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Interview from Israeli Newspaper [2001] by Ohad Pishof (Yediot Ahronot) Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006

This is an interview with Nick from a weekend edition of an Israeli newspaper. (Yediot Ahronot, 7 Days, vol.1941 page 84. 6th of April 2001). Translated from Hebrew by Noam Yatsiv.

Written by Ohad Pishof, London

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds have released a new album. No More Shall We Part is their first album in four years, and their 11th album to date. The following interview was arranged by Mute Records, in a dark hotel room with a fireplace, in big leather sofas. He is wearing a tie. His voice isn’t as deep as on the songs, and his Australian accent is more noticeable.

He says: “So how’s Israel these days? Last time I visited I had a great time. Me and friend of mine rented a car and drove, trying not to come across people. Just for fun, we’d give hitchhikers rides, and let them listen to my previous album, which wasn’t yet released, and we’d ask for their opinion. That’s a pretty surreal situation when you come to think of it.”

The new album’s romantic-yet-threatening title invites the listener into a determined psychological reality of destinies written in the blood, and a limited right of choosing. For good or bad, in sadness and in happiness, till death do us part ­ Nick Cave’s relationship with life, as this album tells us, has the nature of a Catholic wedding. A heavy feeling oppresses the hero to rise. Whether it’s the human suffering in “As I Sat Sadly…”, the over-righteousness of Christianity in “God Is In The House”, or the regret and yearn in “Love Letter”, something is always down.

Although Cave himself feels the opposite way: “The album is chained down to the ground and to our lives, and so it’s about the fears and small details of life. And although that, it is lifting his hands up, and reaching out to the stars and the sky. In my previous material I had a twisted passion for exploring the chaos, to dive into abyss and all that shit. I’d dive and stay down there. This sort of thing doesn’t appear in this album. We tend to go too far with chaos’ importance. I jumped in it, and it came just up to my knees.”

OP (interviewer): What appeals to you so much in a ballad, as a form of a song?
NC (Nick Cave): “Maybe it’s that possibility to take some space from the song. When you work in a format, the songs tend to write themselves. You need to go with the story, to let the characters turn to whatever they turn into. I feel I have very little control of where my songs are going.”

The ballad is a big element in Cave’s creative life. The office he has rented lately is another element: “I have an office. In my office I have a desk and a piano, and a bed, which I hardly use. I come into my office every single day a week at 9am and stay there until 6pm, and I do that devoutly. It is my
responsibility towards the creative process. I go there, sit down by the desk or the piano, and that’s it. Whatever happens with the songs, and how they are created is beyond my control. I don’t decide what sort of song I’m writing before I get to it. At the end of the 18-month period of writing material for the new album, I had about 20 songs that were created by themselves. My job was just to set up their condition to grow in.”

OP: What do you do in your office when you’re not writing?
NC: “Stare. And I always spend some time playing piano. And I read. But most of the time I write, spew material out”

OP: Does the fact that you employ yourself in your office make the separation between life and creation easier?
NC: “Absolutely. It is my responsibility towards the creative process, and towards my family as well. The experiences I allow into my life is a sort of responsibility as well. I believe that as you get older ­ I don’t know about others, but it’s like this for me ­ the range of experiences gets smaller. At some point you start seeing the difference between what you really want, and what is your priority order. I feel that today I know what I want. That’s the problem with perspective, as well as focus and concentration.”

OP: Does the fact that you don’t have to choose between so many options comfort you?
NC: “It’s more focused, and that’s just how it’s like now. I don’t know if it’s more relaxed. That can change as well.”

OP: Do you think people become wiser past the years?
NC: “I’m not sure about that, but I think that I have a better understanding of myself today than before 10 years. I understand why I do things, and what they give me. I understand what happens to me if I don’t do certain things. I know which things make me a better person. I know what destroys me and what cures me.”

OP: What are those things that make you a better man?
NC: “My wife, my children, and my work. My main focus has to be my work, because I know that if I don’t work I become awful, negative ­ a bad husband and a bad father.”

OP: So is creation a compulsion?
NC: “I have to do it, but I enjoy doing it. It feels like what I’m supposed to do it this life. People say that the quality of your time changes upon what you’re supposed to do with it. I completely identify with that. In my office I have an alarm clock that beeps every evening at six. It’s time to go, even if I’m in the middle of a sentence. I have an obligation towards my family. Sometimes I’m very surprised it suddenly beeps, because it doesn’t feel like nine hours have past.”

OP: Were you always so strict?
NC: “No. Not this way. But although I had quite a chaotic life, inside the mess I’ve always managed to get in time to appointments, and do the things I needed to do. I’ve always had an obligation to creation, above all.”

OP: Do you think discipline is an important thing in life?
NC: “I don’t know about others, but for me it’s important to know what I want from my life”

OP: As a father, do you think discipline will make your children’s lives easier?
NC: “I’m not sure that childhood and the teen-age are a right time to force those kind of restrictions. I don’t feel comfortable as the punishing father. But, for example, my 9-year-old son tends to give himself many restrictions. He sees that if he plays Sony PlayStation for 4 hours straight, it makes him feel bad afterwards. He sees the connection.”

OP: Did you separate personal songs, where you are the main character, and songs that tell a story with you in it? It seems that as the years go by that
separation blurs.
NC: “There is no such separation. Using characters expands the scene where the song takes place. I can send the hero out on his way, let him go through all kind of things, and let him be in adventures. Although that, I am completely connected to the characters. I feel like I am them, even if the story is completely fiction.”

OP: In your last few albums I find much more irony in your writing, and simpler use of language. The improvement is in the presentation. It’s like you no longer have a use in being very poetic in your writing. It seems like today you can find the right way to present any text, as simple as it can be.
NC: “I’m glad to hear that! And you can right that [laughs]. You see, my father was an English literature teacher. His approach towards English was almost obsessive, and his blood is going through my veins. It took me a long time to disconnect from that, and to accept a bunch of words as something that has a meaning, instead of trying to shape them up and make them look sophisticated and open the thesaurus and all. While recording I can let the words speak for themselves, instead of making everything a big fancy theatre piece.”

OP: It’s always interesting to look at the feminine characters in your songs. A prominent character that appears twice or thrice in the new album is the nurse.
NC: “I don’t know where she came from, but I suppose she symbolizes a place of security, of comfort. I like the nurse.”

OP: In “Hallelujah” the hero doesn’t rebel against the nurse. The song ends with him giving up the adventure and coming home, to the nurse that waits for him, to the small comforts of everyday life. So, in fact nothing happens in this song after everything.
NC: “In this particular case, when I finally got to the part with the action, the song was running about 8 minutes, so I had to get the hero home. But I like him coming back to the hot cocoa.”

As always, in Cave’s tradition, the album’s title can be interpreted as a romantic line, or as a death threat, or as an ode after something has happened. The murder of the beloved girl is a key motive in Cave’s work. In the book ‘The Sex Revolts’, Joey Press and Simon Reynolds dedicate a whole chapter to the topic, and to the way the Cave’s work shows women: “The murder of the beloved girl in his writing becomes a way to perpetuate the symbol of the Madonna and defeating the whore (‘whore’ in any way about the woman being sexually independent, including the possibility that she’ll leave him for another man). After being murdered, the woman cannot change his fascist view of her in his mind. He controls her availability and eternality (she remains an ideal picture frozen in a ‘repertoire of symbols of the beloved one’). Finally, the murder makes the victim larger than life, heroic.”

Nick Cave model 2001 is walking through the fields of lyrical possibilities, which spreads between hot cocoa and romantic murder. His tendency to kill every woman he spends time with in his songs, bothers him: “In the new album it really just has a little hint to it. I’m not sure where it comes from. There was that song with the line about the smoking gun… I don’t know. Look, I love a good story.”

OP: Is it something that you find hard talking about?
NC: “Although it happens in the album, I’m so far from it now that I’d rather not mention it”

OP: The songs on the new album are much less dramatic. Compared to previous albums, there isn’t much going on there. No story.
NC: “Yes, it has a feeling of being less extreme than life. Definitely. I suppose that’s how it’s for me now. There’s more reflection and less action.”

OP: The first track on your album is always important. It sets the tone for the whole album. ‘As I Sat Sadly…’ is sort of a first act. It’s a song of observing. The hero is just sitting and watching the world being held outside his window.
NC: “That’s right. There is a conversation in the song about what the album is about, but nothing dramatic happens. It’s not ‘The Mercy Seat’. I have no interest in total positive or total negative. If you could set a stretch a piece of cloth between these two edges, it’s the socket in the center of the metaphorical cloth that interests me. That’s the topic of ‘As I Sat Sadly…’”

OP: Do you consider yourself a believer?
NC: “Yes, of course I believe in God. I’m knowledgeable in spiritual scripts, but I don’t belong to a particular religious doctrine. I don’t go to church; I’m not affiliated with a religious establishment whatsoever. Sometimes I’m sorry I’m not. I could’ve just say now ‘I’m catholic’ and that would be it. I wouldn’t have to try and explain my spiritual identity. You would know where I come from, exactly. And that is why sometimes I find myself in the occurred situation, where I’m asked to define my relationship with God, which is changing and developing all of the time.”

OP: In the past your albums had a historical feeling. The songs would take place in a very specific place. Now it seems like time is more blurry and there are even parts about recent things. Even present.
NC: “Yeah, there are cell phones in one of the songs. In some of the older albums I’d define specific, imaginary places, and I know how they look and what people wear there. Usually it was a small town. I even knew the geography and the river running in the center of town. That has to do with the place I grew in, in Australia, although the time describe in the songs is different. To start writing a song, I’d have to visit there. In this album I haven’t visited these places.
It feels current. Well, at least as current as I can.”


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