It has been four years since Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds released an album of new material. In that time, the multifaceted Cave has curated a major London music festival, finished a screenplay for Australian director John Hillcoat, assembled a greatest-hits collection of his band’s work, written and performed an essay called “Secret Life Of The Love Song,” and appeared in two tributes to American folk-music archivist Harry Smith.
But perhaps most characteristic, the 43-year-old singer/songwriter has also penned a foreword to the “Gospel According To Mark” for an abridged series of the Bible. Mark’s Gospel is an “extraordinary piece of storytelling,” Cave says. “It’s very short and very rushed. It’s like an excited child telling this incredible story. It’s obsessed with the death of Christ and just rockets to this horrible conclusion.” He pauses. “I find [the whole tale] very exciting.”
Of course he does; that cauldron of religious ecstasy and impending dread has been the leitmotif of Cave’s work over the past 25 years. Since his days as one of the post-punk hellions in the Birthday Party, from the ashes of which he formed the Bad Seeds, Cave has served as preacher-cum-entertainer, sermonizing gospel-inflected rock, delta blues, and expansive ballads to a congregation of feverish fans.
Yet it is a more mature, confident Cave revealed on the group’s 11th studio set, “No More Shall We Part.” Reprise will issue the album April 17 in the U.S., while Mute released it April 2 everywhere else. In the U.K. — which the Australian-born Cave has long called home — there will be two versions of the album: a standard set and a limited-edition package with bonus tracks and footage of the recording sessions.
In a change, the album’s songs were recorded in real-time, with Cave performing alongside the band; usually his parts are overdubbed. Contemporary folk singers Anna and Kate McGarrigle also lend their voices to the set, with vocals that Cave says are “painfully beautiful, so fragile and unobtrusive.”
Backing up Cave in the Bad Seeds — an experimental-rock “supergroup” — are Mick Harvey (ex-Birthday Party), Blixa Bargeld (Einsturzende Neubauten), Thomas Wydler (Die Haut), Martyn Casey (ex-Triffids), Warren Ellis (Dirty Three), Jim Silavunos, and Conway Savage.
Although Cave’s subject matter has deepened with each subsequent album, the singer remains, by his own admission, “musically and lyrically … chained to the same bowl of vomit,” for which he does not apologize.
“There aren’t that many themes in the world,” he stresses. “There’s love and death, God, and some variations of that.”
Cave also remains nonplussed about his band’s narrative style, which is the opposite of the chorus-driven teen pop and rap dominating the charts today.
“I’ve always thought that the Bad Seeds were hopelessly irrelevant to what was going on in the world of music,” he says dryly. “I think it’s one of their primary charms.” He adds, “I have my own voice. You may not like it, but it stands on its own, and I’m happy about that.”
That voice has found Cave a place among several different media. He has appeared in more than a half-dozen movies, including Wim Wenders’ “Wings Of Desire,” Tom DiCillo’s “Johnny Suede,” and Hillcoat’s “Ghosts … Of The Civil Dead,” the score and screenplay to which he co-wrote. He has composed music for seven films and penned two collections of lyrics and plays, “King Ink” and “King Ink II.” In addition, he has written a novel, “And The Ass Saw The Angel,” which won book of the year award from Time Out in 1990.
Cave cites Dostoevsky and W.H. Auden as literary heroes, as well as Shakespeare and Southern Gothic writer Flannery O’Connor. But ask him if he is a musician or songwriter, and he harbors no illusions.
“Well, the lyric-writing — and writing in general — come more naturally. I feel I do that quite well,” he says. “As a musician, I have always felt an impostor. For a long time, I didn’t think I approached songs musically, although that has certainly changed over the years as I’ve gotten a better grasp on music. I can sing better now; I can play the piano. But, you know, I’m primarily a songwriter.”
Like many idiosyncratic European artists, Cave is a household name in some territories and inevitably less popular in others. Accordingly, Mute and Reprise are each tailoring their strategies to fulfill audience demand market-by-market.
According to Donna Vergier, Mute’s international marketing director, a video for the first single, “As I Sat Silently by Her Side,” has been serviced to music channels around the globe. The clip, directed by Cave cohort John Hillcoat, has already achieved highest rotation status on German music channel Viva2.
A commercial single of “As I Sat Silently by Her Side” was released March 19 in all countries except the U.S. A second single from the album, “15 Feet of Pure White Snow,” will be released May 21. Hillcoat will shoot a video for the track prior to its release. In addition, Penguin U.K. will publish a Nick Cave lyric book that will be used in that country’s campaign.
Mute recently revamped Cave’s Web site, nickcave.co.uk, and introduced the material at a worldwide album launch party March 6 in London. Cave and the band will also perform the music live starting April 18 in Stockholm, where they commence a three-month European tour.
In the U.S., where Cave is considered more of a cult artist, Reprise will “capitalize on Nick’s base, which might not be gigantic but is very dedicated,” says Reprise president Howie Klein. The label has selected “15 Feet of Pure White Snow” as the set’s first single; the radio-only track was serviced to outlets March 13. A second cut from the album, most likely “As I Sat Sadly by Her Side,” will follow in the fall to correspond with Cave and the Bad Seeds’ U.S. tour.
According to a Reprise spokeswoman, each Cave album has sold between 50,000 and 75,000 copies in the U.S. Mute’s Vergier says that each of Cave’s last two albums, “Best Of” (1998) and “Boatman’s Call” (’97), sold approximately 500,000 copies worldwide. Yet Cave’s ’96 album, “Murder Ballads,” which features duets with British rocker Polly Jean Harvey and Australian pop star Kylie Minogue, sold close to 1 million copies worldwide on the strength of its hit single, “Where the Wild Roses Grow.