Cave in

Foxy Goth icon Nick Cave dishes the dirt on his new LPs and his fear of New York

"Into My Arms" is the religious love song Leonard Cohen has been trying to write for 20 years, in which love of God and of the lover are intertwined. The song begins the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, The Boatman's Call, already generally regarded as his best; caught in a surprise telephone interview, Mr. Cave seems to agree.

"I've never been so happy with a record before," says Cave. "What the new record is about is what's happened to me over the last couple of years. It's a very, very personal record--there isn't a song on it that isn't some form of diary notation. It's not the way I normally write. On my past [records] there have been a few very personal songs, but generally it's diluted with a lot of storytelling; I feel that gives the records some kind of balance. I often feel it's overindulgent in some way to write these particular songs. I took time off from writing this new record to do Murder Ballads (which at the time was really just a side project), so I was meeting my needs in the storytelling mode with that record, and I found that I collected a pile of very personal songs. And when I write personal songs, really what I'm interested in is love. Love, love and more love."

That may come as a surprise to fans who think of the giant Australian as a crazed preacher out of Night of the Hunter, ranting about Jesus with a Bible in one hand and a knife in the other. His poetry is certainly more slanted toward his Murder Ballads side. "I do enjoy writing violent poetry or lyrics," he says, "but most of that stuff ends up in my storytelling songs, so it just happened that those two types of songwriting were very clearly separated in these last two records, Murder Ballads being simply a collection of stories and this new one a collection of songs about trying to articulate in some way what had gone on within my relationships over the last couple years."

The other new Nick Cave album, made with Blixa Bargeld and Mick Harvey of the Bad Seeds, is the soundtrack for To Have and To Hold. It consists of strings and harp drifting gracefully through unseen situations, usually in slow motion (Scott Walker appears suddenly, singing Dylan's "I Threw It All Away").

"The film is a melodrama in the traditional sense of '50s melodramas, the Rock Hudson films and so on, set in Papua New Guinea, and it's about a very weird, obsessive relationship that throughout the film disintegrates and becomes an awful state of affairs. There's a lot of internal, psychological violence that goes on within the film all wrapped up in a kind of swirling romanticism, and we were asked to do a soundtrack that was like that. They wanted deliberately corny music in parts, and so on," Cave explains.

Even more Cave is available now, since Henry Rollins's 2.13.61 label has reissued the catalog (four CDs) of the Birthday Party, the Australian punk Goth poetry quartet in which Cave first announced himself to the world. Junkyard features "Release the Bats," the Birthday Party's "Bela Lugosi's Dead" (the biggest Goth hit ever, by Bauhaus).

Cave is in London, preparing to tour Europe in support of The Boatman's Call with a stripped-down show reflecting the intimately minimal instrumentation on the album. The Bad Seeds may or may not come to this side of the Atlantic.

"I don't know what happened with me and New York, but even that kind of peanutty smell of the airport is the stuff of nightmares for me," says Cave. "It looks like a place that God has abandoned. I always felt that if you didn't become like a New Yorker, then you didn't have much hope of surviving there; it forces you to be a particular way, and it's very difficult, if you're just visiting there for a few days, to jump into that mode. If I do go out, I have a lot of friends who seem to end up going to Max Fish a lot. I end up losing enormous amounts of money on the pool table there. I quite like that place."

When Cave talks about his new album, there is pride in his voice, as though he were a new father talking about his young son. "There's a song, 'Far from Me,' the second-to-last song, which I personally think is a masterpiece." It's too soon to judge whether "Far from Me" is a masterpiece (my favorite lyric is: "...suspended in your bleak and fishless sea"), but it will certainly make a number of people cry. The song was written as the relationship in question deteriorated.

"I wrote the final version when I'd made the final phone call to this particular person. I'd written the final verse, and then a couple of days later I had to go in and sing the song as well." That must have been upsetting. "Yes. These things pass and I've just got a really good album instead. But what I certainly don't feel like doing is making another record soon."

The Boatman's Call and the soundtrack to To Have and To Hold are out now on Mute; the Birthday Party's Junkyard, Hee-Haw, Prayers on Fire and Mutiny/The Bad Seed are available on 2.13.61.