Nicholas Edward Cave AO (born 22 September 1957) is an Australian musician, singer-songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional film actor, best known as the frontman of the rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Referred to as rock music's "Prince of Darkness", Cave's music is generally characterised by emotional intensity, a wide variety of influences, and lyrical obsessions with death, religion, love and violence.
Born and raised in rural Victoria, Cave studied art before turning to music in the 1970s. As frontman of the Boys Next Door (later renamed the Birthday Party), he became a central figure in Melbourne's burgeoning post-punk scene. The band relocated to London in 1980, but, disillusioned by life there, evolved towards a darker, more challenging sound, and acquired a reputation as "the most violent live band in the world". The Birthday Party is regarded as a major influence on gothic rock, and Cave, with his shock of black hair and pale, emaciated look, was described in the media as a poster boy for the genre.
After the break-up of the Birthday Party in 1983, Cave formed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Much of the band's early material was set in a mythic American Deep South, drawing on spirituals and Delta blues, while Cave's preoccupation with Old Testament notions of good versus evil culminated in what has been called his signature song, "The Mercy Seat" (1988). The 1996 album Murder Ballads features "Where the Wild Roses Grow", a duet with Kylie Minogue, Cave's most commercially successful single to date. The band has released 16 studio albums, the most recent being 2016's Skeleton Tree. Cave formed the garage rock group Grinderman in 2006, which has since released two albums.
Cave co-wrote, scored and starred in the 1988 Australian prison film Ghosts... of the Civil Dead (1988), directed by John Hillcoat. He also wrote the screenplay for Hillcoat's bushranger film The Proposition (2005), and composed the soundtrack with frequent collaborator Warren Ellis. The pair's film score credits include The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), The Road (2009), Lawless (2012), and Hell or High Water (2016). Cave is the subject of several films, including the semi-fictional "day in the life" 20,000 Days on Earth (2014), and the documentary One More Time with Feeling (2016). Cave has also released two novels: And the Ass Saw the Angel (1989) and The Death of Bunny Munro (2009).
Cave was born on 22 September 1957 in Warracknabeal, a small country town in the state of Victoria, Australia, to Dawn Cave (née Treadwell) and Colin Frank Cave. As a child, he lived in Warracknabeal and then Wangaratta in rural Victoria. His father taught English and mathematics at the local technical school; his mother was a librarian at the high school that Nick attended. Cave's father introduced him to literary classics from an early age, such as Crime and Punishment and Lolita, and also organised the first symposium on the Australian bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly, with whom Nick was enamoured as a child.
When Cave was 9 he joined the choir of Wangaratta’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. At 13 he was expelled from Wangaratta High School. In 1970, having moved with his family to the Melbourne suburb of Murrumbeena, he became a boarder and later day student at Caulfield Grammar School. He was 19 when his father was killed in a car accident; his mother told him of his father's death while she was bailing him out of a St Kilda police station where he was being held on a charge of burglary. He would later recall that his father "died at a point in my life when I was most confused" and that "the loss of my father created in my life a vacuum, a space in which my words began to float and collect and find their purpose".
After his secondary schooling, Cave studied painting at the Caulfield Institute of Technology in 1976, but dropped out the following year to pursue music. He also began using heroin around the time that he left art school.
Cave attended his first music concert at Melbourne's Festival Hall. The bill consisted of Manfred Mann, Deep Purple and Free. Cave recalled: "I remember sitting there and feeling physically the sound going through me."
In 1973, Cave met Mick Harvey (guitar), Phill Calvert (drums), John Cochivera (guitar), Brett Purcell (bass), and Chris Coyne (saxophone); fellow students at Caulfield Grammar. They founded a band with Cave as singer. Their repertoire consisted of proto-punk cover versions of songs by Lou Reed, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Roxy Music and Alex Harvey, among others. Later, the line-up slimmed down to four members including Cave's friend Tracy Pew on bass. In 1977, after leaving school, they adopted the name The Boys Next Door and began playing predominantly original material. Guitarist and songwriter Rowland S. Howard joined the band in 1978.
They were a leader of Melbourne's post-punk scene in the late 1970s, playing hundreds of live shows in Australia before changing their name to the Birthday Party in 1980 and moving to London, then West Berlin. Cave's Australian girlfriend and muse Anita Lane accompanied them to London. The band were notorious for their provocative live performances which featured Cave shrieking, bellowing and throwing himself about the stage, backed up by harsh pounding rock music laced with guitar feedback. Cave utilised Old Testament imagery with lyrics about sin, debauchery and damnation. Cave's droll sense of humour and penchant for parody is evident in many of the band's songs, including "Nick the Stripper" and "King Ink". "Release the Bats", one of the band's most famous songs, was intended as an over-the-top "piss-take" on gothic rock, and a "direct attack" on the "stock gothic associations that less informed critics were wont to make". Ironically, it became highly influential on the genre, giving rise to a new generation of bands.
After establishing a cult following in Europe and Australia, the Birthday Party disbanded in 1984. Howard and Cave found it difficult to continue working together and both were rather worn down from alcohol and drug use.
The band with Cave as their leader and frontman has released sixteen studio albums. Pitchfork Media calls the group one of rock's "most enduring, redoubtable" bands, with an accomplished discography. Though their sound tends to change considerably from one album to another, the one constant of the band is an unpolished blending of disparate genres, and song structures which provide a vehicle for Cave's virtuosic, frequently histrionic theatrics. Critics Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Steve Huey wrote: "With the Bad Seeds, Cave continued to explore his obsessions with religion, death, love, America, and violence with a bizarre, sometimes self-consciously eclectic hybrid of blues, gospel, rock, and arty post-punk."
Reviewing 2008's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! album, NME used the phrase "gothic psycho-sexual apocalypse" to describe the "menace" present in the lyrics of the title track. Their most recent work, Skeleton Tree, was released in September 2016.
In mid-August 2013, Cave was a 'First Longlist' finalist for the 9th Coopers AMP, alongside artists such as Kevin Mitchell and the Drones. The Australian music prize is worth A$30,000. The prize ultimately went to Big Scary.
In September 2013 interview, Cave explained that he returned to using a typewriter for songwriting after his experience with the Nocturama album, as he "could walk in on a bad day and hit 'delete' and that was the end of it". Cave believes that he lost valuable work due to a "bad day".
In addition to his performances with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Cave has, since the 1990s, performed live 'solo' tours with himself on piano/vocals, Warren Ellis on violin/accordion and various others on bass and drums.
In 2006 Cave formed Grinderman - himself on vocals, guitar, organ & piano, Warren Ellis (tenor guitar, electric mandolin, violin, viola, guitar, backing vocals), Martyn P. Casey (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and Jim Sclavunos (drums, percussion, backing vocals).
The alternative rock outfit was formed as "a way to escape the weight of The Bad Seeds." The band's name was inspired by a Memphis Slim song, "Grinder Man Blues," which Cave is noted to have started singing during one of the band's early rehearsal sessions. The band's eponymous debut studio album, Grinderman, was released in 2007 to extremely positive reviews and the band's second and final studio album, Grinderman 2, was released in 2010 to a similar reception.
Cave's work was featured in a scene in the 1986 film, Dogs in Space by Richard Lowenstein. Cave performed parts of the Boys Next Door song "Shivers" twice during the film, once on video and once live.
Another early fan of Cave's was German director Wim Wenders, who lists Cave, along with Lou Reed and Portishead, as among his favorites. Two of Cave's songs were featured in his 1987 film Wings of Desire. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds also make a cameo appearance in this film. Two more songs were included in Wenders' 1993 sequel Faraway, So Close!, including the title track. The soundtrack for Wenders' 1991 film Until the End of the World features Cave's "(I'll Love You) Till the End of the World." His most recent production, Palermo Shooting, also contains a Nick Cave song, as does his 2003 documentary The Soul of a Man.
Cave's songs have also appeared in a number of Hollywood blockbusters - "There is a Light" appears on the 1995 soundtrack for Batman Forever, and "Red Right Hand" appeared in a number of films including The X-Files, Dumb & Dumber; Scream, its sequels Scream 2 and 3, and Hellboy (performed by Pete Yorn). In Scream 3, the song was given a reworking with Cave writing new lyrics and adding an orchestra to the arrangement of the track. "People Ain't No Good" was featured in the animated movie Shrek 2 and the song "O Children" was featured in the 2010 movie of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1.
In 2000 Andrew Dominik used "Release the Bats" in his film Chopper. Numerous other movies use Cave's songs including Box of Moonlight (1996), Mr In-Between (2001), Romance & Cigarettes (2005), Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009), The Freshman, Gas Food Lodging, Kevin & Perry Go Large, About Time
His works also appear in a number of major TV programs among them Trauma, The L Word, Traveler, The Unit, I Love the '70s, Outpatient, The Others, Nip/Tuck, and Californication. Most recently his work has appeared in the BBC series Peaky Blinders and the Australian series Jack Irish.
Cave played with Shane MacGowan on cover versions of Bob Dylan's "Death is Not the End" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". Cave also performed "What a Wonderful World" live with the Flaming Lips. Cave recorded a cover version of the Pogues song "Rainy Night in Soho", written by MacGowan.
MacGowan also sings a version of "Lucy", released on B-Sides and Rarities. On 3 May 2008, during the Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! tour, MacGowan joined Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on stage to perform "Lucy" at Dublin Castle in Ireland. Pulp's single "Bad Cover Version" includes on its B-side a cover version by Cave of that band's song "Disco 2000". On the Deluxe Edition of Pulp's Different Class another take of this cover can be found.
In 2000, one of Cave's heroes, Johnny Cash, covered Cave's "The Mercy Seat" on the album American III: Solitary Man, seemingly repaying Cave for the compliment he paid by covering Cash's "The Singer" (originally "The Folk Singer") on his Kicking Against the Pricks album. Cave was then invited to be one of many rock and country artists to contribute to the liner notes of the retrospective The Essential Johnny Cash CD, released to coincide with Cash's 70th birthday. Subsequently, Cave recorded a duet with Cash on a version of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" for Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around album (2002). A similar duet, the American folk song "Cindy", was released posthumously on the "Johnny Cash: Unearthed" boxset. Cave's song "Let the Bells Ring" is a posthumous tribute to Cash. Cave has also covered the song "Wanted Man" which is best known as performed by Johnny Cash but is a Bob Dylan composition.
In 2004, Cave gave a hand to Marianne Faithfull on the album, Before the Poison. He co-wrote and produced three songs ("Crazy Love", "There is a Ghost" and "Desperanto"), and the Bad Seeds are featured on all of them. He is also featured on "The Crane Wife" (originally by the Decemberists), on Faithfull's 2008 album, Easy Come, Easy Go.
Cave collaborated with the band Current 93 on their album All the Pretty Little Horses, where he sings the title track, a lullaby. For his 1996 album Murder Ballads, Cave recorded "Where the Wild Roses Grow" with Kylie Minogue, and "Henry Lee" with PJ Harvey.
Cave also took part in the "X-Files" compilation CD with some other artists, where he reads parts from the Bible combined with own texts, like "Time Jesum ...", he outed himself as a fan of the series some years ago, but since he does not watch much TV, it was one of the only things he watched. He collaborated on the 2003 single "Bring It On", with Chris Bailey, formerly of the Australian punk group, The Saints. Cave contributed vocals to the song "Sweet Rosyanne", on the 2006 album Catch That Train! from Dan Zanes & Friends, a children's music group.
In 2001, Cave recorded a cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be" for the film I Am Sam, and co-wrote and recorded the song "To Be By Your Side," for the soundtrack of the 2001 French documentary Le Peuple Migrateur (called Winged Migration in the US).
In 2006, Cave and Ellis composed the music for Andrew Dominik's adaptation of Ron Hansen's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. By the time Dominik's film was released, Hillcoat was preparing his next project, The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel about a father and son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Cave and Ellis wrote and recorded the score for the film, which was released in 2009.
In early 2011, Cave and Ellis composed the music for the Mexican film Dias de Gracias. Later in 2011, they reunited with Hillcoat to score his latest picture, Lawless. Cave also authored this screenplay based on the novel by Matt Bondurant. Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, the film was released in August 2012 (US) and September 2012 (UK).
Cave and Ellis also have documentary-score composition experience. In 2007, the pair composed the score for Geoffrey Smith's film, The English Surgeon, which traces Dr. Henry Marsh's struggle to bring modern neurosurgery to the confusion of post-Soviet Ukraine. They also wrote the score for The Girls of Phnom Penh, Matthew Watson's 2009 film exploring Cambodia's "virginity trade".
Cave's novel The Death of Bunny Munro, published in 2009, was released as an audiobook and Cave worked with Ellis, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard on the soundtrack. Forsyth and Pollard referred to the soundtrack as a 3D experience and stated: "We've not heard anything like this before – the result sits somewhere between a film soundtrack, a radio play and an hallucination."
Cave released his first book, King Ink, in 1988. It is a collection of lyrics and plays, including collaborations with Lydia Lunch. In 1997, he followed up with King Ink II, containing lyrics, poems, and the transcript of a radio essay he did for the BBC in July 1996, "The Flesh Made Word," discussing in biographical format his relationship with Christianity.
While he was based in West Berlin, Cave started working on what was to become his debut novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel (1989). Significant crossover is evident between the themes in the book and the lyrics Cave wrote in the late stages of the Birthday Party and the early stage of his solo career. "Swampland", from Mutiny, in particular, uses the same linguistic stylings ('mah' for 'my', for instance) and some of the same themes (the narrator being haunted by the memory of a girl called Lucy, being hunted like an animal, approaching death and execution). On 21 January 2008, a special edition of Cave's novel And the Ass Saw the Angel was released. Cave's second novel The Death of Bunny Munro was published on 8 September 2009 by Harper Collins books. Telling the story of a sex-addicted salesman, it was also released as a binaural audio-book produced by British Artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard and an iPhone app. The book originally started as a screenplay Cave was going to write for John Hillcoat.
Aside from movie soundtracks, Cave also wrote the screenplays for Hillcoat's The Proposition in 2005, and Lawless (based on the novel by Matt Bondurant) in 2011.
As proof of his interest in scripture, so evident in his lyrics and his prose writing, Cave wrote the foreword to a Canongate publication of the Gospel according to Mark, published in the UK in 1998. The American edition of the same book (published by Grove Press) contains a foreword by the noted American writer Barry Hannah.
Cave has made occasional appearances as an actor. He appears alongside Blixa Bargeld in the 1988 Peter Sempel film Dandy, playing dice, singing and speaking from his Berlin apartment. He is most prominently featured in the 1989 film Ghosts... of the Civil Dead, written and directed by John Hillcoat, and in the 1991 film Johnny Suede with Brad Pitt.
Cave appeared in the 2005 homage to Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, in which he performed "I'm Your Man" solo, and "Suzanne" with Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla. He also appeared in the 2007 film adaptation of Ron Hansen's novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, where he sings the ballad "Jesse James". Cave and Warren Ellis are credited for the film's soundtrack.
His interest in the work of Edward Gorey led to his participation in the BBC Radio 3 programme Guest + Host = Ghost, featuring Peter Blegvad and the radiophonic sound of the Langham Research Centre.
Cave has also lent his voice in narrating the award-winning animated film The Cat Piano. It was directed by Eddie White and Ari Gibson (of the People's Republic Of Animation), produced by Jessica Brentnall and features music by Benjamin Speed.
Cave wrote the screenplay for The Proposition, a film about bushrangers in the Australian outback during the late 19th century. Directed by John Hillcoat and filmed in Queensland in 2004, it premiered in October 2005 and was later released worldwide to critical acclaim. Cave explained his personal background in relation to writing the film's screenplay in a 2013 interview:
I had written long-form before but it is pure story-telling in script writing and that goes back as far as I can remember for me, not just with my father but with myself. I slept in the same bedroom as my sister for many years, until it became indecent to do so and I would tell her stories every night—that is how she would get to sleep. She would say "tell me a story" so I would tell her a story. So that ability, I very much had that from the start and I used to enjoy that at school so actually to write a script—it suddenly felt like I was just making up a big story.
The film critic for British newspaper The Independent called The Proposition "peerless," "a star-studded and uncompromisingly violent outlaw film." The generally ambient soundtrack was recorded by Cave and Warren Ellis.
An announcement in February 2010 stated that Andy Serkis and Cave would collaborate on a motion-capture movie of the Brecht and Weill musical The Threepenny Opera. As of September 2012, the project has not been realised.
Cave wrote a screenplay titled The Wettest County in the World, which was used for the 2012 film Lawless, directed again by John Hillcoat, starring Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf. The film opened in theaters on 29 August 2012.
Cave's son Arthur, 15, fell from a cliff at Ovingdean, near Brighton, England, and died from his injuries on 14 July 2015. Cave's family released a statement on the death, saying, "Our son Arthur died on Tuesday evening. He was our beautiful, happy loving boy. We ask that we be given the privacy our family needs to grieve at this difficult time." The effect of Arthur's death on Cave and his family was explored in the 2016 documentary film One More Time with Feeling and on the 2016 album Skeleton Tree.
Cave dated Anita Lane from the late 1970s to mid-1980s. Cave and Lane recorded together on a few occasions. Their most notable collaborations include Lane's 'cameo' verse on Cave's Bob Dylan cover "Death Is Not The End" from the album Murder Ballads, and a cover of the Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin song "Je t'aime... moi non plus/ I love you ... me neither". Lane co-wrote the lyrics to the title track for Cave's 1984 LP, From Her to Eternity, as well as the lyrics of the song "Stranger Than Kindness" from Your Funeral, My Trial. Cave, Lydia Lunch and Lane wrote a comic book together, entitled AS-FIX-E-8, in the style of the old "Pussy Galore"/Russ Meyer movies.
Cave then moved to São Paulo, Brazil in 1990, where he met and married his first wife, Brazilian journalist Viviane Carneiro. She gave birth to their son Luke in 1991. They were married for 6 years and divorced in 1996.
Cave's second son, Jethro, was also born in 1991 and grew up with his mother, Beau Lazenby, in Melbourne, Australia. Cave and Jethro did not meet one another until Jethro was about seven or eight.
Cave briefly dated PJ Harvey during the mid-1990s.
In 1997, Cave met British model Susie Bick. Bick was the cover model on the Damned's 1985 album Phantasmagoria and a Vivienne Westwood model. Bick is also the model on the cover of the album Push the Sky Away. She gave up her job when they married in 1999. Bick's and Cave's twin sons, Arthur and Earl, were born in Brighton in 2000. Arthur died in 2015, after falling from a cliff.
Cave is the godfather of Michael Hutchence's daughter Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. Cave performed "Into My Arms" at the televised funeral of Michael Hutchence, but insisted that the cameras cease rolling during his performance.
In the past, Cave identified as a Christian. In his recorded lectures on music and songwriting, he has claimed that any true love song is a song for God and has ascribed the mellowing of his music to a shift in focus from the Old to the New Testaments. He does not belong to a particular denomination and has distanced himself from "religion as being an American thing, in which the name of God has been hijacked". He said in a Los Angeles Times article: "I'm not religious, and I'm not a Christian, but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a god. It's kind of defending the indefensible, though; I'm critical of what religions are becoming, the more destructive they're becoming. But I think as an artist, particularly, it's a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs." When asked in 2009 about whether he believed in a personal God, Cave's reply was: "No". When interviewed by Jarvis Cocker on 12 September 2010, for his BBC Radio 6 show "Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service", Cave stated: "I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it."
In 2009, Cave joked about plans to erect a gold statue of himself in his hometown of Warracknabeal, based on a foot-high scale model which, according to Cave, features him "naked on a rearing horse. I have a modest loincloth on. It's this rather wonderful homoerotic work of art." Yarriambiack Council acknowledged the humour and tourist appeal behind Cave's proposal, daring him to "build a 50m-high Nick Cave with a viewing platform." A film about Cave's life, titled 20,000 Days on Earth and directed by artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, was released in mid-2014, shortly before his 57th birthday.
7. The Birthday Party – Release The Bats. Knuckle-dragging drums. Sickening, scything distortion. Barely comprehensible vocals in the Vic Reeves 'club style': here was a compelling sonic template for goth's lunatic fringe. Most gothic moment: Nick Cave's blood-curdling shriek: "Whooaaargh! BITE!" It was a story about vampire sex was promoted by an advert with the words "Dirtiness is next to antigodliness".
Do I personally believe in a personal God? No.