You know those people who do suffer fools gladly? Yeah, Nick Cave is really not one of them.
“The last three questions you could have f—ing Googled, mate!” the Australian novelist, screenwriter, and singer-songwriter snorted at your writer on a recent morning in New York. His words were harsh. But were they fair?
Well, not really. For one thing, the questions in, well, question had concerned the then as-yet-unannounced, and un-Googleable, touring plans of Grinderman, the band which comprises Cave and three members of his Bad Seeds backing group (drummer Jim Sclavunos, bassist Martyn Casey, and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis). And for another thing, I had started the encounter by saying some—deservedly—nice things about the quartet’s new CD Grinderman II, which is out today.
Grinderman’s follow-up to the band’s eponymous, raw 2007 debut once again finds Cave strapping on a guitar to mine a gritty, crazed blues seam while, this time around, also finding space for a touch of bizarro soul in the form of the track “Palaces of Montezuma.” Meanwhile, those who relish Cave’s twisted way with a lyric will most definitely not be disappointed by a CD which at one point summons up the image of JFK’s spinal cord wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee.
The result is, in turn, fascinating, brilliant, and at times fairly darned harrowing. That’s also pretty much what talking to its creator is like, as you can find out after the jump when Cave and Jim Sclavunos discuss their latest opus, unexpectedly muse on the delights of the Gérard Depardieu-Andie MacDowell rom-com Green Card, and, rather more predictably, urge the man from EW to “try harder!”
Entertainment Weekly: Would you say Grinderman 2 has a theme?
Nick Cave: Chicks. Death. Love. The same stuff that I think I’ve been going on about from the start, really. But in a different way.
The song “Heathen Child” name checks the Wolfman and the Abominable Snowman. In fact, there are a lot of beasts mentioned on the album: literal, metaphorical, and mythical. Is that…
NC: Deliberate? Yeah. “Why?”
NC: The scenario [of "Heathen Child"] is a young girl sitting in the bath and being kind of molested by all the beasts that coming out of her subconscious. But I do tend to use archetypes in songwriting, because when I just mention the name of the Wolfman, for example we immediately associate a whole lot of information with those names. So I’m not starting from scratch with the listener. And it sets up an interesting dynamic when those kind of archetypes…
Jim Sclavunos: Collide
NC: Well, not only collide, but are turned on their heads in some way.
The track “Kitchenette” mentions Oprah Winfrey (“What’s this husband of yours ever given to you/Oprah Winfrey on a plasma screen/And a brood of jug-eared buck-toothed imbeciles/The Ugliest kids I’ve ever seen”). Have you seen her show? I love the idea of Nick Cave—and indeed the Bad Seeds—watching it on the tour bus.
JS: I’ve never seen Oprah Winfrey in my entire life.
NC: Oh, rubbish.
JS: I know who she is, of course.
NC: I’ve watched Oprah Winfrey. And I’m proud. I don’t care what anybody says! I don’t know whether I’ve watched it. I’ve been in the room while it’s been on.
Is there anything that you do enjoy, that would surprise people?
NC: I love watching videos. I used to do that pretty much without any discretion as to what I’m watching. Now I actually work in that area (Cave has written the scripts for the 2005 Australian western The Proposition and an unfilmed sequel to Gladiator) so that enormous amount of time I’ve wasted watching bulls— has actually come in really handy. I can actually say, “Well, you know that scene in f—ing Green Card? Let’s not do it like that!” Although, having said that, I do like Green Card. [To Sclavunos] Do you like Green Card?
NC: It’s Andie MacDowell. She’s cute. He’s cute!
Nick, is it true you had never played electric guitar before the first Grinderman album?
NC: I’d played acoustic guitar. So I knew on some level how to work my way around some of the chords. But I’d never played electric guitar. Of course, with a new instrument it sets up a whole different way of writing songs. Most of my songs that I was writing on the piano were in the flat keys, for example. A lot of black notes. They were a nightmare for anyone to play. When you start playing the guitar suddenly you realize why rock’n’roll songs are the way they are. And that changed the sound of the band. Even when songs weren’t ballads with the Bad Seeds, they’re still largely written in these strange keys. Even the rock songs, you can still tell they’re written on the piano. So the guitar was brilliant in that way.
Have you found your guitar-playing has improved over the last couple of years? And is that a problem?
NC: What, that I’m getting too good?
NC: Certainly being proficient in an instrument does have its problems. Because the better you get, the more you just start sounding like an ordinary guitarist. There are certainly guitarists that transcend that and do really find their sound and all that sort of stuff. I think I had actually more of a ‘sound’ when I didn’t know how to play guitar than I do now that I kind of know how to play. The thing is that Warren plays a lot of that stuff that sounds like guitar. But the very strange stuff is not actually coming from guitar. It’s coming from mandolin…
JS: …and violin, and tenor guitar.
There are one or two tracks on the new CD where I have no idea what kind of instrument is being played.
NC: Warren doesn’t know. We got Robert Fripp, the guitarist from King Crimson, to come and do an extended version of “Heathen Child,” and he did a guitar solo at the end. But Robert Fripp said, “What is that at the start? What is that sound? It’s fantastic.” I said, “I don’t know,” and rang up Warren and asked him. He said, “I don’t know either.” He doesn’t write it down.
You’re playing a European tour this fall?
But you won’t be playing any Bad Seeds stuff?
JS: No. With two albums of material to choose from, we certainly don’t need to.
And do you have any plans to play in America?
JS: Yeah, in November.
A full tour?
JS: As full as we can make it.
And will there be another Bad Seeds album after that?
NC: Yeah, of course, yeah.
JS: Yeah, probably slowly coming to shape over the next few months.
NC: [Expansively yawning] Excuse me. Sorry.
JS: Do you want some coffee or something?
NC: No. Right, what’s the next question? The last three questions you could have f—ing Googled, mate.
JS: You’ve got to try harder than that.
NC: [Maniacal laugh]
To be fair, I did [try and find information about a US tour via Google], and there didn’t seem to be any information about…
NC: [With utter disgust] Oh really? Isn’t there a press sheet?
JS: Uh, I guess the stuff about the States is not determined yet, so it wouldn’t be out there.
NC: So, we’ve thrown down the gauntlet. Fire away!
JS: Give us your best shot!
Okay. Well, one of the most beautiful songs on the CD is “Palaces of Montezuma”…
JS: It’s amazing how much this song is coming up.
NC: Every second journalist talks about that song.
…But then there are these lines about JFK and Marilyn Monroe: “The spinal cord of JFK/Wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee/I give to you.” That’s a really vivid and disturbing image to deposit two thirds of the way through this lovely track
JS: It’s a variation on the classic, “I’ll give you the moon and the stars,” kind of thing. Only this one’s full of very odd curiosities and phantasmagorical, fetishistic things, like a spinal cord and a negligee. But it is a classic type of love song.
NC: I quite like the unsuspecting lyric, or line. You’re sitting listening to a song and it’s going along and suddenly there’s that, “F—, did he just say that?” kind of thing. I guess that’s just become one of the things I kind of do. It suddenly changes the trajectory of the lyric.
I interviewed Russell Brand recently and I asked him what song he wanted to have played at his wedding. And he said your song, “(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?”
NC: Oh, right.
…Which is apparently also what is engraved on the inside of Katy Perry’s engagement ring
JS: It must be a very big ring.
NC: She must have a big fat little finger. [Laughs] That’s very nice.
How much would you charge to play it at their wedding?
NC: I don’t know if I can do that song.
JS: We’ve tried that song live a number of times and it never quite lifts off the ground. It’s a beautiful song. You know what’s even better than the recording, is the demos.
You could give the demos to them as a wedding gift.
NC: I don’t really know them!
JS: Giving away music? That idea will never fly!!!
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