Catching Up With... Nick Cave

Music Features Nick Cave
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Paste: A lot of your songs have felt like short stories and have a cinematic quality, like “The Mercy Seat,” which almost feels like a short film. How hard was it for you to adapt your storytelling to a different medium?

Cave: No, I think that’s just the way my mind works, and it’s quite natural for me to think in narrative terms. So, the script and to write a novel I would say are more natural narrative, and the song actually isn’t. The song isn’t designed to tell a story, really, especially the rock song. It’s actually about something that is much more immediate, I think. It’s much more successful like that. But I just write narratively, I’m sort of cursed with it.

Paste: Could you see yourself, now that you’ve written scripts and done a little acting and such, ever trying to direct a movie yourself?

Cave: No, I wouldn’t direct a movie, no. I couldn’t. I don’t have the patience for it, I don’t have the people skills. You have to be clever. I’m not really clever in that kind of way. And you have to be able to manipulate people, but at the same time allow them feel like they are manipulating you, to get the kind of movie that you want. I watched John Hillcoat, who’s done The Proposition and he’s doing The Road, and this guy is extraordinary in the way that he can keep calm in the face of adversity, and so he is able to just quietly work away and get the film that he wants. It’s kind of extraordinary to watch.

Paste: Can you relate at all? Not only do you have the band around you but you have record label people, it seems like you have a small organization that you lead.

Cave: No, it’s not like that at all. The whole being in a band thing is unique and extraordinary. Despite the way the world may view it, people in bands are very often involved in creating something quite extraordinary, and it’s not just rock ‘n’ roll, it’s something else and there’s a certain balance that needs to exist within the band and the organization. Maybe it doesn’t need to exist, maybe the great stuff comes out when it doesn’t exist, I don’t know. But it feels very pure. For us, at the end of the day, it’s about going to the studio without any idea what we are doing or what we are trying to make and allowing something to kind of come out of that. The movie industry thing is a totally different thing: it’s really about money. The music industry is not quite so….

Paste: Mercenary?

Cave: Yeah. It probably is, but it just doesn’t feel that way. The thing is that you just don’t have people interfering in the same way. We don’t have anybody interfering in what we do, we can be artists and go in the studio and make anything we like and have any cover we like. Maybe there’s a lot of bands that can’t do this in the way things work these days, but we’ve always been, for whatever reason, able to do that. So it feels pure. The only thing that prevents us from getting our music to where we really want it to be is our own limitations. It’s not because anybody is telling us what to do. There may be certain consciousness of the expectations of your audience and stuff that has some kind of influence, but pretty much you’re free to do what you want.

Paste: being like “I’m Nick Cave And I’m Great”?

Cave: Well, I don’t actually feel that way, you see. I’m an egomaniac with very low self-esteem, so I just fluctuate so rapidly, it’s quite frightening, actually. I should work out a way of finding a bit of peace in some other way, but I’m the classic kind of character that is totally buoyed up about doing something, and it very much reflects in the way that I am as a person and the way I get on with everybody, and then you take that thing away or it finishes and then I’m back to this person who is plagued by doubts. So it’s imperative for my sanity to start on the next thing, and very quickly I’m buoyed up again. It’s become clearer and clearer that these particular projects or whatever aren’t really the solutions to anything, they are just holding back the inevitable. So maybe I’ve got to go and do, I don’t know…

Paste: Join a monastery or something?

Cave: Get therapy or join some 12-step program. Or keep doing it. I don’t know.

Paste: Your fans might appreciate it if you just keep doing what you’re doing.

Cave: Well, it’s good for the work, it’s definitely good for the work, it’s hugely beneficial. But it’s always been in my nature to be totally involved in something, and once it’s finished, drop it like I have no interest in it whatsoever, and move on to the next thing. Like the novel was everything, and I just handed it in about three days ago, and I find I can barely remember what it’s about. It’s always the next thing.

Paste: You’ve had success with so many different mediums: movies, music, your books. I’ve read that you’re a painter also. Are there any artistic mediums that you don’t think you are good at, or would like to try your hand at?

Cave: Well, I’ve never been… [With] the whole acting thing, I never thought I could do that. I never really learned how to be a painter. It’s too late to do that.

Paste: It’s probably not too late.

Cave: [laughing a bit] It’s too late.

Paste: Did you go to school for painting?

Cave: Yeah, I did.

Paste: Did you drop out to be in a band?

Cave: I failed and happened to have a band.

Paste: Speaking of writing, could you ever see yourself writing a memoir?

Cave: Maybe. I don’t have really much of a memory of things. It’s really sketchy.

Paste: Now that the novel is turned in, what do you think your next project is going to be?

Cave: Well, the next thing I’ve got to write is this film script for John. But the next musical thing is the new Grinderman record, as soon as I can make some space for that we’ll be doing that.

Paste: Is it all written?

Cave: No, not at all. We’re very conscious that we are going to make it, me and Warren are very conscious that we’re going to make it and we’re constantly talking about it, saying, "Hey, what about if we do that or what if we do that?" So there’s a general… We talk about it a lot.