ROCK / At last, a comfortable Cave: The daunting front-man of the Birthday Party has mellowed into a songwriter fully at home with himself. Ben Thompson met him

WHATEVER else Nick Cave does, he will always stand out in a crowd. I know this because I saw him in one once; bowling along Kensington High Street in an immaculate pin-striped suit, foreign-language students scattering to the left and right of him. With his high forehead, his hair swept back and his finely wrought legs tapering with the sturdy elegance of a Chippendale cabinet, Cave looked more like a character in a book than someone you might actually talk to.

This was just as it should have been, because Cave is a very literary songwriter. It's not just that he has published a work of fiction, And the Ass Saw the Angel, which gave new meaning to the term 'Gothic novel'. It's also the feel of his songs: many are crowded with characters who might have wandered in from an ante-room in the mind of William Faulkner. Cave is also a compelling, sometimes scary performer. The Birthday Party, the group with which he came to prominence after moving to Britain from his native Australia, was possibly the most frightening spectacle rock music has ever produced. With his next band, the Bad Seeds, Cave has lovingly explored the darker sides of the country, gospel and rock traditions which he once seemed about to destroy.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' new album, Let Love In, is, amazingly, their ninth. It finds them not settled in a routine but breaking thrilling new ground. Cave's long-established flair for baroque imagery applies itself to a new set of personal concerns. The two-part 'Do You Love Me?', which frames eight other new songs, sets the intimate tone: 'Our love lines grew hopelessly tangled, and the bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle'. A Nick Cave scenario of old might have had him pursued by a big black crow in a bone carriage; now it's domestic demons he'll be running from.

Let Love In contains a couple of the brutal narratives for which Cave is widely celebrated, but there are also songs of such tender love and stately beauty that Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash would be proud of them. The lovely 'Nobody's Baby Now' is the most unashamedly romantic song Cave has written. His mordant wit has rarely been more to the fore either. On the hilariously sepulchral 'Lay Me Low' he looks forward to his own demise: 'They'll interview my teachers / Who'll say I was one of God's sorrier creatures.'

When you first meet him, it is a surprise to find the Cave visage isn't perpetually twisted into one of those Neanderthal grimaces that tend to adorn his album covers. 'I have a face that lends itself to distortion,' he observes drily. He's not wearing a suit either - charcoal pin-striped trousers are set off by an uncharacteristically cuddly olive-green pullover, borrowed from his Brazilian wife, Viv. 'I normally dress in suits,' he says, 'because I feel comfortable in them. I'm not wearing one today because I wanted to create a homely impression.'

Homely is not a word one associates with Cave, who is renowned for his nomadic lifestyle: flitting between Sydney, Berlin and Sao Paulo, buying another copy of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline in every city he comes to. He now finds himself in the unaccustomed position of family man and taxpayer, living in a suburban house on the wrong side of London's Westway with his wife and their son Luke. His writing environment, in which this interview takes place, is an elegantly converted garden shed. There are tidy shelves, a small collection of Brazilian naive art, a Kylie Minogue flight-bag, pictures of Karen Carpenter and crime-writer James Ellroy, and, in pride of place behind the computer, a signed photo of Evel Knievel.

Has Cave's citizen-of-the-world lifestyle had a great effect on his music? 'Not in terms of picking up sounds from other cultures, but definitely in terms of my psychological state. I don't think it's any coincidence that a lot of the characters I write about tend to be very rootless - always moving into or out of situations.'

Will it be hard to put that rootlessness behind him? 'I've enjoyed never having to be a part of society. On the other hand there is a negative side to it, which is that I don't actually feel a part of anything. I don't want to get too melodramatic about it, but I do think that I have a relationship with the world that isn't exactly healthy.'

Few would argue with this. Cave's fondness for the old country-and-western tradition of the murder ballad has given plenty of people the creeps over the years. 'What I think tends to happen,' he observes, with unnerving honesty, 'is that the characters that I invent harbour certain resentments or emotions that I have, but they are fictional so they can take those resentments to their logical conclusion.

'If you're going to write songs about how you live on a day-to-day basis, it's much harder to make them interesting and vivid.' This is the new challenge to which Cave has risen spectacularly, turning his unsparing eye away from the grisly screenplays of his imagination and on to his own personal circumstances. Did he feel at any point that he might have gone too far? 'Thirsty Dog', for example, is a song with a vaguely comic premise - 'someone sitting in a bar, getting drunker and drunker and apologising for everything' - but a lacerating pay-off: 'I'm sorry that I'm always pissed / I'm sorry that I exist / And when I look into your eyes / I can see you're sorry too.'

'There's something a little bit awful about exploiting your relationships for a set of song lyrics,' Cave admits, 'but at the same time, they're all I've got to write about. It is sometimes difficult for my wife, who I actually have quite a wonderful relationship with, but I think she's secure enough in it that she just rolls her eyes.'

Some of Cave's lyrics - 'A life sentence sweeping confetti from the floor of a concrete hole', from 'I Let Love In', for one - might chill the atmosphere of the most well-adjusted of breakfast tables, but the passion with which they are howled and hollered can only be a compliment. And 'Nobody's Baby Now' is perhaps the first song Cave has written which is, as he puts it, 'just beautiful - there is no monster lurking in the background'.

It's as if it's taken all this time for Cave to break free of the Birthday Party's malign force-field. The potency of his new-found romanticism must date in some way to the group's psychosis. I only saw them play once but the memory of a vicious maelstrom of negative energy lingers, along with a mental snapshot of a formidable punk rocker stepping gingerly to one side of the stage-front melee and saying 'I'm not going in there, it's dangerous.'

I'd always wondered if the Birthday Party's savagery was fuelled by disappointment at Britain not living up to its expectations. 'Absolutely,' Cave remembers. 'We were the archetypal bored Australian teenagers with nothing to do but get drunk and take drugs and smash phone booths. We used to dream about what England would be like.

'Some of my friends used to buy the NME and look at what you could do on a Saturday night: 'Oh if we were in England we could go to see Echo and the Bunnymen or the Teardrop Explodes'. We came to England with all these grand expectations of the place and, as you can imagine, the reality of it was very different. We had no money and nowhere to live. It was the middle of winter and all those groups we wanted to see were actually shit anyway. We became very frustrated very quickly.'

As if that wasn't enough, they found themselves 'openly ridiculed for being Australian and attempting to make music as Australians'. Was that why they turned nasty? 'Very much so. We just hated England so much that the Birthday Party became an exercise in venting our frustrations . . . We had a licence to get up on stage and spit in the face of a country we loathed.'

It was that very fury that made the group unique. 'When we finally started to get acclaim, we really didn't know how to respond to it,' Cave recalls, 'so we just split up and formed the Bad Seeds. Once you've kicked a dog a certain number of times, you can't really turn around and start patting it.'

Cave's new dog may be less likely to bite your hand off, but it still won't bring you your slippers. 'I hope no one's waiting around for me to make a happy record,' he says, 'because I write best when I'm depressed and angry. If I'm strolling through the park with my heart pumping with joy, the last thing I want to do is sit down and write a song.'

'Let Love In' is released tomorrow on Mute. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds play the Shepherd's Bush Empire, 081-740 7474, 25-26 May; and Glastonbury Festival, 0272 767868, 24-26 June.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most