HOME IS WHERE THE ARTIS
NICK Cave has a history with the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda. His first band the Boys Next Door played there in the late 1970s, just down the road from the Crystal Ballroom, the Melbourne group’s second home before they moved to England as the Birthday Party in 1980.
Yet the singer’s most vivid memory of the Prince is not as the agent provocateur frontman of Melbourne’s foremost post-punk outfit, but as a punter.
‘‘ I was thrown down the stairs by the bouncers here,’’ he recalls, then corrects himself. ‘‘ Actually, not down the stairs, but off the balcony and down the stairs. I wasn’t particularly in showroom condition and for some reason I got it into my head that I should report the matter to the police. I walked into the police station and said: ‘ Look, the bouncers have just thrown me down the stairs.’ And they went: ‘ F..k off.’ That says a lot about the caring police force.’’
The young delinquent finding his way in life and in music on the streets of St Kilda in the 70s is a far cry from the dapper, articulate 55-year-old holding court in the Prince today. Black suit with white shirt is the singer’s favoured ensemble and he wears it with some style. He exudes good health and good humour too, not attributes he would have been readily associated with when rolling around the floor screaming obscenities into a microphone back in the day.
The Prince has changed significantly since then as well, not least with its boutique-style apartments above the venue, although the hotel remains a staple of the alternative rock ’ n’ roll circuit for local and overseas acts.
Cave has chosen one of these smart upstairs rooms to talk about the latest chapter in his long, illustrious and multifaceted career. Cave and his band of 30 years, the Bad Seeds, release their 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away, next week. They begin a national tour in Australia to promote it later this month.
These are the things uppermost in Cave’s mind. He speaks lovingly and animatedly about the songs on the album and about the process of recording them, but as ever there are other projects simmering away on the musician’s agenda, projects that demand his proven skills as an author, film composer and screenwriter. It’s going to be a busy year, but for the moment the Bad Seeds come first.
‘‘ I really get excited when a new record comes out,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s pathetic really.’’
Like many artists, Cave attributes much of his success to reinvention. Aside from his diversions into film and literature, he has moved on musically with each project. The two raucous rock albums by his alternative outfit Grinderman in recent years have proved that, but this latest Bad Seeds work is also a departure from the band’s previous album, the critically acclaimed Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! from 2008.
There’s less of a rock ’ n’ roll swagger on the new one and more of a considered ambience; more space for Cave’s seductive baritone to wander across a variety of topics, from the God particle and spiritual awareness ( Higgs Boson Blues) to sexual fantasy ( Mermaids).
The cover art on Push the Sky Away is a picture taken in Cave’s bedroom in Brighton, England, his home of many years. The image shows Cave holding open the bedroom curtains to shed light on his naked wife, Susie Bick. It’s a provocative, beautiful photograph, but one also that reflects how much his home is central to the themes of the album.
‘‘ It’s very much set in my house,’’ he says, ‘‘ where I have these windows that overlook the sea. When I look out those windows there’s a garden and there’s the sea. So on one level that’s the environment it’s set in, but it goes everywhere else as well.’’
Cave is methodical about working. He goes into his office in the house and does an eight- hour day. This time the method of creating an album was slightly different.
In late 2011, Cave set himself a date to begin writing, and over the following eight months completed the lyrics for the album, writing into two notebooks before committing the final words on to paper on an old typewriter.
‘‘ In the past I’d write something and bring it into the studio,’’ Cave says, ‘‘ or I’d have an idea and bring it into the studio and get various people to do things with it, which has been great. This time I went into the studio ready to go.’’
Push the Sky Away is also the first Bad Seeds album where all of the music has been cowritten by Cave and his violinist and collaborator Warren Ellis, with whom he has co-written several film scores, including The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road and Lawless.
‘‘ That has been a real pleasure,’’ says Cave. ‘‘ We’ve worked musically with each other for years, very intimately on all of the soundtracks and stuff like that and increasingly on the records and Grinderman, but this time we really sat down and wrote a lot of songs together.’’
This creative development is what keeps Cave and his band relevant, he believes. ‘‘ If I’m doing something in a different way now it means there’s some kind of creative movement going on. That’s what I’m interested in because I know that’s the life blood of the band and that’s what keeps it going.’’ CAVE’S career has gone off on a variety of tangents since those early days in Melbourne. While his music has been his most obvious talent, he has enjoyed considerable success as a composer, a screenwriter and a novelist. His first novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, published in 1989, is now in the Penguin Classics series, while his most recent, second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, about a sex-addicted
Clockwise from main picture, Nick Cave on stage with Grinderman in 2011; the
album cover; and Cave performs with the Birthday Party in 1995