Nick Cave Sings the Blues - Rolling Stone
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Nick Cave Sings the Blues

Fiery singer plays up his funny side

“I just get up and go to work,” singer Nick Cave says
matter-of-factly. “I’m very superstitious about the whole writing
process. I feel if I don’t carry on going into the office on a
daily basis and write songs, it’s all going to go away. And then
what would I do with my life?”

Cave will release the fruits of his daily labor as the twin
albums Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, on October
26th. He and his band, the Bad Seeds — who, in the wake of
guitarist Blixa Bargeld’s departure, welcomed organist James
Johnson — recorded the albums in typical improvisatory style,
hunkering down in a Paris studio to capture their live sessions.
The records are split sonically: Abattoir Blues is all
fire and brimstone, featuring propulsive arrangements and sultry
organ, while The Lyre of Orpheus is more subdued. Both
albums sparkle with Cave’s trademark wit, his lyrics teeming with
literary allusions, and his band’s elaborate orchestrations.

On Abattoir Blues you address God and
spirituality in a number of songs, but you do so with a really dark
sense of humor.

Yeah, I consider myself to be first and foremost a comic writer.
The way I entertain myself — especially in those long and grim
hours in the office — is to write stuff I find funny. That’s not
to say my songs are not addressing serious concerns and things that
are very meaningful to me. But a necessary part of it to me is the
humor.

Your reputation is somewhat darker.

I’m a funny guy. The people who say that I write dark songs are
just people who haven’t actually listened to the records . . . I
don’t write happy songs. Who does? I don’t know anybody who writes
happy songs, really . . . I guess pop songs are usually happy songs
but I’m not writing pop songs. I don’t see them to be miserable
songs. Or nihilistic songs even. They’re songs with a lot of heart
and a lot of belief in beauty.

What about “Nature Boy”? That seems sweet.

Yeah, that is a lovely, little pop song [laughs]. The
first verse, which deals with me as a child, is a true story. I was
at my grandmother’s place in Melbourne watching the news on TV with
my father and seeing the attempted assassination of George Wallace,
and I was really shaken by that because I knew it was the real
thing. [My father] said, “Yes, there is that, but there are other
things in the world as well,” which seemed to me like a reasonable
observation. Which is why I get upset sometimes when my music is
dismissed as being miserable stuff: I am primarily concerned with
my music being some kind of antidote to the misery of the world. My
music has to do with beauty, and it’s intended to, if not lift the
spirits, then be a kind of a balm to the spirits.

The title track of The Lyre of Orpheus is a
re-casting of the Orpheus story. Wasn’t it Orpheus who lulled
everybody with his music?
Yeah. “Why the stones weep”
[laughs] . . . It’s a comic song. I rhyme Orpheus with
orifice. It just sort of amused me to write. It did spring from my
dear friend and co-Bad Seed Warren Ellis buying a mandolin and
sticking it through an amp and a distortion pedal and playing this
music that did make the stones weep in agony. And he created this
really excruciating sound, this really beautiful sound. And I guess
I embellished it a little and turned it into “The Lyre of
Orpheus.”

How did you decide to split the record in
two?

The drummers. We have two drummers. We have a really heavy
drummer and a light, jazzy drummer. That’s how we split it up . . .
Once we realized that they actually played on fifty percent of the
songs, it suddenly made sense. I see it as two separate records in
that you only have to listen to one of them to understand that
particular record. Double records can be a little overwhelming. You
buy them and you’re like, “Fuck, there’s like twenty songs I have
to wade through to see where my favorite artist is coming from.”
So, listen to one of them and don’t listen to the other one for
another year . . . Then there will be another one waiting for
you.

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