Sounds - April 3, 1982
After The Pope's Blood
Ralph Traitor gatecrashes The Birthday Party
The Birthday Party? Well, yeah, like in blowing out candles on a cake. This party is a crashed party and anyone with a part of it feels the same. Not smiling, not trying, not caring, not interested. A group whose music should suffer no explanation, as if an explanation is forthcoming. Listening to the music you should suffer enough and through no fault of your own. And you'll like it. And if you don't like it you'll hate it. Or is that what the Birthday Party intend? What motivated their indomitable racket or cool skulls, "Dead Joe"s and "King Ink"s?
The Birthday Party, in conversation, are Rowland Howard, slow and quiet, and Nick Cave, slower and distracted, cagey, assured, bored, and remarkably obliging inspite of himself.
If the Stooges represented a death trip, then the Birthday Party are the return journey, an affirmation of something positive whose negative content is intently cultivated. Saving themselves and sparing us any platitudes, the Birthday Party invest whatever cursory consideration they possess into their music and are, as Rowland simply exclaims, "gut-level".
But what makes those guts churn and the muscle that surrounds them so tough yet malleable? Nick says the Birthday Party will never be as big as the Beatles, which I'd say is a safe assumption, and maybe the only one to be made, especially if, as Nick asserts with a blase relish, the Birthday Party could break up (down?) at any time. Like the man said in 'Assault on Precinct Thirteen', "You can't argue with a confident man"...
Break up ? An even more vital question is, does Nick Cave wash his hair?
Nick: "Yes, I washed it today."
Do you believe in God?
Nick: "I don't. I've never actually thought about it to any great extent."
Rowland: "I'd like to believe in God."
Why the Stooges fixation?
Nick: "We do have a fondness for that particular group, but I think we'll stop doing their songs, there's no more to do."
Were you received as homecoming heroes in Australia when you went back?
Nick: "Yes, very much so."
What would you reply to those who would dismiss you are pretentions art school bimbos?
Nick: "I really wouldn't know what to say about that. It's obviously untrue. No one has a very optimistic view of what's going to happen to the group. We don't consider ourselves becoming massive."
You don't think it's possible or you don't think it's probable?
Nick: "I just think that if our past history's anything to go by we won't be a great success."
Rowland: "In Australia people's opinion of us has gone on for years and years; people had this idea that we weren't really sincere in what we were doing and we were this group of imbeciles... they thought we weren't doing anything of importance and that we were basically stupid."
Is your music 'important'?
Nick: "Reasonably important to us, and I really don't care if it's important to anyone else."
What's your opinion of hardcore punk?
Nick: "The music does seem to leave a lot to be desired as far as ideas and so forth goes."
You do strike me as more of an Anti-Nowhere League than the Anti-Nowhere League, they're more of a Nowhere League.
Rowland: "Those groups seem very much 'we're all mates in this together', which is very far from our attitude to the audience."
What's your attitude to the audience? Condescending?
Nick: "There is no way you can possibly go on stage and have a pleasant relationship with your audience."
Of course there is!
Rowland: "There is for some people, but not for us."
What about that incident at your last London show where Nick pounded one of your admirers on the head with his microphone?
Nick: "He seemed to be staring at me, absolutely pleading for it. I don't think of my reactions at the time, I can only think of things in retrospective. It's probably because he wanted me to."
Is there anyone you'd like to assassinate?
Nick: "I can't think of assassinating anyone now, it's too early in the morning."
Alright, we'll leave the assassinations for after lunch. Favorite foods?
Rowland: "Mine's meat."
Nick: "I'll second that. Are you thinking of buying us lunch?"
Nick: "Pink gin. Pope's blood."
Rowland: "I think they're equal in their vileness, basically."
Favorite comic books?
Nick: "I don't read comics."
Rowland: "Yeah. The Spirit and The Shadow. (I thought that was marvellous, if two words were needed to describe the Birthday Party, then perhaps "spirit" and "shadow" would be ideal.) We read our fan mail.
So you do like "the kids" after all!
Rowland: "No, we just laugh at them."
Is your music a) art, b) trash, c) a good time, d) all of the above, e) none of the above, f) one of your own?
Rowland: "Well, we're certainly not a good time."
Nick: "Probably all of the above including the last one. Trash, art..."
So your music's art?
Rowland: "No, you can't separate the things..."
Nick: "Yes, I would actually. Obviously we can't encapsulate it so easily."
According to '1984', everyone is scared of something. What are you scared of?
Nick: "I'm not particularly worried about the bomb, myself. If I was I'd have stayed in Australia, I suppose. I can't think of anything at the moment. Uh..."
Rowland: "It depends in what manner death is achieved. Blunt instruments, axes, things like that don't agree with me."
Given only six months to live, what would you do?
Nick: "You could be excused for acting however you wanted, have no conscience at all and just do everything you wanted to with no conscience at all... treat people badly."
I find in your live performances a desire to treat people badly.
Rowland: (indignant) "People treat us badly when we're on stage. They take Nick's clothes off and punch him and pull him to the floor and spray him with stuff."
But surely Nick asks for that, wandering around taking slugs off a whiskey bottle and doing his Jim Morrison rave-ups?
Nick: (annoyed) "I can't answer the question, I've forgotten it. As far as the show goes I think people know fairly well the opinion we have of them in an individual way because we put ourselves forward in a clear way and I'm quite sure a large percentage of the audience have reason to feel guilty. I think onstage we function as individuals, not a 'group', I just don't like the crowd mentality in an audience."
Nick: "Satan pizza, with very hot chilis on it. Any food that transcends just eating it and becomes a challenge... Mexican."
Your opinion of fascism?
Nick: "It's as disgusting as any other organised politics."
Do you have political ideals?
Nick: "No, none at all. I mean, I have personal desires as to how I'd like to see a country run but that's something I keep to myself. Certainly there's nothing in our music or lyrics that'd ever point the way we think politically. I would like to think our lyrics are abstract, intangible but strong enough to be inspiring."
Are your lyrics poetry?
Nick: "I wouldn't consider them poetry in that they're written to be sung, not read. Just the same I would like the audience to understand what I sing."
Is the new album a radical departure, an extension, or what?
Nick: "An extension, it's just a lot more filthy than the last one. I think it'll be harder to like actually, it's personality isn't as free as 'Prayers On Fire'... it's just a lot more filthy..."
Do you listen to your own music?
Nick: "No, not as all. Once something's released I find it disgusting."
Do people's reactions to your music and persona surprise you?
Nick: "No, I find it fairly typical of what I'd expect people to draw from it."
How do you feel about kids and what hope there is for them? Are you sorry not to be a teenager?
Nick: "I don't consider it unfortunate actually, being past my teens. When, uh, if I go to hell it'll be wet dreaming and acne and being shy of girls. I found that period of my life, frankly, unenjoyable."
What are your feelings about music as a weapon for change?
Nick: "I don't think will or even has the capacity to have any real or positive means of revolution. It seems to me a lot of people consider rock stars spearheads in a subversive way."
They're the placebos of action, not the cause. So you have no desire to be elevated to 'spokesman'?
Nick: "No, not at all. It really doesn't concern me whatsoever. In most respects I find myself operating outside... I don't find the same things people get worried about affect me in any way. I don't really care too much what happens to me or anybody else and when it doesn't relate to me I can't find the energy to worry about it."
When you die, where do you expect to go?
Nick: "Ah, I've thought about this. It's one of the best, most exciting things in life. I don't expect to go anywhere, in fact I expect to have to climb to get to hell."
Are you a damned soul? Are you the terminal gutter case your image would have us believe?
Nick: "Well, obviously all this stuff that gets written about the popular Nick Cave mythology is garbage, but it amuses my mother anyway. When I go home I come into the kitchen in the morning and she's reading about me rolling on the floor and lying in the gutter. And there we are chatting over our morning coffee."