I did the following interview with Nick Cave over the phone in 1994 for the now defunct Juice Magazine in Australia. He was just about to release Let Love In, still one of my favourite records by him. Given Cave's recent revival of form with his Grinderman project and the way it seems to have energised his newest record Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! with The Bad Seeds, I thought it was well worth revisiting Let Love In era Nick Cave. Let Love In is full of vitality, even joy - or at least wild humour - in a typically skewed and erotically dark Nick Cave way. Our conversation about the record and life in general was free and easy, almost careless at times. I'd been up all night before we spoke and was basically in a don't-give-a-fuck-who-I-am-talking-to-or-what-I-say mood, without wanting that to seem like I was being unfriendly or that I was unprepared. I've seen this interview get posted around the net a bit and my interviewing 'style' get criticized. But I know Cave and I had fun talking. Sometimes it just rolls off the tongue...
Mordue: Could you describe for us a favourite walk you take in Sao Paolo, Brazil?
Cave: Well, I make my favourite walk daily. Which is up to my local bar. Out the door, up the street, past the junkyard where the chickens and the old junkyard dog sits. And up a steep hill to my favourite bar, SanPedro's. There's this giant barman there who is the fattest guy I've ever seen. He is constantly described by locals as a huge woman, but he's a man with a moustache. He looks more like a giant baby to me. I sit there and read, drink, and contemplate the meaning of life. Then I walk back down.
M: So what were you reading at the time of Let Love In? I was wondering about literary influences on the lyrics.
C: I draw influences from everywhere, in terms of a line that will excite me - and maybe a song will develop out of it. It can often come from the worst airport novel you could ever find. It doesn't necessarily have tobe good literature to be inspiring. I couldn't tell you what I was reading at the time. I read three, four books a week.
M: 'Let Love In' is a very positive and celebratory statement.
C: It's supposed to be. There isn't much irony in it, although people have expressed that interpretation of the title. It's the idea of letting love in and experiencing what love has to give. It's not necessarily allgood - but it's all worthwhile.
M: What about the lines in the first single, Do you Love Me? "I stacked all accomplishments beside her/Yet they seemed so obsolete and small."
C: Yet I seemed so obsolete and small... Well, I feel that way. That's a very personal song, actually. It's a nice line, I think.
M: Later you say, "Do you love me?/Like I love you?" I think when two people are trying to get along, in a way they are trying to make love be the same. But that is the big miscommunication.
C: Yeah, yeah, that sounds okay. (Laughs) I was really going to try not to go into what the songs are about. I did that with Henry's Dream and I always regretted it.
M: How come?
C: I think it demystifies everything. It's like an actor talking about his role in a film. If he does a good job of acting it, you don't need him sitting there on some entertainment program talking about what his character is supposed to be. I always find that immensely irritating. I just didn't want to have to spell out the songs, that's all I'm trying to say.
M: I'm not necessarily asking that of you. I'm just interested in using them as points to leap off into discussion. Jangling Jack really jumped out at me as the album's sing-a-long track.
C: That was written very quickly. And I hope it sounds like it. It's about an Englishman going to America and getting shot. It's my little ode to America. I deliberately wanted it to be as throwaway and as short as possible. So the only way I could record the song was if I could make it in under three minutes. We had to pare it down and down and down. It's about two minutes, fifty. It's just a hateful little track about a certain aspect of America which disgusts me.
M: In Jangling Jack I also got an impression of you hating a man being cool and excessively confident.
C: Well Jangling Jack isn't the object of hatred in it. It's the guy who kills him actually... It's just a quick, throwaway song.
M: Loverman was the other song that I got into. When my friend and I were listening to it, he described it as 'a real togs-off rock & roll song'.
C: (Laughs) I don't know about a 'togs-off rock & roll song'. Very briefly, it's about a guy or person destroyed by his life, feeling that he can become something if he is rejuvenated by the object of his desire. It'sa flailing mess of a song. And of course he can't be.
M: So you don't think a woman can redeem a lost man?
C: (Laughs) I think it's a myth, but who knows?
M: I like the incantation at the end: "I am what I am what I am..." It reminded me of some cartoon character.
C: I think it's Popeye: "I am what I am what I am".
M: I love the simplicity of the opening to She's Nobody's Baby Now, where you talk about trying to "unravel the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Saviour". It made me wonder about the first time you had a notion of what Jesus was in your life? And then maybe you rejected that in your upbringing?
C: You want me to talk about that?
M: Yeah, if you could.
C: Well, the line is in a verse in which someone is trying to work outwhy he isn't with a woman anymore. But at some point along the way I had some vague religious notions about things. I still read the Bible a lot.And I still think that Jesus Christ is an extremely enigmatic and exciting figure. But I can't really get my teeth around the resurrection and thevirgin birth. I mean, I just can't believe that. I look at him objectively these days.
M: So you don't find yourself becoming more religious?
C: I don't find myself becoming religious at all.
M: A song that made me laugh was Lay Me Low, about when you die. And the cavalcade of cars and the six page feature articles that will be written. It made me wonder if you ever fantasised about having one of your songs played at your own funeral?
C: No, I don't. I've never thought about it.
M: Never thought about a song in particular? Or never thought about dying?
C: I've thought about dying. Everyone has thought about dying! But no, I haven't made a list of songs I want played at my funeral. I haven't written all my good songs yet, so that would be a bit premature. I'm not planning on dying in the near future.
M: Is Let Love In a breakthrough for you?
C: Every record has its difficulties. Mostly for me it's in the actual writing of the songs, and this was equally difficult. There was as much panic and fear that I wouldn't have it done as there was with any other record. But once the songs were recorded it fell together so easily. And I believe that is because we worked with people we knew, and who understood our work. Especially Tony Cohen, the guy who produced it with me. We knew that we were doing something that was going to be good. Right from the early stages, the foundations of the record were really strong. We didn't relax at any point, but we could play around with stuff a lot more. And it was a lot more of a creative experience than the last one (Henry's Dream).
M: Tony Cohen must be amazingly talented - producing the Cruel Sea's The Honeymoon is Over, Dave Graney's Night of the Wolverine, and now this. He apparently brings out the best in people.
C: He has an understanding. He knows what to do, and gets on with it. And he's great with sounds. He enjoys making offensive records, I think. He just enjoys it. It's not a job to him.
M: There's a real energy to this record, more so than for a long time. I wonder if you wanted to come out towards your audience more, and seduce them, invite them in at the same time? Some of your records aren't easy to approach, but there's something inviting and playable about Let Love In.
C: With Henry's Dream I wanted to make an incredibly aggressive record with acoustic instruments - a raw, nasty record. And it isn't that. It's basically a rock record - and not much more - and that's not what I wanted to make at all. Let Love In has a wide range of song styles, there isn't such a concrete idea about it. The songs are joined very close together lyrically. But musically it's quite diverse.
M: Have you gone through times when you've thought, "Is my talent slipping? Are things falling apart? Do I have the strength to be the kindof performer that I used to be?" And with these questions, were you looking to refocus your power with Let Love In?
C: I've always gone through that feeling. I've always been in a panic about these issues. Right from The Birthday Party. I used to approach each record with a great fear - that it wouldn't be accomplished enough or whatever. And it continues. It's always very difficult for me to write songs, and I don't expect that will ever change.
M: Why is it so difficult? The image, in spite of the songs having their work, is that they do pour out.
C: Or fall out of the sky? Well, they don't. It takes me ages, months, to write a song. Occasionally I get what I describe as 'given' a song, where you just suddenly find you've written a song and you don't knowhow or where it comes from, but it sounds okay. Normally, songs take a very long time to write, and a lot of consideration. With the artwork for this record, behind the actual lyrics I've tried to put various pages from the working process of the songs. They're like a backdrop to each lyric, showing how much writing goes on. Some of them have ten, twenty verses, to end up being a three verse song. I'm always very finicky about that side of things. Probably too finicky. I guess that's a strength and a weakness at the same time.
M: There is such a thing as letting your conversational expression tell the story that needs to be told, and forgetting about the style or technique.
C: Yeah. I Let Love In is like that. And Red Right Hand was almost completely improvised at the moment of actually singing it. But the other ones, like the two Do You Love Me’s took ages to write. I don't think any one song is better than the other. I just think you have to get to a point, one way or another.
M: Currently I'm perfecting hunching over at the right moment on Loverman and singing along to it, or doing "Do-da-de-doo" down the street to Jangling Jack. I really do love this record, I think it's a beauty.
C: I love it too. I'm really very happy with it. I've survived in Sao Paolo for two months now. Usually by the end of the first month, because I just sit here and do nothing really, I'm champing at the bit to get out and start working again. Which is a basic panic thing that I get into. But here I am, sitting back with this, because I feel like I've really done something worthwhile with this record.
- Mark Mordue