From The Birthday Party to The Bad Seeds:
A closer look at Mick Harvey’s collaborations with Nick Cave
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of Hear/Say Magazine
his co-founding status in the seminal goth group The Birthday Party alongside Nick Cave to becoming commander of the front man’s ever evolving Bad Seeds band, multi-instrumentalist/composer/arranger/producer Mick Harvey is a cult-like legend of sorts. While it would be easy for the Australian guitar god to simply wax nostalgia and coast off both bands’ highly storied histories, the veteran player stays locked in the present, which at this particularly point in time, is hitting the road with Cave and company to support Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (Anti-)
“People always ask me, ‘are you looking forward to visiting Europe?’ or ‘are you looking forward to coming over with the band to America?’ and I’ve never really thought about it,” he offers in a thick Australian accent phoning in from home. “I guess it’s kind of like asking someone ‘are you looking forward to taking the train to work today?’ to which they’ll likely respond ‘not really.’ They’re just doing what they’re doing and I just suppose on some sort of bizarre level, I’m more of an ‘in the moment’ kind of person even though I’m always planning ahead all the time. But on some level I think that’s kind of good because if it stopped, I might look back and miss it!”
Despite the constant wheels of motion, Harvey does take time to notice the reaction to the latest Bad Seeds batch, which he finds to be a generally positive vibe aside from those aficionados who might not find the tone gloomy enough. For the unfamiliar, the eclectic troupe is known for intertwining fascinating narratives with often times brooding (if not downright bizarre) storylines, wrapped around hypnotic instrumentation, dizzying guitar grinds and unpredictable percussion. That direction certainly continues on this disc, but also finds the group leaning in a bluesy, roots rock n’ roll direction inspired by Cave’s 2007 side project Grinderman, which played a mere handful of Stateside shows (including a couple supporting The White Stripes).
“Nick needs [The Bad Seeds] to be sympathetic and understand what he’s trying to do without actually discussing it, but we could the sense direction this album was going to take from the kind of material that kept coming up in the sessions,” Harvey notices. “A lot has been informed by things that have happened with the group itself and also Grinderman, which was obviously a great release for Nick lyrically that threw him into a different place. So [Grinderman’s] been fantastic from that point of view and it was an energized experience for Nick that kind of flowed through the group and is reflected in the new album.”
As has been the group’s tradition, most tour dates will take place on international soil, despite a fervent underground U.S. presence. Though Cave and his collective would prefer a more extensive outing, they’re sticking to select states for both logistical and economical reasons, often setting up shop for multiple dates in the same city.
“When you’re selling less records, it’s inevitable to become more of a cult band since we’re not popping our head over the horizon [in America] whereas in Australia, Nick is a household name and in much of Europe, he’s not far off that,” Harvey observes. “America is a completely different type of thing where in some ways its really nice because there’s a level of enthusiasm that’s slightly heightened and it gets that kind of ‘in club’ kind of feel. But it is a little difficult for us because it makes touring there less profitable, which is the bottom line (laughter) and the other is you can’t really play lot of cities because you’d have to compromise on production. So we only play about ten cities to present the best show we can at the level we’re accustomed to doing.”
Outside of being the sole original member of the Bad Seeds who’s been on the road and in the studio since its inception in 1984, Harvey also had the unique perspective of being with Cave in The Birthday Party and is able to share one of a kind insight into the transition between the two. In The Birthday Party, Cave was simply one piece of the puzzle amidst a full-band dynamic, whereas he’s the primary figurehead of the Bad Seeds resulting in less of a collaborative feel.
“I just had to realign [when we switched projects] but there came a point where Nick just wasn’t interested in the kind of music The Birthday Party was playing anymore and he found it hard to relate, which left me to writing a lot of the music by the end,” recalls Harvey. “So when it came to his solo thing, it was him finding out what he wanted to do musically and I stepped back into a role of being a musician and arranger, which was not difficult at all.”
Even across all the changes, Cave and Harvey have an unbreakable bond both in and out of the limelight, constantly encouraging each other to follow their artistic interests and always leaving time for projects outside The Bad Seeds. For Harvey, that means a fairly steady streak of solo albums, alongside frequent collaborations with indie icon PJ Harvey (no relation) in the studio.
“The balance can be difficult because there are certain times things just take priority and you have to push others to the side, but it’s also my decision to prioritize,” he verifies. “Because of all the other stuff that’s happening right now, I’m just in my ideas phase [of the next solo project] and sometimes it is a bit of a juggling act. I’m also involved on working with a lot of Australian artists and PJ on her next project, but I have to say ‘no’ to a lot of job offers, usually those in production. My most common response to those requests is ‘if I do your [record], then I can’t do mine, so what would you do?’ and they certainly understand with no further explanation needed!”
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