Nick Cave Transcript, 1.28.03
I’ve caught up with Nick Cave a few times over the years, but he was at his wittiest during this conversation from seven years ago, prior to the release of his Nocturama album with the Bad Seeds.
[Go here for the related article, which was published in Filter.]
KO: How’s everything over there in England?
NC: Well, it’s blue skies, but cold.
NC: Well no, it’s been all right, actually. I live on the sea, so it’s quite clear, the weather, a lot of the time.
KO: What have you been busy with?
NC: I’m just writing a new record, really. Working on new songs. I just go into the office each day and work away, no matter what. I’m always working on something or other.
KO: I’ve been hearing that you feel like you’ve hit a real groove, that you’re planning to release an album a year?
NC: Well, I don’t know about “hitting a real groove,” but I would like to put out a record a year. If I can get the time to do it. Get the time not to do the record, but to write it, really. We’re limiting our touring so that we make more records, like they used to do in the old days. Records would sometimes come out two or three times a year. We might be doing that, one a year.
KO: But will you be able to spend as much time reflecting on each one?
NC: I think that we’re encouraged, let’s say, by the industry, to put out records once every two or three years. Three years, really. I’d like to just do things quicker, and have things tumble out. It takes the white off the records, really. The importance, in a way. And it gives you room to fail. If you put out a record every three years, you can’t afford to fail. So consequently, you can’t afford to take risks. I’d like to do more of that.
KO: Did you feel like you were being a perfectionist before?
NC: Well, no. I don’t think I have the patience to be a perfectionist. Our policy in the studio is to get in there and get the thing done as fast as possible. This last one we did in a week.
KO: One week?
NC: Yeah, we knocked her out in a week.
KO: Some of the songs, like, “Babe, I’m on Fire,” you didn’t rehearse much, right?
NC: Well, we don’t rehearse, anyway. But no, we didn’t. None.
KO: Love crops up a bit on this album in very direct terms. And the way in which you recorded the record seems very passionate, immediate. Is there a connection there?
NC: Yeah … the songs work at the piano. At the piano, the essence of it can be found very quickly. And we’ve worked together for quite a long time, and we know what we’re doing. It shouldn’t take us that long to record, really. And I do find it more spontaneous that way, and more improvised. This record’s certainly more improvised, and I find that kind of exciting.
KO: The lyrics are a lot less quantitative than the last time around, no?
NC: Yeah, there are fewer. That was deliberate. I wanted to make a record that gave much more room for the music to move around in, really. Songs that weren’t quite as burdened with words. So the words were written quite quickly, as well. They were worked on, but they feel a lot rawer to me, and more direct.
KO: “There Is a Town” must be one of the sparsest songs, in terms of lyrics, that you’ve ever written.
[He laughs.] Sparse in ideas, as well. Yeah, it would be fair enough to say that.
KO: And it’s the only song on the album that mentions God.
NC: Is that right …
KO: Well, there’s you mention a Christian in the last song …
NC: … I mention everything in that, though … I guess it’s possible, it didn’t occur to me as I was writing it.
KO: That’s quite the time signature on “Dead Man in My Bed.”
NC: Yeah, it is. That’s based on “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child. [He laughs.]
NC: Yeah, that’s the only way I can remember the time signature, was to go, “My body, da-boot-y-li-cious. My body, da-boot-y-li-cious.” No one could play it, so I just suggested everyone sing that in their heads while they played it. It might work. But thankfully, we had Mick Harvey, and he’s quite adept at weird time signatures. He was in the Birthday Party, after all.
KO: Because the lyrics are so limited throughout, did you feel that by the end of the album, you had to let it all out?
NC: Well, I didn’t feel the lyrics were very “limited.” I just wanted to write songs that were lyrically simpler, or that there weren’t as many lyrics, and the songs themselves were shorter than the last record. On the last record, I felt a great need to pile on the words. I shied away from that on this record. With “Babe, I’m on Fire,” it has a very simple rhyme thing going on, and it kind of got stuck in my head like a bad song. Every moment, I kept thinking, “Oh, fuck, there’s another verse,” and jot it down. It ended up being many many verses. It’s actually a comic song about rhyme, really. That was the thing I enjoyed. And working with Bargeld [guitar/backing vocals].
KOYou didn’t have Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” in mind when you wrote it, did you?
NC: Um, I’m not familiar with it.
KOIt’s an epic of sorts, as well. Had you been in touch with Nick Lornay all these years?
NC: No, not at all. He produced a Birthday Party song, which he did a great job on. Which I can’t remember that session very well, anyway. But I haven’t seen or spoken to him since, really. Mick Harvey ran into him prior to the record in Australia, and I talked to Mick about wanting a producer, and Mick suggested him. And he was great. Works there in L.A.
KOHow did he impact the record?
NC: I think he was very constant about his ideas, I think, and he was able to stand outside the band. He was really able to listen, and that was a really good thing.
KOWas this the first time you’d worked with the Blockheads?
NC: Well, the reason the Blockheads are on it was because I’d recorded a couple of songs with them for the “I Am Sam movie,” a couple of Beatles songs. They were fast. And they did backing vocals on “Here Comes the Sun.” And I was so impressed by the way they did them – they just walked in, and in 10 minutes, they’d done them all. And it’s something I detest doing, backing vocals. So I just got them into doing it, thought it’d be good to get them into doing them.
KO: You also brought in Chris Bailey for that song, who’s very prominent.
NC: [He laughs.] Yeah, he is.
KO: It’s more of a screaming role, innit?
NC: Well, he’s a great singer, and he can just belt it out. I’d seen him around during the making of this record, and just invited him on. He’s an extraordinary singer, and had a huge influence over me and the rest of the people in Melbourne, where I grew up, with his band The Saints. They had a huge impact on us all.
KO: What’s the town you’re in now?
NC: I live down by the sea in the bottom of England. Hove.
KO: What did you learn from the making of the record?
NC: With each record we do, it feels like it gets stripped down more and more. Especially in the way that we actually go about recording things. There is now virtually no overdubs whatsoever. It’s just live. That feels, at the moment at least, to me like the most exciting way to make music. I want to continue doing that.
KO: That’s the same idea you want to continue with into the next record?
NC: Well, I have no idea what the next record’s going to be like.
KO: You’re just writing lyrics right now?
NC: Well, I’ve written a couple songs. But there’s a lot of other work I’m doing at the moment. I’ve stopped writing songs for a bit.
KO: What sort of other projects …
NC: Well, it’s stuff I can’t talk about, actually.
KO: OK. Wasn’t sure if you’re getting back into fiction or not.
NC: No, no. Well, it’s fiction, but it’s not a book.
KO: So then we’re not going to expect much by way of touring.
NC: Well, we’ll be touring the States. I’m not sure when, but we’re definitely coming to the States. We’re doing seven or eight gigs in Europe, and then a short tour of the States.
KO: Are current events frightening you these days? Are you paying much attention to what’s going on?
NC: Well, I do. And it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying.
KO: Do you watch much television.?
NC: No. The world’s shortest interview. No, I don’t watch much television. I don’t have time.
KO: Do you work 10 hours a day in your office?
NC: Yeah, about. Well, it gets earlier and earlier. But I’m in here at 7:30, and I get out at about 5:00.
KO: Is everything in your life regimented? Do you eat the same thing?
NC: I eat a tomato omelet for lunch every day. I love them.
KO: Any sort of salad dressing or garnish?
NC: [He laughs.] No, they don’t garnish anything. That’s an American thing.
KO: So you just eat a tomato for lunch?
NC: A tomato omelet.
NC: No, I don’t eat just a tomato. Although I wish I did say that, actually.
KO: That’s around what, noon or so?
NC: Yes, 12:00 every day.
KO: And then what about for dinner?
NC: Well, my wife cooks. She’s one of the most extraordinary women in the world, but her cooking’s a little bland. [He laughs.]
KO: Do you ever …
NC: Complain? Frequently.
KO: … cook much yourself, try your hand at it?
NC: No, I don’t, I don’t. I can cook sausage and avocado pasta, which I’ve developed into a fine art over the years. Apart from that, nothing else.
KO: That sounds pretty tasty.
NC: It is. I’ll e-mail you the recipe.
KO: Please. Do you eat out much at all?
NC: Well, sometimes. What, are you a gourmet cook? Or is this for the food section?
KO: This is a topic I always think worth talking about. Everyone does it. What about exercise?
NC: I walk to the office every day.
KO: Isn’t it part of your house?
NC: No, God no. It’s very separate.
KO: How far away is it?
NC: It’s about seven minutes’ walk. So that’s not a hell of a lot of exercise, but it’s enough.
KO: Are you still smoking a lot?
NC: I do.
NC: Oh, I don’t know. I roll my own, so it’s difficult to say.
KO: Have you ever tried to quit?
NC: No …
KO: Have you heard Lou Reed’s new record [The Raven] yet?
NC: No. Is it good?
KO: Yeah. It’s two hours long, all based on Edgar Allen Poe’s works. Have you been listening to any new music recently?
NC: To be honest, I haven’t been listening to any music at all. Sometimes I get sick of music. I go through stages. Other times, I can’t stop playing it. I kind of play it when I need to, and at the moment, I’ve been working really hard on this thing I can’t talk about. I mean, very hard. But basically, I listen to the same stuff I’ve always listened to. Do you want to know who?
NC: Well, it’s Bob Dylan, really. And Van Morrison. And Neil Young. Nina Simone.
KO: Do you have a favorite Dylan album?
NC: Well, I dunno. I have loads of favorite Dylan albums. They kind of float up to the surface at different times.
KO: When was the last time you saw him play?
NC: Oh, I haven’t seen him play for a long time. I saw him at Glastonbury three years ago.
KO: He’s been doing a cover of [Neil Young’s] “Old Man” recently.
NC: Oh, yeah.
KO: His backing band’s extremely talented. He’s playing three shows at the Wiltern, where you played.
KO: You met him a couple times, right?
NC: I met him once. But I can’t talk about that. It brings me to tears.
KO: Have you experienced writer’s bloc with music? When you’re in a good rhythm, do you take advantage of it?
NC: I have very frustrating days in the office, where I am at the moment. But I always come in. Some days, nothing happens, really. I guess except that you kind of dream, and you wait, and it’s always some process going on. But I don’t think I’ve experienced the kind of bloc where you write and think it’s shit. When I get into working on something, I feel like it’s the best thing. It probably isn’t, but it’s the way I feel at the time I’m doing it.
KO: Is it frustrating when, at the end of the day, you feel like you haven’t accomplished much?
NC: It’s very frustrating, yeah. I guess it’s that constant fight between one half of being weighed down by the gravity of what I’m supposed to be doing. And I have a lot of voices in my head that are kind of alerting me to what I’ve done before. “Is it as good as that?” “What about the next record, is that going to be any good?” These kinds of voices. But I’ve learned to recognize these voices, and I switch it over, and go in with the idea that it really doesn’t really matter that much, and all you can do is fail. And to approach the thing with a sense of humor. If I can do that, if I can make that switch, then I’m generally all right.
KO: There seems to be a lot of subtle humor on this record.
NC: Subtle? Well, there usually is. Not in all my records, but in a lot of them, there’s a lot of humor. Some of the songs are basically comic songs.
KO: “Dead Man in My Bed.”
NC: “Dead Man in My Bed,” yeah. A lot of the stuff I write is comic. I think it always has been.