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
Joining the Bad Seeds in session on their 1993 album Let Love In — from the excellent Australian band the Dirty Three — was Warren Ellis. It is with Warren that Cave has found a collaborator and co-conspirator who not only matches him but also pushes him to new artistic heights. Over the years, the two have worked closely together on Bad Seeds and Grinderman, as well as myriad other projects, including the sound track for The Proposition, for which Cave wrote the screenplay, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road and others. Some of this work can be found on the Cave/Ellis White Lunar album.
HENRY ROLLINS: Your relationship with Mick Harvey, while decades long and incredibly productive, doesn't strike me as being nearly as collaborative as what you have with Warren Ellis. Historically, you would come up with songs and Mick Harvey would work on the arrangement and what instruments could be utilized. The work you do with Warren seems like you are working together from the ground up — on such a personal level that it couldn't be achieved by anything more than two people working very closely. I imagine the two of you face-to-face in a small room when I listen to the sound-track work the two of you have done.
NICK CAVE: It is very much like that. What you said about Mick is true. I think that after a while it's about trust. Within Grinderman, too, there's a trust that goes on that you can do anything and you can go anywhere creatively. It may be a really bad idea to even think about going there, but you know that between the two of you, you can do that. That is often where the good ideas actually exist — way out there, where often it is inadvisable to go. We have that kind of relationship, and between the two of us we draw on a lot of different influences that we haven't really been able to inside the Bad Seeds, like Robert Fripp — like King Crimson. I'll mention some instrument played on Lark's Tongue in Aspic and he'll say, "Yeah, I know that!" And rather than that being a terrible thing, it becomes an interesting place to go, if you know what I mean. He has no borders. If there's something good in anything, he'll be able to see that. He has obviously had a huge impact on what I do. Musically I have worked collaboratively — I always had to, because initially I could never play anything.
I liken your creative and collaborative relationship with Warren Ellis to that of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, who, while great on their own, worked well off each other and brought out qualities that were unique to that combination. What is the influence of Warren Ellis on you, your work ethic and your output? You seem to be more prolific than ever.
He's been phenomenally important, and important in a different way than any other collaboration I've actually had. People say — often unkindly — that he is the new Mick Harvey or that he took over where Mick Harvey left off or he took over from Blixa. Actually, that's completely untrue. The kind of collaboration I have with Warren is very, very different from others I've worked with. We work together all the time. We jam together, which is something I never did with Mick or Blixa. Warren and I go into the studio and record stuff even if there's no particular project we're working on. So it's a kind of constant feeding on each other, really. Warren is unstoppable, and between the two of us, we bring out something in each other that just works really well.
What has the effect been — if any — of Grinderman on the Bad Seeds? Do you think it has changed the sound of that band?
It's had a huge impact. Grinderman was a kind of do-or-die thing with the Bad Seeds on some level, in that it could have gone all horribly wrong and fucked everything up. I think everyone felt liberated whether they were in Grinderman or not.
The last Bad Seeds album, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, sounds like it's a result of the first Grinderman album. It's more spare and exploratory than the previous Bad Seeds release, Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus.
It had a big influence — it opened things up for everybody. I think it may have been the final straw for Mick Harvey. I could never quite find out why he left. Maybe that had something to do with it, I don't know. I know that Mick loves that last [Bad Seeds] record.
The rate and quality of Cave and associates' output is that of much younger, hungrier men. Live, Grinderman takes its songs past the limits of its studio ancestors. Cave is becoming a very good live guitar player. Ellis is so committed to every second of every song, it's a wonder he gets through the set. Infinitely talented veteran Bad Seeds Sclavunos and Casey pack a pulsing and propulsive bottom end. Truly, this is not some side project — this is a damn band that came to play, and they do it with a great deal of chops and a welcome lack of restraint.