By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Nick Cave is on the phone from a recording studio in England, where he and his frequent collaborator Warren Ellis — a member of both the Bad Seeds and Cave’s new band, Grinderman — are knee-deep in work on the score for director John Hillcoat’s upcoming adaptation of The Road. He’s a little fried, so I throw him a softball to warm up: What color socks is he wearing? “Black with red tips,” he replies. “They look like they’ve been dipped in blood.”
Cave, 50, has been typically busy of late, making albums, writing screenplays, scoring films. Grinderman’s hilarous 2007 debut earned some of the best reviews of his career, which began more than 30 years ago with his deranged Australian garage-punk band, the Birthday Party. This year’s hard-rocking Bad Seeds effort, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! — on which Cave wisely observes that the Biblical character “never asked to be raised up from the tomb” — has been similarly well received.
“Nick turning 50 sort of made him become, like, ‘Fuck it — let’s have some fun!’” says Nick Launay, who’s produced many of Cave’s records, including Lazarus and Grinderman. “It’s great to see someone as talented and prolific as him opening up to these crazy new things.” Jim Sclavunos, the drummer in both bands, adds, “Grinderman gave us new tools for treating Bad Seeds material, whether that’s instruments or attitude or whatever. It was liberating not because we broke out of the box, but because the box got a lot bigger.”
On Wednesday, September 17, the Bad Seeds will play the Hollywood Bowl on a hand-selected triple bill with Cat Power and Spiritualized, whom Cave calls “the great English band of the last 15 years.” The significance of the legendary venue isn’t lost on Cave. “My mother knows about it,” he says.
L.A. WEEKLY: Grinderman and Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! both prompted talk about a late-career resurgence for you. Do you hear any discernible differences between those records and the ones that preceded them?
NICK CAVE: What that makes me immediately wanna do is defend the other work. People make assumptions about things that are never really true — that there was a lack of energy, that they were fallow periods. The truth of the matter is that with some of those records — Nocturama and The Boatman’s Call — I set down to make a certain type of music. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. But it had nothing to do with inspiration or lack of it, just as these new records have nothing to do with inspiration or lack of it.
Perhaps the recent stuff received more attention because that kind of music is inherently more —
Not necessarily more appealing, but more accessible.
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, people like music — and why shouldn’t they? — that makes them feel good. And with the Grinderman record or shows, people go fucking bananas and have a really good time. The whole feel of the concerts is very inclusive in regard to the audience; people feel like at last they can come to a Nick Cave show and be a part of the event rather than watching some sort of spectacle. But I don’t necessarily think that makes one record better than another. There’s a lot of very insular, inward-looking music that I think is wonderful.
The contrast between those extremes has always been hugely important to you.
Obviously, you have your good years and your bad years, and there are certain things going on in your life that make it easier or less easy to create what you wanna create. But inspiration has never really factored in the creative process for me. It’s been about work, and it’s been about sitting down and rather doggedly trying to achieve a certain kind of idea.
That conception of the creative process doesn’t get a lot of play from younger musicians, who tend to trumpet the primacy of the moment.
I can see that a lot of bands rely on inspiration, from the lack of quality in their work. I don’t know any great artists that can get away with just banging the shit out when it comes to them without actually knowing what they’re doing. I’ve always been in a band, but I also came out of art school, and I wanted to be a painter. The work ethic at art school is completely different than the work ethic amongst people who get into music. People who paint, it’s an honorable thing to spend all day and all night in front of your canvas — that is the romantic vision of the painter. It’s the opposite with the musician, of course; the musician does fuck-all and occasionally bangs out a song, and that’s supposed to be the honorable way.