Nick Cave Interview

From Mojo Magazine
March, 1997

by James McNair
Sent by Victoria Ivanova

This interview was originally published in Mojo magazine, then translated and reprinted in OM magazine from Russia. This is the English translation of that Russian translation of the article. - Ross

Nick and I sit in a London pub. Nick is on the opposite side of the table. Drinking coffee we talk unhurriedly. Nick, half-sprawled, his feet crossed, smokes a cigarette. His arm-chair is spacious. His spectacles' lenses reflect dancing flame of the fireplace.

"People often appeal to church after personal misfortunes; during my last visit to church I thought about the girl who had left me. However, after a prayer I didn't feel relief. Maybe I was irritated by service's manner. Sermons often include a lot of excessive pathetic element. Sometimes sermons contain direct lies caused by the fact that priests don't understand the bible. But I love church ritual as it contributes to getting something like spiritual meditation. It helps to overcome mundane delusion.

"Cognition of God includes a lot of beautiful and mysterious things but the thing called sermon is often nothing more than profanation of Christian faith. That is why I think that my way to God is like a journey of lonely wanderer whose spiritual perception of the world is based on Doubt."

When he was eight years old, Nick Cave sang in a choir. Later in the middle of '70's, being a pupil of an Art school, he admired religious picture of painters belonging to gothic period and the Renaissance. All his ten solo albums are full of biblical symbolism. As far the name of his book published in 1989, its name was taken from the fourth book of the Old Testament. It is clear that it was not creative crisis that led him to the road to the Church. His most recent album called The Boatman's Call was released in March. The album is very fragile, convincing and extremely frank. It could become a real landmark in the development of creative work of the musician. The album consists of twelve songs reflecting the most intimate periods of his life.

JM: It seems to me that several songs from the album connected with Vivian Caraneiro (mother of son Luke) and other songs are connected with Polly Jean Harvey.

NC: Fortunately the existence of a song doesn't depend on its concrete character.

JM: Well, but its inevitably that people will be interested in that matter.

NC: You're right, but all songs from The Boatman's Call are overfilled with information. When writing the songs, I tried to express my emotions very clearly. It seems to me I was successful. Well, there are some inaccuracies but they are very sincere. I mean they reflect my state of mind during that period and they reflect it fine. Let's take Far From Me. The song shows the process of slow dying of relations of two persons. I was writing the song during that very period. It was very important for me to describe absolutely all emotional moments. It resulted in a beautiful beginning and bitter ending. In the past I often wrote well-constructed compositions which absolutely didn't reflect a single idea, my real thoughts and feelings.

JM: It seems to me that the song People Ain't No Good tells about break-up of your marriage with Vivian?

NC: You are right.

JM: There are the following lines in the above-mentioned song - "it ain't that in their hearts they're bad / They'd stick by you if they could / But that's just bullshit / People just ain't no good."

NC: You should not consider that part as a moralizing. The song also has a religious implication - I don't think that the duty of God is to make people's lives better, to change march of events. God is the highest substance. It is impossible for us to understand that substance. People can have reason, heart, wishes, give the gift of intercourse to each other but they don't have something which is more important. Every person lives within the limits of his own passions, his problems. Sometimes we can help each other but there are events people's spirits can't overcome.

JM: Were Vivian and you in the same situation?

NC: Maybe. I was always frank in all things connected with me and Vivian. In my songs I wrote down, year after year, our relations. That is why there is no sense in deep discussions about the theme during interviews. I think that it is difficult for her to endure the content of my albums. It'll be better not to mention Vivian at least in our conversation.

JM: Generally speaking there are many rumors about women closed to you. Later they became characters of your songs. Anita Lane is associated with the composition Lament. Probably two songs from the new album (West Country Girl and Black Hair) are dedicated to PJ Harvey...

NC: ...and Green Eyes is dedicated to Tori Amos. Especially the line about Twinkling cunt...

JM: Are you kidding?

NC: No, I am absolutely serious. Tori rubs sparkles into her pubic hair.

JM: Do you know it from persoanl experience?

NC: Right you are. Only few persons asked me about my songs' characters before me last album release. At present having talked a little (for sake of propriety) about Vivian, journalists try to touch the main theme - Polly Harvey.

JM: You identified one of your songs' character with PJ Harvey. Did you feel uncomfortable because of it?

NC: PJ Harvey? It's a great news for me!

JM: I mean the following lines - "from the West", "black hair", "heart-shaped face".

NC: Well I don't know. It happened so.

JM: The song Are You The One That I've Been Waiting For reflects the matter of ideal love and search of an ideal partner. Do you think that any relations between are doomed in advance?

NC: No, I don't know. I am not a specialist in the field of relations between people. I just try to write songs without wise thoughts of love, God, etc. Writing songs I felt deceived. Probably it resulted in some lines in the new songs.

JM: You've worked with Mick Harvey over twenty years. Is he still a key person in sound realization of your ideas?

NC: No he isn't. Sometimes it turned out that one of your musicians is not satisfied with your song. He thinks that you take the wrong direction, etc. But one day I wrote a song for my son. I was going to include that song into my album. The song was just a sentimental rubbish. Blixa grabbed me and said that it'd be better to let the world to get rid of such a masterpiece. It'd be better to present the song to Luke in several years. Ha - ha - ha ! I was glad as it's terrible when you have to deal with absolutely unlucky idea. Usually I try to record all my songs. Otherwise you can forget them not to restore them. It's especially important to record songs about mutual relations. Such songs reflect feelings I had to some person. What you have such songs recorded it's sometimes difficult for you to recall what things they are about. More later, when you feel emotional bitterness, at least there is a part of disappeared joy.

JM: For a long time it seemed to me that Mick Harvey was the very person who could make you believe in your own possibilities.

NC: At present I have to spend more and more time to make the others believe in a fine quality of my songs. The last album has poetical moments which the other members of the band hardly understand. I touch upon very personal fields overfilled with religious content. It causes arguments between me and the others. That arguments have not resulted in direct disagreements yet. However the tension in band increases step by step. In the past I used religious symbolism in an active and abstract manner. Now I continue to use that method of writing but my new songs have things that some members of my band don't believe in. I had to make them agree with me and it's necessary to say that I was a success, but they said me that it's only my own point of view but not the point of view of Blixa or Mick Harvey.

JM: Now probably you are ready to record your own solo albums. Only yours. Are you?

NC: Yeah, in some way. All songs were written actually by me alone. Writing them I lived in my own spiritual world separated from every person. Blixa constantly said 'Why am I here? Why am I here?' I had to explain him everything. He was with me as I like his economical guitar playing. Besides, I should mention that Blixa use his guitar only when it necessary. It's an irony: there is the biggest photo of band in her history on the CD cover. There are not any instruments. Every member of the band did his best to hide his ego. Everyone but me. Ha - ha - ha ! My ego rebels, as usual. It took us very little time to record the album. I remember the process of its recording as there was an atmosphere of freshness. There was an idea to preserve roughness of demo-tape. That's why several of song were re-recorded only in order to improve technical aspects. Parts of vocal and piano were divided for subsequent mixing.

JM: They say that there always has been an understanding between you and children. The song called Where We Go But Nowhere includes line about Brazilian child frightened by deafening sound of drum. He was so frightened that he put his little fingers in your palm.

NC: On the song I describe the moment when we were in the carnival in Brazil there was a parade. I hold a little boy's hand. In the song I tried to say that the little boy's fingers in my palm would anticipate the birth of my own son.

JM: I think that the choice of the name (Luke) was quite natural.

NC: Well I was choosing from only four names (Nick laughs). He really loves me and it is great! I can conduct myself naturally. It turned out that over the last two years I became closer to my own father. I can feel free with him, I can conduct myself naturally. It turned out that over the last two years I became closer to my own father. I seldom recalled him after his death. Now I feel that I am a part of the process of evolution. It seems to me that I can eliminate in my son these bad features my father had no time to eliminate in me. I am actually only a slightly improved model of him. I am an egoist like him.

JM: You'll be forty years old in September. Do you grieve about the years passed?

NC: Sometimes it seems to me that even being forty years old I haven't improved anything. I still can't settle relations with another persons. Over the years I should learn to adjust. However I continue to find myself in difficult situations. Probably I failed to obtain necessary social practice. The practice which is important in such cases. Perhaps the reason is that for many years I was concentrated on completely other things. Having spent some time, at last I see that I am not ready to activity that demands simple human communication.

JM: Being forty years old, writer Martin Amis was overwhelmed to realize that nice girls in the streets didn't pay attention to him. His face was no more an eye-catcher for them. Aren't you anxious because of that problem?

NC: I don't know (Nick laughs). I've never thought of myself as of handsome man. Girls didn't rest their gazes on me. I didn't feel it. As for Martin Amis - he is a handsom man. There is definitely some charm in him.


Return to the Interviews page.