Published in Polish magazine ‘Machina’ in April 2001.
The new, happier Cave prefers love letters than murder ballads. He has a wife and a child, he talks to God, but still doesn’t attend the church. His life so far? – One big shit!
I RECOMMEND TURNING 40
Nick Cave talks to Beata Sadowska
Machina: What would happen if you started writing for money?
Nick Cave: My Muse would leave me. She is a very demanding woman who doesn’t tolerate such things. You know, sometimes I think that she’s a mean bitch (laughs). She forces me to work hard and keep to very strict rules. I can’t follow the dollar. Contributing to commercials of any kind is forbidden. The good thing is that if I obey the rules given by my conscience, the Muse and God, I will be able to write, granted with the songs.
M: On ‘No More Shall We Part’ you often mention God. Do you often talk to him?
NC: Oh, yes.
M: And who is he?
NC: I am not sure, but we’ve reached a certain state of consent.
M: It seems like you’ve lost your legendary husky voice. It’s not ‘singing out of the grave’ anymore. What happened?
NC: The really new solution introduced in this album is reduction of theatrical arrangement. During the recording sessions I had to sing and play the piano at once. Playing the piano requires maximum concentration so I can’t focus on my voice that much. The new sound satisfies me; the way I sing has become lighter, less affected. The words will defend themselves.
M: Your new lyrics are full of love. Does it mean that there is a new source of happiness in your life?
NC: Yes, I’ve found happiness! I am married for the first time in my life, I don’t know why I haven’t discovered marriage earlier. It brought a great relief and tranquillity. I am a happy married man, what happens not that often. Or, at least, I don’t complain.
M: What marriage gave you, apart from the feeling of relief?
NC: The promises we have given each other. We treat them seriously. Thanks to marriage, there appeared something much better than anything than I or my wife could achieve alone. It has weakened our individual positions in a certain meaning, but I do feel that together we head for something perfect. That made me discover something others have discovered probably years ago. Now I know that marriage doesn’t need to start a downward avalanche. It happens sometimes that after the avalanche rolls over, the remains of a relationship get stuck in some slot trying to catch their breath and suffocating. I used to think it’s unavoidable. But my relationship has its ups and downs which only make it stronger. That’s the good thing.
M: How did your wife capture you?
NC: When I saw her for the very first time, in the Natural History Museum, she was standing next to the Brachiosaurus…
M: So romantic – ‘she and the dinosaur’…
NC: … I felt that all my pinions and racks suddenly jumping. It has all changed in a moment. She felt the same… at least, she says so.
M: Talking about love – maybe you can tell me what it is!
NC: I don’t know. If I tell anything, it will be put on a poster (laughs). Love is every time a different story. I don’t know anything more, but I hope I answered the question somehow.
M: Somehow, yes. Ok, let’s get serious – your fascination with the Bible, when did it start?
NC: But I had so much fun speaking about my wife. You had to spoil everything! (laughs)
M: I am sorry! So, your wife…
NC: (laughs) It’s too late. I am going to speak about the Bible now. When I was a child, I attended the church very often. My parents did so too. I grew up in a small town, and when they don’t see you on a Sunday mass, they disapprove of you. So not only did I attend the church, but I used to sing in the local choir too. I’ve always found the Bible stories amazing, being 20 I knew most of them by heart.
M: Your childhood friend and bandmate says that you were obsessed with the Old Testament in the 80s.
NC: How do you know?
M: … and that you skipped to the New Testament in the 90s. True?
NC: Seems that Mick has stolen this line from one of my interviews (laughs)
M: See, it’s not a fake. What is your current obsession?
M: Apart from your wife, of course!
NC: You’re trying, but no way! I am speaking about the Bible – but I’m not obsessed anymore. I don’t feel like I have to read it all the time anymore. Honestly – it’s been about 1,5 year I haven’t read the Bible. I just had no need. Maybe because I know it all by heart and it’s alive within me. I don’t have a need to talk about it all the time, although there was a time I had to scream from the rooftops. But it’s gone now.
M: Do you still feel the religion gives you something?
NC: Religion is not the proper word here. I don’t belong to any church.
M: And you don’t attend the mass.
NC: No, I don’t. I am not a part of any formal structure, Catholic, Anglican or anything else. I have my own ideas and beliefs – sometimes I think I wish I’d be a Catholic, though. I could say ‘I am Catholic, full stop’ and it would be enough. In a moment, you’d know my beliefs and attitude towards life (laughs). But – I am not! And I doubt I might be. I don’t have a point in becoming one.
M: I remember your Warsaw show. I went there with a friend of mine – a tough guy type, the one who hardly shows any feelings. He stood there enchanted. It’s a cliche, but he had tears in his eyes. I’d never expect that from him.
NC: Probably his eyes got irritated (laughs)
M: I haven’t considered that.
NC: Did you know that the tough guys are usually more sentimental and sensitive? As far as i know, at least.
M: Why your lyrics affect people so much?
NC: I don’t know. I don’t have control over what I am writing. I am completely devoted to writing but my whole responsibility means only sitting by the table in my office every day. The other things – I can’t control them.
M: You think I’ll believe that you sit at your desk, close your eyes and suddenly eleven songs appear from nowhere.
NC: Okay, I am a bit exaggerating here. There is no hocus pocus that makes words flow onto a sheet of paper. I spend hours writing. But, I feel more sure now – when i wrote a verse I am able to accept it as it is, without endlessly smoothing the words the way i used to. I tried to manipulate everything. Now I cut it out, what made my songs more powerful.
M: Have you ever written a love letter?
NC: So many of them. There is a genius term describing a person with a manic need to write such letters: erotographomaniac. It’s me. I know this feeling (laughs). I have written tons of love letter to my wife, but now that we’re married…
M: You don’t have to write them anymore?
NC: (laughs) I don’t have to.
M: Good they worked! Now, let your memory work – the Poland show…
NC: The one we talked about? I liked it very much. But you have to understand I’ve never done such things before and the thought of sitting alone by the piano and singing made me anxious. The people who sang with me – they moved me. That’s why I too the risk, I was curious what others will do with my songs. The Polish version was great, The Mercy Seat was genius – I tried to remember it as well as I could, so The Bad Seeds would steal the idea later. But I forgot to tell you!
M: So tell us now.
NC: Good job!
M: Do you remember your first day in London, when you arrived here with The Birthday Party in 1980?
NC: My first day?! First of all, our travel from Melbourne was way too long and when I got off the plane, I was… you know (laughs). We had problems with the security guards, who weren’t eager to give us a warm welcome. Maybe because Mick Harvey vomited on the customs officer’s desk. I don’t remember much more – maybe except for that we realized very soon that our arrival was a terrible mistake. Everything turned to be different from what we expected. We expected Swinging London, and the Swinging London broke our necks. When we moved to Berlin three years later, it was a relief. I fell in love with this city.
M: Do you think you could come back to Australia now?
NC: I could, but there won’t be much to do for me. On the one hand, I love Australians and Australia. On the other, there are many reasons to hate.
M: What are the reasons why you don’t like London?
NC: I’ll tell you what I like. I can disappear here, just vanish. Probably because I am not that recognized in London, so I am not an easy prey for the tabloid press who waits to catch and destroy you. They’re not interested in me.
FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
M: Let’s move on to more pleasant – at least I think so – matters. How does it feel like to be a father?
NC: I think I’m not that bad at it! I have enough patience, and I had a great example to follow – my father. It’s clear for me what his weak and strong points were, and what not to do to avoid his mistakes.
M: Any examples?
NC: My father was the perpetual player type of person. He felt an urge to compete, especially during my adolescence. He was a very intelligent, wise man, great in his remarks like ‘one day we’ll all grow tired and die’ (imitates the mentorial, paternal manner). For him it was nothing, but it clipped my wings. I still recall these speeches. Sure that he didn’t do it out of ill will. I know that I have to support my son, to encourage him, not to discourage. Luke is 9 now and I support him in everything. I think I manage quite well.
M: When you were a child, your father read you Dostoevski and Nabokov aloud. Will you read them to your son too?
NC: I’d do it even now, if only Luke could sit down quietly long enough to actually hear anything. Maybe it’s too soon.
M: Your fascination with Russian literature started thanks to your father?
NC: Sure. Not without reason, ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘Lolita’ are my favourite books.
M: In your school days, you were a little rascal – do you observe Luke following your steps?
NC: I have no idea how it happened (laughs) but my son is a very polite, sensitive child. I never force him to do anything – he’s given much freedom. He is very kind-hearted, not willing to confide in anyone, and practical, too.
M: So he didn’t inherit your stormy soul. I’ve heard that it were your constant riots at school that drew Mick Harvey’s attention.
NC: I remember that day. I was in the schoolyard, fighting with a guy named Warwick Harrison, and half of the school stood around screaming: ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’. Mick saw me there and a moment later we started a band. Aha, I am sure Harrison would tell you a completely different veriosn of the story (laughs). He’d tell you: ‘Cave? I could beat him with one hand!’
M: What is the greatest advantage of being 40?
NC: I am feeling still more comfortable with my age. The older I am, the better it feels. But the best thing… I don’t know. I am just happy that my 30s are over (laughs)
M: Was it really such a dreadful decade?
NC: One Big Shit (laughs)! I don’t recommend it to anyone. Turning 40 changed something in me. Probably because I managed to crawl through my 30s and suddenly I thought: ‘Fuck! I did it!’ That was an effort, then. I did it, and what’s more, I am still writing my songs and it’s still fun. I don’t feel the panic that I may burn out, that it’s going to be my last record, the last song I’ve made… I simply set to work instead of wasting 90% of my creative life on whining over… creative life. I recommend turning 40, it’s been amazing so far!
M: So there’s no better decade?
NC: Well, I still don’t know, there are still some years left. At least, I hope so (laughs)
M: You’re not ‘the next soon-to-be-dead idol’ anymore.
NC: Yes, I used to be called this way. Although I’ve overdosed many times and the doctors have been warning me that I’m alive thanks to luck only – I’ve never felt it was like that. My desire to live was always incredibly strong. I’ve always had my duties apart from drugs – my writing, my songs. That was always more important. If you don’t have anything except for a needle and a joint – that’s where the danger appears.
M: Would you repeat the duo with Kylie Minogue now?
NC: I doubt – it was a single project. But we are friends and we stay in touch.
M: Is Kylie attractive, or very-very-attractive?
NC: Very attractive. Yes, with one ‘very’ (laughs)
M: And PJ Harvey? You worked together and even had an affair…
NC: Is she pretty? I don’t think so.
M: Is it true that you’ve become the leader of The Birthday Party because you couldn’t play any instrument and nobody wanted to sing?
NC: I think it may be true. It was a school band, I can’t tell you what was its initial name now.. what is a bit scary.
M: And what was the next name then?
NC: We had a brief period of playing heavy metal under the name of Concrete Vulture. But it wasn’t my idea. And it’s true nobody wanted to sing.
M: I’ve thought that being a leader of a band means having always the pick of the litter.
NC: I liked it but I wasn’t the best at it, at least I’ve been told so.
M: Apart from singing in the choir, have you ever taken singing lessons?
NC: Six years ago, I began my classes with one of the best British singing teachers. It was a serious problem: on our tours, I’ve been losing my voice during the first shows. For three-quarters of a concert I’ve been rattling in a hoarse voice (imitates the sound of a broken chair). The teacher told me how to fix it. Some good advice and the problem was solved.
M: You don’t seem to like rock festivals.
NC: It’s not my favourite option. Our band requires a certain intimacy and listeners’ attention so the music can be properly received. Rock festivals aren’t the best places to achieve it. But I can’t say we won’t play open air anymore. You knooow, it’s the cash.
M: Watch out, your Muse!
NC: Oh shit!