In Which Nick Cave Humors One Terrified and Overcaffeinated Writer, Discusses Grinderman and Deep Fried Apple Pie

Categories: Q&A
Grinderman-11-1.jpg
Deirdre O'Callaghan
That's Nick on the left, with fangs put away for the moment.

Confession: We, like many others, are terrified of Nick Cave. As excited as one would be to interview the demon prince of Australian rock ahead of tonight's Grinderman show at the Warfield, we also ran into considerable difficulty abating the slow boil of terror that arose whenever we imagined asking him some question about music, the Bad Seeds (his long time band), himself, or pretty much anything else. Speaking over the phone to the novelist, screenwriter, wearer of amazing suits, and generally brilliant bad-ass was excruciatingly intimidating, and our overdose of office coffee did not ease any tension. What follows, then, is a mostly complete transcript of a conversation with Mr. Cave, with one wimpy writer's inner monologue and Cave's projected thoughts in brackets.

Hi man, how are you? [Does this count as a first question?]
I'm very well. I'm on a bus -- a big bus. We are going to Memphis. No, Nashville. We're going to Nashville.

Did you play last night? [He is on tour, idiot.]
We did play last night in Atlanta. It was amazing, beautiful place. Great meal -- the best food we've eaten in America, except for when Ratso Sloman takes us out for pizza in New York. It's called the Holeman and Finch public house. They fed us, and it was a revelation.

[Kinda hungry.] What did you have?
We had a lot of different things. Pork shoulder. Fish and chips. Charcuterie. They made hamburgers and stuff. But special ones. Deep fried apple pie. It was absolutely wonderful.

[HOLY CRAP THAT SOUNDS AMAZING. This is now a stupid question, but] Do you still enjoy touring?
Absolutely, I love it. Especially the States. I love touring the States by bus, because it's such a beautiful country. You can sit and look out the window, think about things, it's beautiful. It's a very different experience than touring Europe for example. There isn't that weight of culture that exists in Europe in the same way, I've found. It seems at least there's kind of the illusion of some potential here. I know the American dream is probably dead, but ... there's still some kind of illusion of it. [Insert wistful glance over Southern countryside.]

Maybe the American dream is just that dream you have when you're driving across the country and that's the only place it actually exists. [What?]
Exactly. Well you've got to be asleep to dream, as Bob Dylan said. [Read: Uh, probably not, dude.]

So how is it different touring with this band than with the Bad Seeds? [Note to self: Actual interview starts here]
Well, the whole thing's more compact. It's easier to do. We can travel faster, we can do more concerts. So there's a kind of momentum that carries on with Grinderman that is more difficult to do with the Bad Seeds because it's a bigger thing. We play bigger venues, the production of it is bigger, so on and so forth. And I love that. There's something about Grinderman -- even though it is very physical music, on some level, it's not as taxing for me as doing Bad Seeds shows. With the Bad Seeds, there's a sort of psychological weight that exists there where I feel I have to carry the band and it's kind of my thing. And to do a Bad Seeds show, it's real, it's hard, and it's exhausting. And it's very difficult to do one night after night after night. I'm not quite sure why that is.

I've read that Grinderman is more physical -- that you ad-lib the lyrics. Perhaps it's more of a -- [sound of an overcaffeinated writer breathlessly searching exhausted mind for correct word]
The lyrics aren't as good?

[PANIC!] No, it's just --
They're serving a different purpose, that's all. One of the things I wanted to get away from with Grinderman was the strong kind of concrete narrative that exists in a lot of Bad Seeds songs. Where your ear is drawn to a story. [These songs] are much more abstracted and impressionistic. Which allows you to listen to the music a little bit more, gives the music some room.

I've heard that you played Bad Seeds songs on last Grinderman tour. Is that still the case?
No, no. We haven't played any Bad Seeds songs. We did [at] those few shows in the States last time, but that was really because we just didn't have any songs. We would play the songs and then we'd get an encore and we'd either play them again or we'd play something else, so we banged out a couple of Bad Seeds songs -- put them through the grinder.

[Stupid interruption]
But we don't need to do that now, and so far I think on this entire tour someone might have yelled out two times for a Bad Seeds song, if I can remember rightly. People just aren't doing it. So that's kind of that's exciting for us.

So are you planning to go back and work with Bad Seeds in the future? [Playing it safe with a purely factual question.]
I'm going to make a new Bad Seeds record as soon as I finish this tour. I'm really looking forward to it, actually.

[Garbled nonsense that came out as] So are you going to write the new songs in your office?
I guess I perversely called it my office a while ago, so what that's put into people's minds is that it's kind of work that I'm doing. Because you equate an office with the worst kind of work, I guess. But it's just a room where I go and compose, and I need to do that. I need to be alone to be able to do that. I think most people do. There are some songwriters who have a natural ability to pick up a guitar in any situation and sit there and strum away and write a song. I've never been able to do that. And apart from that, it's -- who wants to have some clown with a guitar trying to write a song hanging around. It's undignified. I prefer to do the bloody business of writing alone.

[He said "bloody business"!] How do you write the Grinderman songs?
We book five days, go into the studio with a band, and just play stuff. Improvise stuff. Improvise lyrics, the whole thing. That's basically how the songs come about. And then when I take them away and work on them a bit, the lyrics, I try and stay true to what came out at the time, the themes and the ideas. Because they seem to come from a different part of me, a part of me that I'm unable to -- that I don't get to when I'm sitting in the office by myself.

[Absolutely nothing to say.] That sounds like a lot of fun to do that.
Yeah, it's great. It is. It's all good.

[Nick Cave just said "it's all good"? This is a terrible interview.] You're a pretty busy guy, making music and writing and doing films. What do you do when you're not doing that?
Oh man, that's none of your business.

[Is he going to butcher me through the phone?] Uh, fair enough. But you go on vacation and enjoy your family and stuff like that? [Stupidest question ever]

Do I enjoy my family? Yeah. I do. It sounds like I'm eating them or something. That's an American way of saying that - "to enjoy your family." Hello?

[Meek whisper.] I'm here.
Oh, ok. But yes I do, I adore my children. And I spend a lot of time with them.

You've lived all over the world. How do the different places compare?
[Sounds irritated.] What's the difference between those countries? I'll tell you what happened. Melbourne was -- there was a youthful, artistic environment that went on that was pretty interesting, I think. Then I went to England -- England was kind of dead in the water [when] I was there. Then I went to Berlin, which was really entering into another different style of artistic community that was amazing and that kind of saved us all. Because we were finally appreciated for doing what we were doing. Brazil wasn't, for me, an artistic scene at all -- I sat around on my own, really, playing the piano in Brazil. And anyone I knew outside of that I knew just socially. But it was a great big fucked up extraordinary city, Sao Paolo. Brighton, where I live now, is a seaside town in England. Violent, alcoholic, but kind of beautiful, too.

[Tense breathing in search of a decent question.] Do you listen to new music that's coming out these days?
Not a lot, no.

[Fuck.] What kind of music do you listen to when you listen to music these days?
I'm listening to Bill Fay at the moment, the English singer-songwriter that's from the 70s. There you go, there's someone. That's the last record I listened to.

[A new topic! Success!] What's attractive to you about his music?
He's got this wonderful record that's called Time of the Last Persecution, and it's a very dark, strange singer-songwriter kind of record with a sort of '70s vibe to it. And it's very beautiful -- back when people could make records like that and people would listen to them.

What's keeping people from making records like that now?

There was something about some of that -- the early Leonard Cohen stuff for example, there was a darkness -- the dark emotional autopsies that went on with records like that. Nowadays, if people make music like that, it's seen as being a kind of bummer, or trying to bring people down, or it's all doom and gloom or something. That first Leonard Cohen record, Songs of Love and Hate, was a Top-10 hit in Australia. So obviously people were tapping into something there that they're I think not equipped to tap into anymore. Perhaps things have just gotten too despairing, you know.

In real life, you mean?
[Laughs] In real life. I guess through economic crisis, people listen to the Follies and stuff, right? A kind of vaudeville. But you know I think back in the '70s there was room for that kind of music. There was room for genuine unflinching soul-bearing that there isn't really room for anymore. I love to hear some of that sometimes. I don't constantly seek out that kidn of music but there are some beautiful brilliant records that have been made that are real sad. You know they are sad records, angry records, violent records, that I'm really pleased are out there in the world. You don't have to listen to them all the time, but they deserve to be out there.

Well, Nick, thank you. [Going to take that last decent answer and run]
[Surprised sound] Oh, ok. Alright. See in you in San Francisco maybe.

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