During your show, you were taking the piss out of certain lead singers of other bands.

Well, it’s an easy target. My talks, the thing I do between songs, are to break things up. I’m still not sure if it’s a good thing to do. I don’t know if it breaks the mood or not. The music is so intense and so draining that I need a break from it. I need to step back a bit. Then I can launch into it. I like interacting with the audience. I like when it goes horribly wrong. I have a general thread that I’m following but it can go off anywhere. That originally started in Australia where I was talking about Gina Rinehart, who is the world’s richest woman.

That mining woman who inherited all her money?

Exactly, yeah! She’s an absolute asshole.

Is she worse than Pauline Hanson?

She’s shocking, this woman. She’s shocking. She’s so vile. She’s a pig in every sense. No disrespect to pigs, but she’s just foul. At the time she was really making a lot of news just for being horrible. I’ve always had a problem with people who espouse certain virtues but don’t pay tax and stuff like that. I always found this hypocritical thing of Bono’s attitude, this “I’m such a great guy” and all this stuff. In my story I had Bono and Gina Rinehart married off and giving all their money away to charity and make a pie shop on the outskirts of town. It involved other things like manufacturing psychedelic drugs and blah blah blah. But when I left Australia I realized it didn’t really make any sense in the context.

We would think of a pie shop here as a place where you get sweet pies.

Yeah, exactly. It’s a thing. Sometimes I have to be global and sometimes I have to be local.

Hemorrhoids, like you mentioned last night, are global.

Well, they are global and I was particularly offended by that version of “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)” (by Coldplay at the Adam Yauch tribute).

I haven’t seen it.

Well, YouTube it (laughs). It’s horrible.

I really enjoyed your show last night. I’m glad I stuck around for the Horse Stories song at the end. Jim White is a fantastic drummer.

He’s great. He’s one of the greats, Jim.

I know you’re the frontman, but I really love watching him.

I’m not really, it’s just by default. When we first started out in the early ‘90s, the first and only time we ever tried to do an interview together was a television interview and as soon as they asked a question and the camera rolled, there was just silence. The three of us were just sitting there. After a few questions of us just sitting there, someone asked, “What’s going to happen here because nothing is going on?” So I thought, “Well, I gotta answer the question,” so I started talking. The other two just sat there. Even when they said, “Look, can we ask you a couple of questions,” they wouldn’t answer. So, I got the job as doing all the talking.

You do it admirably.

Well, one does one’s best. So I got that sort of position. See, when we started out, we were just playing at a bar and there weren’t a lot of instrumental bands on the kind of scene in Australia and I don’t even think worldwide there was. Maybe there were some very obscure ones, but this was before Mogwai, Godspeed and all that stuff. There wasn’t like a rock band out there playing high-powered instrumental music, as far as I was aware anyway. When we started playing, friends would say, “Oh, I hear you got a band together.” And I said, “Yeah, it’s an instrumental band.” And they would say, “Oh, that’s jazz. I don’t like jazz.” I said, “Well, it’s actually not jazz, it’s got more to do with country and Western than anything else.” I actually started talking because I had a particularly shitty day. I think a girlfriend had cut her wrists or something. Things on the home front were really kind of messy.

When was this?

Early ‘90s. Like when we first started playing. You know, it was just one of those kinds of days. I really didn’t feel like going and doing the show. So we were playing the show and I just started talking about my day. Everybody thought I was making it up and they all started laughing at me. Then I started laughing too and I just rode with it then. Because I said, “This is a song about your fucking girlfriend, blah blah blah.” Everyone thought I was making it up and I wasn’t! Then I realized it actually helped. I don’t know, sometimes I think it ruins it for people too because they don’t really want to hear that sort of stuff. Certainly in the beginning it helped people come in and I’ve always enjoyed that thing of bringing people in and involving them. You go to see a band and you realized there’s this sort of wall between you and them and there’s no engagement going on. When was the last time you had of someone directing the audience from the stage?

I saw John Darnielle in the same venue a few months ago and he did a lot of talking. Billy Bragg does it too. But yeah, it’s not common.

Yeah, it doesn’t happen very often.

How much of it is off the cuff and how much of it is scripted?

Half and half. Interaction with people is always a funny thing. You never know how it’s going to go. Like I was saying to you before, last night I was trying to work out how I was going to get on that guy’s shoulders. That’s never crossed my mind before, but I just suddenly thought, “Ah, this might be interesting.” I just felt so great in there. The sound guy thought I was going to jump down and punch him (Editor’s note: the sound guy kept fucking with Ellis, adding an echo effect to his mike).

Were you getting tired of the echo effect? It was funny.

No, it’s just a kind of running gag with him and me. It’s like there’s two worlds operating in there. There’s the world of the music that takes you somewhere else and there’s the other thing that really puts you in the present.

When I’ve seen you play live, shouting and screaming is part of your act but on the record you don’t do that at all. Is that something you’ve ever thought about including?

No, because the problem with it on the record is that you just can’t get it out. Quite often we’re set up in the same room playing live so it goes across everything. And I’m not going to sit down and do it afterwards. Occasionally you might hear it on a recording. Generally, it’s very different playing in a studio to playing to an audience. There’s something really different when you know there’s an audience there and there’s a performance going on. You are entering a different space than you are in the studio. The studio’s a totally different thing. We’ve never really captured that energy in the studio that we get live.

Is that screaming and shouting a catharsis for you?

Yeah, it’s kind of an extension of the notes. I just found more and more too I like it for phrasing. I like to play a line and then get this thing. It’s really cool and sometimes the audience yells back at you. They get involved. I remember loving that at rock shows. In a way, it’s subverting the genre. There are elements of a rock show that are considered bogun.

What?

Bogun, dumbing it down or something like that. They don’t have to be. I remember finding that with Grinderman when we went out and played. With the first album we had about 40 minutes. That was all we could play.

Yeah, you did the encore with Bad Seeds stuff.

Yeah, it was just great. People kind of jumped into it. Then when the second album came out and we were out playing festivals, people were on shoulders and clapping along and stuff like that. I certainly never sensed it in any of the groups I played in before. It was always like, “Oh yeah, leave that to kind of whatever….Bon Jovi!” You know, it’s actually kind of fun. A big part of Grinderman was about learning things too.

That’s done, eh?

Well, for the time being. There’s other work to be done. There’s no definite anything.

You have all these projects with Bad Seeds, Grinderman, Dirty Three and scoring. Is there one dominant one?

The only dominant one is making music and try and keep going. I’ve never had a plan with it but suddenly I’ve had a 20 year plus history in it. That’s the first time I can look back and see some sort of shape to it. For the first 15 years I didn’t see any kind of pattern to it. I think the more different things that I did, the more projects I was involved in, the more shape I could see to it.

Was The Boatman’s Call your first Nick Cave record?

I played on Let Love In and Murder Ballads but Boatman’s Call was the first complete album I was on.

That was 1997, right? That was 15 years ago. Shit! It came out 15 years ago?

Yeah.

No, really? Fucking hell.

Yeah, I know. Tell me about it. I see Ziggy Stardust remastered 40 years and I’m like, “Whaaat!”

Like for me, R.E.M.’s Document is 25.

Yeah, that’s strange. That’s just life. That’s what happens.

So what happens to Miley Cyrus in 50 years? We get a remastered hologram.

Exactly, exactly. I don’t know how I managed to stay in there, but I have. It still continues to be viable for me. As long as I feel like what I’m doing is vital and that I’ve got something to say with it or I feel like I can stand by it, I really want to keep doing it as long as I can. I honestly have never put something out where I thought, “Ah, this is not really good but we gotta put a record out, so away we go.” I still don’t feel like I’ve done something really great. That’s my aim. My goal is to do something really great. I have to be happy with it at a certain point to let it go.

You have more control over the Dirty Three projects than some of the other stuff, don’t you?

Not really. It’s the same with everything. If I have concerns, I will raise them. The soundtrack stuff I’m very heavily engaged in because it’s just me and Nick doing it.

Did you do Lawless?

Yeah, we did a lot on Lawless. And a new one West of Memphis on the West Memphis Three.

Yeah, I can’t believe that. I remember them going into prison when I was their age.

It’s a nightmare of a story but it’s amazing that they actually made that documentary and the first one. It saved those kids’ lives.

I have one last question. Every time I’ve seen you live, I’ve been fascinated by necklaces, pendants and charms. Are there stories behind any of those?

I just like to be covered. I’ve got a bunch of Greek gods, Christian god, there’s Buddhist stuff. It’s just keeps me covered. I don’t really subscribe. I figure if I got them all on there, I’m okay. I’ve always liked the Hare Krishna approach that there’s just one god, that everyone’s god was the same person. There seemed like something generous about that. They figured it was one person all rolled under one name, but with different names for different people. I’m not a practicing anything but I do like to wear a chain and I do like to wear a necklace. I like the way that it swings. I like two buttons open on the shirt and I’ve always liked the chain (laughs).

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