The Brute Lives / Der Wüste lebt
Nick Cave interview by Hanspeter Künzler
Published in Musikexpress, March 2013
(Photo credits pending)
German text translation by Anna.
Translator note: The title contains the word “Wüste”, which means “desert, wilderness, or barren wasteland” in German. Referring to a person ( “Wüstling” ), it describes a wild man. Additional meanings are “rake, libertine, lecher, brute”. I chose the English translation for Wüstling (“brute”).
Introductory text by Michael Pilz (extract)*
After 30 years Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds establish their late work with „Push The Sky Away“, the most beautiful record since they disappeared from Berlin.
Back in the 80s Nick Cave went into the basement when he wanted to laugh. (note: In German you say a person goes into the basement to laugh when you want to describe a gloomy and sad character.) Today he goes down there to write and make music. Every day at nine in the morning he puts on his suit and goes down to his office, a souterrain in the seaside resort Brighton in the south of England, where subcultures fought until it drew blood in the ancient world of Pop. At five in the afternoon he goes back up the stairs to his wife and children. When Rock n’ Roll was still young, it forced its protagonists to either resign early or nod off miserably. Immortality or age. „Complete bullshit“ says Nick Cave. „Age is a blessing, youth a misapprehension. Is there anything more beautiful than walking through ruins?“.
With „Push The Sky Away“ the Australian establishes his late work with the Bad Seeds. The band has its 30th anniversary this year. The birth-year-record indeed sounds more deliberate than any of the previous fifteen releases. It sounds like Cave demanded music landscapes of his colleagues instead of songs, to hike through them as a singer and marvel at the sound of ruined instruments. On the other hand: As every caveian („Cavianer“) knows, nothing is as illusive as idyll.
Continue reading …. under the page cut.
Interview by Hanspeter Künzler
The Ginger Dog, a pub in a warped alley in Brighton. Here, the former lord of darkness gives a good-humored audience. The range of beer is fancy, the wine list selected, the fire swaying itself in the chimney. Nick Cave is even more thin and tall, his hair blacker than ever. 80’s aviators sitting on his nose like an ironic smile. He takes it off during the talk.
With „Push The Sky Away“ the Bad Seeds changed their sound drastically again while it’s still rooted deep in the history of the band. How do you create metamorphoses like this? Which directories did you set?
Oh, none! A change which immediately caused the new album to sound different to Grinderman and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! was that instead of Jim Sclavunos, Thomas Wydler was sitting behind the drums this time. He has a more picturesque style, he´s, to some extent, a Jazz musician. In some ways the new album is carried by him and his participation. It’s very sad that he can´t do the tour because of health reasons. That is a hard blow for us. He is the sound of this album. And on top of that a wonderful guy.
Who is replacing him?
Barry Adamson will be on the tour with us. He might not be a drummer but he is multi talented. We are all very sorry for Thommy – he was sitting more offside for some time while we were letting out certain appetites.
Appetites like Grinderman. What did Grinderman do with the Bad Seeds?
Grinderman changed everything. It’s possible that I am alone with this idea, but I believe that Grinderman saved the Bad Seeds. That Thommy could come back and play like he did was shown in a completely different light suddenly. He was not only a drummer with the routine of his 15th album. Its disruptions like these that keep the Bad Seeds alive. To repeat ourselves would mean to stagnate – and then we would fade rapidly. Sure, I also like certain bands because they always sound the same. It can be very consoling to listen to a new record and know you will feel at home in it right away. It’s like a nice old uncle you visit every year at Christmas. However, I don´t want to be that uncle.
Mick Harvey was part of the band for a quarter of a century. Three years ago he left. At the same time you worked with Warren Ellis a lot, also for a range of soundtracks. Was that a kind of passing over the reigns of power?
Mick had no power to pass over. He was having a huge influence on the band as an arranger and general organizer. Sometimes we wrote a song together. I don´t want to belittle his participation in any kind of way. Without him our early records would never have been created, that’s for sure. But between me and him there was never this intensive creative collaboration like what is connecting me and Warren now.
After such a long time a break off like this is not easy isn´t it?
Of course that caused changes. But the only thing that is important for me is to keep the Bad Seeds alive, that they continue to make music. The feeling that I have to keep this unbelievable band alive becomes stronger and stronger. The appliances don´t matter. The whole thing is more important than the single pieces.
Now you sound like Keith Richards in his memoirs: The phenomenon that a group of people could build a creative unity over decades would be so unique that it would be a crime to blow it up. Or something like that.
I absolutely agree with that. It is like that with the Bad Seeds. I am absolutely conscious of the fact that I was raised through the band. Without the Bad Seeds I would not exist as a musician. Fact! On a very fundamental and practical level. Without them I would not have managed it to grab myself by the scruff of my neck and make music. I need these musicians to create my lyrics and make them sound interesting.
What is most obvious about the new album next to the subdued atmosphere are the loops and the strange sounds Warren Ellis creates with his instruments and pedals. Like an alchemist he is transforming sounds to moods.
It’s indeed a form of alchemy. The mystery of his sound worlds is part of our music since such a long time now. But now there is nothing that could cover them anymore. The guitars are gone – apart from the ones he plays himself. The rhythm guitar, which dominates all guitar music, like it could be heard on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! still, is missing. The first time I recognized that Warren is collaborating with a very special muse was when director John Hillcoat was asking us to do the soundtrack for „The Proposition“. He must have felt a dynamic between us which was still hidden to ourselves back then. I remember how I was saying at a certain scene „OK, for this, something sad is needed“. Warren was pressing a certain key on the computer and this wonderful sound came out which fitted perfectly: „Wow whats that?“ – „Oh well, I play around with stuff like that daily, just for myself.“ He has this magic ability to make tight and harmonious atmospheres out of different noises.
A connecting theme in the lyrics for Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! was, thats what you told me back then, people who are trapped in a vicious circle they can´t escape. Did you feel like that with the Bad Seeds at that time? There are no such pitiful individuals in the lyrics of the new album.
I really enjoyed creating all our newer albums. But this time it was something really special. Possibly that had to do with the surroundings. We went to a studio in the south of France for three weeks which was not a studio in the common rock n’ roll sense. It contained the second biggest classic vinyl collection of France. It could have been a complete disaster, so many people caged in one house. But it wasn´t. It was a complete joy.
What are the lyrics about?
I think I found a new style of writing for myself. Until then I used a completely narrative style. Now I connect it with atmospheric writing. You don´t have to follow a story anymore. It’s indeed a waste of time if you try to find the story. It took a huge weight off the shoulders of the complete band as well. It brought light, air and space into our music.
The texts seem to be about how texts are made, artistic ideas, creativity itself.
I would say all of my songs are somehow about the nature of creation. Its visual scenarios I capture. I write from the perspective of the distant voyeur. The lyrics have a voyeuristic nature. Somebody watches while stories happen. That’s how the process of writing works for me.
Lets talk about the probably most beautiful song of the album, „Jubilee Street“? Here the narrator describes a bad, old story about women. He carries the cross of love around with him and memory lets him fall into a kind of ecstasy. Do you experience creative ecstasy?
Yes! You can absolutely read the text like that. That’s how I experience the process of writing. You fight yourself through the insecurity in the beginning, plug away with the sentences and suddenly the moment that transforms everything comes. The sense of time changes, the body chemistry changes, you become the song, you fly with it, you vibrate with it. Yes, that’s one side of that song. The other is a shabby little story about transcendence through humiliation, something like that.
Who is Mary Stanford in the song „Finishing Jubilee Street“?
Ha! Usually I’m more down to earth. I don´t tend to have esoteric thoughts. What happened with that text anyway, is really strange. I usually wake up around 2 a.m., just lie there for an hour or so and let my thoughts float around. In this state between being awake and sleeping, thinking works in a different way. However, I woke up that night as usual. Out of nowhere I had this name in my head and I wrote it down in the book that always lies next to my bed, then I fell asleep again. Later while writing that text – „I had taken a bride called…“ – I opened the book, read the name Mary Stanford and it fitted. It was much later that someone told me about the fact that it was the name of a life raft that sank near Brighton in the 20s and that nearly the whole male population of a village was killed. As the album focuses a lot on water and drowning, I thought it fit.
Water. You spoke in an enthusiastic way about the time when you lived at a river in Australia when you were a child more than once. Do we return back to our childhood when we get older?
Of course. All the big moments of my childhood happened down at the river. The moments when you had to prove yourself: Kiss a girl, jump from the railroad bridge. I loved the river and hated the sea.
Why did you hate it?
I especially hated the beach. We lived in the country and we drove to the bay of Melbourne during holidays. There you went to the beach as a family. It wasn´t that bad, I love my family and all that. But the beach, that was a lot of sand (pulls a disgusted face) and I always was afraid of the water, might be because I saw „Jaws“. And that beach was burnt out by the sun and soulless, and later you trailed yourself back to the car and drove back sweating and grumpy. That were my experiences with the beach in the Australian style. Because of that I was really skeptical about moving to Brighton. But it was the wish of my wife and I would follow her anywhere, even if that means that I have to live by the fucking sea. But over the years – its ten years now! – I learned to love that sea. Because the English beaches are different. There is no sand. And there is a lovely sky above them. My house has a view over the water. I look out of the window and the weather is rushing towards me. It’s a very beautiful and exciting place to live. In a certain way I recovered the secret world of my childhood down at the river here at the sea.
Nick Cave interview by Hanspeter Künzler
Published in Musikexpress, March 2013
English translation by Anna.
Text edits, graphics & layout by Morgan
Translator note: The introduction by Michael Pilz was edited for length.