Nick Cave has revealed that a challenge set to him by a friend played a crucial role in the creative direction of his most recent album, Carnage.
In what has been a whirlwind few weeks for fans of the Bad Seeds, Cave and his partner in crime, Warren Ellis, dropped the surprise new album as an attempt to lighten the blow of a cancelled tour.
The record was written throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the socially distanced lockdown measures that came with it. Reflecting on this time during a recent edition of his Red Hand Files forum, Cave explained that he had “nothing in my head but a whole lot of dread and uncertainty,” as he encountered issues with creativity.
Now though, as supporters of the Bad Seeds revel in the new material during this uncertain time, Cave is offering insight into its creation, revealing that British artist Thomas Houseago arrived as a major influence.
“The song ‘White Elephant’ is dedicated to the British sculptor and painter, Thomas Houseago,” Cave revealed. “I met Thomas in Los Angeles around the time of the release of Ghosteen — a record Thomas loved — and we became very close friends. I would visit his massive studio in Frogtown, where he worked on his giant sculptures and dark traumatic paintings, violent amplifications of his beautiful but troubled soul.”
Cave continued: “At the beginning of this year, just prior to the pandemic, Thomas dropped off the map. I was back in Brighton by then, and his sudden disappearance was very worrying. He eventually got in touch some months later — he told me he’d had a breakdown, but with help from various people in LA he had begun the process of putting himself back together. He said that he was currently in Malibu recovering. He seemed subdued, he said that he was doing okay but could no longer find it in himself to make art.
“It was at a time when I was having difficulty getting the lyrics together for the record that would become Carnage. I had been sitting on my balcony in Brighton, with the world going to hell, and nothing in my head but a whole lot of dread and uncertainty. And so, over the phone, I made a deal with Thomas — if he painted me a picture, I would write him a song. I felt that this challenge might give him the impetus to create something — I have found that sometimes it can be helpful to remove oneself from the creative process, and do work in the service of others. I personally felt I could write a song for my friend Thomas, even if I couldn’t write one for myself.
“That night I wrote ‘White Elephant’ and sent it to him.”