Nick Cave: Songs are memory machines

Categories: Interview
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Photo by Bleddyn Butcher

Over nearly four decades, Nick Cave has been far from a typical rock star. His ever-changing artistic whims have colored music -- from the Birthday Party, to Grinderman, to his work backed by the Bad Seeds -- that is only tied together by its brooding passion. His last couple years have been focused on the 2013 studio album Push the Sky Away, and a new live album, Live From KCRW.

Before Saturday's show at State Theatre with the Bad Seeds, here are some of the highlights of Nick Cave's recent teleconference interview -- including two of Gimme Noise's questions -- answered thoughtfully and a touch acerbically.

See Also:
Grinderman at First Avenue, 11/23/10

Here are my two questions, and Nick's responses, to start things off:

Gimme Noise: You've reworked some familiar songs on this new KCRW live album, as you frequently do in a live setting -- Does reimagining these songs help you reconnect with the emotions that initially inspired them, while also imbuing the new versions with your own current thoughts about the characters and the stories they convey?

Nick Cave: Songs, to me, are kind of memory machines. And the purpose of them, to me on some level, is to aid my memory. And they are very effective ways of being thrown back to earlier times. When I sing these songs on stage, I'm very much engaging with memory, and, as the questions says, with all of the emotions involved in those memories. I don't know if I answered that question, but that's an answer for something.

How important a role does faith, or the lack of it, play in these musical journeys that you send your characters on and where you leave them in the end?

I don't really understand that question [laughs]. The idea of faith is certainly important in my songwriting for sure. Because it's an imaginative world. It's an absurd world that I'm writing about -- it's an hysterical world, it's an absurd world, it's a violent world. And in this absurd world, God exists. That's not to say that I believe in that when I come out into the real world. I have a respect for the idea that we can, as human beings, invent things that are greater than ourselves. So within the context of my songwriting and the scenarios that play out within my songs, the idea of God is very important.

And here are a sampling of questions and responses from throughout the rest of the press conference, including Nick's ruminations on Lou Reed, who passed away a short time before the teleconference.

With the evolution of the band's sound over the years, is it still enjoyable to play 'the hits' from the early years? Does playing live give new life to the songs?

It really depends on the night. There are some songs that just seem to be infinitely playable, they always reveal something new. And some songs just don't have that capacity. They sound fine on record, and you go out and play them live and you feel them die after a few plays. There are other songs that seem to have so much meaning that is bubbling underneath the surface of the words and of the song, that they just regenerate themselves. Songs like "The Mercy Seat," which we've played at every concert since I wrote the thing, just has that capacity to do that.

Some of the songs from Live at KCRW are from The Boatman's Call. Have these songs changed in meaning for you over time? And does it surprise you that people are still talking about the meaning of all these songs and that album a decade-and-a-half later?

The meaning of the songs is not so important to me. It's more where the songs actually take me, and to the places that they take me. I can reconvene with ghosts of my past in some kind of way. That can be quite a beautiful thing. What the songs mean to other people is a completely subjective thing, and it's whatever they can get out of it that I guess is important. For me, the meanings of the songs are not so important. The words seem to be a kind of padlock that hopefully opens up different meanings or different feelings that break through the words.



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2 comments
John Kim
John Kim

In the slim chance that anyone is looking at this and needs tickets, I have two tickets that I need to unload and am willing to sell for under face value.

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