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Nick Cave & Co. open the debate on love, sex, sexism


Australian singer Nick Cave performs during his "Solo show" in Malaga, southern Spain, April 22, 2007. REUTERS/ Jon Nazca
Australian singer Nick Cave performs during his "Solo show" in Malaga, southern Spain, April 22, 2007. REUTERS/ Jon Nazca

By Sarah Jaffe

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Australian post-punk hero Nick Cave has skipped from project to project during his 37-year career, but he's always maintained his pasty-faced, black-clad persona. An especially dark and sexual vibe runs through the latest album by his band Grinderman.

Cave and drummer Jim Sclavunos spoke to Billboard about "Grinderman 2," due September 14 on Mute.

Billboard: Does the release of the new album help establish Grinderman as more than a side project?

Jim Sclavunos: It never was a throwaway (or) a side project --it's been more of an offshoot than a side project.

Nick Cave: We made two albums, (which is) more than some fully fledged bands.

Sclavunos: It was pretty natural because we had been doing this Nick Cave solo thing, which was basically Nick and Warren (Ellis) going out and doing smaller arrangements of Bad Seeds songs, and from that it started taking on its own momentum. Marty (Casey) and I joined and gave the whole operation a bit of balls.

It got to a point where it started upsetting audiences in Germany. They had come for an intimate evening with Nick Cave and they got their heads ripped off.

These other elements started getting introduced into those songs that hadn't been there before, and there was kind of an aggressive edge to the whole thing. There were certain ideas that were floating around, especially with Warren, that weren't finding a place in the Bad Seeds, so it made sense to have an outlet for that. And Grinderman was eventually what that outlet became.

Billboard: Carrie Brownstein, on her NPR blog, wrote that the rise of bearded indie rockers was a harbinger of a lack of danger in rock music. You're known for epic facial hair and for making some pretty dangerous rock 'n' roll. Where do those notions of masculinity and danger fit for you?

Cave: What we're trying to do is to make original music that's based on improvisation, and within that explore themes as men in the autumn or winter of their lives, trying to make music that has a sexuality to it. But within that sexuality it has all the bubbling neuroses and terror and violence that run through the heads of men of our age and distinction.

It's different than pretty much anybody out there. We're talking about something else with our music. We're dealing with issues that are much more complex, much more difficult, much more dangerous and problematic. And some people get that and some people don't.

Sclavunos: Some people see it in a much simpler way. They look at a surface aspect of it.

Cave: For sure, "No Pussy Blues" isn't the most subtle concept in the world, but it is actually a very pertinent issue among men. And had a huge positive response, that someone actually wrote a song like that. Because most rock music is about the opposite.

Sclavunos: It's not like we're Mr. Sensitive either. It's full of neurosis and rage and unacceptable social behavior and things that --

Cave: Go bump in the night.

Sclavunos: It's not like some bearded guy who's got all of his weakness on his sleeve, it's not that kind of neurosis. It's more like an aggressive statement of it.

Billboard: Are some people put off by that?

Sclavunos: Is there something really that offensive about it? I don't think there is. If you just take it as it's a human being who's got, you know, needs.

Cave: It doesn't objectify women. There is a directness. We're adults. We talk about sex openly.

Sclavunos: There's nothing wrong with sex, is there? Or not getting sex. Or expressing frustration that one's not getting it.

Billboard: This album seems a little less sexually aggressive than the first Grinderman release, and the women seemed to get, if not revenge, a little more of the spotlight.

Cave: Yeah, but that's not a turnaround. That's just a different way of looking at the same subject matter that I've always looked at. Because we actually are addressing certain subjects about masculinity, about what it is to be a man in this day and age when men have largely been emasculated. We're opening the debate. And no one else is. Or very few other people. And we're the ones who are accused of being sexist. Or misogynistic.

There are songs -- there's "When My Baby Comes" -- well, it's a very multilayered, very complex song, to say the least. There are lots of things going on in that song.

Sclavunos: But if you want to isolate details from it, you can say that's an offensive image. Does that make it instantly misogynist? No.

Billboard: In another interview, you mentioned that you were told not to write songs about God or love on the first Grinderman record. Did you give yourself any limitations like that this time?

Cave: Warren suggested I should avoid those subjects, meaning that I should go somewhere else from what people would expect from a Bad Seeds record. Of course, that's impossible. That wasn't really a rule, it was a suggestion.

Sclavunos: It was a good starting point.

Cave: If you took love out of the equation, I wouldn't know what else to write about. But I think mostly for me, I write violent lyrics. Even the most beautiful love lyrics that I write are always for me seen through a prism of violence. They're either violent or there's kind of an absence of violence.

Sclavunos: Or even a foreboding of violence. Even "Rock of Gibraltar" has kind of a hint of ominousness, when it's doing the ascending chords and stuff.

Cave: There are songs that are a conversation between men and women, and sometimes they're done in a field of bluebells and there are these delicate exchanges, but you're right, somewhere in the background there's a storm brewing.

I remember going to a psychiatrist for a while and she used to have this picture of this little girl on her wall, who was sitting in a chair. It's a really sweet little picture, but she's leaning back in the chair and the chair is just sort of dangling between going that way and going this way. I didn't last that long, but after a couple of sessions I started to feel that this was a really disturbing sort of image because this girl, she's going to fall off the chair. It just ends up the point of view that you look at things.

Billboard: Nick, since you're sporting a Mickey Mouse pendant, can you talk about the song "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man" on the new record?

Cave: That particular song to me is about the kind of origins of extremism, terrorism. Of envy and isolation. Mickey Mouse represents the weaker, feminine, comic side of us, and the big bad wolf is the masculine side.

We've done a video (for the song that) is illustrated by a woman, Ilinca Hopfner -- she's just out of art school -- who did an animated, black-and-white video of a Bad Seeds song and sent it to me. It's an extraordinary thing, and she did it by hand. I rang her up and asked her if she would do this Grinderman song, and she has done this incredible job of it. Her drawings are really gorgeous things, and she's now illustrated all the songs and they're in a booklet that comes with the CD.

Sclavunos: It's quite fitting that that song has an animated video because the yin-yang extremes there of the two brothers are Mickey Mouse and the big bad wolf; those are kind of cartoonish characters, so it all fits in very nicely.

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