On a break from touring with his band, the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave is in the midst of a short, unconventional solo tour where he's holding open-forum AMAs with audiences in a few select cities. At the New York installment of the trek, which has been dubbed 'So, What Do You Want to Know?' the singer fielded questions and played music for nearly three hours.
Sitting on a barstool, Cave gave detailed answers to questions that ranged from the personal, such as his grieving after the death of his son, Arthur, to ones about the minutiae of songwriting. In between it all, he performed 15 selections from the Bad Seeds' repertoire by himself on a grand piano. Here are nine things we learned from the conversation.
1. He's not declaring a Jack White–style war on cell phones anytime soon.
"I have no problem with phones, even at gigs," said Cave. "It's a battle we tried to fight, and we lost. One of the great things that's come out of the constant use of phones at our concerts is the photographs [people] are taking are just fucking extraordinary. They're really creating a new type of rock & roll photography. I've never seen the sorts of photographs of myself taken these days by the fans because they're in these peculiar positions. They're either miles away and getting the grandeur of the whole thing, which photographers didn't do either, or they get really up close. As much as professional photographers saying this, because everyone's lives are in jeopardy because of technology in a way, the photographs are just incredible."
2. Kylie Minogue loves bangers!!
Recalling a tribute Cave recently wrote about the "Locomotion" singer (who duetted with Cave on the Australian Number Two hit "Where the Wild Roses Grow"), he remembered her texting habits. "The amount of exclamation marks she uses in a text ... it's fucking unbelievable. It's like the words are even broken up with exclamation marks. Each text is like this euphoric, agitated thing. She's brought the exclamation mark back into use. It was out for a long time because it was such a ridiculous thing." The audience laughed and Cave commented, "This is, like, turning into a Dave Chappelle comedy hour."
3. Cave is open to a reunion with estranged Bad Seed, and Einstürzende Neubauten frontman, Blixa Bargeld.
The German Industrial-music pioneer co-founded the Bad Seeds in 1983 with Cave and left the group 20 years later. Cave is hopeful they'll reunite someday. "I invited him back to play on Push the Sky Away, actually, and he was very happy just to come in and play some guitar," Cave said. "But he got ill and he didn't come. He is, as far as I'm concerned, always a member of the Bad Seed fraternity or whatever it is. The thing about Blixa is that he always brings something different to the process and has always been an incredible force in the studio, as well. It was a great blow to us to lose him, actually. … I miss him very much. I e-mailed him on his last birthday and I'm still waiting for a reply. But I do love him very much."
4. He stands by his decision to play Israel, despite uproar from musicians calling for boycotts over its conflict with Palestine.
"I don't know who here has a problem with us playing Israel," he said to a chorus of people shouting, "Nobody" and "No one." "See, that's even problematic in itself," he said to laughs. "There are a lot of people saying we did not do the right thing. Maybe not so many in the States, but in Europe certainly. And it really came down to that I just couldn't bring myself to use my music to punish my own fans for the nefarious behavior of their government. I won't do it to you guys, and it's very disturbing that there are a lot of musicians out there that feel that music is something to punish people with and I find that increasingly worrying. And I also find it worrying that many, many bands I talk to want to play Israel but it's just too fucking hard and they just don't want the shit. That disturbs me, too."
5. Connecting with audiences on the road helped him cope with the death of his son.
"Talking to the audience has actually been extraordinary healing for me," he said. "My son died and I thought that we would not really survive that – my wife and I. It didn't look good. And this film we just made [One More Time With Feeling] … the extraordinary thing about the film is you don't expect this from your own work that it will do you good – or at least I've always hoped it was of some help to other people – but this film had an extraordinary on both my wife and I in the sense that the response back to the film we got back on social media and people sending us letters was not so much in sympathy for us but it was people telling us their own stories. And it was suddenly very, very apparent to us that we were very much connected together as people by suffering and grief. There was just so many people that were grieving.
"This had a huge impact on us because it really brought home the transitory nature of our lives and how quickly they can go. … There is a feeling of incredible urgency for us to feel connected to the present moment and people around us, and that's what we got from playing live. There was a kind of contract between the band and the audience that was extremely powerful. It wasn't about sympathy, it wasn't even about support, it was about communal, collective transcendence from our own sense of suffering about things."
6. He's written an opera that is attracting quite an audience.
Asked if he would ever want to write a musical or an opera, it was a flat-out 'no.' "I'll stay away from musicals," he said to applause. "I wrote an opera actually. Fucking awesome. It's about the war, and I wrote all the words. It's called Shell Shock, and it's being put on in Paris and something like 25 heads of state are going along to see it. Trump and … literally, from what I gather they're all going to be watching it."
7. He became a Smiths fan late in life.
When a fan asked if he ever came around to any of the bands he'd written off in the Eighties, Cave named a few. The Cure and the Smiths," he said. "I just kept hearing songs [by the Smiths] and thinking, 'Fuck, that guy's a really good lyric writer. I thought I was the only one.'" The audience laughed. "So I'm glad I didn't know too much about the at the time because I think I would have given up, but [Morrissey] is a great, great writer. Strange man, but … a brave man."
8. Recording with Johnny Cash was an eye-opening experience.
"When I was asked to go into the studio and record with Johnny, I was terrified about what to record," he said. "We did this Hank Williams song ['I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry']. Johnny was really very, very ill. I was a bit early or he was a bit late, but when he came in he was unable to see. He had some problem with light and sight and diabetes and various ailments. I never met him before and he walked down the stairs with his hands out like, 'Are you there, Nick? Are you there?' And I was like, 'Fuck.' It's really like, 'How's this guy going to do anything?' It was really very shocking for me. And June Carter came down as well. And he just sat down with his guitar and it's one of those spine-chilling moments where he just started to sing and come alive in front of my eyes. It was really the most extraordinary thing. And he just sang really beautifully.
"And there's some criticism about those records I've heard that Rick Rubin was just wringing Johnny Cash out at the end of his life for these records, and it was anything but that. He could really see music, doing this incredible work of keeping someone attached to the world. And it was very, very inspiring to see. We did the first take of the song and I was very, very scared because of Johnny Cash's voice, and I thought, 'How could I sing with this incredible voice? The gravitas of this voice?' We did a version of the song and Rick Rubin goes, 'Oh, we're gonna have to do that again.' And I went, 'Aw fuck, I'm flat right?' And he went, 'Nope, Johnny's flat.'"
9. He's done writing movies.
Although Cave has written a few well-received movies, including The Proposition (2005) and Lawless (2012), he's finished with Hollywood. "I've given up screenwriting," he said. "I just said that – I'd been thinking about it for a long time, but now it's official. It's just a fucking dog's job. Does anyone here write screenplays? Don't. You're really the bottom of the food chain. No one gives a fuck about your work. It's fucked around with by a bunch of men somewhere who don't know anything about anything. The film business is absolutely horrendous."