Interview from "MUSE" [2001] MUSE
Sunday, 13 August 2006

"This interview first appeared on MUSE in March, 2001. We would like to thank MUSE for allowing us to reproduce the content on Nick Cave Online.

Surely Nick Cave needs little introduction to the readers of Muse. If he does, we can only recommend his back-catalogue or, especially, his forthcoming album "And No More Shall We Part". Lee Casey catches the Australian in a pensive frame of mind.

From the seething, anarchic turmoil of The Birthday Party to the anxious, angry explorations of love, hate, mortality and revenge with The Bad Seeds, Nick Cave has been a looming, almost constant presence on the musical landscape of the last twenty years. This week sees the release of "And No More Shall We Part", his first new album since "The Boatman's Call" in 1997. The space between has been occupied by a "Best Of The Bad Seeds" compilation (which Cave feels marked the end of a particular chapter in his career), lectures, solo performances and tours with Warren Ellis and Jim White of The Dirty Three. In short, a period of change for our Nick.

"Since "The Boatman's Call", I've become a musician and I've learned a lot about music", Cave says. "I've been working quite a lot with a little quartet and doing these concerts where I actually sat down, played the piano and sang. I was very much in the guts of the music. In fact, I was kind of leading that band musically rather than prior to that with the Bad Seeds, where I would write a song, get other people to play the music and sing my poetry over the top."

His time away from the Bad Seeds has given him a fresh outlook on the process of making music with familiar friends. "I approached this new record from my point of view as a musician so I sat down and played and sang these songs in a live situation, and that's very different from the way that we've recorded things in the past. Things have changed in that respect. Very often in the past, songs were written and there was just the skeleton of an idea, and The Bad Seeds were actually more involved in the writing of the music, I suppose. That's not to say that in the future this won't be the case. But this record is a type of piano-driven record and it's very much a live record, in the sense that we're all sitting around playing together. There's very few overdubs and stuff, comparatively few from some of our other records."

But as his experiences with Ellis and White have given him a new perspective musically, so too have they made Cave reconsider his own personal approach. "It's just given me a lot more confidence. The thing I learned from doing that is that if I'm playing the piano, I'm not concentrating on the singing so much. Consequently, a certain amount of the mannered aspect that may have affected previous recordings is lost, the sense of the theatre about things, and I was happy to see that go. The words carry the song, and I'm not really thinking about loading them up with expression and all that sort of stuff."

That's not to say however that his lyrics have suddenly become less important. Shorn of excess histrionics, the words to this record are if anything, even more powerful than previously. "And No More Shall We Part" reveals a new side of Cave, one which is reflective, mature (gulp!), and accepting of the fallible, human world. He does however bridle at my suggestion of the word "resignation" to characterize the album's dominant emotion. "I prefer acceptance to resignation, I think it's fair enough to say that. It seems to taint everything on the record. I'm not conscious of that while I do it. I'm always saying Ooh shit, another sad one, whoops!' But that's been happening for a long time. There may be those words, but I don't think it's a kind of miserable record in any way."

Miserable no but questioning yes, and not without a share of sorrow. "I write a lot, and very often I write a couple of lines that are particularly revealing in some kind of way. And then as a few more lines get added and a piece gets added, eventually the song pretty much takes over and you can't really find a way to change those things. I don't go into the writing process with any idea of what's going to come out and I don't have much control over what does. In a way, I never really expect them to see the light of day or certainly to ever get recorded. I certainly don't sit down to write lyrics with any desire to "reveal" anything. It's not what I'm trying to do."

Cave writes with both an intellectual wit and an emotional honesty that is rare in music but this does not mean to say that we should confuse the singer with the song. Despite the sad and sorrowful subject matter of his music, Cave is keen to stress that art and life are separate subjects. Don't read too deeply into his tales of star-crossed matrimony, for instance. The real Nick Cave lives in wedded harmony. "Getting married, for me, was the best thing I ever did," he says. "I was suddenly beset with an immense sense of release, that we have something more important than our separate selves, and that is the marriage. There's immense happiness that can come from working towards that."

So would he describe himself as happy then?

"I wouldn't go that far, as Samuel Beckett said! I'm happily married certainly, and I'm happy in my work. These two graces are of prime importance to me, so I guess that I'm doing okay."

Lee Casey - MUSE www.muse.ie Copyright 2001 eircom plc All rights reserved.