HOME IS WHERE THE AR­TIS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

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

The Sky Away Push

Clockwise from main pic­ture, Nick Cave on stage with Grin­der­man in 2011; the

al­bum cover; and Cave per­forms with the Birth­day Party in 1995

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