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"Kicking Against The Pricks" [1994] OOR Magazine Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006
Nick Cave made a record. Actually, Nick Cave made two records. One of them, Your Funeral, My Trial contains his own material and if everything goes according to plan it will be in the shops when the Bad Seeds tour, planned for October, comes to the Netherlands. The other, Kicking Against the Pricks, contains only cover versions. How, why, when? An (almost) monologue of someone who seldomly talks.

"In the biblical sense Kicking Against the Pricks means something like fighting windmills. This meaning is the most important to me. But if you ask me if the word "Pricks" refers to certain people in a non-biblical way, then I answer: Yes. And I mean journalists. Journalists in general. I don't think highly of journalists. That has to do with the fact that I don't think highly of what I do myself. Being a musician is not a very respectable profession I think. On the other side, it happens to be my main occupation. Although I try at least to be involved with activities that I find more important.

But there are numerous journalists who try to base their whole existence on writing about rock music. I don't think that's a respectable aim. Such people tend to write everything they believe. Of course, there are good and bad rock journalists and I'm talking mainly about the British music press. I find the things they write shameless. I indeed feel the need to kick back.

The British press has treated me disgustingly. To me it was clear for a long time already that they would get at me whenever they got the opportunity. I had been expecting the attack for a while, they were so much idolizing me, that the repercussion had to come. Completely predictable the attack came because of The Firstborn Is Dead, a record that I myself rate equal to or higher than all my other records. Completely according to my expectation the British press turned against that record. They had no choice, because before that they had said that From Her To Eternity, the record before, was the best record ever made. A terrible exaggeration, from which The Firstborn had to suffer.

It is a special phenomenon that journalists, very disgustingly, fight some sort of competition amongst each other. A competition in discovering bands. Who gets there first. Next it's about putting those same bands down as soon as possible. And something like that happened to us.

As a reaction to these practices we made Kicking Against the Pricks. More specifically: I made this record to put my head on the place of sacrifice. To anyone who wanted to put us down, I made the perfect record. And at the same time it's a record that everyone who appreciates our music might enjoy.

The Selection Phase

Kicking Against The Pricks should not be seen as a historical overview of what I consider valuable music. It is not an interpretation of America. I just chose the songs I liked. There is _no_ concept behind it, except maybe - but that holds for everything of the Bad Seeds - that we need not be ashamed of showing our influences. The Bad Seeds never wanted to pretend that everything they play come out of their own minds.

My _taste_ was the only guiding line. Sometimes Blixa helped me, because he has a large record collection. I made a list of about 30 songs. Without thinking of whether we could actually play those songs. Or whether my voice might fail. I proposed the list to the band. It happened once that someone refused to play principally. For the rest everyone had their doubts, but once we started everyone was enjoying it.

The Recording Phase 1

The basis tracks were recorded in the winter of '85 in Australia. Really under diabolic circumstances. We had only three days to record the bass and the drums. Because Barry Adamson and Thomas Wydler had obligations in London and Berlin respectively. So they could only come over for three days, in which they had to lay the foundations for about 20 songs. Then Blixa came over. But he could only stay for two days, because he had something to do with the Neubauten. So ad lib, he played as many guitar parts to the basis tracks. He was happy. Sometimes Blixa listened to a song and said: "In this song there is no need for my guitar." That's one of his major qualities: his ability to be economic and not, like most guitarists do, play on everything coute que coute.

Some songs were recorded after Thomas, Barry and Blixa had left. When only Mick and I were left. Hey Joe for example. The basis track is recorded with Mick only, playing one drum, and Tracy Pew on bass. Piano and organ have been added later. But there was no instrument supporting the melody when I sung it. And then you obtain something that I find beautiful. A vague, flat sound, a voice in the void.

The Recording Phase 2

Later we took the basis tracks to Berlin and changed them somewhat. Then we added violin arrangements. When the record was finished, we had problems with the design of the cover. That was a consequence of my living in Berlin, while the headquarters of the record company are in London. I told them how I wanted it, they carried my orders out wrongly, sent the result to me and I sent it back. In that way the cover went to and from like a game of international table tennis. That's why it was released so late.

The Result

Muddy Water

I know this song only in the version of Johnny Cash. I never heard the original, which holds for most of the covers on the record. For instance I never heard the original version of Hey Joe. Although I would love to. Blixa had a tape on which Johnny Cash does Muddy Water as an uptempo country song. We slowed it down a lot. The reason to do this song was not so much because it was a flood song and fitted to the theme of Tupelo, but the reason was that the two opening lines are so very beautiful. In my opinion at least. "Mary, grab the baby the river is rising, Muddy water, taking back the land". After we listened to the original a few times, it was evident that we would slow down the song terribly, the result is very atmospheric and sombre.

I'M Gonna Kill That Woman

A blues song by John Lee Hooker. It has not been, as you think, my starting point with this record to fit it with the material on The Firstborn Is Dead. I think that The Firstborn is called a blues record unduly. There are some blues influences on it, that's all. John Lee Hooker is my favourite blues singer. He made 3 or 4 really perfect records. The original I think is on the album Moanin' and Stomping Blues, maybe under a different title. The song is about jealousy. About a deep, primitive emotion. I have no interest in documenting mondaine emotions, I want more elementary subjects. I'm Gonna Kill That Woman is about certain feelings I have. Thoughts that often play in MY head and, I think, in other people's heads too. She was nothing but trouble trouble...

Sleeping Annaleah

I know that song from Tom Jones. It's on one of his records that I have. My interpretation remains close to Tom Jones' version. Except of course that my voice is inferior to his and that he of course used heavier orchestration. This song is a tribute to Tom Jones, definitely one of my favourite singers. It was also a challenge, although maybe slightly ambitious of me to think that I could handle a Tom Jones song.

Long Black Veil and Hey Joe Both songs that have been covered by many artists. But never with the intention to pay honour to the original. I would call them traditionals. But most performers have confiscated those songs. Jimi Hendrix for instance signed Hey Joe with "Hendrix". Such practices have to do with royalties. Who gets them paid and who doesn't.

There are more traditionals on the record. Jesus Met The Woman At The Well is another. Stupid enough, whoever put the credits on the labels did not mention they were arranged by The Bad Seeds. That was very dumb. Because our arrangement of Hey Joe for instance deviates very much from that of Hendrix. And when it comes to payment, with traditionals it is usually the case that half the money goes to the publisher of the song, and half to the arrangers. Because it doesn't say we provided new arrangements, half of the money for Hey Joe goes to the heirs of Hendrix, that of Jesus Met The Woman At The Well to The Alabama Singers.

The Singer

That song, also called The Folksinger, is our single. A Johnny Cash composition. The Singer must be listened to with a sense of humor. I find the lyrics ridiculous, extremely self-sufficient, full of self-pity. It is more the song that's about the image that I have of myself in 20 years from now. About a singer complaining about lost fame. "Where yesterday the multitude screamed and cried my name out for a song. Today the streets are empty, the crowds have all gone home." I could never write a line like that. We intended to make a video clip in which I could be seen on my own, playing a guitar in the studio. Interrupted by live images of me at the times of The Birthday Party at the top of their fame, before a crazy screaming audience.

All Tomorrow's Parties

This song seems a bit out of balance. It's the only raw song on the record. When we chose All Tomorrow's Parties, we had many more aggressive songs on our wishlist. But precisely with those songs it appeared difficult to add something to them. In most cases they sounded identical to the original. We covered one song of The Saints and one of The Laughing Clowns. If there were any bands deserving a tribute, they were the ones. But our versions turned out to be duplicates, not interpretations. That's why they were dropped.

There are personal reasons for why I wanted to do All Tomorrow's Parties. Personal reasons, none of anybody's business. Musically, I liked the idea of doing a Nico song from the Velvet Underground repertoire. Besides that it is one of my beloved Velvet songs. Not that I am very impressed with Nico's solo records. I am not a fan of her specifically, although I saw her perform lately and I really enjoyed it. I think that by our unanimous singing we added something to All Tomorrow's Parties.

The Hammer Song

Of all the bands in the world... when I was a schoolboy, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band was my favourite group. He is the only Brit - or better, Scot - on the record. Maybe it's because I could hardly find British songs that interested me. Maybe it's because I'm actually only interested in American music. I find America a much more stimulating country than England at all.

The lyrics to The Hammer Song are brilliant in my opinion. I have no idea what they are about, but that's what makes them brilliant. I think the song covers a certain textual procedure in which I'm interested in my own work too. A procedure that originally comes from the blues and that uses earthly images (hammer, nail, shovels) which are repeated, such that one image replaces the other after a few lines. While the basis remains the same. I myself did something like that in the Black Crow King.

Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart

Made famous in the version of Gene Pitney. A happy song? I don't think so. I consider it a passionate love song. It was incredibly difficult to sing. The song changes notes constantly and the range of the octaves is incredible. At least in Gene Pitney's version. I neglected the difficulty temporarily and just tried it. We put the accompaniment on tape and then I tried to do the vocal parts for a long time. It is still a mystery to me how I did it like that. I mean: it's not bad. It's ok. When you listen to it, you don't think: is Nick gonna make it?

Jesus Met The Woman At The Well

That song is an incredible disappointment to me. Because I wanted to do a gospel song, because gospel is one of my big loves. Unfortunately, not everyone in the Bad Seeds shares that love. There were other songs they were not that enthusiastic about, but in this song the motivation of some was really insufficient. If we had put our hearts more into it, the vocal effort would have improved. I'm not happy about that, but I still love that song. There are better versions.

The Carnival Is Over

A song by The Seekers from 1965. I always secretly found it a good song because The Seekers were not exactly the type of band you were supposed to like. But this song! The band absolutely did not feel like doing it. I don't know if it has been a good idea, I only know that in my head I could hear a version that would destroy all image forming of The Seekers. So I would not know why I should not have done this song seriously. No song on the record is intended as a joke. There is no song on it, The Singer included, that was done tongue-in-cheek. If someone suggests that, I consider it an insult. It has all been done very seriously. From a true love for those songs.

Tom Jones

I'm just attracted to American music. I realize that the music that I grew up with is starting to coincide with my development in modern music. I grew up with country music. And from that starting point, all sorts of crossovers to other music genres exist; to pop music and to more explicit middle of the road. To entertainment music. Like Tom Jones or Ray Coniff. I listen to them a lot. And not like people who put on those records every now and then because it is such sweet and funny music. Entertainment music is really what I play daily.

Nobody can make me happier in the morning than Tom Jones with his version of Hey Jude. That song contains the ultimate scream of modern music. On the other side: Funhouse by The Stooges can give me that same emotion.


My critique to the record is that it's too sombre, too heavy, too melancholic. The original idea was quite different. We had planned more easy, raw, aggressive songs. Not one particular atmosphere, but everything: up to the wash-stand.


I did not make this record to prove that I could sing, although I knew in advance that an excellent singing technique was required for some songs. I don't have that technique, but despite that I succeeded wonderfully sometimes. Sometimes I failed miserably.

I don't see myself as a good singer. I think my talent is self expression. I have the ability to express human, personal or not, feelings in a convincing way. Technically speaking, it is not so impressive.

2 X EP

Your Funeral, My Trial. Most of the material for the new record has been recorded. As far as I can tell it's a very strange record, a record with two diverse atmospheres. That is why I hope I can convince my record company to make it two EP's, not one LP. The reason for that is that I don't know how to combine the sentimental songs with the violent ones. There are extremely aggressive songs among them. They will be on the My Trial EP, the melancholic ones on the Your Funeral EP.

In any case I will tribute one song to a certain British journalist whose name I won't tell. The song is called Scum. Do you know what scum means?

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