I stared at Nick Cave for a few minutes, and then he burped. He was on the other side of my computer Nov. 14 answering questions, live, in an expectedly tense video conference with writers promoting his forthcoming 2014 North American tour, which stops in New Orleans in July.
Cave's sprawling career, whether as post-punk poet or waxed-mustache devil's carnival showman, has successfully avoided genre pigeon-holing and now exists sort of outside of everything. His most consistent works are with The Bad Seeds, whose upcoming live album Live from KCRW (out Nov. 29) follows this year's well-received studio album, Push the Sky Away.
The band offered live album tracks "The Mercy Seat" and "Mermaids" to alt-weekly papers — grab them here. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds will perform at the Mahalia Jackson Theater July 21, 2014. A 24-hour ticket pre-sale opens 10 a.m. on Nov. 20 on his website, and general sales open 10 a.m. Nov. 22.
Before the questions came firing at him with the speed of a racing snail, Cave asked an assistant off-camera how his hair looked (jet black and slicked way back, as usual). He sat against a backdrop of his album cover and wore a striped blue shirt and a black jacket while sipping a tea cup.
Here's what followed.
On his upcoming tour, which is eight months away:
I don’t know what we’re going to do. ... The sets change. The songs may be similar, the way in which they’re played vary greatly. I have absolutely no idea what the songs will be like in eight months.
On Barry Adamson's return to The Bad Seeds:
Thomas Wydlar, our drummer, got sick just before we were going on tour, which was sad. He played such beautiful drums on the record. I was really looking forward to performing these songs with him. We had to do a quick rethink of the lineup. Barry has always been a good friend of mine. I rang him and he jumped out to help up. ... (With George Vjestica), these two members changed the dynamic of the whole thing considerably.
On playing "the hits":
Some songs tend to be infinitely playable. They reveal something new. Some songs don’t have that capacity. They sound fine on record. ... You feel them die after a few plays. Other songs seem to have so much meaning bubbling underneath the surface of the songs. They just regenerate themselves.
Songs to me are kind of memory machines. ... The purpose of them to me on some level is to aid my memory. ... They’re very effective ways of being thrown back to earlier times. When I sing the songs on stage, I’m very much engaging with memory and with the emotions involved in those memories.
I can reconvene with the ghosts of my past in some way. (long pause) That can be a beautiful thing.
What the songs mean to other people is a completely subjective thing. It’s whatever they get out of it that’s important. ... The words seem to be a kind of patina that hopefully is able to open up and let different meanings, I guess, different feelings break through the words.
On his changing voice:
It’s changed a lot. It’s deeper. It’s more versatile. My intonation, my famously individualistic intonation, is better. Sometimes I hear myself on stage and it sounds almost enjoyable to listen to rather than fill myself with absolute horror over the years.
On finding inspiration while maintaining creative momentum:
Not so sure inspiration has much to do with it. ... I tend to leap into things and hope for the best, and I work. I work pretty hard.
On Mick Harvey's absence from The Bad Seeds:
Suddenly all this space left behind without the guitar. ... The more we listened to what we recorded we felt it really worked with that constant space-eating thing, the rhythm guitar.
On whether he agrees with the phrase "if it takes more than 20 minutes, you’re doing it wrong”:
Leonard Cohen certainly didn’t say that. ... They’ve never poured out of me. each song is a difficult and painful birthing experience, not that I know what the birthing experience is like. ... But I assume it’s painful.
On whether the cultural attention span has shortened:
I don’t know. What was the question again? Speaking of short attention spans.
(Note: Here, he asks for a banana. He is brought a a croissant.)
It’s difficult to be individual. With the Internet and opportunities of the Internet, it’s allowed everybody to get involved with the making of music. This can be a great thing, but it also is very difficult for individual voices to rise up out of that. It’s harder than maybe it used to be.
On Lou Reed's death:
How about ask me another question while I’ve got a mouth full of croissant.
On what he'd like in his obituary:
(shakes head, throws up hands) I don’t really care about that.
... and back to Lou Reed:
We’ve lost a great deal with his passing. ... Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about this and I’ve talked to the members about this and everybody feels a huge loss with his passing. The thing about Lou for me, it isn’t something where I look back at the early records and think what an amazing body of work, but about how Lou’s life lived … how challenging it was, how polarizing it was, how exciting it was. It’s a huge loss.
I don’t think there’s a musician around certainly from my generation that hasn’t been touched in a big way.
On the importance of faith in his songs' characters:
The idea of faith is important in my songwriting for sure. ... Because it’s an imaginative world. ... It’s an absurd world and a hysterical world and a violent world. ... In this absurd world God exists. That’s not to say that I believe that when I come out into the real world. ... Within the context of my songwriting and the scenarios that play out … the idea of God is important.
On his experience shooting the autobiographical film 20,000 Days on Earth:
Horrible. ... I hate the process.
On what his perfect audience looks like:
I like an attentive audience that isn’t looking through an iPhone. ... I like a playful audience. I get a lot from… especially the front row. I’m a kind of front row performer. It’s about the tension I can see, the first few rows, that kind of empower me on stage, rather than looking out at the mass. ... I get a lot of power and energy from the almost 1-to-1 performances of people. ... If they’re looking through an iPhone it makes it more difficult. Everybody’s got a camera these days, including myself.
(Note: After he is told there are no questions remaining, he selects one from a pile of papers in front of him. It asks whether he agrees with journalists calling his latest persona a "dirty old man.")
I don’t really trust questions from journalists with “some people said." .... It shows a lack of courage. ... Hide their questions behind the opinions of other people.
I guess the phrase is being used because I’m old and they wouldn’t use it when I was younger because I was young ... There’s a lot of problems with that question. ... Older men of a certain age not allowed to have sexual feelings. ... I certainly don’t write enough songs to pick and choose what I use and what I don’t use. ... If there’s a sexual element to those songs, so what? (laughs)
On whether he'd consider moving to Louisville, Ky.:
You’ve got enough icons. You don’t need another one.
Although I’ll ask my wife. Kentucky. (laughs) Maybe.