Nick Cave should be approached with trepidation: He can be a bit crabby (in New York City last summer, he was witnessed upending a tray of carefully toothpicked backstage cold cuts and screaming, "Ghastly!") and he has in the past been less than truthful in interviews, telling people that he was born with a tail, for instance. But Cave is also a charmer – witty, well spoken and well read. He and his band, the Bad Seeds, have recently released their ninth album, the critically hailed Let Love In, and are a not-to-be-missed act at Lollapalooza. Best not to be in the piercing booth when they come on.
What do you think of the whole Lollapalooza concept?
I must say that I find our band at odds with the whole thing. We just perform much better in more intimate situations. And I feel like I should apologize in some way to any fans who actually have come to see us, the handful that there are, to have to see us under these conditions, really.
How has the audience reaction been to you and the band?
Sometimes there just seems to be a giant question mark hanging over everybody's head. But I don't want to come across as negative about it – I'm not. I don't look at it with disgust or anything, or I wouldn't be doing it.
What aspect of Lollapalooza has compelled you the most so far?
We've had a pretty good time with L7. We've bonded, as you say over here.
You've said the words to your song "Thirsty Dog" were so harsh you were even debating releasing the song. Do the words still make you flinch?
I tell you what makes me flinch a bit is when certain lines are pulled out in reviews of it. I think, "Fuck, did I really write that?"
I find it hard to believe that you ad-libbed in the song "Red Right Hand."
That's quite true. One of my great talents is ad-libbing, I have to say. I had the title, and basically I knew what I wanted to sing about, and it was a matter of just going in and putting it down. There's certain lines in there, obviously, that aren't off the top of my head, but there's ones in there that definitely are. Aren't I incredible?
Tell me, what should every high-school kid read?
They should read the Bible, they should read Lolita. They should stop reading Bukowski, and they should stop listening to people who tell them to read Bukowski.
Do you really go to karaoke bars?
I have, yeah. On occasion I've staggered up there and embarrassed myself. Particularly in New York – it's one of those types of places you know you shouldn't really go in, but you do anyway.
What do you sing?
"Blueberry Hill," that sort of thing.
Do you get sent a lot of movie scripts?
Yeah. I get tons of them. I read all of them that I get, and on the very rare chance that I'm ever actually excited by one of them, it generally never gets made. I'm quite open to act. I'll just wait for that appropriate script.
Is there any movie you've seen that you would have liked to have been in?
I wouldn't have minded sort of being cast in Short Cuts. I thought that was a great film. But it probably would have been a lesser film if I had been in it. I can't act, that's my problem. That's my big secret.
Oh, now, come on. What do you think is the most alarming trend in music today?
What really excites me is music done by individuals who are basically trying to articulate their own personae, so it's music that's made by eccentrics, it isn't really designed to relate to a mass of people. I'm talking about Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits or Van Morrison. People who aren't really making music in order to provide a voice for a generation. What I find the most alarming is groups that are attempting to articulate the voice of a generation rather than their own – what's going on inside of them.
On to family life. You said once that you think you're a good father to your son. What is a good father?
Being fairly relaxed around him, honest with him, not trying to hide much. Trying to give him room to breathe, look after him, spend as much time as I can with him.
Will you see him during the tour?
It depends. I mean, he's not going to come on the Lollapalooza tour. I don't want him seeing his dad playing to nobody.
How old is he, not to get too personal?
He's 3. That's not too personal.
Some people get prickly answering kid questions.
I love kid questions.
All right, then! What's a present you've bought him recently?
I kind of fax drawings to him on a daily basis just to remind him that he actually does have a father. I buy him a lot of books, which sounds sort of awful, but it's what he wants.
Was there a book beloved by you when you were small that you will give to him?
I did have one which is called The Fairy Tale Tree – this is getting really awful now. . .
– that my father bought for me when I was very young, which is a huge book of strange tales. I think it's at my mother's house, and l'll have to dig it out. [Pauses] This is bad copy, come on.
What, are you kidding me? This stays in. OK! Here's a left fielder. If you could hang out with Jesus Christ or the devil for one day, who would it be?
For me, Jesus Christ is one of the most enigmatic and exciting characters around. It would be more than a privilege to spend a day with him.
What would you do?
I'd just kind of listen to him and try and pick up a few tricks of his trade. They'd come in very handy.
You didn't even hesitate with your answer.
Well, of course not. I wouldn't have a clue what to do with the devil.