Grinderman: Nick Cave

In the fourth and final installment of our <b>Grinderman</b> series, we get up close and personal with the prolific author, screenwriter and musician that is <b>Nick Cave</b>. Perhaps too personal!

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 24 Sep 2010
  • Grinderman

 [Still in our pyjamas, The Skinny is greeted with alarming cheer at stupid o’ clock a.m.]

Mr Nick Cave: Hello, is this the Skinny Magazine, Scotland yeah?

The Skinny: Am, yes (croaks). How is Nick this morning? Good thanks, you sound a little hoarse?

I've been spending the past day or two talking to the other three guys. Oh right? I'm sure that was illuminating?

It certainly was. Martyn seemed a little subdued after his long flight. What? Did Martyn actually talk to you?

Well, yes. Wow, I'm surprised by that, that's a first.

I couldn't actually shut Warren and Jim up. Yeah, that's another story...

I’ve just been checking out Heathen child online, that’s quite the video! Well, it’s a classic.

Absolutely, whose idea was that, though I shudder to think? John Hillcoat directed it and I work with him all the time so I have an unfair advantage in some way in that I'm actually best friends with a hugely talented Hollywood director. We spend a lot of time together working on all sorts of things. There was a big build up to the making of this video and a lot of discussion and endless lists...Once we'd gotten over the idea that it wasn't going to be a performance video, which I generally insist on even though we do [pauses] really dreadful performance videos, we could kind of go to town on a whole different sort of thing. We made huge lists of things we would like to film that seemed applicable in some way to this video. And John went out and did it.

Can I point out that it’s quite insane? There's great stuff in there. There are some very small scenes in which he came around to my house because he lives two blocks down from me, with a camera and some monster masks and dressed my wife and I and two of my kids. We wore these masks and got into my car and he filmed us driving around and this would be a three second snippet within the video. So it ended up being quite a complex thing that we constructed.

So how are you finding life in Grinderman?  The guys seem to be in agreement in that it’s especially different for you in that it allows you to operate in ways you wouldn’t in The Bad Seeds. Do you use Grinderman to go to areas that might be off-limits for The Bad Seeds? It's not that it's off limits, it all begins with songwriting and what kind of songs we're doing. And with The Bad Seeds the songs we're doing are completely different than the songs we're doing with Grinderman. It's really about me sitting on my own in a room, with a piano writing lyrics, and writing very considered sorts of songs; the type that don't really require us to dress up as gay Roman footsoldiers.

With Grinderman, the sort of songs are very different and so is the response to those songs. That said, we haven't talked about it as a side project to experiment in different ways. I would say it's a parallel project. It’s not like I'm walking around in The Bad Seeds saying 'we can do this and we can't do that', not like that at all. When we do something with The Bad Seeds that warrants such a video then we'll do it. If you have a look at Babe, I'm on Fire by John Hillcoat, within that video Jim Sclavunos is actually shitting my head out of his arse, and that's a Bad Seeds song. So it's not all staid and prudish in The Bad Seeds.

I wasn't suggesting that in the slightest, it's just they felt that the pressure was off you in Grinderman? Yeah, it is. It is for sure. The songwriting pressure is off. If we make a bag of shit I don't have to take full responsibility. That's how I feel, y'know. Even though The Bad Seeds is a collaboration, at the end of the day I still have to take the rap if it's a bad or a good record and I guess that influences things for sure.

What way do you think it influences it? There's a legacy there and a sense of duty to that legacy. But Grinderman has served as an amazing regenerative force within my song-writing life. It's suddenly given me a new way into writing songs which affects The Bad Seeds stuff and the way I go about that.

I’ve going to intersperse some questions that the guys from The Phantom Band wanted me to ask you, that ok? Sure.

Is it true you once said you wanted to make music that was as sad as someone snapping a little finger? Which songs, either your own or someone else’s would you say come close to matching that? I think I said that when I was six years old. It's a slightly redundant idea in my head to be honest. But do you mean, what do I find the most hearbreaking songs in the world? Well, the last time I wept to a song wasn't actually that long ago. I was in my car and a song by Nina Simone called My Father, which is a terrible title, but the song is extraordinary and it gets me every time. It's the most measured piece of songwriting, sentimental but very beautiful at the same time and she just sings it extraordinarily. So, there are those songs out there. I don't know if I've written any I don't respond that way to my own stuff because that's a little narcissistic isn't it - to have yourself weeping from singing your own songs?

Maybe, but I guess some will be more personal than others? Well, they're all personal in their own way. There are certain songs that I don't respond to but then I didn't respond to them when I wrote them either. There are certain songs that when you write them and you know it sounds good and you know the lyrics are successful on some level, but it's not really authentic and you don't really attach yourself to it in a true way. But the best of them, they are all personal and meaningful.

Given your prolific output in a number of mediums - is there one that gives you more satisfaction than the others? For instance do you feel more of a sense of achievement having finished writing a screenplay than you do when you finish recording an album? I love screen writing I'm not sure if I get the same long term satisfaction out of it but I love the process. You can just do it anywhere I guess. I'm not sure how to explain it properly without sounding completely stupid but to write a screenplay it's a different discipline altogether, it doesn't require every ounce of heart of heart and soul that writing a song does. To write a song is often a very taxing, sometimes agonising thing, because it's so difficult to catch a good song. Whereas writing a film script is a craft thing. You just sit down and write a story and I've learnt how to do that stuff now and so I find it much easier.

What about composing a film score? Do you write and compose while watching the film? Yeah, we do it that way but writing a film score is quite similar to Grinderman in that Warren and I don't go in to the studio with anything. We watch the film. Sometimes we don't even do that, we just sit down and start making music without any preparation whatsoever. I think we've played together so long that we're able to do that quickly and effectively. I think there's something about that kind of partnership that's become really effective because we're almost sort of psychic with each other in the studio these days. That's probably the wrong word, but whatever that word is.

Do you still enjoy live performance as much now as you did when you first started out? Perhaps enjoy is the wrong word. Can you ever see a point where you think you’ll want to stop? Well no. The thing about the live stuff that I used to find difficult is that it took so long just to do the same thing over and over. I mean, you go on tour for three months or something, but now I've worked out ways to use that time in another way and work on things at the same time. It makes the experience a little less repetitious. To do a show is always a unique thing and something you put everything into, but there's just so much other time spent doing nothing on tour. Any band will tell you the same thing. I've worked out ways to use that time to do other stuff. the last tour I went on I wrote Bunny Monroe the novel, on the bus.

Do you ever get writers block? With songwriting I always have writers block until I actually sit down and do it. I just don't allow that to affect what i do, that feeling. I think that writer's block is a massive meltdown of confidence on some level, where every idea you have you gets destroyed before it even goes anywhere. I don't get that because I have a switch that I can flick that tells me that it doesn't really matter and I can be playful about this and adopt a 'who gives a fuck?' attitude. That's immensely freeing.

Do you think that’s because you actually have a lot of confidence because of your experience and success? I suppose so, yeah. I think people give the creative process far too much reverence and take it much too seriously. I treat it as a job and my only job is to go into the office each day. What comes out of that isn't really up to me, I don't worry too much about it.

Is it true you're working on a script for a sequel to The Crow? (coyly) Ah, so the internet is saying. Not at the moment...

I mentioned to the other guys that you seemed to be having a lot of fun on the record. There's certainly that element, yeah.

I also pointed out that it’s very explicit, lyrically in places, and they all agreed that this was something I should take up with you. Martyn suggested I ask you what’s up with your sex life. So here goes: Nick Cave, what’s up with your sex life? [dead air…three seconds seeming like a lifetime of eternal squirming, the self vow to look up that word ‘tact’ in the dictionary and the vivid imagining of a man on the other end of the line, staring at a handset mouthing the words ‘What the Fuck?’. A proud moment indeed]

Ahem, ok, last question. Why, from your personal perspective, do Grinderman exist? It's a very good question as to the 'why' of Grinderman, and it's something I don't think any of us can really answer successfully. It's very confusing for everybody within then Bad Seeds and sometimes even within Grinderman itself as to what we're actually doing and why. The fans find it confusing on some level and the record company definitely find it confusing. But at the end of the day we really like the Grinderman records and we really like the chaotic and confusing effect that it's had.

It's just re-energised everybody, even those people who aren't in the band. I think. I'm not sure where the trajectory of The Bad Seeds would be, but I think that Grinderman has been hugely beneficial for it. With Dig Lazarus, Dig, it wasn't like we went in to do a record like Grinderman or anything like that, it just gave the rest of the band the licence to make a fucking racket again. And they felt 'well, if they can do it, we can do it'. I don't know what the next record's gonna be like at all but I can't help but think but that Grinderman would have had a really positive effect on it.

Grinderman 2 is out now on Mute Records

Grinderman play Barrowlands, Glasgow on 28 Sep.