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Nick Cave on how to be inspired as a songwriter

As one of the greatest living songwriters, any advice from Nick Cave regarding the craft comes as a very welcome gift. For nearly fifty years now he has been creating music and in his latest instalment of the Red Hand Files, he has illuminated the secrets of the trade. 

Before we get onto the advice he has divulged on this occasion, let’s first mention his way of working as described by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea: “Creativity waxes and wanes. We’re very lucky. We’ve made bunches of fucking money,” he once said, adding: “We could be sat on the beach eating burritos, but even when we’re pissed off with each other we sit in a room and work. Igor Stravinsky sat at his piano every fucking day. Some days it was rubbish and his wife was chewing his ear off – but he stuck at it. The same thing goes for Nick Cave, the greatest living songwriter. He goes to work! Every day. And that’s what we do.”

It is high praise from Flea, that every Nick Cave fan can certainly get behind. Nick Cave invertedly returned the compliment in his only public mention of RHCP, “I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the fuck is this garbage?’,” he once said, “And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”

Despite divergent opinions on each other’s music, it would seem that both artists share an admiration for hard work. As Cave expressed on the Red Hand Files, “I also have an affinity with artists who treat their craft as a job and are not dependent on the vagaries of inspiration — because I am one of them. Like most people with a job, we just go to work. It never occurs to us not to work, there is never a moment when we don’t work because ‘we are not feeling it’ or ‘the vibes aren’t right’. We just do our hours, as I am doing mine now.”

He then went on to delineate the importance of simply being present, “The most important undertaking of my day is to simply sit down at my desk and pick up my pen. Without this elementary act I could not call myself a songwriter, because songs come to me in intimations too slight to be perceived, unless I am primed and ready to receive them. They come not with a fanfare, but in whispers, and they come only when I am at work.”

Cave then continues to poetically dissect the truth behind the adage that inspiration rarely seizes the idle. You must be busying yourself in search of it, he says, then “once inside the imagination all manner of inexplicable things occur.”

Then when all is said and done, the tank has been emptied and the work is in the bank, it’s time for a takeaway “you step away. It’s Saturday night and time for dinner and your rider’s name is Irfan.” God bless, his hardworking soul that has given us so much over the years, and Nick Cave’s contribution is right up with Irfan’s as well.