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Anyway, Cave first came under the spotlight as a hell-bent, demonic cyclone with his Ō80s post-punk group The Birthday Party, whose loose-limbed, blues-branded evil-rock took Cave from Australia to England in the early '80s; upon the bandÕs demise, Cave, further impelled by cryptic obsessions with Jesus and Elvis Presley, formed his ongoing Bad Seeds band, with whom heÕs collaborated on several albums, including Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, which was awarded "best album of 2008" by Mojo magazine. Along the way Cave acted (Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and Till the End of the World, among others), composed film scores (To Have and To Hold) and published his poetry (King Ink, volumes 1 and 2); he wrote the screenplay for Australian Western film The Proposition (2006), and with bandmate Warren Ellis composed the soundtrack for the movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. This multifaceted beastÕs activities also include his accomplishments as a writer of novels, which include his 1987 epic And the Ass Saw the Angel and the grimly moving The Death of Bunny Munro (2009).

But itÕs Grinderman thatÕs lately been sitting atop Nick CaveÕs heaping plate of endeavors. Composed of core Bad Seeds members ŠŠ violinist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey and drummer Jim Sclavunos ŠŠ the fiercely feral musical collective released Grinderman 2 (Anti-) a few months back; it follows GrindermanÕs eponymous 2007 album with a very hairy, seditious mess of garage rock whose artfully volatile air is, according to Cave, the product of an exacting design scheme. He shoots the breeze about this and other items via phone from his home in Brighton, England.

BLUEFAT: WhatÕs the difference between a Grinderman album and a Bad Seeds album? This new oneÕs really loose and haywired, but tight, tight, tight.

NICK CAVE: ItÕs the method in which we go about recording the stuff. We go into the studio with nothing, just the four of us, and we play about five days ­­ŠŠ we did this on the first album as well, we played for five days and most of five nights ŠŠ and we record everything. And itÕs purely improvised. But later on we go through this amount of music and take out little bits within this morass of shit weÕve been playing that are kind of interesting on some level or that sounds decent, and we cut those bits out and put Ōem on CD, and then I take them away and work on them. But within that time, those five days of improvisation, IÕm also singing, adlibbing lyrics and stuff like that. So it feels like something comes together on a far more primal sort of level than if weÕd sit down and write songs on our own.

So youÕre able to improvise lyrics? Do you end up keeping a lot of what youÕve sung off the cuff?

Yeah, a lot of spontaneous lyrics take you places that you canÕt normally go to sittinÕ cold with it with a pad in your hand. The fact that you improvise means that you go to places which you normally wouldnÕt go, and maybe arenÕt advisable to go.

Do you have to rework your lyrics much?

Well, itÕs funny, Ōcause IÕm kind of going on about things that I think if I was writing them on paper I just wouldnÕt continue on with what I was writing about. It just wouldnÕt work. The stuff to me seems to work within the context of the songs, so I can be singing, sort of riffing on something or other, and IÕll take those lyrics back and work on it, cut it up into bits and work on it till it feels like itÕs in a place that seems different and exciting.

It makes for a very explosive effect. But then, a lot of GrindermanÕs heat has to do with the spectacular and kind of odd drumming of Jim Sclavunos.

Yeah, heÕs good, right?

He reminds me of Denardo Coleman.

Oh, brilliant, heÕd be happy about that. We try to get rid of the kind of rock drumming that goes on usually with that kind of music. ItÕs a powerful kind of music and we put a different type of drumming behind it, something more atmospheric.

WhatÕs it like improvising alongside Warren Ellis?

HeÕs amazing, heÕs a force of nature, that boy. You know, he works with mostly acoustic-style instruments, put through a lot of different effects pedals and so forth, but his basic sound comes from mandolins and violins and, like, a tenor guitar and a lot of unconventional stringed instruments. ThatÕs what gives the record, and all those loops on it, that kind of wooden, organic sound. ItÕs very different from the kind of loops stuff you normally hear. ItÕs very exciting to play in the studio with Warren; very exciting to play live with Warren as well, because everything goes into it.

On this record youÕre playing instruments as well, right?

Yeah, IÕm in a kind of booth, and in there I have a Casio and an organ and a piano, a proper electric guitar, and when weÕre improvising weÕre all just kind of knocking around some instruments.

On ŅHeathen ChildÓ thereÕs this bluesy motif going on, but with a very odd guitar caterwauling screech/fuzz. WhatÕs that sound? And would that be you playing it?

The stuff on ŅHeathen ChildÓ is Warren. You mean the kind of lead stuff?


You know the guitarist Robert Fripp? We got him to do a long extended guitar solo on ŅHeathen ChildÓ as an alternate version called ŅSuper Heathen Child.Ó ItÕs got this real kind of evil guitar solo at the end that he did, itÕs amazing. I was in the studio with him laying down an overdub, and he says, ŅWhat is that instrument? What is that sound thatÕs being played?Ó I said, well, I donÕt know, IÕll ring up Warren in Paris and find out. I said, IÕve got Robert Fripp here, he wants to know what youÕre playing on that. Warren said, ŅI donÕt know.Ó [laughs] So, by that I mean that Warren is working really fast backwards and forwards on things; sometimes thereÕs no time to properly assess it. Some of these sounds, itÕs impossible to tell where they came from in the first place. They just sound unique.

I mean, the music itself is largely improvised, but the actual stuff that youÕre hearing, itÕs not like we improvised this stuff and then re-do it, because itÕs impossible mostly to re-do. But the trick is to take a piece of improvised music and work out a way to turn it into a song, and thatÕs usually done lyrically, or thereÕs some structural thing thatÕs put in with it to give it some kind of form thatÕs outside of whatÕs actually going on there. So it gives a kind of structured improvisation.

I love your singing on this record. ItÕs a varied approach. Have you been working on the voice?

Oh, no. [laughs] You know, what we donÕt want to be is a rock band. WeÕre not really interested in doing that. And, actually, to play that type of four-four stuff with what we play would just turn it into a rock band. One of the reasons weÕre approaching the music in the way that we do is to stop that from happening, to somehow get out of the tyranny of the backbeat and sort of screamed vocals and all that sort of stuff and create something thatÕs genuinely threatening and powerful but at the same time atmospheric. ThatÕs the master plan. [laughs]

Have you listened to Stooges records? You always imagine itÕs a real heavy thing, but then you hear it and half the time IggyÕs singing real soft, and whispering. That way can be just as effective, if not more so.

How democratic is the Grinderman way? I.e., how much are you directing things?

ItÕs democratic in the sense that we all start off playing together, so people arenÕt directed, initially, but then I do take the songs and work on them, and Warren works them some, and we kind of work on stuff together. ItÕs less than democracy, which is just too slow. ItÕs a collaboration, in a sense ŠŠ we delegate responsibility. [laughs]

I find that IÕm happier to delegate things to the different members. You know, thereÕs things that I know Jim the drummer has the patience and the type of math to do that IÕm not that interested in doing, like letÕs say getting involved in doing the mastering of the record, so thatÕs an area that IÕd traditionally like to leave up to somebody else. Jim really likes that type of thing.

Your meeting Warren Ellis was fortuitous. The collaboration with him on the White Lunar score produced some fascinating music.

We just wanted to put together some of the stuff that weÕd been working with on soundtracks. ThereÕs two CDs, one of them is basically stuff from the soundtracks that weÕve done, and the other CD is a mixture of stuff weÕve done sort of from the vaults, music that we had up our sleeves, that we had to find something to do with. And I think that Grinderman, the methodology of it, has been more affected by the film scores than anything else.

I was deeply affected by your book The Death of Bunny Munro, partly because I too am the father of a young boy. Bunny as a dad is far from perfect.

Well, itÕs not autobiographical at all, although I do understand much about that character. I certainly know what itÕs like to raise kids. I donÕt raise my kids in the same way he did, but there are ŠŠ IÕm talking about the sexual impulses in the book, there are points where IÕm familiar with the sort of addictive impulse, shall we say.

BunnyÕs not a sex addict, um, per se.

A Ņsex addictÓ sounds a little modern for him. HeÕs a sex maniac, right, if you want to call him that. For me, heÕs kind of abandoned himself to something, and itÕs more a story about the relationship between a father and his son; itÕs about grief more than anything else, I think.

In the past youÕve dealt thematically with questions of faith. But youÕre not exactly a born-again Christian, are you? You seem to like testing out the idea of faith.

Yeah, I think itÕs more the idea of it. IÕm not religious, and IÕm not a Christian. I do reserve the right to at least believe in the possibility of a god, but itÕs kind of defending the indefensible in some kind of way, and the more destructive religions are becoming, the harder it is to defend that position. But I think as an artist, particularly, itÕs a necessary part of what I do ŠŠ that there is some divine element going on within my songs.

You do a lot of things, youÕre prolific. You like to stay busy.

Sometimes it feels like that to me, but I just kind of work away on something that I like and have the capacity to focus in on until itÕs done, and quickly ŠŠ I donÕt hesitate; once I want to do something I just go ahead and do it. But it seems at least at this point in time under control. [laughs] Maybe it wonÕt be next year.

Was there a point when you thought maybe you were taking on too much?

ThereÕs certainly a point where other people think IÕm taking on too much. [laughs] The biggest problem is not with me but the people who deal with me ŠŠ you know, the record company and so forth. I have had the record company sit me down and say, You need to stop doing so much, because itÕs too difficult to market, thereÕs no place for it.

What do you feel like onstage? Where is your head?

I feel like the person I always wanted to be. There are moments onstage where somethingÕs happening with the music, between the musiciansÉthe whole thing. It doesnÕt happen all the time, but if you get to this place where youÕre transported, thatÕs really an amazing thing.

Read "The Prodigal Son: Nick Cave's sin and salvation" in Bluefat Archive.