Nick Cave – circa 1997
“I found God and all his devils inside her” – ’Do You Love Me?’ (Nick Cave, Martyn P. Casey)
The man in the black coat gesticulates wildly. His voice rises and falls. He seems transported, almost possessed by spirits. His audience yells encouragement…or backs away in fear. Is this a description of a rock star or a revivalist preacher? In the case of Nick Cave, the line between the two can seem blurred.
This is the story of Nick Cave. It encompasses his work with The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds and Grinderman.
Nicholas Edward Cave is born 22 September 1957 in Warracknabeal, Victoria, Australia. He is the son of Colin Frank Cave and Dawn Cave (nee Treadwell). “My father was an English Literature teacher and he was very much interested in poetry and theatre as well,” says Nick. Dawn Cave is a librarian. “The family has a background in education,” Nick elaborates. Nick Cave is the third of four children. His siblings are: Tim (born 1953), Peter (born 1954) and Julie (born 1959). Warracknabeal, the original hometown of the Cave family, is a fairly small place in a rural part of Victoria. When Nick is 3 years old, the family relocates to Wangaratta which, while still being of a rural character, is considerably larger. (According to the 2014 census, the respective populations are 2, 745 for Warracknabeal and 26, 815 for Wangaratta.)
In Wangaratta, Nick Cave makes a new friend. “Deanna was a girl I knew when I was about 8. She lived in a trailer on the outskirts of town with her old man who was basically this drunken wretch of a character,” Nick recalls. When he is 9 years old, Nick Cave begins singing with the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral Choir. Cave states, “I was three years in the choir so I had a good understanding of the Bible just from being in church a lot.” A more secular influence is a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who moved towards country music: “I used to watch ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ on television in Wangaratta when I was about 9 or 10 years old…I saw that music could be an evil thing – a beautiful, evil thing.” Although Nick Cave is Australian, Johnny Cash is American and – as Cave later puts it – “My influences were American – blues music and country music.” Nick’s little friend Deanna gets into trouble. She shoots a man and a woman and is taken away to a ‘child psychiatric place.’ By this time, Nick is in high school and his parents make the decision to send him off to the city, ‘the big smoke.’ Nick Cave is actually expelled from Wangaratta High School when he is 13.
In 1970 Nick Cave starts attending Caulfield Grammar, a boarding school that is much nearer the Victorian State capital of Melbourne. Nick Cave describes Caulfield Grammar as “a rich private school.” Although Nick Cave is considered quite handsome and charming in a raffish way, it was not always the case. “At school I was an anti-magnet for women,” he confesses. In 1973, Nick Cave and some other Caulfield Grammar School lads form a band. His confederates include Mick Harvey and Phill Calvert who will both have lengthy associations with Cave. The full line-up is: Nick Cave (vocals), Mick Harvey (guitar), John Cocivera (guitar), Chris Coyne (saxophone), Brett Purcell (bass) and Phill Calvert (drums). ‘They play school dances, barbecues and parties, Nick usually picking a name [for the group] on the spot if they are asked for one.’ The boys’ repertoire consists of cover versions of 1960s rock songs and rhythm and blues tunes as well as darker 1970s heroes like Lou Reed and Alice Cooper.
Nick Cave’s days at Caulfield Grammar School end in 1975. From 1976 to 1977 Nick Cave attends the Caulfield Institute of Technology (now Monash University, Caulfield Campus). Nick is an art student. “I really wanted to be a painter,” he remarks, “but I failed at art school…”
Coinciding with his move to higher education, Nick Cave’s musical ambitions also become more serious. His school-boy band undergoes a membership shake-up now that Caulfield Grammar has been left behind. The reorganised crew takes the name The Boys Next Door in 1976. The name may have been one of many designations the band had during 1973-1975, but this is a somewhat different beast. Instead of a six-piece, the 1976 Boys Next Door is a four-piece act consisting of: Nick Cave (vocals), Mick Harvey (guitar), Tracy Pew (bass) and Phill Calvert (drums). By this time, punk rock is beginning to flower. Along with acts like The Saints and Radio Birdman, The Boys Next Door is one of Australia’s first punk acts. The style involves fast, loud music, stripped of pretensions. “We were influenced by punk rock, and [international] groups like The Stooges and The Sex Pistols,” Nick Cave allows, “but it was really the lifestyle and attitude that influenced us.”
When Nick Cave is 19 his father dies in a car accident. Nick receives the news while being bailed out on a burglary charge at the St Kilda Police Station, near Melbourne. Nick says his father, “died at a point in my life when I was most confused.” He reflects on his father’s passing that, “He was there one minute and gone the next and that had a huge impact for many years, and still does, over what I’ve done creatively.”
After leaving art school in 1977 Nick Cave begins using heroin.
The first single released by The Boys Next Door is a 1978 cover version of the 1966 Nancy Sinatra hit, ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’. This is one of three tracks by The Boys Next Door on the sampler album ‘Lethal Weapons’ (1978), released in May. Their other contributions are ‘Masturbation Generation’ and ‘Boy Hiro’. ‘Lethal Weapons’ is issued by Suicide Records and the disc is divided between The Boys Next Door, Teenage Radio Stars, JAB and X-Ray-Z.
The Boys Next Door expand to become a five-piece band with the addition of Rowland S. Howard (guitar) in December 1978.
From 1979 to 1983 Nick Cave is in a romantic relationship with Anita Lane. She co-writes some of the songs Nick sings such as ‘Dead Joe’, ‘Kiss Me Black’, ‘A Dead Song’, ‘From Her To Eternity’ and ‘Stranger Than Kindness’.
‘Door, Door’ (1979) is the debut album by The Boys Next Door. It is released by Australia’s Mushroom Records. The disc is self-produced by the band. Songwriting is generally credited to the group but, separately, Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard are the main songwriters. The disc’s best known track, ‘Shivers’, was penned by Howard when he was 16. It was first performed by Howard’s previous band, The Young Charlatans. ‘Shivers’ is a slow-paced number, perhaps more new wave than punk. It is banned by radio ‘because of a reference to suicide’ (the opening line is, “I’ve been contemplating suicide”).
Moving to Missing Link Records, The Boys Next Door release the EP ‘Hee Haw’ in December 1979. The five tracks on the EP are: ‘A Catholic Skin’, ‘The Red Clock’, ‘Faint Heart’, ‘Death By Drowning’ and ‘The Hair Shirt’.
In 1980 Nick Cave and his bandmates leave Australia and base themselves in London, England. Although Nick Cave visits Australia again, from this point on it is no longer his main place of residence. With the relocation comes a new name for Cave’s group. The Boys Next Door become The Birthday Party. They name themselves after ‘The Birthday Party’ (1957), a rather confrontational play written by Harold Pinter. This is perhaps fitting since the band’s concerts are described as ‘orgies of self-hatred, disdain and ear-bleeding intensity.’
‘The Birthday Party’ (1980) is co-produced by The Birthday Party, Tony Cohen and Keith Glass. This disc is home to such tracks as ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Mr Clarinet’. The pick of the album may be the feedback-heavy ‘The Friend Catcher’. It contains a repetitive “hee haw” lyric, but is not from the ‘Hee Haw’ EP. By now, The Birthday Party’s music is described as ‘post punk’; it contains elements of punk, rockabilly, free jazz and blues, ‘but defies concise categorisation.’
‘Prayers On Fire’ (1981) is released by Missing Link in Australia but 4AD issues the album in the U.K. The Birthday Party and Tony Cohen act as co-producers. In the video for this set’s best known track, ‘Nick The Stripper’, vocalist Nick Cave is seen naked from the waist up with the word ‘hell’ daubed in black paint across his chest. “What The Birthday Party was doing was putting forth some version of hell,” Cave later tells an interviewer. ‘Nick The Stripper’ features Tracy Pew’s thudding bass, is punctuated by brass, and is a ball of barely contained chaos. “’Nick The Stripper’ was as close to a pop song as The Birthday Party ever got,” claims Cave, describing it as a “very strange, twisted little song.” Another song from this album, ‘Release The Bats’, is a bouncy, rockabilly smash-up about ‘vampire sex.’
‘Drunk On The Pope’s Blood / The Agony Is The Ecstasy’ is an EP by The Birthday Party and Lydia Lunch. It is released in February 1982.
Birthday Party bassist Tracy Pew is jailed in Australia for drunk driving and petty theft early in 1982. Consequently, The Birthday Party uses a number of fill-in bassists: Chris Walsh (February 1982), Barry Adamson (April-May 1982) and Harry Howard (June-July 1982). Barry Adamson comes from the British band Magazine and will later have a long association with Nick Cave. Tracy Pew returns to the group in July 1982.
The Birthday Party album ‘Junkyard’ (1982) (UK no. 72), released in May, is the only one of their albums, EPs and singles to reach the commercial sales charts…albeit in a very modest way. Now The Birthday Party is viewed as ‘goth pioneers.’ ‘Goth’ is a kind of blend of early rock, horror movie theatrics and a morose air of gloom. This album’s ‘Dead Joe’ embodies that with rat-a-tat percussion, a chanted vocal and a riotous approach. Tracy Pew laid down most of the bass parts for this album before his incarceration, but Barry Adamson plays bass on some songs. ‘Junkyard’ divides production credit amongst Richard Mazda, Tony Cohen and Nick Launay.
Drummer Phill Calvert leaves The Birthday Party – or is ‘ejected’ – later in 1982. Guitarist Mick Harvey demonstrates his versatility by assuming the role of drummer and The Birthday Party carries on as a four-piece band. Jeffrey Wegener, from Australian band The Laughing Clowns, plays drums with The Birthday Party on some gigs in January 1983. This temporarily returns the group to five-piece status, but Mick Harvey soon returns to drums.
The Birthday Party EP ‘Mutiny’ is released on Mute Records in February 1983. The EP has four tracks: ‘Jennifer’s Veil’, ‘Say A Spell’, ‘Swampland’ and ‘Mutiny In Heaven’. Blixa Bargeld, from German band Einsturzende Neubaten (which means ‘Collapsing New Buildings’) makes a guest appearance on guitar on the track ‘Mutiny In Heaven’. Bargeld will later have a long association with Nick Cave. ‘Mutiny’ is recorded in Berlin, Germany, and Cave describes the EP as “a document of the group in collapse. The four songs are utterly dissimilar to each other…”
Des Hefner is brought in on drums for some Birthday Party shows in May and June 1983. This is necessary because guitarist/drummer Mick Harvey leaves the group.
The Birthday Party’s final work is the EP ‘The Bad Seed’, released by 4AD in November 1983.
The end of The Birthday Party late in 1983 is attributed to tension between Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard ‘as well as work and drug-related exhaustion.’ Nick Cave puts it this way: “We drank a lot. We experimented with drugs…We took a lot of drugs for a long time…It was clear that it was a dead end.”
Note: Tracy Pew dies on 7 November 1986 due to a brain haemorrhage after sustaining head injuries as a result of an epileptic seizure. Rowland S. Howard dies from liver cancer on 30 December 2009.
Nick Cave returns to Australia for a while late in 1983 after The Birthday Party splits up. He is a bit aimless. Long-time compatriot Mick Harvey finds Cave and helps him focus on a solo career. They put together a new band. Some gigs are played under the banner of Nick Cave And The Cavemen, then they are billed as Man Or Myth. Finally, they settle on a name taken from the final EP by The Birthday Party: Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds.
Defining the type of music played by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds is a difficult task. The Boys Next Door started out as a punk band, but even by the time they became The Birthday Party, that label was ill-fitting. The music of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds has been described variously as post punk, experimental rock, alternative rock, garage rock, or, simply, rock. However they also draw on older song forms such as blues and gospel. All these tags are accurate on occasion for specific individual songs. The trouble is that makes it sound like the band’s music is wildly inconsistent – which is untrue. There is a unifying vision behind the various songs and that vision belongs to Nick Cave. Perhaps the only way to really describe their sound is to call it ‘Nick Cave music.’
The songwriting credits on the recordings by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds split roughly equally between solo compositions by Nick Cave and collaborations between Cave and various Bad Seeds. Although all the musicians who pass through the ranks of the group provide useful input, Cave’s main lieutenants are probably Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld and Barry Adamson. Interestingly, they are all multi-instrumentalists. This adds weight to the idea that, almost by necessity, The Bad Seeds are musically fluid. The songwriting credits will not be detailed for all songs listed here, only for certain key compositions. “Songwriting for me is the thing that makes me feel special in some way…It’s the one aspect of my life where I don’t feel mediocre,” says Nick Cave.
In the earlier part of his career, Nick Cave is seen purely as a vocalist. Later, he sometimes plays guitar, but is more commonly seen seated at a piano. As a musician, Cave is competent rather than exceptional. “I’ve always felt like an imposter, in the whole, as a musician,” he says modestly.
Many Nick Cave songs feature religious imagery. It would seem reasonable to get Cave to explain his religious views but it is notoriously difficult to get a straight answer from him on this subject. Maybe his views change over time? It’s hard to say. Perhaps in this instance, it’s best just to let Nick Cave speak for himself: “I was reading the Bible a lot through my 20s, mostly the Old Testament, just because I was knocked out by the language…I felt that the God being talked about there…was this insane, vindictive patriarch…I gave up reading the Old Testament after a while because I think it was having a bad effect on me …I started reading the New Testament…Personally, I find the story of Christ incredibly moving…I’m not religious, and I’m not a Christian, but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a God…I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it…”
The other main tenet in Nick Cave’s music is an air of gloom. Once more, Nick Cave expresses himself in glorious contradictions: “I saw the world as a bad place. A kind of punishing place. Certainly my life felt like that…I’m kind of a hard-wired pessimist…I don’t write happy songs…Despite what people may think, I’m not interested in being dark all the time…”
Nick Cave’s commercial fortunes are variable. Some of his work sells very well; some does not. Cruelly, some of his best work is amongst the least commercially successful. “I always thought my records were number one; it’s just the charts didn’t think so,” he quips.
The first line-up of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds is assembled in 1983. The members are: Nick Cave (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Mick Harvey (guitar, bass, drums, vocals), Blixa Bargeld (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Barry Adamson (bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, vocals) and Hugo Race (guitar, vocals).
‘From Her To Eternity’ (1984) (UK no. 40) is the first album by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. The title is a pun on the famed movie ‘From Here To Eternity’ (1953). This album is released by Mute Records who go on to release almost all the recordings by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. ‘From Her To Eternity’ is produced by The Bad Seeds and Flood (a.k.a. Mark Ellis). The single from the album is a cover version of the Elvis Presley hit from 1969 ‘In The Ghetto’ (UK no. 84). Perhaps more characteristic is the title track, ‘From Her To Eternity’. Nick Cave’s passionate vocal delivery fights through an odd mix of sounds and the whole thing threatens to collapse into chaos. It’s not that far removed from the recordings of The Birthday Party.
From 1984 to 1989 Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds work in Berlin, Germany. “We weren’t getting the kind of recognition I thought we deserved,” says Cave, justifying the move. “We were kind of adopted by the Berlin scene.”
Hugo Race exits The Bad Seeds in 1984 and Thomas Wydler (drums) is brought into the fold in 1985.
‘The First Born Is Dead’ (1985) (UK no. 53) is the second album by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. The group again co-produces with Flood. This disc is home to ‘Tupelo’. Geographically, Tupelo is a city in the U.S. State of Mississippi. It is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. Nick Cave claims that, “’Tupelo’ is based on [bluesman] John Lee Hooker’s extraordinary song [‘Tupelo, Mississippi’ from 1959] about the flood of Tupelo.” The song opens with the sound of a rainstorm from which emerges Barry Adamson’s thudding bass figure. Allegedly playing the part of a ‘visionary Southern preacher’, Cave’s magnificent vocal performance exhorts and declaims. “The beast it cometh, cometh down,” he snarls. “Oh God help Tupelo,” he quavers. “No bird can fly, no fish can swim / Until the King is born,” he offers cryptically. Is ‘the King’ Elvis Presley? Or, perhaps more likely, the second coming of the Lord? The words to ‘Tupelo’ are penned by Nick Cave, the music is co-written by Barry Adamson and Mick Harvey.
‘Kicking Against The Pricks’ (1986) (UK no. 89) consists entirely of cover versions of songs by other artists. ‘The Singer’ is the chosen single from this album. Released in August, the album is co-produced by Flood and erstwhile Birthday Party producer Tony Cohen.
‘Your Funeral…My Trial’ (1986) (AUS no. 98) follows three months later in November. This album is also co-produced by Flood and Tony Cohen. The highlights of this album include the off-kilter psycho circus of ‘The Carny’ and the hushed rockabilly-gone-wrong strum of ‘Stranger Than Kindness’.
Barry Adamson leaves The Bad Seeds in 1986. Two new members join the group in the same year: Kid Congo Powers (guitar) and Roland Wolf (keyboards, guitar, bass). Kid Congo Powers hails from U.S. goth rockabilly outfit The Cramps.
‘Tender Prey’ (1988) (UK no. 67) is the best album by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. They co-produce the disc with Flood. The album includes ‘The Mercy Seat’ (UK no. 86), ‘a terrifying, tension-wracked evocation of the tortured mind of a Death Row prisoner.’ “Into the mercy seat I climb / My head is shaved, my head is wired,” sings Cave in the voice of the condemned being seated in the electric chair. Since this is a Nick Cave song, Biblical references are babbled out: “In heaven His throne is made of gold / The ark of his testament is stowed…Down here it’s made of wood and wire / And my body is on fire / And God is never far away.” The lyrics to ‘The Mercy Seat’ are written by Nick Cave and the music is co-written by Cave and Mick Harvey. By contrast, ‘Deanna’ is written by Nick Cave alone. He describes it as “1960s garage band music.” It is Nick Cave himself who plays the cheesy Hammond organ lines that give the song that flavour. ‘Deanna’ is also a rare, semi-autobiographical piece. It may be recalled that Deanna was Nick’s childhood companion who was taken away after a shooting. Hence the song contains lyrics like, “We discuss the murder plan / We discuss murder and the murder act.” ‘Tender Prey’ seems the best summation of Nick Cave’s multi-faceted talents.
In 1988 Nick Cave becomes a published author. ‘King Ink’ (1988) is a collection of lyrics and plays and is followed by the similar ‘King Ink II’ (1997). ‘And the Ass Saw the Angel’ (1989) is an original novel, a rambling account of the life of the fictitious Euchrid Eucrow. Nick Cave also pens another novel, ‘The Death of Bunny Munro’ (2009).
Nick Cave still uses heroin. “I can’t help it that I take that particular drug,” he says in 1988.
In 1989 Roland Wolf’s time with The Bad Seeds comes to an end.
From 1989 to 1993 Nick Cave is in a romantic relationship with Brazilian journalist Viviane Carneiro. This union produces Cave’s first child, a son named Luke (born 1991).
‘The Good Son’ (1990) (AUS no. 93, UK no. 47) is described as Nick Cave’s ‘most relaxed, quiet album.’ Released in April, the disc is produced by The Bad Seeds. ‘The Ship Song’ (UK no. 84) is a stately, grandiose ballad in which Cave intones, “Come sail your ships around me / And burn your bridges down / We make a little history, baby / Every time you come around.” ‘The Weeping Song’ is more dramatic and thudding. Guitarist Blixa Bargeld plays the part of the father, telling his offspring (Cave), “Go son, go down to the water / And see the women weeping there / Then go up into the mountains / The men they are weeping too.” On the chorus, the vocalists are encouraged by brisk clapping that seems to have been imported from a Spanish flamenco. It’s an unlikely combination, but it works well. Both ‘The Ship Song’ and ‘The Weeping Song’ are Nick Cave solo compositions. (Note: Although the ‘song’ motif extends to two other tracks – ‘The Hammer Song’ and ‘The Witness Song’ – it does not apply to the whole album.)
Later in 1990, The Bad Seeds undergo more membership changes. Kid Congo Powers departs and Martyn P. Casey (bass, vocals) and Conway Savage (keyboards, vocals) join the group. Martyn P. Casey is a veteran of respected Australian band The Triffids.
Although still involved with Viviane Carneiro at the time, Nick Cave has a liaison with Beau Lazenby that results in the birth of his second son, Jethro (born 1991). Nick doesn’t actually meet Jethro until the boy is 8 years old.
‘Henry’s Dream’ (1992) (AUS no. 41, UK no. 29), released in April, is produced by David Briggs. The highlight of this set may be ‘Straight To You’ (AUS no. 96, UK no. 72), a flickering, candle-light ballad written by Nick Cave and featuring sensitive piano work by Conway Savage. This disc is also home to ‘I Had A Dream, Joe’ (AUS no. 75, UK no. 85).
Later in 1992, Nick Cave duets with The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan on the one-off single ‘What A Wonderful World’ (AUS no. 89, UK no. 72).
‘Live Seeds’ (1993) is a concert recording.
‘Let Love In’ (1994) (AUS no. 8, UK no. 12) is released in April and is produced by Tony Cohen. This album boasts some of Nick Cave’s best songs. ‘Do You Love Me?’ (AUS no. 62, UK no. 68) is a shuddering, refracted piece of garage rock. “I found her on a night of fire and noise,” Cave sings gruffly, speaking of “My lady of the various sorrows.” He sees “Her shadow fanged and hairy and mad.” The lyrics to ‘Do You Love Me?’ are authored by Nick Cave and he co-writes the music with bassist Martyn P. Casey. ‘Nobody’s Baby Now’ is a solo Cave composition. This twisted doo wop number finds Cave dragging in religious references again: “I’ve searched the holy books / I tried to unravel the mystery of Jesus Christ, the saviour.” ‘Loverman’ (UK no. 88) also hails from this album. However, Nick Cave’s best individual song is this disc’s ‘Red Right Hand’ (AUS no. 62, UK no. 68). “On a gathering storm comes a tall, handsome man / In a dusty black coat with a red right hand,” snarls Cave. Apparently, the inspiration for the song is John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ (1667), the vengeful hand of God being interpreted by Cave as a ‘red right hand.’ “He’ll reach deep into the hole / Heal your shrinking soul,” sings Cave. ‘Red Right Hand’ has a strangely spooky atmosphere with its throaty organ and musical punctuation in the form of what sounds like an anvil being struck. It’s difficult to call this music ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, but it’s definitely ‘Nick Cave music.’ In fact, with its religious nods, Cave’s death-defying vocal and sympathetic backing from The Bad Seeds, this is the Nick Cave song. The words are Nick Cave’s and he co-writes the music with Mick Harvey and Thomas Wydler.
Later in 1994 Jim Sclavunos (percussion, drums, organ) joins the Bad Seeds. Warren Ellis (violin, mandolin, viola) is a guest with the group beginning in 1994, though he doesn’t officially join until 1997.
Unlikely as it may seem from the title, ‘Murder Ballads’ (1996) (AUS no. 3, UK no. 8) is Nick Cave’s ‘most commercially successful album to date.’ It is co-produced by Victor Van Vugt and The Bad Seeds. Helping the album’s fortunes is the single ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ (AUS no. 2, UK no. 11). On this song, Nick Cave duets with Australian pop princess Kylie Minogue. It is a mutually beneficial association. Cave borrows some of Minogue’s wider popular appeal and reaps the sales dividends. Minogue’s credibility is substantially enhanced. Written by Nick Cave alone, ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ is a string-soaked sinister saga. “They call me the wild rose / But my name was Elisa Day,” breathes Kylie Minogue. The character she plays in the song is romanced by Cave’s character…but it doesn’t end well. “And the last thing I heard was a muttered word / As he knelt smiling above me with a rock in his fist,” she gasps. “All beauty must die,” insists Cave’s blood-stained swain who, “Lent down and planted a rose between her teeth.” ‘Henry Lee’ (AUS no. 72, UK no. 36) is another duet, but on this one Cave is partnered by P.J. Harvey – U.K. singer Polly Jean Harvey whose brand of indie rock is as shape-shifting as Nick Cave’s. Cave and Harvey share a romantic relationship between 1996 and 1997, lending some added poignancy to their collaboration here. In this folky, piano-based song, Cave’s character, Henry Lee, is the victim and Harvey is the killer: “She leaned herself against a fence / Just for a kiss or two / And with a little pen-knife held in her hand / She plugged him through and through.” ‘Henry Lee’ is a traditional folk song, though Cave claims the credit for the music in his version. With a name like ‘Murder Ballads’, it may be thought the album assembles songs of death from the ages, but there are only two traditional pieces and a Bob Dylan cover version amongst a predominantly original menu of songs.
‘The Boatman’s Call’ (1997) (AUS no. 5, UK no. 8) is an ‘introspective and personal’ album. “The more personal songwriting came about with ‘The Boatman’s Call’,” agrees Nick Cave. “As much as I love that record, there is an element that disgusts me in as much as I think, at the time, I was some kind of thing that sought out disaster.” There doesn’t seem much doubt that the declamatory ‘West Country Girl’ is about former love P.J. Harvey, but there is more room for speculation about other tracks on this disc, works produced by Flood, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. ‘Into My Arms’ (AUS no. 26, UK no. 53) is a bare bones piano piece. Although it has been described as a ‘beautiful ballad’, structurally it is closer to a gospel hymn. As if to confirm its religious origins, its opening line references the Lord but, this being a song written by Nick Cave alone, there is a twist: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” he insists, before adding in a conciliatory fashion, “But I know, darling, that you do.” The song’s overall effect, through minimalism, is very moving. A spidery web of guitar frames ‘(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?’ (UK no. 67), another solo Cave composition. In the passionate mid-section, Cave cries, “We will know, won’t we? / The stars will explode in the sky / But they don’t, do they? / Stars have their moment and then they die.” ‘The Boatman’s Call’ is ‘restrained [and] intimate.’
In 1997 Nick Cave begins dating U.K. model Susie Bick. The couple marry in 1999. They have two sons, twin boys, Arthur and Earl (born 2000).
In 1998 Nick Cave finally gives up both drugs and alcohol.
After a longer than usual interval, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds return with ‘No More Shall We Part’ (2001) (AUS no. 4, UK no. 15, US no. 180), which they co-produce with Tony Cohen. This is a ‘piano-laden’ album. ‘As I Sat Sadly By Her Side’ (AUS no. 80, UK no. 42) is a domestic piano ballad. This disc is also home to ‘Fifteen Feet Of Pure White Snow’ (UK no. 52) and ‘Love Letter’ (AUS no. 86).
‘Nocturama’ (2003) (AUS no. 8, UK no. 20, US no. 182) is co-produced by Nick Launay, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Launay produces the next three Nick Cave studio albums. ‘Bring It On’ (UK no. 58), a duet with Chris Bailey from Australian punk pioneers The Saints, comes from this album. The song has a staccato rhythm that branches into a more widescreen sound. Also present is ‘Rock Of Gibraltar’ (UK no. 136).
Long-time sideman Blixa Bargeld leaves The Bad Seeds in 2003. Stepping into the group in 2003 is James Johnston (organ, guitar), who had guested with The Bad Seeds for a while in 1994.
‘Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus’ (2004) (AUS no. 5, UK no. 4, US no. 64) is a double album. ‘Nature Boy’ (AUS no. 88, UK no. 37) is not a cover of the old Nat King Cole song, but a new, full-blooded rocker with a 1960s tinge. Another track from this set, ‘Breathless’ (UK no. 45), evokes the beauty of nature and idyllic love with a surprising flute introduction. ‘Get Ready For Love’ is a more soul-inflected outing.
Nick Cave writes the screenplay for the Australian western ‘The Proposition’ (2006). He goes on to write another screenplay, ‘The Wettest County in the World’, which is made into the film ‘Lawless’ (2012), set in the U.S. during the prohibition era.
‘The Abattoir Blues Tour’ (2007), released in March, is a document of The Bad Seeds in concert.
‘Grinderman’ (2007) (AUS no. 14, UK no. 23, US no. 150), also released in March, is a Nick Cave side project. The band called Grinderman sees Cave and three of The Bad Seeds join forces: Nick Cave (vocals, guitar), Warren Ellis (guitar, violin, various instruments), Martyn P. Casey (bass) and Jim Sclavunos (drums). Grinderman is a rougher, rawer experience than The Bad Seeds. The group take their name from bluesman Memphis Slim’s song ‘Grinderman Blues’. The best known song from this album, ‘No Pussy Blues’ (UK no. 64), is a funny, love-starved exclamation that is also very noisy.
Part of the Grinderman ethos seems to leak back into the next album by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ (2008) (AUS no. 2, UK no. 4, US no. 64), released in March. The title track, ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig’ (AUS no. 73, UK no. 66) is one of the more accessible Nick Cave performances with its riffing guitar and organ. Never exactly a hit machine, Nick Cave’s last charting single is this album’s ‘More News From Nowhere’ (UK no. 171). ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ (2008) follows in November.
James Johnston exits The Bad Seeds in 2008.
Mick Harvey leaves The Bad Seeds in 2009. Harvey has worked with Nick Cave almost consistently since their days at Caulfield Grammar School so he is Cave’s longest serving associate.
‘Grinderman 2’ (2010) (AUS no. 9, UK no. 14, US no. 38) is the second album from the Grinderman project. It also proves to be their final outing, as the quartet concentrate on their work with The Bad Seeds instead.
Leaving behind their long-time label Mute, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ next album is released on their own Bad Seeds Ltd label. ‘Push The Sky Away’ (2013) (AUS no. 1, UK no. 3, US no. 29) features Cave’s wife, Susie, in the nude on the album cover alongside her (fully clothed) spouse. The disc is issued in February. It is followed in November by ‘Live From KCRW’ (2013), a radio broadcast captured for posterity.
’20,000 Days on Earth’ (2014) is a documentary directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. The title is a reference to Nick Cave’s age at the time. The film is an oblique view of the singer – which may be the only way to approach as unusual a character as Cave. A more standard approach may have been less successful in capturing his essence.
Nick Cave’s son, Arthur, dies on 14 July 2015 as a result of injuries sustained after falling off a cliff at Ovingdean, near Brighton, England.
Just as ’20,000 Days on Earth’ showed Nick Cave working on ‘Push The Sky Away’, Andrew Dominik’s documentary ‘Once More with Feeling’ (2016), released on 8 September, shows Cave working on the album which is released one day after the film.
‘Skeleton Tree’ (2016) (AUS no. 1, UK no. 2, US no. 27), by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, is issued on 9 September. The disc is co-produced by Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and Nick Launay. All the lyrics are penned by Cave and the music is co-written by Cave and Ellis. Most of the album was written before the death of Nick Cave’s son, Arthur, on 14 July 2015. However several lyrics were subsequently amended as Cave tried to process the grief he was feeling. Accordingly, the songs on ‘Skeleton Tree’ are built around the themes of death and loss. The disc is less polished and the production is purposefully minimal. Listening to tracks like ‘We No Who U R’, ‘Rings Of Saturn’, ‘Jesus Alone’ and ‘Magneto’ is a ‘harrowing’ experience.
“What the journey is…is to make some order out of the chaos,” suggested Nick Cave. His life and music had no shortage of chaos. Where ‘order’ was imposed may be a matter of judgment and personal taste. Some of his most artistically satisfying work was a chaotic clatter that resisted order. His music encompassed such diverse genres as punk, goth, new wave, rockabilly, gospel, hymns, blues and garage rock. Not all of it worked. Not all of it found a mass audience. Nick Cave was a hell raiser and a holy man, a holy fool and hell bent. Through it all though, he remained one of a kind, the one and only Nick Cave. ‘The transformation of Nick Cave from post punk racketeer to suave balladeer was as effortless as it once seemed improbable.’ The story of Nick Cave is ‘one of the most singular, and often extreme, journeys in contemporary music.
- wikipedia.org as at 3 March 2015, 17 July 2015, 4 January 2017
- ‘The South Bank Show’ (U.K. television program, London Weekend Television) – Produced & directed by Archie Powell (10 August 2003)
- brainyquote.com as at 7 April 2015
- Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 4 April 2013
- ‘In Search of Nick Cave’ by Deborah Torpey – the situation.com.au as at 23 April 2014
- ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Nick Cave: “I Have to Spend Hours Talking to F***ing Idiots Like You”’ – interview with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds conducted by Jack Barrow (1988) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
- ‘The Big Australian Rock Book’, ‘The Birthday Party’ by Marie Ryan (Megabooks, 1985) p. 70, 71
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 117
- stripedsunlight.blogspot.com.au/2008/03/lethal-weapons-suicide-label-punk.html by Bob Nebe (15 March 2008)
- messandnoise.com/articles/3853723 – by Dolores San Miguel (22 January 2010)
- famousfix.com as at 4 April 2015
- ‘The Best Of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ – Sleeve notes by Sean O’Hagen (Mute Records Ltd, 1998) p. 10, 11, 18, 19
- Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 9 April 2015
- allmusic.com, ‘Nick Cave’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 8 March 2015
- allmusic.com, ‘Mutiny’ review by Ned Raggett as at 8 March 2015
- ‘Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service’ (U.K. radio program, BBC Radio 6) (12 September 2010) via (1) above
- rxlyrics.com for John Lee Hooker information as at 9 April 2015
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 273, 274
- lyricsfreak.com as at 7 April 2015
- ‘Murder Ballads’ – Sleeve notes (Mute Records Ltd, 1996) via (1) above
- ‘The Age’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘The Light in the Cave’ – by Stephen Dalton (19 September 2004) (reproduced on theage.com.au)
- ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘A King Mourns his Little Prince’ – review of ‘Skeleton Tree’ by Mikey Cahill (15 September 2016) p. 38
Song lyrics copyright unknown with the exception of ‘Do You Love Me?’ (Universal Music Publishing Group)
Last revised 12 January 2017