Sewing the Seeds of Cave

Feature by Beth Malone | 18 Nov 2008

I haven’t eaten all day. I’m nauseous and could - at any moment - pee myself. I’m waiting to speak with two of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds at the Malmaison hotel in Glasgow. Mick Harvey and Jim Sclavunos are real rock-stars, legends even, not the gaunt, nasally lot I’m used to.

"I’ve been really excited about meeting you all day," I mutter nervously, a shite attempt at ice-breaking as we sit down together in the hotel bar.

These guys are due a hefty dose of the celebrity that Cave garners. So maybe they aren’t 50 and freakishly good-looking like their front man, and maybe they only got to sleep with the semi-hot groupies, but Harvey and Sclavunos have created progressive music for decades, influencing the aforementioned skinny wannabes.

"We’ve been waiting to meet you all day too," Jim jokes. He’s kind and slightly nervous at the prospect of having to talk about himself for the next half hour.

Mick Harvey, who has worked with Nick Cave since The Birthday Party - formed 30 years ago - is laying on a purple valor lounge. He’s slouched down, legs spread, pelvis-led. A man sit; the kind that exudes rock-star, cock-star arrogance. Mick doesn’t often make eye contact and seems to be looking for someone more interesting to speak with. But he’s thoughtful, articulate and kinder to me than he has to be.

How has the tour been so far?

Jim looks to Mick as if to ask, ‘Who’s turn to start?’ But he speaks up as Harvey stares me down, judging the abysmal normalcy of my question.

"Great," Jim says. "We started off in Lisbon. Made our way through Paris and the Mediterranean."

Mick is watching Jim closely, gauging his answer and then interjects, "The Greeks are fucking crazy; the Portuguese are fucking crazy," he says. "The Irish, well, they just really love the music."

The latest album, Dig Lazarus Dig!!! is one of the best of the year. People are saying it displays the Seeds at their tightest. Do you believe that?

"I’d say there is a little bit of looseness about the way its going," says Mick. "The music is strong, but there is an inherent looseness to the music that we’re playing."

Video - Dig Lazarus Dig!!!

Do you all typically write songs together or does Nick do most of it alone?

"We all do [on Dig Lazarus Dig!!!], and it works well. On The Boatman’s Call, and the next three albums, Nick kind of closed himself off," Mick says. "It’s good with Grinderman that he gets things out that the Seeds may not allow for. Its been really good for him that he can write songs without having to have his same fingers land on the same keys on the keyboard the whole time."

"The thing he likes to do now is jam," Jim laughs. "It gives him more of a reason to have the rest of us around to make sense out of it. He usually has a particular energy in mind about where he wants to go with a song."

What about both of you, how do to express your creativity when you’re not a Bad Seed?

"I do some solo stuff," pipes up Mick. "I’m recording songs in as simple a pattern as possible. I’m just playing the guitar and singing. These shows have such a different feel; small shows in front of maybe two hundred people. And I’m not a Bad Seed then so I look out at the crowd and think, who are all these people? What are they doing here?"

Jim, your side project is in New York, the Vanity Set right?

"Yeah, we basically just stay in New York."

You also played with Sonic Youth?

"Yeah, but they were not the Sonic Youth that everybody worships these days. They were just this crappy little band that played in Michael Ibold’s back room. Ten or fifteen people would come, and I played drums. I also did an album for them, Confusion is Sex. All for no money, they had no budget at the time."

You were both successful fairly early in your careers. Mick, this was at the time when Nick Cave was using drugs pretty heavily, and as the often cited ‘sober band member’, how did you handle it?

"This has become a compulsory question to ask. People are always curious to know how I coped during that period. Until about ’81, I was actually sober the entire time. But then I discovered the joys of beer and vodka. Comparatively, everyone else was really out of it and I was just the drunk guy."

Video: Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow

Do you feel lucky, having watched these people around you get their shit together in order to keep making fantastic music? Is it luck, or work ethic that has made Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds so successful?

"We’re lucky. People say you make your own life, and to some extent you do, but you still need those lucky breaks. I know many people who are incredibly talented and they just haven’t had the breaks. They’ve work very hard, but success just hasn’t happened for them."

"And on the same token some people get all the breaks, over and over again," Jim says, "and they don’t work very hard."

Do you think it’s worse with the way people are depicted in the media? Is celebrity getting so far out of control that it distorts talent or lack there of?

"Well yeah, what does Pete Doherty actually do?" jokes Mick.


"Yeah, but he doesn’t actually do anything. He probably has an untold amount of opportunity. But he can’t get anything together, artistically."

"Yeah but these young kids are under a magnifying glass," reasons Jim. "Everything these people do is speculated about or judged before it’s even done; they’re being judged for all the wrong reasons. I can imagine that’s a big energy drain."

"Yeah but some of these people know what they’re doing," argues Mick. "They know how to play the game. If you go out to the right places and get seen, then you begin to project an image."

Does it freak both of you out that I can go online and read all about you?

"It’s amazing!" says Mick. "You should do it, there’s so much information. I’ve learned so much about myself online."

"Really? I’ve never done it." Jim says. "I’m gonna go home and google myself."

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play Corn Exchange, Edinburgh on 26 Nov.