Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Interview: Nick Cave talks Grinderman


"I just fucken want to shove their records down their throats!" Nick Cave talks straight to James McGalliard about home, loss, and Grinderman

"There was a time, fifteen or ten years ago, it took a year to make a record. Not a year to record it, but a year to get everyone together, and sort everyone out, and get the right drugs in. The whole kind of massive event to make a record and it’s not like that anymore, and consequently output is much more rapid, and I’ve got the whole writing thing organised, and that makes it much more rapid"

It’s a blazing hot December afternoon, and Nick Cave is back in Melbourne for a family Christmas. "I love Melbourne. I having an absolute fucking ball here actually…I think that in England, even though I live in Brighton and it’s beautiful and all that sort of stuff, you kind of carry a weight with you that you are aware of and I find that that kind of dissipates while I am in Melbourne. I just sort of feel a lot more optimistic in general. (But) Brighton’s the first place that I’ve lived where I feel I could stick it out for the duration."

Despite the heat, Nick is wearing one of his trademark suits, as we meet to discuss his new project Grinderman. "There was a general feeling about the whole of the Grinderman thing is it’s anything goes…And I think what Grinderman is about is going to places you wouldn’t normally go or you can’t normally go, or you don’t have the confidence to go or whatever, and it’s just with a group of people where you are allowed to do whatever you like."

The group of people Cave is referring to are three of the Bad Seeds - Warren Ellis (electric bouzouki, Fendocaster, violin, viola, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Martyn Casey (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Jim Sclavunos (drums, percussion, backing vocals). But this band features Cave playing electric guitar, and has a different purpose in mind.

"The thing is I don’t really look at it in relation to the last Bad Seeds record, it seems to me a very different project…We wanted to make a kind of music that was made by four people and that’s to me is the fundamental difference…Say something like No Pussy Blues for example – it’s an idea - that title which I had - it’s difficult for me to sit down in my office and write that song! It’s just difficult to sit and go – you know like…But it’s not hard if you’ve got someone fucking banging this bass line and you just start riffing on that idea. And people are laughing and you can see the other band members smiling as they’re playing and whatever."

It’s obvious that interviews aren’t one of Nick Cave’s favourite things, but he takes time to give considered answers. His eyes are clear and piercing, and there is little room for flippancy. He listens intently to what you say, and will pull you up instantly if he thinks you’ve missed the point, or are misinterpreting him. When I ask whether Grinderman may alienate fans of his last release, he dismisses it with "I can’t really keep up with all that". But it’s also clear the new album is very important to him. "Grinderman wasn’t something we did just to have a bit of fun though. It’s a serious record. I mean it’s a serious record for us. It’s a serious musical statement. But there are elements of humour in it. The point I am trying to make is it wasn’t just let’s go into the studio and fuck around for a while and put out a record. The intent was quite serious behind Grinderman."

But if you wanted a distance from the Bad Seeds, why did you use Nick Launay, the same producer as on the last two Bad Seeds albums? "We used Nick because we don’t have to re-educate a producer. I say that in the most humble way. A producer comes in with all of his stuff and we have to get rid of that stuff and find someone who will just record us as we actually sound, and not fuck around with where we are trying to get. And Nick actually has it in him to say ‘why don’t you go and do that again - I reckon you can do it better’, and sometimes a band can’t see that." {And you trust him to do that as well?} "More or less. A lot of the time we tell him to get fucked; other times we listen"

Cave is genuinely funny, and sadly some people miss the dry humour in his work. "I don’t see how you can be serious about something and get your point across without it being humorous at the same time. For something to be successful you’ve got to be funny first, or else you end up like, I don’t know, The Mission, or something…I don’t know why I said that band; I don’t even know what that band are like. But you know what I mean…The Australian sense of humour to me is extremely complex. It doesn’t fully translate anywhere…If you say ‘G’day cuntface’ to someone up North {in the UK}, they’d probably (trails off). But you can say that to someone in Australia and they see that it’s actually a term of endearment."

He wasn’t aware that Kylie had been performing a section of Where The Wild Roses Grow in her Showgirl tour, and said he would have liked to have taken part, despite a previous bad experience. "I actually did sing that with her at one of her concerts at some festival in Scotland, and there’s all these guys up the front, right fucking hardcore guys, and when I sorta put my arm around Kylie, they were all going, ‘Fucking grrrrr. If you touch her…’ It was really kinda terrifying actually. Her audience are a much worse audience than I’ve ever had."

He doesn’t dismiss working with other former collaborators either. "I would like to do something with Rowland (S. Howard). He’s fantastic. Blixa I saw, it’s a little early for Blixa, I think. But I saw him not that long ago - he was fantastic, he’s fucking fantastic. Even though we kind of barrelled on regardless when Blixa left, there is a, perhaps not musically, because we adapted, but he’s greatly missed in the Bad Seeds, just his presence, there is no one really like him. I was doing the movie The Proposition in Berlin and he came along, and we went out and he’s fantastic. Probably he’s warmer now because we don’t have to worry about the band any more."

There’s an extremely busy few months ahead for Cave. He’s currently back home in Brighton / Hove, on the south coast of England writing the next Bad Seeds LP, which is due to be recorded in June or July. The end of April will see the live debut of Grinderman at ATP at Minehead. Asides from that, John Hillcoat wants him to write another screenplay after Death Of A Ladies’ Man, so when I ask if he’d like to write another novel, he responds "I would like to…but I just don’t have the fucking time…"

But the primal mood of Grinderman is more than a rage against the dying of the light. Man In The Moon is a tender elegy to his late father, and strikes a hauntingly different note. In some ways Grinderman is a more personal record – it speaks of themes in the real world, rather than the timelessness of some of the Bad Seeds material. Cave gives the sense of wanting to really get on with things now. "I think the days of gnashing our teeth in the studio are hopefully behind us…I don’t bring that shit in with other band members and I don’t expect them to bring that shit in either…So that we go in, we are a group of men, we go in there and we work, and finish that and get on to the next thing. That seems to work really well."

"I read interviews with some of these bands who talk about you know, some bands who should know better, who are talking this sorta stuff about ‘the agony’ it took to make this kind of record. And then the next record ‘the agony’ and you know, ‘I lost my marriage, and I lost…’ – you know all this kind of stuff to make this record. And these are not young bands. These are bands who have been around, and they should know fucking better. I just fucken want to shove their records down their throats. Or up their arse more like - where it probably came from."

© James McGalliard 2007
This interview was published in Inpress, Melbourne 7 March 2007
I interviewed Nick In Melbourne in December 2006