Nick Cave opens up about his “calm, joyful and reckless” friendship with Bads Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis
At a time when live music is off the menu amid strict social distancing measures, the time away from crowded venues has allowed us the chance to deep dive into the world of some iconic musicians, Here, we look at Nick Cave’s comments about his unbreakable friendship with longterm collaborator Warren Ellis.
In a growing list of detailed essays, Cave turned to his fan-led forum The Red Hand Files—an open platform that allows him to take and answer questions from the public—to reflect on the relationship with his closest collaborator. Of the many different topics, which has also included a beautifully open answer about the tragic death of his teenage son, Cave answered multiple questions from fans wanting to know more about his relationship with Warren Ellis.
Ellis, who officially joined the Bad Seeds as the band were working on 1995 album Murder Ballads, has been an integral force in the creative spirit of Cave and the rest of the band. When his fans asked for more information, Cave said: “His influence was apparent from the start. Over the years I have developed a relationship with Warren that goes way beyond a professional collaboration and we are the best of friends.”
He added: “There is a certain sanctity in this friendship in that it has traversed all manner of troubles over the last twenty or so years, yet remains as resilient as ever,” before adding: “On a professional level we have developed a style of songwriting based almost exclusively on a kind of spiritual intuition and improvisation that feels, as Henry Miller prescribes, calm, joyful and reckless.
“In the songwriting sessions we sit and focus and grin and crash around in things. Warren is essentially an ideas machine (anyone who has worked in the studio with him will tell you the same) and it is an extraordinary privilege to be around him, both on stage and in the studio – and anywhere else, actually. When he is in full flight, he is unstoppable, and he is rarely not in full flight.”
Since he contributed to the creation of Murder Ballads, Ellis and Cave have been side-by-side ever since. Two years later The Boatman’s Call arrived, four years after that No More Shall We Part, Nocturama, Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Push the Sky Away and, of course, the gutwrenchingly powerful Skeleton Tree.
Detailing their, working relationship a litter further, Cave explained that one glance… one moment of eye contact is enough to push their ideas through the glass window that separates them: “When we write songs together, we do so in a small studio near Brighton. I sit in one room with my piano and lyric books and microphone, and Warren sits in another room with his many instruments,” he said.
“There is a glass wall between us. We don’t discuss what we are doing, but simply start to play together. It is purely improvised. We make eye contact through the glass wall. This is essential. I can’t really define it but something happens; something that has to do with intuition and trust and jeopardy – the willingness to risk and, of course, to fail,” he added.
“In the end, I think Warren and I understand that the longevity of a collaboration depends to a certain extent on the conservation of friendship – friendships need care and constant maintenance – and so we exist as friends beyond the work as well. We go about our work – sometimes together, sometimes apart – and we wish each other happiness, and when one of us is in trouble, the other comes a-running, as the song goes.”