April 10, 2023   21 mins
April 10, 2023   21 mins

Nick Cave’s music is synonymous with emotional intensity and artistic restlessness. But in recent years, in both his blog The Red Hand Files and new book Faith, Hope and Carnage, he has become more outspoken on faith, spirituality, censorship and politics. Earlier this week, he discussed this and more at the UnHerd Club. Below is an edited transcript.

Freddie Sayers: Something that struck me from reading the book and immersing myself in your songs in recent weeks is this sense that, to the superficial eye, you might seem unrecognisably changed since those early gigs with The Birthday Party, where it’s full of noise and screaming and anger. Now you seem much more at peace, you are a churchgoing person – you’ve had two interviews with Archbishops in the past three months! So, from being this countercultural person, you seem to have become a conservative person. How would you explain to people the strands that connect the earlier you to the new you?

Nick Cave: There may now be a conservative edge to things, but that word I would use cautiously. Certainly these days I still get similar delight, which I got in the early days, in sort of fucking with people to some degree. There is something about living outside the expectations of other people that is energising.

In the old days, with The Birthday Party, they were extremely energetic, extremely (I would say) violent, aggressive concerts done by a not-fully-formed person, who held the world in contempt as a sort of default. That was the energy of those concerts — and that has changed completely. Now I see the world in a completely different way, and see human beings in a completely different way. I see the brokenness of human beings, but also the unbelievable value of human beings. This is something that, back then, I could never have imagined I would have felt. I think it has something to do with becoming a more complete person, through a series of things that have happened to me through my life — things that have happened to us all, probably.

FS: You write beautifully about the creative process in Faith, Hope and Carnage, and there’s a thread of continuity there too, because these songs are not just something you’re synthesising out of nothing; they’re almost out there and you’re trying to find them. There seems to be a magical, mystical component to the process.

NC: I wish there was more of that. Actually, my creative process is extremely rigorous, and it’s just hard work. It begins at 9:00am: I sit down, and I start writing (if I’m writing songs, which I am at the moment). It finishes at 5:30 in the afternoon, and then I don’t do any other creative stuff after that. But within that, I have a very troubled relationship with my muse: it’s fraught and full of anxiety; not a very nice place at all. What I’m getting is meagre scraps of songs that slowly make their way into something that is of some kind of value. That’s the mystical thing. It’s not that there’s a big pencil in the sky that’s writing my lyrics for me. I wish it was more like that.

FS: But do these songs not have a life of their own? You’ve written about how they almost seem to predict what happens.

NC: Yeah, I think there is an element of that. It’s hard to talk about without sounding ridiculous, but I think, from my experience, the songs seem to know a little bit more about what’s going on than I do myself. Even though I’m working in a very conscious way to get songs written, I don’t have any control over the outcome. In the end, I find I’ve just written stuff. That often surprises me; the songs I’m writing now surprise me hugely, as to where they’re actually going. (Not that I really want to talk about those – it’s just too early.) I have, I don’t know, 12-13 songs that feel good, and I realised I’ve actually had no control over them, the whole time.

FS: Do you find freedom and being relaxed part of the creative process? This is where the atmosphere of wider society can be relevant. In one of your books, you write that: “The vitalising element in art is the one that baffles or challenges or outrages. As a young musician, I felt it was my sacred duty to offend.” There’s a “break things, scream and shout” part of the creative process. Is that still part of it for you?

NC: I don’t want to sit here and say that my generation was better than your generation, or whatever, but I did come from a generation where there were self-evident truths — such as free speech being a good thing — that I still fully believe in, and are an energising factor in what I do. The idea that you can offend people, or that your songs can be dangerous enough for people to be scared of them, is exciting for me. It’s not something that I personally feel I need to shy away from.

FS: Not drawing politics into it, but do you feel that the atmosphere of our culture now is that people have to be more careful? This is not a culture war question; it’s about whether it actually impinges on the creative faculty?

NC: Well, of course, of course it does. If you’re writing in a censorious mood, a fragile, brittle mood, and you’re worried about that, then of course you’ll second guess what you’re writing about. And this is just not good for the business of songwriting, as far as I’m concerned.

FS: Does that happen to you? The second-guessing, the self-censoring?

NC: “Should I say this? Or should I not?” Only as much as I would have 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. You always think: “Is this a good line or a bad line?” But I never think in terms of whether it’s offensive or not. So no, I don’t feel that I do that. However, I do feel a kind of wet blanket has been thrown over art in general, and this is just not good.

FS: What is that wet blanket?

NC: What is the wet blanket? Well, a squeamish, censorious, merciless idea that there are certain things that you can get away with saying and certain things that you can’t get away with saying.

But I get tired of hearing people say: “Well, you can’t say this; I think this, but you can’t say this.” That’s reflective of a mood, but I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think there are things that you can’t say. You just need to take the consequences of saying certain sorts of things.

Now these consequences are brutal, and merciless, and unjust sometimes, and it’s distressing to see these things happen. But I work in songwriting, and the form is abstract in its nature. So you can say all sorts of things through songwriting, approaching these matters, crab-like, sideways, so you can actually say all sorts of things in songwriting.

For example, there’s a particular song of mine called “Stagger Lee”. This is a famous Bad Seeds song, and it’s offensive on many, many levels. I won’t go through all the different sorts of people that it offends, but it’s pretty much everybody. It’s a highly problematic song. It is sort of spoken-sung over this crawling, predatory music.

But in all my days of playing “Stagger Lee”, and that’s hundreds of times of looking out into the audience, I have never seen anybody looking askance or offended at it. They’re just swept up within the music itself. So all sorts of things can be said in music and art that’s problematic, but at the same time just hugely enjoyable.

FS: You’ve talked about that strange year, 2020, when you wrote a whole bunch of songs for Carnage, your recent album. You’ve talked about a mood that was released in the world in 2020 that you picked up. In “White Elephant”, a song on Carnage, you talk about this sense of rage being released in the world. How did you experience that very intense, very strange year?

NC: Well, I kept thinking I was going to die, early on. That was not good. We didn’t know what was going to happen to us. I remember that very, very well: of literally walking out into a crowd and not knowing if this “the big one”, or something like that. I suddenly couldn’t tour. I had a whole year’s worth of touring booked. I remember being with my manager, and him on the phone, and finding out that everything’s cancelled, we’re not going on tour. I had 15 minutes of feeling like, “Oh, my God, my life!” And then after that, this sudden burst of joy: that I wasn’t going on tour, and I suddenly had a year off.

And within that year, it was like a vacuum: all this stuff started to pour out; other things that I hadn’t had the time to do. So it was hugely creative for me, that year, including writing this book, which set me off on another course. Of course, there were things going on that year that were alarming, and we were all swept up in, to some degree, and reacted towards. “White Elephant”, I think, is a beautiful song and a beautiful lyric, that dares to be surreal and comic about what was going on within the Black Lives Matter movement. Or certainly the overreach that we saw after a while, and how that was animating the Right. That’s about as close as I can get to writing a political song.

FS: Because normally you think politics would kill a song?

NC: Personally, I don’t much like politics in music. I don’t like being told what I should or should not think. There are protest songs that are brilliant and did their work, and, of course, we need them, but personally they’re not the sort of songs today that I listen to. If we look at someone like Nina Simone, she did a whole raft of protest songs, but to me it’s her love songs that are really full of rage. She managed to sing these beautiful love songs, but you can feel this boiling rage underneath everything, and that’s much more interesting to me than hearing her sing civil rights protest songs.

FS: It seems like the big rebellion that connects what you might talk about today with the Archbishop of Canterbury to your earliest punk songs, is a rejection of a secular rationalist world in which magic isn’t possible and everything is just a machine. Do you think of yourself as a rational person?

NC: Well, I’m certainly sceptical of my beliefs — put it that way. I like going to church because church seems to be an ordered place that allows me not to believe, as much as it allows me to believe. I have both of these things going on inside me.

I have doubt about things, but it feels disingenuous to reject these yearnings and whispered intimations and softly-spoken feelings about things that I don’t know what to do with, but they are religious in nature. I find I can go into a church that allows me to do something with these feelings, to organise my spiritual nature. Without church, it’s just all over the shop. And I’m a weirdly ordered person, in my work methods. Church, in some degree, is an ordering device that I find helpful.

FS: Do you think that ritual, doing things like going to church, is part of how you access that?

NC: Yeah. For my work, sitting at my desk, at a particular time each day, and doing this work, is an ordering principle that allows me to ringfence my imagination, and allows me to focus on things. Church is similar for my spiritual life.

FS: Is that recent or has that always been the case?

NC: I’ve always worked creatively, no matter what condition I was in. I’ve always got up in the morning and done my work. And I’ve always gone to church, on and off, all through my life, since I was actually a choirboy, when I was 13, or something like that. I’ve continued to try out church.

FS: Does it feel different in recent years?

NC: Yes, it does. I mean, I used to go to church and find reasons not to believe. Now I go to church, and find reasons that are a bit more compelling.

FS: This is going to be an incredibly unfashionable question, which you probably wouldn’t be asked by many other people, but about the figure of Christ?

NC: The question Mojo magazine never gets to!

FS: What is it about the figure of Christ that moves you?

NC: It’s weird because as far back as I can remember, even as a very small child, I’ve had an uncommon interest in Christ. In church, way before I had any notions of God or anything like that, there was this eerie, haunted figure that I was just interested in, as if it was kind of bred in me in some kind of way.

I’ve always had an interest, an attraction and an emotional relationship with this deeply haunted story. And I still do. That doesn’t mean that I buy it all, or anything like that. I just feel I relate in some way to the Christ story. Right up to the withdrawal of God — I just relate to it.

FS: Do you also relate to the devil? You have done an incredible series of ceramic sculptures that you can see on the documentary, This Much I Know to be True. They are based on Staffordshire pottery figures, and tell the story of the life of the Devil. There are 17 of them and they’re amazing to see. What brought you to do that?

NC: It is the life of the Devil, in 17 little meditations, like the Stations of the Cross. The devil is essentially just this man with horns: he inherits the earth, he goes to war, he comes back from war, he gets married, he kills his child, he is in remorse, he dies a bloody death.

I’m very proud of these things. I guess it is autobiographical in some way — not that I relate to the devil in his evilness, but I relate to the devil as a character seeking forgiveness in some way.

FS: You’ve talked in an incredibly moving way about the tragic period when you lost your 15-year-old son to a terrible accident. What many people might do in that scenario is close in and hide away from the world. But you did the extraordinary thing of opening yourself up to the world in that dark time — that’s when you started having these “in conversation” events and just talking to fans on The Red Hand Files. What has that process done to you?

NC: When my son died, I got a lot of letters coming into my house from people who weren’t just commiserating with me — they were saying: “Look, this has happened to me. I understand what you’re going through.” And these things meant a huge amount to me at the time. They took a person who was completely demolished, and forced me to turn around and look at the world in some way. I was completely absorbed with my own hurt and despair, and it turned me inside out — to see the world in some way. It was a very beautiful thing.

It wasn’t immediate, it was a gradual thing. But I think that’s what I meant when we were talking about my earlier self, at the time of The Birthday Party, as almost a half-formed person. I think that the death of my son, to some degree, completed me as a human being, and allowed me to turn around and see the world and see everyone in it as suffering individuals, as broken individuals, and understand the perilous nature of life and the value of life. That changed my outlook on things hugely — completely. To understand and respect people, all people.

FS: It almost seemed to throw you into an altered state of consciousness, the intensity of that grief. Some of the people writing in to The Red Hand Files, who have suffered grief as well, also talk about that. Away from the rational world, the world of normal, mechanistic existence, it threw you into another dimension.

NC: The world just didn’t make sense any more. It didn’t make rational sense to me, and I didn’t see why I needed to cleave to rational notions about things, when they just didn’t make any sense. And other things made more sense to me, especially early on, those feelings of a kind of connection with the otherness of things and the divinity of things.

FS: Does that include souls? A lot of people write to you about whether they feel that their loved ones who are deceased are still around. Do you believe that, after we go, there is something left behind?

NC: I don’t know. I certainly had those feelings. I would talk to my son. But whether that’s true or not, I think that they are necessary, or they certainly help lead you back to the world, these feelings. I have great respect and compassion for people who have these feelings, and people who have spiritual beliefs or religious beliefs — and their great need, that is so often looked down upon. I’ve been punishing myself by watching Dawkins talk about the lack of dignity in these sorts of religious beliefs, that it was like having to have a baby with a dummy. And it just seems like such a heartless view of things, to speak of people’s deep needs in that way. It’s very much holding on to these things, that may not be true, that are the very things that lead you out of that place.

FS: This opening up that you’ve gone through in recent years, talking more — where is it headed? What happens next?

NC: I don’t actually know. I’ve never really had a very good sense of that. The thing that I do really well is to involve myself fully in the particular task at hand, and not worry too much about the future.

FS: You’re being asked on all the podcasts, in America as well as here. It feels like you’re on the cusp of talking a lot more. Are you tempted down that road?

NC: To do a podcast?

FS: Well, no — but to talk more. You did those in-conversation events. You talk beautifully. People obviously respond to it very well. It seems to break boundaries. Do you think maybe there is a role for you outside music as well?

NC: I don’t know. I haven’t done this very much — I mean, this kind of an interview, which seems to be beyond just the normal interview for me. I mean, I’ve done thousands of interviews, rock and roll interviews. But this kind of conversation seems to be about other things, and it is in itself an art form, to some degree to be able to talk openly.

FS: Which you’re very good at.

NC: Well, I don’t know about that. But it’s kind of you to say. There is something about sitting down here that’s challenging in a different way for me than to just do six interviews because I’ve got a record coming out, or whatever. There’s an excitement around talking openly about ideas and so forth.

I have noticed (without really going into names of people), that there’s a kind of podcast where the nuance goes quite quickly. When you’re doing certain types of podcasts, there’s an audience capture that goes on, expectations of what you need to think and what you need to say, and if you’re putting yourself out there, you need to hold this position on this thing, and this position on that. I don’t think — in that respect — that I’m very good for podcasts. I don’t come along with a particularly prescribed package. I just have my feelings about things, and they tend to free float.

FS: It’s a dangerous journey.

NC: You see it with podcast hosts, how they very quickly become radicalised. They become the very thing that they were told they were in the first place — which they weren’t! It’s a weird journey. Beware, Freddie. I’m here, if you ever need someone to talk to, to reel you back in…

FS: We’re going to start taking questions from the audience.

Question 1: You said, on the one hand, you’d like to fuck people up, and on the other hand, you understood brokenness. That’s a very interesting dichotomy. Most people on their life journey understand brokenness a bit later. Could you talk about your journey of understanding brokenness? You said you were fascinated by Christ, at a very young age, and Christ is the symbol of brokenness in many ways.

NC: I may have had some basic understanding — abstract notions — of what that might be, and our flawed nature, but it was only after the death of Arthur that I understood it fundamentally. I inhabited it myself as someone who’d been dismantled. So I think that that’s the thing that changed everything for me.

Christ symbolises to me different things throughout my life, but the scene that really resonates with me is Christ in the garden, and the withdrawal of God, and the crying out into the void. That has always had a huge emotional impact on me — not so much that I relate to it, but I just find it incredibly compelling this man who in Holy Week enters Jerusalem and is lauded as the Son of God, then in pretty much the next scene, he is kneeling in the garden, completely abandoned and alone.

Question 2: I was wondering if you could comment on your relationship to Leonard Cohen’s work.

NC: I’ve always been a huge fan of Leonard Cohen. I grew up in a country town in Victoria. It was bright and hot and Australian, and I had feelings about things that didn’t correlate to the environment that I grew up in, shall we say. A friend one day played me this Leonard Cohen record they’d found, Songs of Love and Hate. I was maybe 14 or 15. On the first song “Avalanche”, this voice came out that had this gravitas to it, and that just blew me away. That particular record is absolutely fundamental to me. He also had a journey from very dark, very angry records to something gentler and more resolved. But I do like that first record. Songs of Love and Hate had a huge impact. I never met him unfortunately.

Question 3: I love the song Into My Arms, when you talk about angels. We have talked about Christ and about the brokenness of humanity, but there is a kind of in-between spiritual being, like the angels and the saints. In that song, you say “I don’t believe in them” — but what do they mean to you?

NC: Within the Christian religion, there’s some weird stuff, right? The Christian religion in itself, to me, is deeply strange and there’s a whole lot of fantastical sorts of things that are in it. But I kind of like that too. I like the strangeness, the challenge of believing – or handing myself over to – something that just doesn’t make any sense. Angels are one of those things, for sure.

Question 4: First of all, thank you Nick. There was time in my life when I felt very broken, and your words just meant everything, when most people’s didn’t — so thank you. But there’s something else about your words. They often made me laugh. And I wondered what makes you laugh?

NC: My words? No, I mean, it’s funny, because, like Leonard Cohen, we’re both humourists, probably, beyond anything. Admittedly, Songs of Love and Hate isn’t that funny, but it’s certainly got something going on in it. It’s often struck me as strange that I see much of what I do as essentially comic writing. You know, I sit down and I know that I’m writing a funny song — and there’s not many musicians that do that. Yet I’m seen as, you know, dark. That it’s all kind of bleakness and darkness. So thank you for seeing the funny side of things.

Question 5: You spoke earlier about feeling a sense of completeness. But do you really feel complete? And if so, do you think that an artist can create something in that sort of state of mind? Looking back at some of the music that you’ve created, when you weren’t necessarily feeling as complete — it’s fantastic. Can you create good art when you’re feeling “whole”?

NC: It’s a very good question. It always strikes me that we always feel, wherever we are, at that particular point in time, a sort of sense of arrival somewhere. But you look back, and you realise that it’s just never been the case. I am always looking back with a faint feeling of embarrassment at what I was up to even a year ago. So you have this feeling of arrival, but I don’t think you ever really arrive. I do have a feeling of repetition, that I’m circling around certain ideas and coming back to the same things over and over again. But completeness wasn’t a good word.

FS: You have always been propelled by a drive for the new, from the town in Australia, where you grew up, all the way to launching your first career and leaving Australia, reinventing yourself, new styles, new horizons. Something in you seems to be constantly propelled forward.

NC: Yeah, I wouldn’t use that word, “reinvention”, either. I work with people who are extremely creative, and risk-takers, like Warren Ellis, for example, a born risk-taker with music. He simply will not go near anything that he feels, musically, has been done before. So that pushes me.

And I feel that same way about words, too — that they need to reflect where I am authentically. And that changes. Trying to do the thing that you’ve done before is just a losing battle. So you move forward, forever forward. If I do have a kind of faint pride in what I’ve done, it is that I continue to dismantle the things that have gone before, by the things that I’m doing now. And that’s maybe what the creative process is: it’s an act of murder to the work that’s gone before. Moving on, whether it’s to something better or not, I don’t know — I don’t really think of the things in that way. Just something different.

Question 6: Another question related to Leonard Cohen, I’m afraid. A very famous songwriter said that as he got older, his own songs became more like prayers. It’s something you’ve talked about on The Red Hand Files. Are you conscious of that as you write some of your songs?

NC: That they’re prayers? I think that they are to some degree prayers, yeah. I think Ghosteen in particular. At the time, I was in a deep existential crisis. And that record was some way to deal with the spiritual condition of my son who died, that it felt like those songs reached into the unknown toward him. And that felt, at the time of making that record, the purpose of that record. A way in which I could somehow affect his spiritual condition in a positive way.

I mean, this sounds crazy, but I was worried about him. And so I felt that these songs were a way of reaching toward him. and I still worry about that, to some degree, even though I obviously also understand that he may not be there. It doesn’t stop me thinking it. It’s a difficult thing, and it expands out into everything really. Of course, God may not exist, but on some level, that is a mere detail. It’s what we do ourselves: to reach beyond ourselves is the point of this sort of stuff. I’m not really explaining that very well.

FS: We think you are! Is this search for something more, for the new, the creative impulse — is it connected to the religious impulse? It feels like that was always there. Somehow, even if you were taking heroin and writhing around on the stage and semi-naked, apparently completely opposite to the person sitting on this sofa chatting to me, you had the same impulse: you were looking for more?

NC: Yes, that’s right. As a songwriter, what I’m trying to do is write songs, with the fullest heart I possibly can, and to be as open to things as I possibly can be. The atheist notion, which often seems like the most rational — I get it. I understand the atheist impulse. I have a little Hitchens inside me too! But I also want to be able to expand the parameters of what I do creatively to encompass everything. And so, for me, the inner Hitchens is just bad for the business of songwriting. That little sceptical voice — it’s just bad for art.

Question 7: You talked about having a pulse on the culture and the mood. Compared to the early days of The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds, there’s probably a very different set of orthodoxies now in 2023, that you might have been kicking against?

NC: When we talk about being offensive, in the punk rock days, when offensiveness was the sacred duty, it was very much to kick against the establishment. That’s what was happening, but that was not me, I was never doing that. I was much more concerned with irritating my peers, and my audience. But what I mean by “irritating” is to ignite their imaginations, and get them thinking about things, and challenge them about things. This felt like the way to make good art: to confront people.

So I was not really interested in the punk rock thing with Thatcher. That was the energy, a hatred of the establishment, behind that music. I came from Australia; I didn’t have that political fury. I was much more concerned with fucking with people on a different kind of a level. And I was always at odds with my peers, I would say.

FS: So how do you fuck with people in 2023?

NC: You’d go to church and be a conservative.

Question 8: I really love The Birthday Party albums when I was a teenager. People have mentioned the energy and the humour, but what I really identified with was your sense of alienation. I was growing up in Yorkshire in the Seventies, and I felt alienated for various reasons. I just wonder what it is about your childhood that made you feel alienated.

NC: I grew up in a country town and for the first 10 or 11 years, everything went beautifully. I had loving parents, I had a free-range childhood. My mother used to just kick me out of the house in the morning and say: “Come back for dinner.” It was like a Spielberg movie — kids on their bikes, all that sort of stuff. A very free, very beautiful, uncomplicated, happy, childhood. But there was something inside me that started to attract trouble. As soon as I became 11, 12, at high school, I felt not so much alienated, but just that I had to burst out of this fucking country town that I was stuck in. I just ignited in a wholly different way: a need to just get out. I got basically kicked out of high school, and I went to Melbourne, to a boarding school — and that was a whole other set of disasters. It wasn’t alienation so much as a need to get away from the smallness of things. I think I still feel that, on a spiritual level.

Question 9: One of the overlooked aspects of being creative is deciding what to perform, deciding what you’re going to express on a tour. And your attitude towards people in the world has changed quite radically over the last few years. When you look back on your body of work, are there songs or periods that you think won’t get an airing anymore? If I can be cheeky and challenge you to be specific on why.

NC: No, I think you want me to name my most problematic songs. Is that right? There are certainly songs that I wouldn’t play these days, but it’s not because I’m worried about what people might think about them. They just were written by a 19-, 20-year-old kid, and they’re just not very wise songs. I have absolutely no idea what I’m even trying to say within those songs. They just sound good. Songs like that I just couldn’t engage with anymore. But there are a lot of old songs that I still play, because they are exciting to play, and I still feel something about them.

FS: Are there any songs you don’t like? That when someone comes and says “I love this song!” your heart sinks?

NC: There are songs I like…less. I wouldn’t like to say which — it’s a bit mean to your songs, isn’t it? There are some extremely famous songs in my catalogue that are not perhaps my favourite stuff. But they may also be the songs that people really treasure.

Question 10: Back to theology, sorry. It is Holy Week. I think we can all understand your profound religious faith, but we might have difficulty with your support for the church as a bureaucracy and an organisation. Can you explain?

NC: That’s a very good question. and it comes up all the time. People just won’t have it. “Just look at what the church has done!” And of course, it’s responsible for some heinous things historically (and to this day). For me, there’s much about the church, there’s so much about Christianity, that’s difficult to accept. But to sit in a church, with all this stuff around it, and to somehow be moved, seems like an achievement. “Even though there’s all this stuff, here I am.”

FS: It’s almost like a rebellion, a defiance?

NC: I’m not a historian, I’m not somebody who knows too much about theology. I don’t want to make a case or defend the church. I can only say that there’s something about the distance travelled: from sitting there with my sceptical self, in this (possibly completely corrupt) institution, and finding that I can actually walk out of there having a transcendent moment. It’s something that I don’t get sitting in a park. I don’t get the same thing watching a sunrise. I sometimes get the same thing listening to music. There’s something about music that is authentically transformative.

FS: Does any part of you worry that the Christian aspect is going to take over? That you are going to alienate fans from earlier decades? “What’s going on with Nick Cave? He’s talking about God and Christ all the time…”

NC: No, I don’t. My manager might worry about it. He’s over there. But no, I don’t worry about that. I’ve been going on about this stuff for years! I think maybe 30 years ago, NME sat me down for an interview and, right before we start, the editor says: “None of this God stuff!” This is not new.

I just had a beautiful opportunity, through writing a book in conversation with Sean O’Hagan, to expand on my beliefs. And they were news to me, to some degree! That’s what conversation can do. You can arrive at things, you can find things out about yourself. The things that I said to Sean were extraordinary, in a way. Very quickly, through the course of conversation, I changed my opinions about things all the time. He said, “Well, two weeks ago, you said yes, and now you’re saying no.” And that is the great beauty of conversation: that you hear yourself say things that feel like they mean something, and other things that are just patent nonsense. You’ve got to get that stuff out of your head.

Question 11: A few years ago, you said, as you’re getting older, you’re becoming more and more obsessed with sex. Is that still true?

NC: Just as obsessed — but not as often.

Nick Cave is an Australian singer-songwriter, poet and writer.