Nick Cave – The Murder Ballads Interview

Nick Cave – The Murder Ballads Interview

With Mute Records ready to release the latest in a series of re-issues of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds classic albums. With Guitars thought the least we could do is cover at least one of the bands greatest moments, blindfolded I mussed the dart board, so in desperation we picked out one of our favourite Seeds albums, ‘ Murder Ballads’.


In total there are four albums being reissued.‘Let Love In’ (1994), ‘Murder Ballads’ (1996), ‘The Boatman’s Call’ (1997) and ‘No More Shall We Part’ (2001) – their eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh studio albums respectively All four are out for the summers, 2011. But our interest now turns to all things ‘Murder Ballads’…


The Only Escape Is Death.

Nick Cave has always been on intimate terms with all things dark, and the grim reaper walks tall throughout ‘ Murder Ballads’. That being said, this isn’t just another Nick Cave album, except in its continuation of the high quality art we’ve come to expect from him. ‘Murder Ballads’, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ most relaxed, arguably most industrious, most multi-dimensional album, thus far.

Amid the press clamour of lauding praise on the Australian, we’re find ourselves in complete agreement with the word wealthy ones; although part of our office, the north west corner, always prided itself on all things involving The Bad Seeds, and at it’s most stressed and over-worked, they would regularly  be heard playing ‘The Ship Song’ every other morning, the hearty sing-along was even getting better. Then the whole world, it seems, gets it, just like they once did,fantastic, now we are the mainstream! Bollocks!

We collar the tall songwriter and request of him his views on religion, kids, families, records and music hacks.

We Never Talk About Religion…

“I get a lot of fan mail from young Christians who are confused about what I write about. I have difficulty with the Catholic Church, I’m really drawn to the Catholic Church’s imagery – it’s extremely powerful stuff, but the idea that God is unavailable unless you approach God through that sort of conduit, the Church and all that stuff, I think it’s not right and very damaging. I think I’ve always had a strong spiritual sense despite how much abuse I’ve given that side. I’ve always had a real interest in it. Maybe I’ve never had much feeling towards it, but then in a lot of ways I always found it quite difficult to understand how I felt about a lot of things. I’ve always been interested in it. I used to take a lot of drugs and so forth which I think is a legitimate attempt to invite the spiritual existence in some way. It’s an attempt to make yourself happier and elevate yourself above a mediocre existence but unfortunately it’s just incredibly destructive. It stopped working for me – it just made me sad to take them basically and now I have a freedom to persue those areas in a more positive way. I’m a bit of a spiritual magpie – I take things from all over the place. What I do believe is that some of the western institutions that think they have the answer, and that God belongs to them, are making it difficult for people to have a genuine spiritual experience. I think the Church have misused the Christian word, so I take things from all over really. The Christ figure is extremely important to me as it’s a human face of a kind of spiritual existence. I kind of believe that we’re all sons of God, but I don’t take the bible literally. I don’t believe in the virgin birth or the Resurrection. I believe in the Resurrection as a metaphor really, a metaphor for ‘rising up above an earthly existence’.”

The Seeds: Trauma Free

“Earlier on it was the idea that it would be a much more fluid line up – a sort of reaction against The Birthday Party which was a very traditional set up, so the initial idea was to get who we wanted and everything moved around, and that was the way we did it for a while, but I really don’t think of the Bad Seeds in terms of that anymore. I’m just completely happy with everybody and I don’t feel at all restricted by the format of the group. I think as you get older you just become less concerned about how you appear to be and after a while you just don’t give a f**k what people think about you and once you start thinking like that you become what you are and I think that a lot of the Bad Seed member have become very conspicuous personalities… Boringly so I’d say, and they’re just blossoming, not mentioning anyone in particular. In a lot of ways our roles are generally clearly defined and they sit very comfortably for each person – there isn’t any vying for power for example. It’s clearly understood that I write the songs so therefore at the end, it’s really what I want. The band have pretty much freedom to do what they like and I trust them with what they want to do – it’s not that someone will come in and play something and I’ll say, “I don’t like that,” I just generally watch them with my mouth open and go “Wow, that’s really cool… Man”. I fight with Tony (Cohen – Bad Seeds engineer), like physically. I have punched Tony several times. He sulks for a while and locks himself up and carries on but i haven’t hit any of the ‘Seeds for ages”.

The Author Within

“I think that the time will make itself apparent when it’s the right time to do it, but i haven’t really felt an intense enough desire to do it – it’s an incredible sacrifice to have to make to write a book. I really know what’s involved and sincerely think I’ll write another book, but I don’t feel like it at the moment”.

Let Natural Selection Run Riot For All Journalists.  Discuss

“The thing about record reviews is that they get reviewed in music papers which I have, pretty much across the board, no respect for, whatsoever. I mean I don’t want to stand in judgement of anyone but they’re basically written by a bunch of cretins and please tell me who would want to give their lives writing about rock music – they can’t really be far up the food chain… So, I was obviously more interested in what the literary press had to say about the book, coz they didn’t have these awful prejudices against rock singers doing something like writing a book. What was really surprising about the critics was the literary critics largely ignored the fact that i was a rock singer and just wrote about the book for what it was, whether they thought it was good or bad was another thing. Whereas music journalists were deeply suspicious of the fact that I’d written a book and in a lot of respects, extremely begrudging with their platitudes… rock singers aren’t supposed to do things like write books”.


Murder Ballads – The Overview

“I’ve always enjoyed writing narrative songs and I’ve always especially enjoyed writing about murder and violence, and three years ago I had written two minor masterpieces – one called ‘’O’Malley’s Bar’, which was fifteen minutes long and something like 40 verses and another song called ‘Song Of Joy’, which was also very long, but far too long to fit comfortably on any of our other records. Really what we did was to make a record on which these two songs would sit comfortably so we made it around the rather spurious subject of murder. This was a multifunctional record in that it was necessary for a lot of reasons – one, we wanted to make a record that was literally impossible to tour with no matter what. They just wouldn’t work, so that meant that we didn’t have to tour with this record. The other thing was that I felt an incredible pressure to have to keep beating the last record we made; making a better one, which I think we’ve basically done and I wanted to make a record that was just enjoyable to do, that was open to various other musicians to come along and do exactly what they wanted to do and also to do lots of duets. I wanted other people to help me write the songs and I wanted to do a lot of cover versions… Which was what we did as well. There’s a kind of broad kind of broad classic kind of storytelling that runs through them all and the actual settings are quite ambiguous – they could have happened at any time in a lot of cases. Musically, it leans heavily on the conventional and traditional forms of music which in a way it has to do to accompany narrative songs like that. The music can’t afford to be too complex”.

With tales of murder, violence and psychopaths. Has Nick Cave himself felt the urge?

“I often think that the violence in my songs is really a metaphor that speaks about the darker side of my personality and I feel very much split in two. I have two very strong sides to my character; one is a definite tendency to self-destruction and one is quite austere and clean and spirited and I think the violence in my lyrics is a representation of that side. I’ve had a lot more practice with that side and it’s a side of me that I find easier to write about. I found thoughts of violence came very easily and I find the imagery much much stronger and so in a way it’s easier to write about. What I get a lot of creative stimulation from is the chaos of confusion. When my life is chaotic and confused and destructive I fill up with a lot of ideas. I find that when my life is ordered and more disciplined a lot of the ideas that I’d drawn into myself, come out. I think there’s a lot of pain and unhappiness in my confused and destructive side but there’s a lot of genuine happiness and joy that is in the other side and when I’m writing, it’s when I’m elated and happy. It’s something I have to work on, but I think the process I’m going through is coming to terms with both sides of my personality, understanding them and making Dead Of Night Demons work for me in a way, giving that side of my character its due respect and try not to deny that it exists.”

Where any of the songs written with your collaborators in mind?

“Yes they were. ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ was written very much with Kylie (Minogue) in mind. I’d wanted to write a song for Kylie for many years. I’ve had quite an obsession with her for the last six years and written several songs for her, none of which I felt were appropriate to give to her. It was only when I wrote ‘WTWRG’, which is a dialogue between a killer and his victim, that I thought I’d finally written a song for Kylie to sing. With the song itself, I think that our society is a very angular place to live. It’s a rational place to live, and I think love and compassion are the things that defy rationality and so anything can happen. I think that’s the great, wonderful thing about love. In regards to Polly (PJ Harvey), I wanted to sing a song with Polly, but I really didn’t have anything in min in particular. I just thought, vocally, we could do something quite well together and the Henry Lee song seemed to be the right one. The thing that struck me about this album is that how easy it was, especially the work that we did with Kylie and with Polly as I was making a record that can’t be faulted, it can’t really be criticised in the sense that it was a ‘Murder Ballads’ record, it exists on its own and you either like it or you don’t. It’s not something you can compare to our last record for example, but it’s just something way out there on its own… something mischievous.”

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