Vulture recently caught up with Nick Cave backstage at Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where he played “Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man,” the new single from Grinderman, Cave’s brainy garage-rock side project with members of the Bad Seeds. The band is currently on tour promoting their second album, Grinderman 2. With his dark pinstripe suit, gleaming patent leather shoes, and shock of black hair, Cave looked exactly like you’d expect, except for one thing: He was missing his signature handlebar mustache.
What happened to it?
I shaved it off.
I can see that. How long ago?
Two Christmases ago. I’d flown to Australia. I had very, very bad jet lag. It’s a special kind of jet lag when you fly to Australia; it weakens your resolve. My wife had been on me for a while about getting rid of the fucking mustache and I’d dug my heels in, as you do. I’d come off the plane, been in the bathroom, and she came in with a razor and said, “It’s time to get rid of it” and I said, “Oh, all right then.”
She’s very sly.
Yeah, she’s hugely manipulative.
Are you manipulative?
Oh, no. I’m just an all around general good guy.
You write fiction, screenplays, lyrics, you play music. Does it all come from the same place of inspiration? I’m sure you answer this all the time …
I do. Just Google it.
What would Google tell me?
I get an enormous amount of satisfaction out of work, so it’s not difficult for me to turn up. It’s difficult to do it sometimes, but it’s not difficult for me to say, “Today I’m working on something.” It worries me to get into that situation where the idea of fronting up to doing some work becomes so monstrously difficult that you just don’t do it. The way through that for me is to just do it all the time so that the particular thing that you’re working on never looms large enough to frighten you.
Do you listen to new music? Do you care about new bands?
What, like their welfare? Do I help them across the road? No, it’s not an essential part of what I do to stay in tune with what the kids are doing.
And yet you’ve said you do have empathy for emerging artists, in part because you view your early work as inferior to your later stuff, right?
All that early stuff might have some nice songs, but as far as I’m concerned there wasn’t an original idea on it. It just sounded like all of the stuff I loved. It’s not bad, but there came a time when I was listening to this song on a Birthday Party record and said, “That’s new.”
A song called “King Ink.” It had a descriptive way of writing, a narrative way of writing, and it suddenly felt unique. In some way, that song felt like it defined me at the time.
Is Grinderman about being playful and the Bad Seeds about being serious? They’re both serious …
They’re both playful, too. At the moment, Grinderman is a lot of fun. You just go onstage, plug in, and bash into it. There’s something about the music that propels the show itself. I don’t feel responsible for it in the same way with the Bad Seeds, where I feel like I have to propel the music. I feel the other way around with Grinderman.
You write a lot about sexual neurosis, which has gotten you into some trouble. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Well, I don’t consider myself not one. I’m not a misogynist, so you can dispense with that. I think I’ve done wonders for the feminist movement. I get criticized for a lot of what I write about, but as far as I’m concerned I’m actually standing up and having a look at what goes on in the minds of men, and I have the authority to talk about it because I’m a man. Women don’t have the authority because they don’t know what goes on in a man’s head, so largely what they say is kind of irrelevant. My songs and stories and books are character-driven, they talk about the way people are and the way men are and women are. I’m actually confronting certain issues that some women appear to feel are now redundant.
The tension between the male and the female. I think a lot of them feel that that war was won long ago and I’m dragging the whole thing back to the stone age.
There’s something to be said for the attention you pay to women. There’s something loving about it.
That’s all there is for me to write about — love, love, and more love.