Lets start at the end. We’re at the Arts Theatre at HOTA and have just witnessed a Nick Cave show that we never thought we would see. The warm, funny, honest, friendly guy onstage has just spent three hours respectfully answering as many unfiltered questions from the audience as he can. His answers have been devoid of cynicism and judgement, and many have been laugh-out-loud funny. The audience has warmed to the coolest man on the planet.
He is playing the last few songs of the evening. Just Nick, unfettered in his customary three piece black suit in the middle of a Gold Coast January, along with his grand piano. No Bad Seeds or Grindermen have joined him for his Australian tour of unmoderated Q+A sessions interspersed with old and new Bad Seeds songs. He tells us ‘The Weeping Song’ got a bad review at another performance on the tour, and says defiantly, “so I’m going to play it”. The reviewer said it was reductionist, and while economy is obviously employed with only the piano at hand when performing songs accustomed to multiple instruments, all the songs played during the evening were, in fact, enriched by the intensity of being played solo. ‘The Weeping Song’ was played beautifully. The reviewer was wrong.
Nick Cave started the evening playing ‘The Ship Song’. It doesn’t matter whether there is backing or not, it’s a love song that always stirs the heart. Most the songs played were chosen by Cave and some were requests. They had to fit the intimate mood of the evening. ‘Stagger Lee’ was out, but some of the near perfect renditions included ‘Higgs Boson Blues’, ‘God is in the House’, ‘Sad Waters’, ‘West Country Girl’, Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’, ‘Skeleton Tree’, and his masterpiece ‘The Mercy Seat’.
‘Into My Arms’ was thankfully included on that list as well and it seemed to draw the most questions from the audience. “I wrote that song in rehab. I was like, one week into rehab in a really bad way. There was a shitty old piano in the group therapy room. I wrote it and put it away.” He says the song’s meaning has changed for him. “Now the song means to me like a calling forth the spirits.”
He has been off the drugs for about 20 years now. On his website ‘The Red Hand Files’ people write to him about their personal difficulties with addiction. He points to Warren Ellis with whom he took drugs together, and how Ellis’s creativity is “on fire” since coming off heroin. “Look to people like Warren”.
On being a ‘legacy artist’ (he hates the word legacy “it sounds like an old horse put out to pasture”) he says we have two lives. “The first life we are building up our individual self…then something comes along and shatters it completely. This happened to me with the death of my son but I think it happens to everybody.” He says there needs to be a “rupture” somehow. He says his second life is about creating community and drawing people together.
On his relationship with religion: “The idea of belief is absolutely essential to what I do. That we push our mind beyond what we think we know, especially in song writing. I have very little time for atheism because it shuts too many doors for me.” He says “ music is a particular creation that is connected to the Divine.”
On writing: “I find long form writing much easier than short form…with a novel you get a burn going. Song writing is much more difficult.” He says it’s like giving “lots of horrible, painful births, like kidney stones. A novel is like a watermelon.” He credits growing up in Australia with his writing style; “’Sad Waters’ and all my songs are Australian Songs. That particular song has poured from my childhood. So much of what I do comes from growing up in Australia. It’s not understood by most people, maybe it’s understood by Australians. Even in the novel I wrote ‘And the Ass Saw the Angel’ My biggest regret around that is that I didn’t set that book in Australia.”
On film writing: “I wrote the script to the film ‘Lawless’ and I fucking hated that. I did that in the Hollywood system and it was an awful experience for me.” He hasn’t written for film since.
On collaborating with other artists: “The one that was most difficult was with Kylie Minogue…there were ripples of terror in the Kylie camp…she is an incredibly bold character. She did it in two takes.” He also talked about his collaboration with Jeffrey Lee Pierce from Gun Club and their problems with pitch; Pierce was too high and Cave was too low. He doesn’t think much of his own voice; “I’m not actually a very good singer in the sense that I can’t hold a tune very well, but I have a way of articulating.”
On the music scene in Melbourne in the 1980s: “I cannot give an ounce of credit to the music industry. It’s a great thing that the music industry ignores young musicians.” He says it leads to the creation of unique music. “The great gift of the music industry was that they ignored us.” He feels there is some politicisation of music now but “rock music is still pretty free. You can say what you like, there’s still something about rock music that it’s still about transgression. There seems to be a movement in the world against anything like that at the moment. Thank God for rock and roll.”
On the works he is most proud of: “the first Bad Seeds record because we simply did not know what we were doing and I think something genuinely beautiful came out of that. And I like the last record ‘Skeleton Tree’. Both those records are removed from me somewhat I can stand back from them and see that they are valuable. I feel completely removed from the process of the ‘Skeleton Tree’.” ‘Skeleton Tree’ is the album Cave wrote after the death of his son and he says “I don’t know where it came from. I love that album very much.”
On Grinderman: “Grinderman was an absolute necessity. The Bad Seeds were growing a little too comfortable. Grinderman blew the whole thing out of the water.” In may have been a throwaway comment, but Cave alluded to a Grinderman 3.
Whatever he does, we will love him for including us on his journey.