Cover Story [Issue
Finding The Four-Year-Old
The Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues
CD Anti- )
to Nick Cave on the ONE WAY CD 11
Nick Cave is not what you would expect. No long-winded tales of death and danger,
no pretentious airs or circuitous mind games. No, Nick Cave is a straight shooter.
Lets get down to business. Time is short. Your time is short. And the
clock is ticking.
is my seventh interview of the day and I am rather hysterical at
this point, he confides, sitting in an overstuffed armchair
in New Yorks Millennium Hotel, which sits directly across
from the World Trade Center/former Twin Towers site. Ground Zero,
with its end of days trajectory, its history dividing locus, is
somehow a fitting location for this fabled singer-songwriter, confessed
drug addict, screenwriter, actor, novelist, and indie icon.
In describing his latest album with the Bad Seeds, a double effort
with two separate titles - The Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues
(both Mute), the 46-year-old Cave says sequencing was a matter of
rhythm and business, not divine (or demonic) inspiration.
To be perfectly honest, we split them up depending on who
drummed on what. We have two different drummers and each one has
a different feel. One is a very heavy drummer; one is a light, jazzy
drummer. That is no accident that the light jazzier songs have a
certain personality to them lyrically and musically. And the heavy
ones have a certain lyrical content so they did sit kind of nicely.
We tried grouping them in different ways and it was a nightmare
so in the end we just split them along drummers.
Lanky and lean, Caves sinewy body is attached to a head that
looks like a genetic mistake involving a rooster and a pug. Cave
talks slowly as his big dark eyes roam the room. He doesnt
laugh much, but considers every response, answering as carefully
as he writes.
Cave maintains a rare persona. As the singer with the Birthday Party,
the band that took him from Australia to Europe in the early 80s,
he was regarded as a wild, rebellious figure, the very essence of
which rock claims to base itself on, but these days never lives
up to. With the Bad Seeds, Cave became one of the most erudite songwriters
working in rock, recording two of the finest albums of recent years:
Murder Ballads, a mysterious collection of songs covered
in turmoil and shadows; and an assortment of sorrowful love songs,
The Boatmans Call. Though once a cult figure, Cave
is now an internationally known rock and roll star, with MTV nominations,
two books and the fans to prove it. Married with twins, Cave is
a man who takes his work seriously.
I just go in and work, he says, but when I say
work it can involve everything from reading and playing
the piano to poetry, staring into the middle distance, wringing
your hands, crawling the walls. I always know what the songs are
about, but there are a few that I have let through the loop where
I have a written a line that rhymes and sounds all right. I always
regret that and I was determined not to let any of that into this
He may take great care with his craft, but Cave admits that most
contemporary rock music is devoid of anything bordering on real
You hear other writers and you know that what they are writing
doesnt mean anything. But the thing about rock music is that
lyrics are not the be all and end all. There is nothing worse than
bad lyrics aspiring to be good ones.
Born and reared in Warracknabeal, northwest of Melbourne, Australia,
Nick Caves mother was a librarian, his father an English professor
who taught his son of the power and magic of literature. As Cave
grew older he would try to stump his dad with esoteric knowledge
of the classics, a game at which he would always lose. Caves
songwriting became his outlet for all those years spent imbibing
literature and pondering the page. But even with that, Cave doesnt
regard rock as a place for literary aspirations.
I dont think that rock and roll needs to have great
lyric writing. Rock and roll music should be casual and explosive
and a kind of scream from the soul, it is the great art form where
you can just scream oh baby and it sounds good.
My father instilled a love of literature into me. From that
I have a storytellers approach to writing lyrics. I dont
know how to write them any other way but to have a beginning and
an end and a logical sequence of events. And I take an enormous
amount of care in each line. When I see a line that is sloppy, that
you know in your heart that you can sing in and get away with, the
temptation in rock and roll is that it doesnt really matter
cause no one really listens and you can just sing it a certain
way and get away with it. But I feel it has to read okay on the
page, that most songs are poetry. But within rock and roll I dont
see it as such a problem that lyric writing is a dying thing. Rock
and roll doesnt need to be that literary.
But Caves lyrics certainly are. The Lyre of Orpheus and
Abattoir Blues are two halves of the same whole, one mystical
and atmospheric; the other more rocking and raging (back to that
two drummers theme). Different listeners will take different things
from each. But while Cave and the Bad Seeds can rock like a hurricane,
somehow it is the albums more ethereal songs - Easy
Money, Messiah Ward, Oh Children,
and Let The Bells Ring - which move the soul. Simply
put, Cave likes those songs sung blue.
I do a sad song pretty well, he confesses, I have
a knack for the sad song. But I do like now and then making a noise,
kind of old school rock and roll. Those are two things that the
Bad Seeds do well, extremely violent and slow and sad and pathetic.
It may be that we have the emotional range of a four-year-old. Although
there is a kind of agreeable tendency to be moving toward mid-tempo
stuff. It is something that we have often shied away from because
it doesnt really suggest one thing or the other. We did make
an effort on the ballads not to allow them to get that slow, lugubrious
kind of plod. But there is a lot of movement that is going on underneath
these songs and a lot of musical detail.
At first listen, the jewel-like and eerily pensive Easy Money
sounds like a lament for a cash and carry culture. All the
things for which my heart yearns; its joy and its diminishing returns
seems a commentary on the falseness of riches, but it is much worse
That is from reading tabloid magazines about rich people and
beautiful people who feel that it aint so easy having a lot
of money or perhaps I feel my nose is too big. Both
of which are things that really infuriate me. These people have
so much and it is so demeaning to anyone who reads that kind of
thing. The central character in Easy Money is complaining
about his wealth to a poor person who quietly sodomizes him as he
is talking about it.
Greed is a world phenomenon you will be pleased to know,
Cave continues. High streets across England are all the same.
That is distressing. Going to cities in the US - 20 years ago they
all had clearly defined personalities. They dont have that
anymore, there is a corporate homogenizing happening. It is not
that different but not as advanced in Europe, in England at least.
But in saying that, I went on my honeymoon in the States and it
was wonderful; we just drove a car across the US. There was this
extraordinary countryside but as you moved into every town it became
so repetitious after a while. I found that sad.
Explaining that Let The Bells Ring is about Johnny Cash,
Cave elaborates further.
I marvel at the disappearance of these voices. It is not the
lyric writers who are going, it is these great voices. In the one
year Johnny Cash has gone, Nina Simone, June Carter, Barry White,
these amazing voices just disappearing. It is a kind of a lament
to that disappearance of these great voices that I dont hear
Oh Children is about Caves kids and the worlds
children. It is concerning the world we are handing over to
our children and every parents anxiety about not being able
to protect them from it. That song is coming from a place as a parent
that I genuinely care about my children.
Caves bearing as a family man concerned about his place in
the world is a far cry from the self-serving joker who once proclaimed,
An audience is the perfect thing to unleash [ones] hate
and venom on. It doesnt necessarily mean that you hate everyone
in the audience but when youve got a so-called adoring mass
in front of you, its a perfect target for that kind of disgust.
How did Nick Cave convert from a ruinous rock and roller to a family
I stopped taking drugs. That is the primary reason. I took
drugs cause they felt really good and when they stopped working
I stopped taking them. That took 20 years. But I always worked.
You can, despite popular opinion, take drugs and work. But I guess
I work better now than I did before. I function better but I dont
see some kind of dividing line like that was then and this is now.
Currently writing the soundtrack for the upcoming film, The Proposition,
for which he also wrote the screenplay, Cave shifts the focus back
to The Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues.
I think this is a really important record. It seems to be
turning a corner, suggesting different places to go. It is a lot
to digest for some people, that is why we made two distinct records.
You can listen to one and not the other. But it is still a complete
The Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues
to (Nick Cave) on the ONE WAY CD