Towards the end of the recording sessions for what would become his sixteenth studio album, Skeleton Tree, in July 2015, Nick Cave learned that his 15-year-old son, Arthur, had died. The vast majority of Cave's lyrics had been set in place and the vocal tracks had been recorded at a studio in Brighton, England, but the tragedy rendered many of them moot. Two weeks later, sessions began again in La Frette-sur-Seine, France; Cave re-wrote swathes lyrics and adapted the songs, attempting to grapple with the loss.
"No one was really able to function in a viable way in the studio," Cave told Noisey in a profile published yesterday. "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."
The grief that Cave dealt with on Skeleton Tree—the grief that he and his family still deal with today—was laid out in the 2016 documentary One More Time With Feeling, directed by Cave's friend Andrew Dominik. Comprised of performances by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in the last days of the Skeleton Tree sessions, Dominik's interviews with Cave and his wife Susie, and "improvised narration" from Cave, it's a stark and moving portrait of an artist searching for music's anguished boundaries.
"The further we get away from that time, it's easier to—it's not always possible—but it's easier to divide your time," Cave said. "So there's what we call a remembering time and then there's time where we work, and we're able fairly successfully—not all the time—to be able to somehow divide that up. And in the remembering time, things can be... we're in no condition to work and stuff like that. But we're able to step out of that quite effectively and do our work and do our jobs and be with each other and all that sort of stuff. So we're getting better and better at that. It's... you know... Not always successful. Before it was just chaos. It was just absolute emotional chaos 24/7, all the time. We couldn't... we had no control over anything, and it's just taken us a while to—it sounds weird to say—organize our emotions. Otherwise you just can't live, really."
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