The word according to St. Nick

April 26, 2002


Four years in the making, 2001's "No More Shall We Part" (Reprise) found the famously brooding singer and songwriter Nick Cave in top form, delivering some of the most gorgeously tortured music that he's ever produced.

Fans rejoice in Cave's grand misery and gothic melodrama. But by all accounts, at age 44, the former leader of the Birthday Party is happier than he's ever been. A doting father and the husband of model Susie Bick, the Australian expatriate is living on a houseboat in London and climbing ashore each day for a five-minute walk to the office where he writes songs, poetry and books. He isn't even dreading interviews anymore, if our chat was any indication.


Q. I was listening to an audio interview that you did on the Net, and the way you talked about going to the office to write sounded very romantic, the poet in his garret.

A. It's not a garret; I take great offense at that! It's a room, and I'm in it now. Been here all day and been driving myself f---ing nuts, but I've written a song, for whatever it's worth. This has actually become a kind of storage room, for whatever reason, but I sit here and I write. But it's light--it's not dark like a garret.

Q. I read that English novelist Graham Greene would get up in the morning and write exactly 500 words every day before breakfast. Then he was done for the day.

A. I can relate. It's essential for me these days to have a routine. It keeps me quite level, and it just seems to work in some way. If I don't have some structure, I just don't operate properly. So, I come into the office, and it can be incredibly frustrating--sometimes stuff doesn't come, sometimes stuff does--but I just do it anyway.

Q. Religious imagery plays a huge role in your work. I was thinking about you being a father now and wondering if you've ever considered how you will introduce the concept of God to your son.

A. Well, I think that children have the right to their ideas and their imaginations. I think children are spiritual beings, and they haven't had that sort of stuff beaten out of them yet, so they find it quite easy. I guess they throw it all in with the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas. And why not? So, I certainly don't go on about it. I used to tell my son biblical stories, but he soon grew bored of them. He's a modern kid, and there's far more attractive ideas out there for young kids.

Q. What is it about the Bible that fascinates you so much? You recently wrote an essay as the introduction to a new edition of the Gospel of St. Mark.

A. I'd heard that the books of the Bible were being put out in paperback individually, and they were looking for people to write the introductions to them. I rang them up and they'd already gotten quite a lot of the people in place, but they couldn't find anyone that wanted to write about the Gospels for some reason, which I thought was kind of extraordinary and very lucky for me, because the Gospel of Mark is my favorite.

Q. Isn't Mark considered the bloodiest and most vivid of the gospels?

A. It depends on your taste, really. Mark is the shortest. It's often called "the urgent Mark" in that he seems to want to get the story across with as little embellishment as possible. John has angels everywhere and all this sort of stuff; it's more visionary, I guess. But Mark, to me, is kind of the eeriest and the strangest because it is so stripped back and economical. It's absolutely concerned with the death of Christ, and everything that happens in it is leading up to that. I think it's a very exciting piece of writing.

Q. The last time you performed in Chicago, it was in stripped-down mode at the Park West. What's the difference from your perspective, playing with a small group vs. the full-on Bad Seeds experience?

A. I think it's probably much the same as it is for someone in the audience, really. There's a sense of discomfort and intimacy to the solo stuff that isn't there with the Bad Seeds, but the Bad Seeds just have this extraordinary power and are able to take songs to places that I could never do on my own. So, it's a completely different thing. The Bad Seeds is a very physical thing as well, for me at least. These days the Bad Seeds are able to drop down to very, very fragile music and also extremely aggressive and violent-sounding music, so we can do it all, really. And we do do it all these days.

Q. The Bad Seeds are truly one of rock's great backing bands, and every one of your fans has their favorite member of the group. I've always been fascinated by Blixa Bargeld because he can be such a completely different musician playing guitar with you compared to what he does with industrial rockers Einsturzende Neubauten.

A. It's quite a strange sort of thing that goes on with Blixa. I never see Blixa apart from when he's on tour or in the studio, but we're very, very warm toward each other, and he's an extraordinarily generous kind of character. But we pretty much communicate with our work, really. And he's always able to add something to the songs.

Q. Nick Cave fans tend to be a devoted lot. Do you ever take that audience for granted or worry that it limits you in some way?

A. No, I like that. One of the things that I cherish about what I do is that I've had an audience that's been around with me for a long time, and it seems to be an audience that allows me to do whatever I like. I don't feel pressured or bullied by my audience to play certain things. They seem to give me the benefit of a doubt when I go off on certain kinds of whims, and they're very often in the main quite accepting of that. I'm very grateful. I feel very warm toward my audience these days--they're all I've got!

Q. Well, you have had some intriguing forays into the mainstream in recent years, when you had a hit in the U.K. with Kylie Minogue on "Where the Wild Roses Grow," and when Johnny Cash covered "The Mercy Seat" on "Solitary Man." Is it interesting to watch when your material reaches a crowd that may not have heard of Nick Cave before?

A. It depends. With Johnny Cash doing it, it's the ultimate form of flattery, really. Whereas I may fade away, Johnny Cash never will, so I'm very happy with that. The thing with Kylie Minogue, it was just very strange and kind of bemusing. It was funny that I would go on "Top of the Pops" with Kylie Minogue and sing it. This is an extremely politically dubious song that we're singing together--one of my more so--and we kind of sat back and watched it crawl up the charts, so I had a sense of revenge or something. But we knew it was a one-off thing and I would sink back to where I lived, in the shallows, so to speak.

Q. Where do you see yourself fitting into the musical spectrum in 2002? Or do you even care about that?

A. No, I don't really care. It doesn't really worry me. What I'm really concerned about is creating something that I'm interested in myself, and creating something that I feel is a step forward for myself. And that's not always easy. There are times when I'm in here in the studio writing again, and it just sounds like something else I've already written. It can be difficult to move things on, and I'm much more concerned with that.

Q. So you feel the weight of your own history?

A. You do, even though I never listen to my own music or look back on what I do. I mean, we always play old stuff live--that's what playing live is, regurgitating your songs. Hopefully, you can do something different, though, and keep the songs alive and keep them interesting in some way.