This Is What Nick Cave Thinks About Death, Art, And God

October 2, 2018

|Oliver G. Alvar
nick cave skeleton tree

From coping with loss to the future of his career, here’s what Nick Cave had to say during his Skeleton Tree tour.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are touring the Americas, and we had a chance to be part of Nick Cave’s press conference in Mexico City. The tour is for the band’s sixteenth studio album, Skeleton Tree, which was released at a difficult time for the artist, whose son died while the recording sessions were taking place in 2015. During the Q&A, the singer, songwriter, author, and composer talked about a wide range of topics, from current projects to the meaning of death.





1) Personal insights


How have you dealt with tragedy in the past? Do you have any comments on how to overcome it?


It’s a difficult question. I see that actually grief can be something that’s hugely empowering. It’s not something that [necessarily] destroys you. It can destroy you, or it can empower you; depending what you allow yourself to feel. I can only say that it’s possible to overcome these things. There’s a residual strength that comes out of grief that can make you a better person —a person that functions better, a person that’s more empathetic, and a person that’s more connected to the world.


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How has the Skeleton Tree Tour helped you during this period of your life?


The tour has been hugely helpful to me personally. It’s been something where on a nightly basis, on some level, I’m confronted by [my son’s death], and there’s some acknowledgement that goes on that’s been really helpful in regard to dealing with the situation. And that’s largely come from the way the fans have reacted to it all. It’s different from anything that I’ve experienced before.



2) Professional insights


How does God, or the idea of God, influence your work?


I feel it’s hugely advantageous for me, as a writer, to work under the idea of the existence of God. I find it an effective way to write, and it opens everything up. It [gives] a spiritual dimension to my writing. Whether I believe that God exists or not is kind of irrelevant, but the notion of the existence of God is certainly a huge force behind my creative process. 


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How does writing lyrics compare to composing music?


For me, music doesn’t really have much sense until I put words to it. Writing lyrics has always been my primary activity. When I’m writing music for movies —that’s an entirely different thing. And that is extremely enjoyable for me. I don’t have the stress of trying to write lyrics, and I just get to sit around Warren Ellis and do beautiful things. Since it’s my primary activity, writing lyrics is full of anxiety. Making music is much more enjoyable.



3) General opinions


What about politics? What do you think of politicians and how does your art deal with that?


I think it’s not my place as a musician and an artist to put forward my political points of view within my songs. I don’t trust artists who use their creative impulses as a platform to push their particular political agendas down the necks of their audience. I find that gross, to be honest. I don’t want to go onstage and preach to people about things. I try to stay outside of that —which is not to say I don’t have my own political opinions.

With my music I have a completely different agenda. I’m really trying to work on a personal level with my audience as a way to help them move “upwards” in terms of personal inspiration. It’s important that I’m connecting with everybody in spite of their political affiliations.


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What do you think about the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico?


Where I come from, death is shuttered off into hospitals and that sort of institutions. [My native culture] is purely concerned with aspirational growth —death is an embarrassment. So the concept of actually having a day to celebrate death is a very beautiful thing. There’s this idea that death exists at the end of our lives. But I think we carry death with us all the time. And it’s a good thing —and a helpful thing— to acknowledge that.


Do you think music is or could be as powerful as it has been in the past?


I think as soon as bands stop imitating the music that’s come before, they can have this power. There’s not much power in imitation. A lot of the visceral power that’s coming out today is coming from hip hop and stuff like that, which, like it or not, at least is moving forward. A lot of rock & roll is just looking backwards. Nostalgia is not a good recipe for transcendence. 


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4) Future plans and projects


You’ve achieved much in your career. What do you hope to accomplish next?


I don’t really see that I’ve done a lot. I feel there’s so much more to do and discover. I want to try to work out a way to have a more personal connection with my audience. [To that end], there’s various projects that I’m attempting to do. I have a website called the Red Hand Files where people ask me questions and I address them personally. I’m doing a long series of Q&A-style in-conversation events around the world next year —that’s basically what I’ll be concentrating on. 

There seems to be a hunger amongst people for something that’s deeper; and I think [you can] find that within music. There is a religious or a spiritual element to music —in a very broad sense— that has been lost along the way. And I’m trying to work on that. 


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When asked about his next album, Cave didn’t want to elaborate. “My songs are kind of shy”, he said, and he claimed he doesn’t like to talk about unfinished products. He also mentioned that currently he isn't working on a new book, a real shame for fans of his literary career. It does seem, however, that he has no intention on giving that up anytime soon, so there's that.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are performing in the Pepsi Center at Mexico City on October 2, after which they’ll tour South America, the US, and Canada. Here are the specific dates for the Skeleton Tree tour during October, 2018 according to their official website:


Friday 5 - Santiago, Chile (Teatro Caupolicán)

Monday 8 - Montevideo, Uruguay (Teatro de Verano)

Wednesday 10 - Buenos Aires, Argentina (Estadio Malvinas Argentinas)

Sunday 14 - SĀO PAULO, BRAZIL (ESPAÇO DAS AMÉRICAS)

Sunday 21 - Los Angeles, CA, United States (The Forum)

Tuesday 23 - Dallas, TX, United States (The Bomb Factory)

Thursday 25 - Washington DC, United States (The Anthem)

Friday 26 - Brooklyn, NY, United States (Barclays Center)

Sunday 28 - Toronto, Canada (Scotiabank Arena)


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For more music icons, take a look at these stories:

Vitas, The Russian Artist Who Became An Alien To Change Your Taste In Music

Héctor Lavoe: His Story Of Music, Drugs, And Excess In NYC In The 1970s

Latin America Had A Black Queen And Her Name Was Celia


SOURCES: Nick Cave Live
Oliver G. Alvar

Oliver G. Alvar


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