Nick Cave Sings the Blues

Fiery singer plays up his funny side

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.