetic towards this type of character at all. I have very mixed feelings about it. But a lot of the record is just straight comedy.

Int: In a way it seems to me, at least, that Jangling Jack would be more apropos on Murder Ballads, and Song of Joy would be more appropriate on Let Love In. Would you agree with that?
NC: Well, Song of Joy was written at the same time as Let Love In, and Jangling Jack was an afterthought that was written after Let Love In was basically written, we needed another song and I sat down and banged it out very quickly. So yeah, Jangling Jack doesn't sit very well on that record. But its difficult to see those things at the time.

Int: I mean, especially the Song of Joy starts out with "all things move toward their end." Is that your philosophy?
NC: Where did I steal that from? I'm sure I stole it from somewhere. It's not my philosophy but I'm very aware of the end of things when they start, particularly in relationships, and I think that's very much what a lot of my songs are about. Even ecstatic love songs, which I don't have that many, but when they come about there's... when I fall in love and write descriptive songs about someone like the Lament, The Good Son or... there's always an understanding of the end of the relationship that is there. I think as you grow older you grow far less indulgent. I've become far less able to indulge myself in the other person for the sake of the relationship, if you know what I mean. I know that person is annoying in this respect, but hey, I'm in love, I'll let that pass, that sort of thing. The cracks in a relationship I can see very early on, and I can see that they're the things that are going to explode eventually. I think that that's what happens in a lot of my songs. They're celebrations of a love for something but an understanding that it's not going to last.

Int: Do you think that you always understood that things aren't going to last?
NC: No, I don't. I think that I used to fall in love very easily and blindly and completely, and would be far more forgiving. As you grow older, I dunno. I've been through a pretty difficult relationship with the mother of my kid and I think it taught me a lot of lessons about things. You know, it's nice to be in love, and you want to be in love, and it's nice to, but it's kind of a healthy thing to understand when you actually are and when you're just infatuated.

Int: Do you still believe or did you ever believe that love will last?
NC: I don't really know. I'm not sure if I do, really. I don't know.

Int: Earlier you were speaking of Christ and religion, do you have the feeling that Christ has love for us?
NC: Well, I think he did, yeah. I see him as the savior, he's the failed savior, in the sense that he brought a message to the world that could have turned it around and made it a decent place to live, but we ignored the message and greed and injustice and inequality were just too powerful and are too powerful.

Int: Do you believe in a heaven and hell?
NC: No. I believe in it as a metaphor, and that you can create these things inside yourself. I believe in a kind of spiritual heaven that can be created inside yourself and I can believe in a hell that can be created inside yourself, as well. I no longer fear dying in that I'm going to have to pay. I think that there's a system of balance that works in this world.

Int: So you don't believe that "death is not the end?"
NC: I don't know. It's not that I don't believe, it's that I'm not concerned with it, I don't feel that there's an answer to be known now, I don't feel that I'm any authority on it, and I'm far more concerned about the way I live my life now. If I can live my life now in a decent way then things will fall into place after I die, one way or the other.

Int: What do you see yourself doing in the future, in ten years from now?
NC: Writing, I guess.

Int: Death is not the End: was it always intended to be this sort of "we are the world"?
NC: I wanted to film it actually, I always had it as a picture in my mind to be filmed. Henry Rollins was going to sing on it but he couldn't because of a throat problem. Where Thomas Wydler the drummer sings that was where Henry was going to sing, and I wanted to film it in some way where Kylie and Henry and Shane (McGowan) as kind of an unlikely group of people were singing this song. I thought it would be quite nice. It was an idea that was had very quickly and was just thrown on. The record is put together very much that way, and I like that about the record, it is kind of faulty and a little ill-conceived.

Int: Are you planning on working with Henry Rollins at all?
NC: Yeah, I would love to do stuff with him musically, but I can't really imagine what we would do. I love Henry, we're very good friends.

Int: How did you meet?
NC: I can't remember the first time we met, I was living in L.A. for a while, and I think maybe we probably met there, years ago. He always seemed to be around. No, I remember, actually, the first time that we met was at a gig once. I think it was a Minutemen gig in L.A. and I was in the audience and he was there, he insisted on coming up and showing me the cigarette burns in his ankles, put there by his adoring fans. "He was like, hey, look what they fucking do to me.". He was younger. He was much younger. I was like, "Hey look what they do to me!" I think we swapped wound stories. Yeah, that's how we met.

Int: Do you like the stuff he's doing now?
NC: I think what Henry does is great, and I really love Henry, and I love the person that he is, and the way he's invented himself. He's a completely original extraordinary individualistic character, and there really is nobody like him. He's a truly original person. It's the type of person rock and roll should be made up of, these kind of freaks, basically. I think that's what its all about. but then again I don't really listen to that sort of music. I don't sit at home and ever play music like that. I just don't listen to it. but I like what he does, I love to see him play live. I think his live shows are fucking great, they really do something to me when I watch them. But I don't listen to that stuff at home.

Int: What sort of stuff do you listen to?
NC: These days I'm listening to kind of modern classical music and stuff like that.

Int: Are the traditional songs on Murder Ballads songs you always liked, or did you just find them for the project?
NC: I've always known a lot about these songs, they're just sort of in there. I've always been interested in country music and folk music like that. Everyone knows Stagger Lee, I guess. About a hundred people have covered it. There was this incredible article by Greil Marcus about it in Mojo (Magazine, January 96) where he he listed all the versions of it.

Int: This came out recently after you did it?
NC: He said some very nice things about my version.

Int: So far it seems to be the most popular album. Were you expecting that?
NC: No, we weren't. We made it as a record that deliberately intended to sabotage the things that were going on, to pull things back to a manageable level in terms of how many people we were playing concerts to. I felt the concerts were getting far too big. I felt we were losing a certain amount of intimacy with the situation. I don't really know how to explain that. I thought I'd make a record that was really difficult and one-eyed and obsessive that our true fans would like, and everyone else would sort of think, "What the fuck is that?", but it didn't go that way. So I can do that with the next record.

Int: I guess you know it was because the single was pushed. Was that your decision?
NC: I wanted to do the single cause I wanted to do the video for it. The video was actually very important. It's a very important part of it, even though I loathe doing videos, this particular thing was to me a little film to accompany the song in a way, which was really a kind of metaphor for the way I felt about Kylie and the way I never really knew her, and the way I'd always felt a great deal of love for her, but she was always sort of this figure on the TV. I'd never met her, so the idea of having her lying dead in the river and me sort of crouching there touching her body seemed like an appropriate metaphor for this relationship that I'd had with Kylie. That was all part of it, so it was a single for that reason, as well. but I had no idea that it would be successful. I thought it would be one of rock and roll's great flops. Nobody in the band or the record company, I think, thought it would be particularly successful except after the video was made. Then people started going, "Hang on a second".

Int: It seems that the woman is sort of crying out to have her identity recognized.
NC: There's a deliberate detachment, there's a deliberate sense of me being removed from Kylie both in the singing and performing of the single, and of the video, whether me being alive and her dead as in the video, or the fact that we're never really singing together in the song, which was about our relationship. With the Polly Harvey thing it's a completely different thing. In the video that we do it's a highly charged sensual, very sexual kind of video. We're touching each other and we're singing very close and our mouths are very close together, and all it is is just us singing together, and so that was far more of a reflection of what our relationship is.

Int: People have commented on the balance, in one you kill a woman, so the woman gets to kill you?
NC: No, it wasn't. I was a bit irritated by that. It appeared that I tried to redress the balance in some way, that I'd gotten cold feet and done something politically correct. That was entirely unintended.

Int: How do you feel about people who are always complaining that your songs portray violence against women?
NC: I understand their complaints because they do. I'm not ignorant. I understand the problems women have, but I can't really answer the charge, that's just the way I write. If they're misogynistic then they're misogynistic, and there's nothing I can really say about that. I do hate women sometimes and I do hate particular women sometimes. I do sit down and write songs from the part of myself that has a deep rage against them, and it's the way I write and it's what I write about and it's honest, and I don't do it for any other reasons that it's the way I feel. I don't think that there's any money in it or to get attention. It's just the way I feel. At times I have a deep dislike for humanity in general. I do write some very cruel and unforgiving songs about humanity. I don't really know how to answer that charge. If that's the way people see my work, so be it. What can I say?


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