"It's become both a more beautiful place to live, and a place where we can't really continue to live."
"No one was really able to function in a viable way in the studio," Cave says. "Which I think was a good thing, because it allowed those songs to resist any kind of tampering with. We just had these extremely raw songs that reverberated with the feelings of everything that happened, or became a mirror for this terrible incident. And the more we played around with the songs, the less effective that became. So we were able just to put out this record that really is very pure, and has very little artifice on it whatsoever. I've gotta say, when we were in the studio trying to work on Skeleton Tree, I had no idea what was going on."
Read More: The Guide to Getting Into Nick Cave
The film is a portrait of a man deeply lost, but also a family—which extends from Cave's wife Susie and Arthur's twin brother Earl to everyone involved with the album and film—that is coming to grips with how to do their work in a climate of massive, unimaginable trauma. There's talk of the mysterious, potentially foretelling power of Cave's writing which, considered in the context of many of Skeleton Tree's lyrics, is spine-tingling. In one scene Susie, barely able to hold back tears, reveals a painting Arthur made of the windmill that stands just a short walk from where he died. When Earl drops by the studio—previously seen eating pizza with Arthur and his dad while watching Scarface in 20,000 Days on Earth—his presence makes the absence of his brother palpable. In his interviews, the normally well-spoken Cave seems sometimes jarringly frustrated or at a loss for words. In his voiceovers, the words he does find, while often grateful or reflective, feel severely haunted.
"I've gotta say, when we were in the studio trying to work on Skeleton Tree, I had no idea what was going on."
"The back catalogue was always something of a mystery, and I always felt quite squeamish about it to be honest, as I think most artists do about their work," Cave says. "It's a terrifying artist who's just proud of all their work."There's a clear disdain in his voice for the type. Cave never plays his own records, and at one point, he even refers to his back catalogue as, "this sort of monster that lives back there" that he never pays any attention to. I get the feeling he also doesn't feel particularly interested in talking too much about it, but when he does, his thoughts are mostly tempered with curiosity. He was struck by the audacity of his previous work, of how sensitive some of it was. But that's about it.Cave and the Bad Seeds have never been satisfied to stagnate. Their longevity is due in part to that restlessness, but also a communal ability to "serve the song" rather than light out to impress or make a statement as individuals. Watching the band on film—especially the interactions between Cave and violinist Warren Ellis, whose collaborations have become definitive parts of the late-era Bad Seeds sound—reveals a complex but organic creation process, a group of people in powerful harmony. It took a lot of time and trust to get to this point.
"It's a terrifying artist who's just proud of all their work."
He mentions Skeleton Tree's "I Need You" as an example. "It certainly carries with it a beautiful sense of sorrow that's more meaningful than narrative, or feels more authentic than worrying about whether the lyrics actually make any sense or not."It's a step, Cave says, "that's very difficult to take." But it was an exciting place for him to arrive at, a feeling that, "I could actually write about myself and, in doing so, that could actually connect to people even though the life I lead doesn't remotely connect to the people who are actually listening to my music." Especially with the last two records, he's written, "about my life as it is, seen through an imaginative prism that makes everything reverberate in a strange, uncanny way." Cave's existence—"that of a rock singer, rock star, whatever"—is a bizarre and alienated one, but he believes there's something of value that radiates out of that.
"I thought, if I'm gonna be a songwriter, I'm gonna be around for as long as I can."
Cave explains that he has compartments inside himself, and one of them includes the pursuit of truth, where God doesn't exist because science disproves any possible existence. Still, he has no time for people with a dogmatic belief in God, or those others who would sneer and laugh at anybody who believes in anything. Another compartment, though, includes that other world, where, "the idea of there being a divine being is really helpful with songwriting, and with adding a kind of absurdity and strange depth to everything." At this point he stops himself, clarifying that belief is not about truth."Life really isn't about truth for me," Cave says. "That's not the most important thing. Meaning is important. And sometimes the desire for an afterlife, or sometimes a desire that life perpetuates in some way beyond the grave is, absurd as it may be, something we need to believe in. And that need, I think, is a very powerful thing. And a thing that people shouldn't feel ashamed of."
"Life really isn't about truth for me," Cave says. "That's not the most important thing. Meaning is important."