Mick Harvey

Les Inrockuptibles
May 1998

by ???
Sent by Gwenaelle Glotin

This is a translation, so sorry if some passages turn out to be rather obscure! - Gwenaelle

Why a Best of?

Initially, my idea was to compile the first five albums of the band, to go back over the beginnings, between 84 and 91, to do by ourselves a selection for the people who can't afford to buy all those records. And gradually, the initial idea took a new turn, we added songs that were more and more recent until we arrived at a compilation relating the whole career of the band. At the beginning, I didn't really see what was the point in doing that, but Nick himself convinced me by telling me how he loves to buy best of albums, by saying that he did his musical education thanks to such records and used them as a starting point. But this album nonetheless remains a record that has to be put aside, a compromise that is hopefully not too serious [compromise is not the actual word used in the itw... but I don't know how to translate "derapage"! - Gwenaelle]. That's why Nick and I decided not to promote it. It's not an event, it's just a practical guide.

Nick Cave described you as the person in charge of this album.

I see that once again, history is rewritten behind my back... The roles played by each of us were more shared than that. I did a selection and afterwards, everyone voted, and he even added his own candidates. We agreed on a large majority of songs, but in my basic tracklisting, I had voluntarily put aside the songs from Henry's Dream. Not that those are bad songs, but they have been ill-treated by the production and I didn't feel like seeing them among the other ones. However, Nick insisted about including Straight to You. As for the rest, everything went without any incidents or arguments. It seemed to me that it was logical to look into each album. With the exception of our cover album, Kicking Against The Pricks, an outgrowth in our discography. Anyway, this was quite an amount of work, but also a very unusual task for us, as we had never worked like this before, without having to question ourselves. To me, it was a rediscovery because I never listen again to our albums. It was strange and fulfilling to hear those old songs. Much more exciting than I thought it would be.

Do the other Bad Seeds consider you as the living memory of the band?

Biographies have an advantage, namely that thanks to them, I can at last start to forget some things that I witnessed, that are now written down. It frees some memory... But it's true that I'm probably the more stable band member. I was lucky enough to be the only one who remained sober in many circumstances, to have memories that the other ones can't have.

Retrospectively, do you see a logic in this sequence of albums today?

But I always saw that logic, I was the only one who was lucid enough to be aware of it. I was never overtaken by events. Therefore, it wasn't a revelation for me to hear those songs again. I knew some of them were weaker than they should have been - I already knew that when we recorded them. On Henry's Dream for example, our sound has been weakened, reduced to nothing. But I'm still as proud of Your Funeral... and Let Love In as I was back then.

Nick Cave describes the last one, The Boatman's Call, as the end of an era.

This album is rather the end of something for the band and the beginning of something else for Nick... He's presently writing songs, but he doesn't really know where he's going. When he starts writing an album, he really needs a concept around which he will organize his writing process. This vision, this atmosphere feed his imagination. TBC shook him, he no longer knows how to move forward - with this album, he went as far away as he could. I see it as a particular album, that has to be put aside from the other ones. But maybe Nick will want to go further into that direction. That's nothing to worry about: these phases of doubts are quite common for him. At the time of Tender Prey, he didn't succeed in defining that particular atmosphere. We started the recording sessions with songs he thought were disparate and yet, at the end, it turned out to be one of our best albums.

Can you help him during such phases of doubts?

As soon as he starts to have the outline for some songs, then yes, I can. But right now, there's nothing to speak about, I heard no more than a few snatches of 2 songs. We have no plan for recording a new album, Nick hasn't asked for our help yet. That give us all the opportunity to live.

Is your relationship still based on friendship or has it become - after 20 years - mostly professional?

Professionally, we're trusting each other much more today. He relies on me much more now than he would have at the time of The Birthday Party. On the personal level, our relationship also evolved towards more confidence. When we arrived in London, we were both young and naive, we felt we had a mission to accomplish. We thought wonderful things were awaiting us. I was 21, there was this huge challenge in front of me and we had something to offer. I still have this passion in me. We remained true to this desire to play a music that is deeply human, fiercely individualist. And there aren't many artists who act like this, who refuse the facilities that are brought by a mass-produced music and that graze personalities... We have remained upright, with our convictions, our noise, without compromising. The only difference is that at that time, we thought the universe was revolving around us, while today we know that our influence is limited. But even if we are accepted today, our message is still as radical. Our music is an anomality in its time. We owe our recognition only to the fact that we've been here for so long, to the word of mouth. But the mission hasn't come to an end - not to me. I'm very proud that our albums show individualism, I'm seeing to it.

To be a Bad Seed is obviously not a safe job. Do you get more satisfactions than headaches out of it?

Well, in fact it's a rather quiet place in comparison with the Birthday Party, with whom some danger was indeed involved. But as the years went by, I gradually distanced myself from the Bad Seeds, the band is no longer as important to me as it once was. My solo albums helped me... Before, my whole life was dedicated to the band, it prevented me from having any private life. It was essential that I get away from it, that the Bad Seeds meant less for me, that I got less involved. Today, I have finally succeeded in finding peace.

You have known Nick for 20 years, from the chaos of the Boys Next Door to the appeasement of TBC. Is he trying to achieve that serenity or is it his enemy?

He's incapable of finding peace. I'm seriously doubting that he wants to find it... He's looking for that chaos... Unfortunately, this is this disorder, this madness that make his music that fascinating. It would probably be better for him to find serenity... But he still has a long way to go. I managed to come through all right, it was very difficult. But comfort would inevitably have consequences on our music.

That's what is so striking on this compilation: the fact that the songs are all so threatening and violent, no matter whether the music is quiet or agitated.

That's the reason why we're staying so much on the sidelines: our music doesn't fall into stereotypes. What people hear on the surface is very far away from the actual idea behind the song. Some songs therefore seem to be more accessible, but they never are. They remain disturbing, the lyrics in particular are exceptional. It may be not obvious to the listener, but the recording of the last album, TBC, was very painful, it was not at all done in the comfort one could imagine. Because we had to work in a completely different manner, we had to learn not to be present on some songs, to reduce the instrumentation to nothing. It was a big challenge for us.

The titles of your albums have always been chosen very carefully. This one, The Best of, is disappointing.

I was quite disappointed myself when Nick decided to call it like that. It was my worst fear that he would choose this title, that we would display such a lack of imagination, but I had to accept it. My suggestion was "The Baddest of the Bad Seeds" but Nick thought it was too comic.


Return to the Interviews page.