The Boatman's Call Interview

The I Magazine
March, 1997

by Jayne Margetts

THERE'S a clarity, fragility and new found courage that clings to Nick Cave's willowy frame and handsome, crooked smile. The face is a little older and wearier; the eyes a little less haunted, the alabaster features caught between the veil of peace and the residue of soul searching. In fact, this pale angel has shed so many layers of skin and soul on the reverential, intimate and sparse The Boatman's Call that it would be easy to conclude that, finally, his journey across oceans of trauma and love have finally delivered him close to the shadow of his God.

The world is obsessed by Cave and in turn he is obsessed by love, religion and redemption. His are the psalms that bring warmth in the chill of the night, they are the croon of the heartbroken, the cry of the lonely albatross who soars eternally across cold neurotic seas and the strum and weeping of violins that herald pain and loss in its most desperate hour of need.

He's Leonard Cohen on bended knees praying at the shrine; the black crow king swooning to vaudevillian and burlesque strums, a drunken sailor of shipwrecked, bittersweet blues and an evangelist of the sweetest ballads that drinks from the chalice of dark haired nymphets: "Her widows' peak, her lips I've kissed. Her glove of bones and her wrist that I have held in my hands. Her Spanish fly and her monkey gland. Her Godly body and its fourteen stations. That I have embraced, her palpitations. Her unborn child crying, 'Mummy' amongst the rubble of her body..."

Cave, the singer/songwriter, author, actor, film score composer and avatar for the jilted, sits quietly and with unusual restraint, awaiting a plethora of intimate questions. His mood suggests one of deep introspection and calmness which is strange. Notoriously fiery, brooding, charismatic and volatile, there is no trace of the man who sat opposite me four years ago, on a hot and balmy 40 degree afternoon, chain smoking and flinching at more intimate probings on the eve of Let Love In's release.

The past three years have seen the break-up of his marriage, falling in and out of love and/or affairs with elusive women (at an educated guess P.J. Harvey and Tori Amos [Webmaster's Note: 'HUH?!?!']), touring rigourously with The Bad Seeds on the European Festival circuit, releasing the incredibly successful The Murder Ballads album, guesting on Barry Adamson's album collaborating on a song titled The Sweetest Embrace, recording with Australia's seminal The Dirty Three for an X Files Compilation Album [Songs In the Key of X], reading a piece on radio that he penned titled Religion And Language, a poetry reading at London's Royal Albert Hall alongside Kylie Minogue ("that's one of the memories you cling to"), a cameo appearance in the film Rhinoceros Hunting In Prague and, of course, writing The Boatman's Call, his most "personal album" to date.

"To me this is the record I've always wanted to make. The record that took a reasonable amount of courage to actually do," he reflects. "While I was writing the Murder Ballads record I was also writing this record, and so, I think I was able to be extremely personal with these songs on The Boatman's Call because at the same time, I was sitting down, knocking out these murder ballads, which was kind of the other side of my desire to tell stories, and I was able to separate the two.

"So you don't get that storytelling feeling so much on this album. There are certain songs that do run a narrative line, my favourite in that respect is Far From Me, which was actually written through the course of a romance, so, that was very much my attempt to articulate what happened with the gradual disassembling of a romance, the first verse I wrote when I met this woman, and the last verse I wrote when it was over.

"But, yes, this is my most personal album to date," he continues. "I kind of write what I'm given in a way, and I just felt at particular times, this year, very excited about writing about things that had happened to me, and that's simply the nature of doing what I do," he pauses, "I think that I've just been much more able to understand a lot of things that have gone on in my life whereas before I was more concerned with fictional writing, and it was far more exciting for me to write about other things that were outside of myself.

"Y'know, to get lost in that world rather than to write about what actually happened to me. So I didn't set out to write a personal record as such. I just found myself writing things in that way, and with quite a few of those it was significant for me at the time to articulate the events that had happened."

Cave continues by explaining that all of his previous recorded works, are, in one way or the other, a blacklash against themselves and confesses that usually when the task of recording is complete he is sick to the stomach of hearing the songs rebound through his mind. But, that apparently is where The Boatman's Call differs: "I was kinda thinkful that the Murder Ballads record was out of the way and it left a lot open for me. I do look back on things and the songs that I prefer are the songs that do seem to remind me of things that have happened in my life, and with this album I still play it and I never played Murder Ballads after it was finished."

As The Boatman's Call suggests - Cave - as always - is a great believer in the power of love being able to scoop him up into its winged embrace, and ultimately offering him salvation. But he alludes, with precision and lucidity, that the past three years have taught him many valuable lessons about the most sacred of all virtues. "It's difficult to talk about these sorts of things," he chides uncomfortably.

"I think there's some very bracing and sobering lessons that can be learnt from love. It doesn't really go the way it's supposed to go, or the way I've always believed that should be, which is the way we're constantly fed about the idea of love and particularly about committed relationships like marriage. That love, in terms of relationships actually has little to do with things at all," he concedes. "It's about a commitment to a greater thing and that is the relationship and the relationship being the commitment of two people.

"There's a lot about love disintegrating on this album because of the need to believe that love is something that can rescue you, and in fact it doesn't at all. I mean love - romantic love - is a kind of distraction in the end."

The history and biographical journey Cave has undertaken has oft been repeated. Suffice to say that The Birthday Party's primal, gothic and strangled blues and Nick The Stripper era when Cave, guitarist Mick Harvey, Rowland S. Howard, bassist Tracy Pew and drummer Phil Calvert cavorted half naked and smeared in paint around burning fires lasted under a decade and paved the way for an incarnation even grander.

The formation of The Bad Seeds in Berlin in 1983 with ex-Birthday Party member Mick Harvey and with the addition of Blixa Bargeld; guitarist for the avante garde industrialists Einsturzende Neubauten, ex-Magazine and Pete Shelley bassist Barry Adamson and drummer Hugo Race, later expanded to include the talents of Anita Harvey [Webmasters Note: No, it's 'Lane'] and ex-Die Haut member Thomas Wydler.

Throughout the 'mid-80s Cave and The Seeds trimmed back the fat, lost a few members, added some and delivered some of their most potent and intoxicating anthems such as Deanna and The Ship Song and albums Kicking Back The Pricks [actually 'Kicking Against...'], Tender Prey, The Good Son, Henry's Dream, Live Seeds and Let Love In. And then there was The Murder Ballads, a chapter that Cave seems eager to forget.

Phenomenally successful, prolific and featuring the collaborative innocence of Kylie Minogue and the bewitching charms of PJ Harvey, the residue of The Murder Ballads has left Cave feeling surprisingly ill at ease and suspicious. "There were something's that were very enjoyable about the success of The Murder Ballads," he says, "like my relationships with the other singers, getting to know these people which I value very much. I really enjoyed - particularly with Kylie - working with her because she's so removed from what I normally do and that, to me, was a very exciting thing to do.

"It was very successful, which on the one hand fills me with a sense of dread because I felt it was a little too successful for what it was actually worth. I don't think it was that good a record in a lot of ways. It was a kind of entertaining little record, but I don't feel comparatively it's success was justified and that gives me an uneasy feeling. But, having said that I'm very happy that it was successful and yet I'm deeply suspicious.

"I don't judge my work on record sales. I always feel that the last record I've made was the best one, but I didn't feel that with Murder Ballads or Henry's Dream either, but, apart from that I've always felt very confident in myself that the last thing I've done was the best thing, and I certainly feel that about The Boatman's Call.

Burning a candle for The Boatman's Call and for love in the arms of a dark haired maiden with a widows peak and green, green eyes, Nick Cave seems one step closer to home, and an inch closer to redemption. Unable to re-write the past and shaking his fists in the air, the only place he sees is tomorrow with all of its dark, sacred and glistening promise ...


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