Q&A: Nick Cave
(Photo via the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds MySpace page)
Into My Cave
By Hiya Swanhuyser
I interviewed Nick Cave! It was amazing! The Australian garage-goth composer/baritone is everything you want him to be, and everything you've heard he is: debonair, interesting, covered in meaningful-looking jewelry, and sharp as a hatchet. He wears beautiful clothes and is very slightly frightening. As you will see, he's smarter than I am, which I really enjoyed. In the title track of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' new, award-winning, critically raved-about record, Dig! Lazarus Dig!, Cave gives a big world-class shout out to a group I like to think I belong to, so that's where I started.
Hiya Swanhuyser: I'd like to thank you on behalf of all the "sweet little San Franciscan girls."
Nick Cave: (laughs) It could have gone either way, really, but I was pretty proud of that line, myself, actually.
HS: So is this record kind of the first one you've produced entirely with the new schedule I've been reading so much about?
NC: What schedule would that be?
HS: Uh, the going to your office regularly?
NC: I've had an office for about 25 years, so it ain't that new.
HS: Oh! Apologies. I guess I was fooled by all the interviews.
NC: People keep writing about it as if I'm engaged in this sort of freakish, sort of pathological, deviant exercise of going to the office and working. All it is is that I just made a place to go and work. Like anybody else who does a job that requires a certain amount of concentration, usually, you have to be on your own to do it. To me, I've always done it that way. Within rock and roll, it's considered to be perverse. Work, hard work, in rock and roll is...
HS: (Interrupting. Why!?) One doesn't have the impression that a lot of musicians...
NC: Work. Because rock musicians, the last thing they ever envisaged themselves doing when they joined a band was work. That was what they were trying not to do. But I wanted to be a painter, I went to art school, and you know, you have to stand there and do the work.
HS: So you're just starting out on your U.S. tour.
NC: Yeah, we've been doing a lot of Grinderman shows, which are basically festival shows, and the Grinderman thing very much infects the Bad Seeds thing. [Grinderman shows are] extremely aggressive, and that can't help but leak into what you're doing. You're like some kind of schizophrenic: Who am I today? Am I the introverted poet, or am I the fucking woman-hating sex machine? (Laughs, probably at the look on my face.) Woman-loving.
HS: (Weak laughter.)
NC: This is probably the easiest interview I've ever done in my life.
HS: (All proud; later, I realize it may not have been a compliment.) Uh, fantastic! Tell me about doing the score for The Road. You must be exited to work with director John Hillcoat again since The Proposition went so well.
NC: Yeah! It's got Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron. We've done the music for it, me and Warren. It comes out before Christmas.
HS: (Insert long, rambling waste of time.)
NC: There's an interesting thing happening in films. There's a whole rash of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films and with each one they seem to be less science fiction and more just a kind of numb reality. And this particular film, The Road, is incredibly moving and it's moving because it's showing what happened afterwards, it's a father and son walking through this blasted landscape, and the boy was born after the apocalypse and he's never seen anything else, and occasionally, very occasionally, through the film the man remembers life before this thing – you don't even know what it was - and you see the world the way it is now, in all its color, and everything's just covered in ash in the film, and it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to know what we actually have and how we really are prepared to just fritter it away. It's a most beautiful film not only because of this relationship between the father and the son, but because the power this film has to say what we're actually sacrificing, in the different things we're pursuing in this world, we're sacrificing color.
HS: I read somewhere (Smooth interviewing!) that you've said that some of your songs are funny.
NC: Well, they are.
HS: I think that's a thing that still has the power to shock. What are...
NC: Some of the funny ones? (He is just teasing here. He is not going to tell us. He's a clever slippery eel-boy.)
HS: Yeah! Particularly maybe some of the ones that people don't get as funny.
NC: I've been doing this for a long time. I never listen to what I do. I don't listen to stuff back. I just keep putting it out there; I never look back in any way. I never go on YouTube and check, I haven't seen myself perform live except maybe once or twice quite by accident.
HS: Really!? (Stifles desire to say "You should check yourself out, you're really good!")
NC: Yeah, I don't do that. I think this is one of the reasons I can put out a fairly rapid amount of work. But Penguin published the collected lyrics, and I was forced to read these lyrics from beginning to end to check for mistakes, and I got to see this trajectory of my career through the lyrics chronologically. And there are bleak times, there were times when I'm reading 15 pages of this one song, and I'm going "Fucking hell, this guy really needs to have a night's sleep." But there were other periods that are very funny, and comic, they're comic. And increasingly, even though there is definitely a bleakness that runs through, there's a sense of humor that comes out, until the last record, which is primarily, I mean it's dealing with some very dark issues, but...nothing is done without humor. The attitude within the band towards the whole thing is that we don't do it unless we have a sense of play about it. Our days of killing ourselves to create something...there's things that should be taken seriously that are going on at the moment, but making a fucking record isn't one of them. The sense of creative angst – there's no room for that. There are much deeper, more problematic issues in the world than someone gnashing their teeth over not being able to write a song. And I hear that these days and just sort of think, "Get a life."
HS: I think of that as the province of the young. (Again, smooth move!)
NC: But it really isn't.
HS: Please tell me "Into My Arms" is not funny.
NC: Obviously it's not a comic song. But that, and a lot of very beautiful songs, were written under the worst circumstances you can imagine. The songs for me have always been about what I need rather than what I have. Even the songs I write now which are much more anarchic and chaotic is about what I need in my life that doesn't exist. They're little cries, needful cries.
HS: OK, looks like the next question is stupid, so let's skip it and go for the predictable ones instead.
NC: No, what have you got for stupid? Let's do the stupid one.
HS: OK. I grew up with a very serious mustache.
NC: (After a pause.) What do you mean?
HS: My father had a very serious mustache.
HS: And a big beard, and he was very philosophical about it, and now, there's this ironic facial hair...
HS: I don't really want to call it a movement, I don't want to dignify it that much. But there's this charity thing we have here called Mustaches for Kids, where guys sign up to blah blah blah. Anyway, you've got a mustache. (I didn't really say that. It was implied.)
NC: Yes. It requires a real resilience to do it day after day! I don't know who's got an ironic one and who's got another -- mine's not supposed to be ironic. There are a lot of people who don't particularly like them. Warren's got a big fucking beard, all you can really see is a little pair of eyes.
HS: Really? That seems like a new look for the Bad Seeds.
NC: No, we've had facial hair, you know, for years. But you have to dig in and hold out against a lot of people about it. The kids (his children) don't like it. They're not very sensual things (the 'staches); you have to learn how to kiss in a completely different way. It's kind of like kissing with a little doormat on your face. (There ensues a very genteel but dirty joke, to which the punch line is "Without going into too much detail …") It's a bit like kissing, like when people are in prison, and they have to sort of put their hands up, kissing against the Perspex. (Channels his wife) "How about you shave that off now darling?" (Channels himself caught in a fit of poetic exigency) "No, fuck it, I'm going to keep it!" I think they're misogynistic by nature. (At his concert that night, he will dedicate a song to a guy in the first row who has a mustache. "I feel your pain," he'll tell the guy.)
HS: (Hysterical laughter)
NC: All right, now we're on to the predictable questions.
HS: (Sarcastically, as if to say you and I are both in on this joke, that this question is bad, but I have to ask it, for reasons which are unclear.) What are you listening to at the moment?
NC: Two albums I'm listening to pretty much constantly at the moment are the new Spiritualized album, Songs in A and E, and Ed Cooper's album. (I could not find this person or any music connected to him; please send links.)
HS: And reading, what are you reading?
NC: I'm reading the new James Lee Burke novel. I love this guy, he's a crime writer, and a lot of his stories are set in New Orleans and the last one was dealing with the Katrina thing. But he's taken his hero out of New Orleans in his new book, because he just can't bear to write about it, I think. It's just too invasive. I don't know why, but I assume it's just because for a writer it's such an invasive thing in the sense that it's just such a huge thing, it's difficult to write about anything else, do you know what I mean?
HS: Not really.
NC: Anyway he's a great writer.
HS: (Sees tour manager approaching.) OK, my time is very short, so are you a fan of any San Francisco bands?
NC: Like what?
NC: I don't know! I guess it's hard for me to get regional, you know? American music is American music. It's like me saying "Do you listen to any Melbourne bands?" So yeah, probably, loads of them. All of them. I like Tanya Tucker's version of "If You're Going to San Francisco."
HS: Are you serious? I love Tanya Tucker! She's one of my favorites!
NC: Really? She fucking rocks that song.
HS: OK, thanks, bye!