Most musicians who hit 50 have long seen their best years behind them. So why does Nick Cave gets better as he gets older? an archive interview from March 2008
Even though Nick Cave has been making and promoting albums for nigh on thirty years, he is still furious that anyone wants to know about his wife, his kids or what he has for breakfast. âI find it all soâ¦invasive, so demeaning,â says Cave in bullish mode. Of course, bemoaning âpersonal questionsâ has long been a weary complaint of those in the public eye. But the way Nick Cave splutters âI find it all so exasperatingââ¦well, you canât doubt his genuine and sincere bewilderment. A closed case, then, of another musician whoâll only talk steadfastly about scales, hi-hats and his art. Ho hum.
But with Nick Cave, all this doesnât really mater. Right now his Indian summer of a career, his staggeringly prolific work-rate and, yes goddam it, his art are for more scintillating topics to mull over than asking whether he has mellowed with age or whether he likes Brighton Pier.
Today, Cave is in London, at Mute Records HQ in west London, chatting enthusiastically – and affably â about his and the Bad Seeds 14th studio album, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! By anybody elseâs standards, clocking in album number 14 would have been greeted with a polite but indifferent shrug. After all, did anyone organise ticker tape parades for the arrival of, say, REMâs New Adventures in Hi-Fi album or Sonic Youthâs Murray Street? Isnât there often a feeling that such âcanât-quite-let-goâ mainstay artists should be put out to graze or simply negotiate afternoon slots at the Guildford festival?
With Cave itâs all rather different. When he says âIâm enjoying what I do now more than everâ, again his sincerity is striking and rings true. Last year he was having riotous fun with his dirty-garage-rock side-project, Grinderman. In 2004 he climbed a new career and commercial peak with the tour de force double album, Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus that twinned thunderous gospel-blues with mystical and hallucinatory autumnal folk. And now here comes Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! which by dint of some horizontal soul-funk diversions and balmy exotica rippling throughout, is a very singular Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album. True, the Sister Ray riffs and swampy atmospherics is in keeping with their subterranean netherworld, but this time Cave and his Bad Seeds have aimed partly for the hips and they stand up tall in the process.
âWell, weâve always been sexy,â deadpans Cave. “Basically, most of the funkier songs I wrote on a little toy organ that belongs to my 7 year old child, and it has this great little drum beat built in. I started off writing songs for this record on a piano and they were simply Bad Seeds songs that you know and love. I wanted to get away from that. We were aiming for a lightness of touch with this record.â
Indeed, this is a Nick Cave album packed full of surprises. So while the title-track (and recent single) sounds judderingly and quintessentially Bad Seeds, its boozy, chanting chorus has the faint whiff of a spitânâsawdust bar out in the dusty, Australian outback. Nick Cave as Paul Hogan, Oz-ambassador? Crikey.
âWell I take that as a supreme compliment,â says Cave. âTo me the Bad Seeds music is Australian. Recently I was inducted into the Australian Hall of Fame, which was weird in itself â the Bad Seeds werenât because they were seen as imposters! But Iâve always believed that what weâre sending out to the world is authentically Australian music.â
Cave insists that, while drawing on American and European cultures, thereâs an expansive atmosphere in their work thatâs undeniably Australian. The new albumâs closing track, âMore News From Nowhereâ, gloriously evokes Australia’s searing horizon as luminously as The Go-Betweens âCattle and Caneâ and The Triffids âBorn Sandy Devotionalâ did before it. âYes, thatâs about rightâ says Cave cheerfully, âbut itâs not as if weâre Midnight Oil either!â
A glance at the lyric sheet, though, and such panoramic vistas are quickly clouded over. Scattershot images of the Holocaust, grinding poverty and infectious diseases, wanton hatred and corrosive self-loathing fall from the speakers like ash from a crematorium. Charles Bukowski takes a ribald kicking at one point, while Cave has invited back his lyrical Talisman, Jesus Christ, back into the fray. At one point he snarls âhow come he only loves a loser?â
âThereâs too much of a culture of confession and redemption everywhere,â says Cave carefully. âEverything now has to have a sob story attached. I donât buy into that at all and I find it all disgraceful. But Iâve always been fascinated by Jesus as a character and the stuff that he said.â
Arguably, Cave feels more comfortable writing in the third person than opting for lyrical open heart surgery. His 1997 album, The Boatmanâs Call, infamously detailed his break up with another singular singer-songwriter, P J Harvey. In fact, although The Boatmanâs Call has long been hailed as a masterpiece, he seems embarrassed about that albumâs content and non-committal about the brooding ballads. âI donât have endless Boatmanâs Call available at hand anyway,â says Cave. âI like writing in the third person because I can go in other places with my psyche that I canât if Iâm just writing in a diary form. Iâm not really interested in documenting my life through songs at all. Obviously I have made one or two records that have done that, but I am concerned with being personally attached to songs rather than particular issues. This new record feels very personal to me, even if it reads like a grotesque travelling carnival of characters and situations.â
A few years back Cave revealed that he works a 9 to 5 routine â complete with suit and tie – in his office when writing for a new album. When pushed on this today, itâs clear he enjoys the decidedly non-rockânâroll incongruity of embracing the Protestant work-ethnic.
âIâve always worked hard,â he says, âand thereâs always people telling me how to do my job. To work in the way that I do is seen as demeaning to the creative process, that Iâm supposed just to lie around on silk cushions and wait for the muse to find me. Most of that criticism comes from people not involved in making art. In truth, if you are involved in making art you have to sit down and do the work. To write well, I have to do that. Itâs not like thereâs a matter of choice. Songs for me donât just drop out of the sky whilst I have a blonde sitting on my lap. Itâs quite an excruciating process. I say all that but Iâve never enjoyed being in the Bad Seeds as much as I am now. Our new album shows that.â