Nick Cave Talks Religion, Fashion & Songwriting in Bigsound Keynote

He wasn’t in the house, but Nick Cave certainly made his presence felt on day one of Australia's Bigsound confab.

The alternative rock legend tackled religion, fashion and his songwriting gremlins in a keynote interview conducted via Skype.

TV personality Julia Zemiro had the tricky task of interviewing Cave, a famously prickly subject. The pair covered a lot of ground and Zemiro deftly navigated the chat through some awkward moments when Cave didn’t understand her questions.

The result was an insightful session into how one of the Australian music community’s great creators sets about his work. Cave admitted he battles with his creative demons. He spoke of “the horrors,” and the “fear of failure, not being able to write something good anymore, being able to make a record as good as the last one."

On the process of writing the song, he said, “If the idea is OK, (the song) finds its way eventually. It feels like it’s crawling out of something, loosing skin to find itself. That process can be interesting.”

Cave also revealed his 2003 album “Nocturama” was “mostly written” on computer – and that it was the album most “bashed” among his more recent releases. “The problem with me when writing on a computer is the ‘delete’ button. If I look at something on a bad day, I can hit the delete button. I did a lot of that on that record. I lost a lot of information and a lot of alternative verses just because I was having a bad day.” So he returned to the typewriter.

Cave, who has been described as “the thinking man’s goth,” wore a suit over an open shirt with a medallion on his chest. His sunglasses came off early on. He took the call at the un-rock ‘n’ roll hour of 7am, from his home in Brighton on the southern English coast.

Throughout, Cave was drenched in sunlight in what looked to be the room that featured in the cover artwork from his latest album, “Push The Sky Away,” a global hit through Bad Seed Ltd. via Kobalt Label Services.  

A smile did arrive, when Cave spoke of his suits. And he drew a smile from the audience when he dropped what could best be described as a “dad joke.” “I went to buy a camouflage jacket once,” he said, “but I couldn't find it."

When the subject of religion came up, Cave jumped in: "Why do I go on about religion in songs?" The artist said he initially approached religion in an “adversarial way” but admitted he’d “softened to the whole idea”.

And when the topic of "retirement" came up, he had this to say: “After a while, there’s something perverse about just carrying on. You see yourself as an experiment in longevity. Like the Rolling Stones, there’s something that has become quite wonderful about that band because we watch and see how long it can continue. I’m different to them because I still make decent music. I still sit down and try to make records that are different from the last stuff.  The songs are still there, that they need to see the light of today. I’m yet to feel the songs aren’t there.”

And in a rare moment, Cave backpedalled. “I didn’t really mean what I said about the Rolling Stones.”

The conference in Australia's third city, Brisbane, wraps on Friday, and counts Amanda Palmer and Billy Bragg among its guest speakers.