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.
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,
He reminds me of
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
like improvising alongside Warren Ellis?
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.
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
The stuff on
ŅHeathen ChildÓ is Warren. You mean the kind of lead stuff?
You know the
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.
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
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]
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?
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]
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.
Warren Ellis was fortuitous. The collaboration with him on the White Lunar score produced some fascinating
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
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.
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?
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.