CAVE MAN IN LOVE
FROM being whacked out on heroin in Berlin, to hanging out with trans sexuals in Sao Paulo to his new abode - a spooky flat in West London - Nick Cave has been there, done that and filed the report. A propos of nothing, he begins by talking about the difference between religiousness and spirituality and finishes his mini treatise by saying "Yes, I do believe in God". That's a bit heavy for this time of day, Nick better get back to talking about murder.
Nick Cave's last album, Murder Ballads, a selection of grisly yet poignant reflections on the nature of killing people, brought the anxious, Gothic looking Australian to a level of mainstream acceptance that had defiantly eluded him over a glittering, if not exactly earth moving, nine album career.
Murder Ballads sold over one million copies, got Nick a gig in the Royal Albert Hall and rehabilitated the career of his gormless compatriot Kylie Minogue, who guested on the album's stand out single, The Wild Rose. Apart from anything else, he made a major contribution to the iconography of 1990s popular music by smashing a rock into Kylie's skull in the accompanying video.
With that out of his system, he set about recording his most personal work to date, the current The Boatman's Call on which he abandons fiction for fact and engages in the sort of intimate songwriting that borders on the indiscreet. A passion suite of 12 slow songs, all written about the break up of his marriage to Viviane Carneiro and his subsequent short lived affair with the singer P.J. Harvey, A Boatman's Call is a modern day Blood On The Tracks. From murder to love, an easy move?
"I started writing this during, the recording of Murder Ballads, he says. "There was another room in the studio where I'd go and play these songs on the piano and I found there was something very beautiful about the initial demos - they were very complete - so that I totally cut down on the overdubbing when we came to record it. It's my most personal record, for sure, and that was exciting, in a way. This is my attempt to understand what has gone on in my life over the last three years. There is no fiction here, this is what really happened to me. For example, the song Far From Me runs a narrative line - the first verse was written at the start of a relationship and the last verse was written when that relationship broke down - it's that personal. . ."
It seems that the only thing you've stopped short of is naming names? "Yeah, well, sometimes I write songs for the wrong reason - simply to get back at people. They are forms of revenge in a way, and the people know who they are, sometimes I hope the songs hurt them, but I don't need to name them in public ... it's difficult to talk about. Love is a sobering thing; it never goes the way you want it to go. What we are constantly fed about it is that bit's like a committed relationship, like marriage - that's not love, it's a commitment to a relationship, that's not romantic love."
Always more interested in the destruction of a relationship than building one up (or so it seems), he excels himself lyrically on the bitter side of the love equation by evoking the sort of imagery which is also to be found in the works of poets like Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin. Take the album's defining moment, a song called People Ain't No Good, where he writes the obituary for another broken affair: "To our love send a dozen white lilies/To our love send a coffin of wood/To our love send back all the letters/To our love a valentine of blood/To our love let all the jilted lovers cry: That people they just ain't no good".
So people are crap, basically? "Yeah, people are no good, but not in the moral sense of the word," he says. "They just don't help sometimes, but still we find ourselves clinging on to each other. In a way, this record is about the failings of humans to look after each other; but there's still that need within us. The net result is pain, but at the end of the day people are all that you have except if you have some kind of religious redemption."
On that subject, what's with the whole religious thing going on in the lyrics? "I have an interest in the New Testament, which is a fairly safe way of looking at it. It's really my interest in my own religiousness. I've become more and more interested in the ritual and orderedness of organised religion. I can't give myself over to that completely, because it's just not in my nature to do that. I call it religiousness as opposed to spirituality - and that's often a thing for some people. In the makon in my life there is a cycle, and not a very constructive one, but a cycle of abandoning myself to my own destructive nature where a lot of very good songs come from - and being redeemed by religion ill a way as well. I have religious feelings.
In the past those religious feelings were manifested in the vernacular of the Old Testament the nightmarish, vengeful and doom laden feel to previous albums like The First Born Is Dead and the beautifully titled Your Funeral, My Trial. But on this record he's coming over all hymnal, solemn and church like. Private prayer? "In a sense, yes. Again it's the religiousness of the songs. They don't come from the heart and they don't come from the head, but from somewhere else. They're articulating how I feel about things that have happened to me over the last few years, and articulating my feeling about religion. I've always had that vague spiritual feeling, but this is about the content of religious beliefs."
SUCH religious feelings now extend to his belief that he must be ever vigilant about his "muse" and how he chooses to exploit it: "I feel strong and powerful about what I do. I feel sometimes that I've fallen short of the mark in the past by not realising my potential fully. But I believe that if I have a gift and I exploit it, in the bad sense of the word, then it will be taken away from me. I've seen it taken away from other people who have chosen to exploit their gift and now they can't write good songs any more."
A diplomatic remark about Ian Johnson's recent biography of him (called Bad Seed) - "er, there was a lot that didn't get talked about" - leads him on to the conundrum of how to tour this particular album. In recent performances he has opted to ignore it, playing only rockier songs from his back catalogue: "I will tour this album, even though it is very down in regards of pace and volume and I'd miss a rockin' and a rollin'. But this is the album I always wanted to make. I think not only is it the best thing I've done, but it's also the most courageous thing I've done. Ever."