September 17th, 2008 | Interviews

polly borland

Download: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ‘Bring It On’


(from Nocturama on Anti)

Since this is your first Bowl show do you feel at all like Frank Sinatra?
Well, he played there, did he? I wish I had a toupee like him. I wouldn’t mind a silver toupee like that.
Do you remember what you did on the second to last day you lived in L.A.?
No. Am I supposed to?
Depends what you were doing.
I would have gone down to 6th and Union and scored some drugs.
Is Snoop Dogg still going to cover ‘No Pussy Blues’?
Nick Launay our producer allegedly played it to Snoop, and he really dug it, and made some kind of noises about wanting to rap on it, but it never happened. We sent the stems and stuff of the music but it didn’t happen. These things either happen or they don’t, really. For me I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have sing on that particular song. But it’s a different kind of world, I guess.
How serious were the deliberations when you were a judge the World Beard And Mustache Championships?
To be completely honest I was at sea—completely at sea. I wouldn’t know one fucking mustache from another one.
How did you decide?
I just said what the guy next to me said. All I know is I felt humbled because I had this kind of pathetic sort of thing growing on my face, and I know there were some extraordinary mustaches and partial beards, particularly. You know—‘A man without a mustache is like woman with one.’
How did you first hear Karen Dalton?
A very good friend of mine Mick Geyer who died four or five years ago—he turned me on to her. He was an Australian DJ and a very good friend and kind of an excavator of music. He turned me on to a lot of stuff, actually. But Karen Dalton was a huge favorite among all of us Bad Seeds boys. You know—beautiful. They’ve released the second album which I particularly love. With ‘When A Man Loves A Woman,’ and I think it’s got ‘Katie Cruel’ on it, and—fuck, I can’t remember the name of it but it’s one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard.
What kind of things do you write in your office that will never see the light of day?
Oh, the hardcore porn that I get into?
Would you be opposed to a posthumous collection of all your pornography?
Not at all. I’m just saving it for a rainy day.
What book have you given away the most copies of?
One book I tended to give away quite a lot which I think is extraordinary is The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis. I think it’s great book. I’m actually a huge fan of his. That particular book—The Informers—line for line is just extraordinary. It has this effect—you feel you like you need to read him fast, and if you don’t and you just check out one line followed by the next line, what he’s writing to me is just extraordinary. He’s definitely a contemporary writer that I’ve sort of turned people on to—that particular book of his.
What kind of reactions do you get back from people?
I don’t know.
They just never bring it up again?
I remember giving it to Mick Harvey my guitarist, and I think he found it a little—disturbing. He found it disturbing. But he’s got kind of a weak stomach when it comes to things like that. Go gentle on Mick.
What was the last time you held a pistol in your hand?
A pistol or a rifle? A rifle about a week ago. I was in Italy, and they have rather relaxed gun laws over there. It was like a .22—it wasn’t high-powered.
Was this a formal occasion?
It was at a villa I was holidaying at. I don’t know what they shot with that. Mussolini used to holiday there. His bed was still there. The bottom of his shower stall hung on the wall as kind of a piece of art.
What kinds of dreams does one have in the Mussolini suite?
Well, it wasn’t the Mussolini suite. It sounds a lot more luxurious than it actually was. It was a room but it has Mussolini’s bed in it. I don’t sleep much anyway.
So you’re immune to his power?
Exactly. But I didn’t put the kids in there. Though they bounced up and down on it.
All you need now is a vacation at the Fuhrerbunker.
I slept in Charlie Chaplin’s bed. There’s a studio on a boat owned by Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and he has a little bed that Charlie Chaplin slept on when he was over in England at some period in one of the back rooms. It was rather nice to go and lie there. We were mixing Abbatoir Blues—I’d kind of lie there and feel he was sort of… you know. I’m a Charlie Chaplin fan. I’m a Buster Keaton fan even more.
Harold Lloyd?
Fatty Arbuckle. Have you read I, Fatty? You should, man. It’s poignant.
Something you said in the Guardian—who seems to cover you fairly often—
Yes, they just sort of camp on my doorstep.
Have you ever camped out on someone’s doorstep? Charlie Feathers’ doorstep?
Has anyone done that to you?
I don’t know. I don’t answer the door.
You just stay quiet upstairs?
They don’t get past the fucking security. They don’t get past the razor wire.
In your lecture on the love song, you talk a bit about how this quality of sadness—duende—is disappearing from modern music. Do you still feel that way?
Well, it’s in literature, isn’t it? Literature is amazing actually—music would seem to be—or film, I’m not sure—but music is one of the more conservative fields of art. It’s supposed to not be, but you’re actually extremely limited where you can go with music. Lyrically, I’m talking about. But with literature you can go anywhere, and people do go anywhere—no one expects a happy ending from a book. You can write about anything. In music you’re very limited in what people will accept that you can write about. I’m writing a novel at the moment and the kind of freedom I’m feeling with this is sort of magnificent. That’s always been to me the difficult part of songwriting—the actual lack of freedom. If I wanna write a really depressing song—in a song format, it doesn’t actually work very well. Who wants to hear a really depressing song? I don’t. I don’t think anybody really does. But with literature you can go places you can’t go with music. Music has a lot of kind of swagger to it—like we’re on the cutting edge. But I’m not actually sure that it is. Film is a million times worse, of course. We’re working on a movie now—
The sex comedy with no sex?
The Road—we’re creating some incredibly beautiful and brutal kind of music, which if we were making a Bad Seeds record or a Grinderman record, we’d just stick on the record and go, ‘Hey, that’s cool. Put it out.’ But here—everything you do, you always kind of know there’s somebody out there that’s going to say, ‘No. We don’t want that sort of music in this particular film.’ And it’s not going to be anybody who’s involved in the creative process of making the film. It’s gonna be some—
Exactly. And there’s an aspect to that that is kind of heartbreaking. I’m very very good friends and in constant contact with John Hillcoat, who made The Proposition and who is making The Road, and it’s fucking heartbreaking. The amount of work that goes into getting a fucking film off the ground, and the amount of kind of—this sort of perpetual chipping away that goes on of your idea by people who… it’s kind of heartbreaking.
What’s the healthiest way to deal with those limitations?
On the good side—there seems to be some truly challenging films coming out of Hollywood these days. Not a lot, but there seems to be a resurgence. I don’t know the word, but people are allowed to be a little bit more challenging recently, which is good news.
What films? The Dark Knight?
I saw that—fucking wild! I saw that with my kids. They’re like eight and it blew their fucking heads off. They kind of walked out with the blood drained from their faces.
Sounds like they’re having an interesting childhood.
Well, I’m not trying to write the book on bringing up on children.
Do you have to ration yourself out when you’re working on music and a novel and a film? How do you know your own limits?
It’s totally instinctual. At the moment it’s gone haywire. I don’t how to say this in other way than sounding really kind of stupid, but it just seems to work. If I say ‘I’ll hand this in within a month or three weeks,’ it seems so far at least I can just do that. It’s an extremely productive kind of period. Or at least I’ve worked out how to be efficient. It’s not the office hours—it’s way more than that these days! It’s like that Steinbeck thing. He said he used to write six days a week and he just couldn’t take it anymore, so now he writes seven days a week. It’s a bit like that. I just enjoy it—love it—and that’s why I do it. Simple as that.
Is it fair to describe you as ‘writhing with unease’?
It depends on the situation. When I’m working, I’m really really happy—I’m not doing anything I don’t wanna do. For me, the whole creative thing—in a way, it always has been, even when it wasn’t—has been a cheerful thing. Even when it wasn’t joyful, it was joyful.
Do you feel your greatest work is ahead of you?
I don’t judge things in that way, but there’s a lot of stuff ahead for sure. I’ve always felt while I’m doing something that it’s the greatest thing that’s ever been done, and very soon after it’s finished, I realize it’s just a record or just a book, and I start the next thing. And then that’s the greatest thing that’s ever been done. I’ve always looked at Dylan, for example—he was an exciting artist. Every record he put out whether you liked it or not challenged you—you had to work out whether you liked Bob Dylan or not. You could never take it for granted that he was gonna put out a record you were gonna dig. It might be a reggae record or who knows? And I think we’ve tried to do that as well.
Do you find things you like instantly doesn’t last as long as stuff you had to study?
Sometimes there’s stuff you don’t like and you can return to it til the cows come home… but there is great music that takes a few plays to get under your skin.
What did you have to study hardest?
Classical music. Bach. Stuff like that. Which I could never really get my head around. And then it clicks and you go, ‘Oh dear.’
Do you remember the last love letter you ever wrote?
Yeah, I do. I’m not gonna fucking quote it to you!
Did you send it or keep it?
Well, look—all my songs are love letters. They’re love letters to the world. Love letters sent out to the world.
Like in your lecture.
Exactly. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in there actually. I don’t know where that came from!
Do you agree with the reviewer who said you’d rather be reviled than lauded?
To be reviled—it gives me an enormous amount of energy. For a long time I operated on a kind of fuck-you! basis. The last time I felt that for example was when we played with Grinderman with the White Stripes at Madison Square Garden. We played two—maybe three shows ever with Grinderman. The first was in some tiny little barn somewhere, and the next was at Madison Square Garden. It was a kind of great leap. And we played for an audience that was there—quite rightly—to see the White Stripes. And we played our set and you could feel this tension mounting from one song to another—of a lot of people who actually dug us and a lot of people who wanted us to fucking get off so they could see the White Stripes. I haven’t felt that in a while but I know that feeling really well. I just know that feeling of suddenly looking at the rest of the band and it’s like, ‘Fuck you.’ And you really go for it. You’re not trying to please anyone. You want to alienate people as much as possible. And there’s an enormous power behind that. That’s how we were raised. In Australia, you had your band and you played and everyone hated you, and that’s the end of it.
Do you only get to that feeling in music?
It’s a bit lonely to sit and write a book and put it out and everyone says it’s shit. But there is an energy that you can get—there’s a fuck-you kind of thing, and I’ve always responded to that.
Are you going to be thinking like this onstage at the Bowl? I don’t know if anyone has ever said ‘fuck you’ up there.
Wait for it. It’ll be after the fifth song.
Are we any closer now to a Nick Cave Vegas comeback special?
I don’t know—I’ll do anything that I have to do! To me one of the most honorable things are people who are working, and making life-and-death decisions around their work. And if that means you have to kind of whore yourself in Las Vegas to feed the kids, so be it. I don’t have—to me, going out and making a buck is actually a very honorable thing to do. That’s what everyone’s doing.
When the NME got you and Mark E. Smith and Shane McGowan in a roundtable, Mark said Australians won’t do hard work. Was he incorrect?
Mark… Mark is Mark. What more can be said? I’m friends with Mark.
What do you guys do when you’re together? Sit around on the couch and watch soccer?
No, we don’t. I don’t know what to say about Mark. To me, he is one of the greatest writers of his generation—absolutely. And one of the most original writers. I love his music. And he was always the one for me at that time back then—the one to watch. The one that was doing stuff nobody else was coming anywhere near.
What are some albums you once loved and lost and have now come back to again?
There’s a lot of music I listened to as a kid—fourteen or fifteen or like that—that I was very much into. Then I started listening to the punk rock stuff, and part of that was to disregard that music. There’s a wonderful feeling over the last ten years where you pick up Lark’s Tongue in Aspic—the King Crimson album—and you hear this extraordinary stuff. Because everything was thrown out—talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And it kind of needed to happen. But there was some—in a rather lovely way, the young kids these days don’t have that. There’s no embarrassment to them for ripping a guitar lick off a Pink Floyd record or something like that. It’s all up for grabs.
Who has been the biggest musical constant in your own life?
Year after year after year after year? I’m not saying I’m rushing out to buy his records, but if I hear a Van Morrison song or hear his voice, I still go kind of weak at the knees.
When you do these interviews, what philosophical truths do people seek from you?
I don’t know what they want to know! They assume that I have a certain wisdom about things, which has something to do with my age or something. I think they pretty soon realize I don’t. Then they get down to asking me the standard line of questions.
What’s your best standard answer?
To what question? What astounds me is people are in some way interested in my work habits like its some kind of fucking story. I can’t understand that at all. If anything, it isn’t a story. It’s someone who does the same thing day after day after day.
What is your story? What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of everything! I don’t look back at stuff. I have a basic—a basic good feeling about what’s my life, and the trajectory of my life personally and creatively. I don’t look back and sort of wince. I have a very selective memory and I’m an optimist. I have a huge amount of faith of people and in the individual and I don’t have a lot of faith in governments and decisions that are made in that way. But to the individual—I feel we’re basically a decent kind of species.
Would 18-year-old Nick Cave be proud of you saying that?
I would have felt the same thing then. My basic opinions about things and the way I operate about things have always been that way, or at least they were formed when I was 16 or 17. And they’re pretty much the same. And I think it’s the same with everybody. I don’t know why but certain things are imprinted in your psyche that you love and you’re attracted to, and that never changes. There’s a certain ideal—there’s a feminine ideal that I had as a child and as a teenager that operates today. I don’t know why that is. That certain particular female aesthetic turns me on, but it does. And it’s the same for everything in life.
How does it feel watching this happen in your own children?
It’s vertiginous. I feel dizzy watching my kids. The little ones especially. The capacity they have to absorb information. And you see that’s what’s going on—that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And I have 17 and 18 year olds and there’s nothing—there’s nothing that will change the course of their lives. They might choose whatever jobs they wanna do and whatever, but they are a certain type of people and they’re always gonna be that way, whatever that happens to be.
Did you have to learn how to be a father?
I don’t say that I’m any better with the twins that are seven then I was with the other ones. It’s a whole new set. You wing it, don’t you? And that’s what you learn about your own parents. They were just winging it, too.
What’s something practical you can tell people to help them make daily life a little bit better for themselves?
Right now I’m hearing the most beautiful violin I’ve ever heard in my life being played by Warren Ellis.
You’re breaking my heart by proxy.
He’s unbelievable. I don’t know. Who wants to hear what I got to say? You have to try a bit harder than that to wrap up the interview. You want me to do all the fucking work.

—Chris Ziegler