CAVE: It all connects me very much to that memory of Anita. That’s what I was talking about before. That’s what all the songs to me are largely about: memory. That’s why when I hear that our record’s been bought, that we’ve lost our catalogs to some multinational company—EMI—and then they sold them to somewhere else, and there’s someone there that’s looking at the figures and seeing whether they should delete this record, you know, whether it’s worth it even being manufactured anymore … It is terrifying.
DOMINIK: Do you think there’s any danger of that?
CAVE: Oh, yeah, for sure.
DOMINIK: Well, Bella [Heathcote, Dominik's partner] got up this morning and bought the entire Bad Seeds back catalog.
CAVE: Did she? [laughs] Very good. You know the great thing about the internet is that it’s gonna save that. Maybe nobody’s making any money on it—I don’t really care about that aspect—but at least you can listen to pretty much any song I’ve ever done, or anybody’s ever done. And those songs’ fate isn’t at the whim of some fucking bean counter at EMI.
DOMINIK: Why did you get into being a musician?
CAVE: I was talking to my kids, actually—they’re 12—I remember being that age and deciding I wanted to be a painter. I went to school and really got into painting and learned all about art history. It was the one subject that I excelled at because I had a genuine interest in it. I went to art school and then failed second year. I just thought I was the fucking greatest painter in the world. I was—we all were—heavily influenced by Brett Whiteley, the Australian painter, or Francis Bacon. We were makin’ Bacon, as they say. But I wasn’t actually painting very much in my second year. I was more meeting people and hanging out with the other artists. Being in art school was just amazing.
DOMINIK: Film school was the same.
CAVE: I’d gone from this stultifying grammar school and suddenly I was considered to be a fag and all the rest of it, and I was amongst these artists. It was amazing, but I failed. So my only option was this band; it had just been this thing we did on the weekends …
DOMINIK: Did you have any anxiety about getting up and singing? Did you have any shyness about it?
CAVE: I do have huge anxieties about it, not shyness. Maybe it’s shyness …
DOMINIK: You do now?
CAVE: I always do, yeah.
DOMINIK: But you didn’t feel that last night when you played your gig …
CAVE: No, I didn’t. You know, it’s just a thing about the voice. Last night was a good night for me—at least vocally. Some nights it’s not good. I was the singer because I was the unmusical one—I didn’t play anything amongst a group of friends at school. I had a certain way about being on stage, I guess. And then I could sort of scurry through the door of punk rock with my voice.
DOMINIK: When did you start to take it seriously?
CAVE: I don’t know how to answer that question, but I do know the moment when I realized we were on to something. We’d made the Birthday Party record [Prayers on Fire, 1981] with the song “King Ink.” I remember really clearly listening to the record with Rowland S. Howard after it had come out. It was like, “There’s something going on there. That’s not like other people’s songs.” There was something going on narratively and musically that was kind of gelling in that song that was different—that not only surpassed our influences but raised its head or broke free of the influences that are so apparent on that earlier Boys Next Door [Cave's previous band] stuff.
DOMINIK: Rowland has said many times that it was fantastic to be in the Birthday Party, because he was in the best band in the world. They seemed like a thing that could explode at any moment. It kind of ended at the peak, right?
CAVE: Well, who knows where the peak was. But it ended very suddenly.
DOMINIK: Do you remember those times?
CAVE: I remember that there was a gig at a university or something like that, and this guy doing our publicity got all the record companies to come, and all these celebrities were there. It was a big showcase of the Birthday Party, and it was a night of absolute horror on every level. Tracy [Pew] had OD’d in the band room—we literally had to inject him with amphetamine to get him to wake up to get him on stage. Mick Harvey knocked me out on stage—there was some altercation with someone out front between me and the microphone stand and his head. And then Tracy kept falling over. And I think Rowland OD’d after the show. We got a big audience because of those sorts of gigs, I guess. [laughs] In a way, the Birthday Party set up something that we could react against for years to come. It was kind of a lovely force field that existed in people’s imaginations to propel the Bad Seeds’ career, where we could do different sorts of records. That kind of feeling of confusing or confounding the audience has always been one of those things that holds us together.
DOMINIK: Are you a contrary person by nature?
CAVE: There’s definitely a love of defending the indefensible. I’m sure you know that very well. [both laugh]
DOMINIK: Yeah. There’s a real joy that I feel in doing that, but much less as I get older.
DOMINIK: Do you find life is easier with a project to organize it around? Have you gone through periods of doing nothing?
CAVE: Yeah. After the first time I went into a rehab, I came out and did nothing for, like, eight months—didn’t write a song, didn’t do any touring, just was supposed to be getting clean. And I just sat in this room on my own. I lived with Evan English—do you know him? He’s a producer …
DOMINIK: Yeah. That would’ve been awful. [laughs]
CAVE: I think I was watching seven videos a day.
DOMINIK: Would you not go to meetings and all that stuff?
CAVE: No, I didn’t get into that whole scene. People would come over and I would just sort of sit there with the remote like some mad person. They would try to talk and I would just turn up the volume.
DOMINIK: Did you not have the feeling of being restored when you got clean? Any sense of joy?
CAVE: No. I just thought, Okay, this is what life is; this is the fucking hell.
DOMINIK: You were just white-knuckling it.
CAVE: Then someone decided to do a tour of Brazil … [laughs] I just walked out into the sunshine there, grabbed a beer, and fell in love on the second day. And just never went home—stayed in Brazil. So that was not doing anything.
DOMINIK: That’s the last time?
CAVE: Well, no. There were other times where I couldn’t do anything because I was so fucked up. But since I stopped taking drugs 14 years ago, I’ve just worked, worked, worked. And progressively so. You may not remember saying this, but we were talking about scriptwriting, and you said, “What the fuck are you doing that for?” It had quite an impact. When I got asked to write The Proposition, it was this really exciting thing. I didn’t know anything about scriptwriting, so it was really exciting to just write the story I wanted to write. Then I did Lawless—and I had written a couple in between them, which were fun, too—and was suddenly like, “Oh, I’m a scriptwriter. This is what scriptwriters do; they get their notes and dash out something and send it back.” Around that time was when you said, “Why do you do this?”
DOMINIK: I guess I knew you took songwriting really seriously and that you took screenwriting less seriously, but if it’s fun—
CAVE: And I think you also said, “Maybe you should hack it out.” [laughs]
DOMINIK: Look, I figured it would be unpleasant for you to have to be taking notes, because you don’t have to. So why do it? I mean, if you can make music …
CAVE: Yeah. But the problem with making music is that no one wants you to make more than one record every three years. It’s different now because of the internet and the whole collapse of the record industry. But back in those days, it fucked up their marketing schedule if you made a record every two years, let alone one every year. It just wasn’t enough work, so that’s why I started doing extracurricular activities like writing books and that sort of stuff.
DOMINIK: The other thing I wanted to ask you is whether you believe in god.
CAVE: Well, I believe in the idea more than the actuality. I think it’s a part of us as human beings that we search outside of ourselves for meaning. It’s a hugely endearing aspect of our characters as human beings, despite how corrupt and destructive some of those ideas can be. But whether I actually believe in a god, in the traditional sense? I don’t. Religion is an act of the imagination, but on some level, it can be seen as a kind of failure of the imagination, because the idea is not that great. The idea is as small as our collective imagination can be, if you know what I mean. I’ve got to say that the first thing that disappeared for me when I got clean was my belief in god. I was fucking crazy. Towards the end, I was waking up cold turkey and going to church, sick as a fucking dog. I’m sitting there sweating and listening to everything, and then trotting down to the golden road and scoring and getting back home and shooting up and going, “I’m living a well-rounded existence.” [both laugh] You know, a bit of this and a bit of that. So the first thing that went was that supposed spiritual need of that conventional kind. But I don’t know why we went from nothing to something.
DOMINIK: What do you mean?
CAVE: The origins of the world and all that sort of stuff. I guess we know the how with the Big Bang, but what exists behind that gives me a certain kind of vertigo, even getting my head around that.
DOMINIK: So it’s the stories.
CAVE: Personally I find the story of Christ incredibly moving. And the way that the Gospels were written—despite the kind of hell those stories unleashed upon the world, even to this day, I find those stories very powerful and moving.
[Kylie Minogue and a rep from her management company enter the restaurant]
DOMINIK: Hey, some fancy ladies.
KYLIE MINOGUE: Hey, how are you?
DOMINIK: God, you look beautiful. How are you? I’m wearing these because I’m deaf and blind from seeing the Bad Seeds last night.
CAVE: We’re doing an interview.
MINOGUE: And I come in just at the end?
DOMINIK: Yeah, you can make a cameo appearance.
CAVE: Why are you here?
MINOGUE: I’m recording.
CAVE: Are you making a record here?
MINOGUE: I’ve actually got a listening session. I’ve got to go back to play it for the label.
CAVE: Oh, really? They haven’t heard it?
MINOGUE: It’s nearly done.
[Tape recorder pauses, then comes back with Minogue and Dominik talking]
MINOGUE: Okay. So while Nick is away, rustling up a menu, I can tell you that few men have really been very influential in my career, but he’s one of them.
CAVE: Are you on?
DOMINIK: We were talking about you.
CAVE: How influential?
MINOGUE: Super-influential. I don’t want to embarrass you.
CAVE: It doesn’t embarrass me.
MINOGUE: It’s only good things. [laughs]
DOMINIK: So do you remember when you became aware of Nick Cave?
MINOGUE: Yeah. When Michael Hutchence [the late lead singer of INXS] said to me, “My friend Nick wants to do a record with you.”
DOMINIK: I remember Mick Harvey had been ringing me to try to find your number for Michele [Bennett, a former girlfriend of Hutchence's]. No, I think it was Mick rang me to get Michele to get Michael’s number.
MINOGUE: Wow, convoluted. So you spoke to Michael?
CAVE: I can’t remember. But anyway, Michael got spoken to [Minogue laughs], like, “Where’s Kylie? Because we want to ask her to sing.” And he goes, “She’s sitting right here.” You were at a hotel.
MINOGUE: Yes, maybe we were on holiday somewhere. Anyway, the message got passed, and then nothing happened for six years.
MINOGUE: When did we do “Where the Wild Roses Grow”?
CAVE: I thought you came straight away and did it.
MINOGUE: No, because we did that in the mid-’90s, and I was dating Michael in, like, 1990, ’91.
CAVE: Are you sure about that? Because I thought we talked to you and said we got this song.
MINOGUE: Yeah, but that was years later in Melbourne, where it came through Mushroom Records. You were signed on Mushroom for a bit, right?
CAVE: Suicide Records, which was a subsidiary.
MINOGUE: Somehow we were on the same label, and I was asked about it, and a CD was sent over with your vocals and Blixa’s. And then I called you, but you were out, so I left a message with your mum. I said to her, “Well, he can call me at my mum’s house.” [laughs] And then the first day I met Nick was in the studio, which was cool because—
CAVE: We were all sitting there on our best behavior.
MINOGUE: You’ve always been on your best behavior when you’re with me. But it was great because it was like you were directing me.
CAVE: You sang it first take and there was a little bit of warbling on the end of the notes. Then we just asked you to not—
MINOGUE: To not sing it so much.
CAVE: To not sing it so well.
MINOGUE: Almost talking singing, and very fragile.
CAVE: And then you sang it.
MINOGUE: I don’t know how many takes, but it was really fast.
CAVE: Two takes.
MINOGUE: Was it? [laughs]
CAVE: Legend has it.
ANDREW DOMINIK IS AN AUSTRALIAN SCREENWRITER AND DIRECTOR.