Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are an Australian rock band formed in Melbourne in 1983 by vocalist Nick Cave, multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey and guitarist Blixa Bargeld. The band has featured international personnel throughout its career and presently consists of Cave, violinist and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn P. Casey and keyboardist Conway Savage (all four from Australia), guitarist George Vjestica (United Kingdom), keyboard/percussionist Toby Dammit (United States) and drummers Thomas Wydler (Switzerland) and Jim Sclavunos (United States). The band has released fifteen studio albums and completed numerous international tours, and has been considered "one of the most original and celebrated bands of the post-punk and alternative rock eras in the '80s and onward".
The band was founded in 1983 following the demise of Cave and Harvey's former group the Birthday Party, the members of which met at a boarding school in Victoria. By the release of their fifth studio album Tender Prey in 1988, they shifted from post-punk towards an experimental alternative rock sound, later incorporating various influences throughout their career. For example, the 2008 album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and the side-project Grinderman were strongly influenced by garage rock. Synthesizers and minimal guitar work feature prominently on Push the Sky Away (2013), recorded after Harvey's departure from the band in 2009.
The project that would later evolve into Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds began following the demise of The Birthday Party in August 1983. Both Cave and Harvey were members of the Birthday Party, along with guitarist Rowland S. Howard and bassist Tracy Pew. During the recording sessions of the Birthday Party's scheduled EPs Mutiny/The Bad Seed, internal disputes developed in the band. The difference in Cave and Howard's approach to songwriting was a major factor, as Cave explained in an interview with On The Street: "the main reason why The Birthday Party broke up was that the sort of songs that I was writing and the sort of songs that Rowland was writing were just totally at odds with each other." Following the departure of Harvey, they officially disbanded. Cave also said that "it probably would have gone on longer, but Mick has the ability to judge things much more clearly than the rest of us."
An embryonic version of what would later become Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was formed in the Birthday Party's then-home of London in September 1983, with Cave, Harvey (acting primarily as drummer), Einstürzende Neubauten guitarist Bargeld, Magazine bassist Barry Adamson, and Jim G. Thirlwell. The band was initially formed as a backing band for Cave's intended solo project Man Or Myth?, which had been approved by the record label Mute Records. During September and October 1983, they recorded material with producer Flood, although the sessions were cut short due to Cave's touring with the Immaculate Consumptive, another project formed with Thirlwell, Lydia Lunch and Marc Almond. In December 1983 Cave returned to Melbourne, Australia, where he formed a temporary line-up of his backing band, due to Bargeld's absence, that included Pew and guitarist Hugo Race. The band performed their first live show at Seaview in St. Kilda on 31 December 1983.
Following a short Australian tour, and during a period when they were without management, Cave and his band returned to London. Cave, Harvey, Bargeld, Race and Adamson formed the project's first consistent line-up, while Cave's longtime girlfriend Anita Lane was credited as a lyricist on the band's debut album. The group, which up to this time had been nameless, adopted the moniker Nick Cave and the Cavemen, which they used for the first six months of their career. However, they were later renamed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in May 1984, in reference to the final Birthday Party EP The Bad Seed. They began recording sessions for their debut album in March 1984 at London's Trident Studios and these sessions, together with the abandoned Man Or Myth? sessions from September–October 1983 that were recorded at The Garden studios, formed the album From Her to Eternity, released on Mute Records in 1984. Race, and touring guitarist Edward Clayton-Jones, left to form the Wreckery in Melbourne.
After the departure of Race and Lane, the remaining members relocated to West Berlin, Germany, in 1985 and released a second album The Firstborn Is Dead. The album was heavily influenced by the gothic Americana of the American South and blues music, exemplified in songs such as "Tupelo" and "Blind Lemon Jefferson", which reference the birth of Elvis Presley and Blind Lemon Jefferson respectively. Released the following year, the cover version album Kicking Against the Pricks explored such influences more directly with renditions of material by Johnny Cash, John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly. The 1986 album also marked the arrival of Swiss drummer Thomas Wydler, a member of Die Haut, and featured guest appearances from Race, Pew, and Birthday Party guitarist Howard, who had briefly toured with the Bad Seeds as a substitute member in 1985. Pew's death from an epileptic seizure also occurred in 1986.
The band garnered an increased following due to a second 1986 album release, Your Funeral, My Trial, which coincided with Adamson's departure. Tender Prey, the dark, brooding 1988 follow-up, saw the arrival of American guitarist Kid Congo Powers—Harvey made the transition to bass—and short-tenured German keyboardist Roland Wolf. The single "The Mercy Seat" chronicled an unrepentant prisoner on death row and further increased the group's critical acclaim and commercial attention. The track later received the honor being covered by Cash on his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man. Despite the increasing level of success, the drug-related issues of band members became problematic. The documentary film The Road to God Knows Where, directed by Uli M Schueppel, depicts a five-week period of the United States leg of their 1989 tour.
Cave and his bandmates also pursued other creative ambitions around this time. In 1987, the Bad Seeds appeared in the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, and Cave was also featured in the 1988 film Ghosts... of the Civil Dead, which he and Race co-wrote. Cave's first novel And the Ass Saw the Angel was published in 1989.
After a period of time in New York City, Cave relocated to São Paulo, Brazil, shortly after the final tour for Tender Prey and, after successfully finishing a drug rehabilitation programme, began experimenting with piano-driven ballads. The result of this post-rehabilitation period was 1990's The Good Son. Featuring a sorrowful and longing tone, the album was well-received both critically and commercially, and yielded the singles "The Weeping Song" (featuring vocals from Bargeld) and "The Ship Song".
Two established Australian musicians, Casey of the Triffids and solo artist and keyboardist Savage, replaced the departing Powers and Wolf. The addition of Casey on bass allowed Harvey to return to guitar. Their next record, 1992's Henry's Dream, marked a change towards a harder rock sound. Producer David Briggs, known for his work with Neil Young, was enlisted for the recording process. The tour for the album is documented on 1993's live album Live Seeds and showcases the new group's aggressive sound.
In mid-1993, the group returned once more to London and recorded Let Love In, the follow-up album. Let Love In expanded upon the fuller ensemble sound that was established in Henry's Dream and featured contributions from Howard, Ellis, Tex Perkins (Beasts of Bourbon) and David McComb (The Triffids). Several popular songs, such as "Red Right Hand" (which featured in the Scream film series) and "Loverman" (later covered by Metallica), were drawn from the album. During the promotional tour for the album, American percussionist and drummer Jim Sclavunos joined the group.
In 1996 the band released Murder Ballads, their best-selling album to date. Centered on the subject of murder, the album includes a cover of the folk song "Henry Lee"—a duet with British rock singer PJ Harvey, with whom Cave had a brief relationship— and "Where the Wild Roses Grow", a duet with Australian pop idol Kylie Minogue. The Minogue collaboration was a mainstream hit in the UK and Australia, and won three Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards, including Song of the Year. It was at this time that Ellis of the Dirty Three began regularly working with the band and eventually became Cave's primary collaborator.
The sound of The Boatman's Call, released in 1997, was a radical departure from the archetypal and violent narratives of the band's past, featuring songs about relationships, loss, and longing, often with sparse arrangements. Cave revealed his mindset during the creation of the album in a 2008 interview: "When I was making half that record I was furious because certain things had happened in my love life that seriously pissed me off. And some of those songs came straight out of that. I don't regret making it ... the songs are of a moment when you felt a certain way. When ... you just think, 'Fuck - please!'" The album's corresponding tour was later documented on the 2008 live album Live at the Royal Albert Hall. After the release of the album, Cave embarked on a brief hiatus, during which time he remarried.
Following Cave's hiatus the band oversaw the release of Original Seeds, a compilation of material from other artists that influenced the group, as well as their own "best of" album The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. The proper follow-up to The Boatman's Call was 2001's No More Shall We Part. The record featured guest appearances by Kate & Anna McGarrigle and was generally well received in reviews: one critic hailed the album as an "entire album of deeply tragic and beautiful love songs without irony, sarcasm, or violent resolution", while also stating that the work is at risk of devolving "into schmaltz".
The band then released Nocturama in 2003. The album marked a return to band-oriented and collaborative arrangements, as previous releases involved a decreased level of input from Cave's bandmates. Nocturama garnered mixed reviews, with critic Eric Carr stating that "in truth, it may still be the group's best work since Let Love In, but it had the potential to be so much more". Shortly after the album's release, Bargeld left the band after 20 years to devote more time to Einstürzende Neubauten.
In 2004 the band released the acclaimed two-disc set Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, with Bargeld replaced by the English actor, guitarist and organist James Johnston, a member of Gallon Drunk and former guest member of the Bad Seeds from a Lollapalooza tour ten years prior (Johnston only played organs on the recordings, as Harvey contributed the guitar pieces). Conceived as two separate albums packaged together, the record featured a diversity of arrangement styles, including aggressive rock and choir-driven ballads. In 2005 the band released B-Sides & Rarities Vol 5, a three-volume, 56-song collection of B-sides, rarities and compilation tracks that was released on Mute Records in Europe, the US and the UK. The Abattoir Blues Tour, a two-CD, two-DVD box set with performances from the album's promotional tour, was then released in 2007 in Europe and the US. The tour included guest backing vocalists Ase Bergstrom, Geo Onaymake, Eleanor Palmer and Wendi Rose.
Also in 2005, Cave completed work on his script for The Proposition, a western film set in 19th century Australia directed by John Hillcoat, who also directed and co-wrote Ghosts of the Civil Dead. Cave and Ellis collaborated on the film's score, a partnership that would later also score the films The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and The Road (2009).
After operating for several years as a touring backing band for Cave's solo work, Bad Seeds members Ellis, Sclavunos and Casey formed a new side-project Grinderman with Cave in 2006. The band, featuring Cave playing guitar for the first time, played garage rock-influenced music that still retained much of The Bad Seeds' aura and released a self-titled debut album in 2007. In October 2007 Cave was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame and, in his acceptance speech, also inducted the members of The Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party, after explaining, "I cannot really accept this until we get a few things straight. What I can't figure out is why I am up here and The Bad Seeds aren't?"
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released their 14th studio album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! in 2008 and received a high level of critical acclaim. Inspired by the biblical story of the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus Christ, the album continued the punk and garage rock-inspired arrangements that were explored on the debut Grinderman album, resulting in what NME termed a "gothic psycho-sexual apocalypse". The group then embarked on a North American and European tour is support of the album, with a seven-piece lineup that did not include Johnston, who had left the group after the album's completion.
Cave and the band curated Australia's first edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival that was held in various Australian locations during January 2009. On 22 January, after the festival's completion, Harvey announced his departure from the band after 25 years, citing "a variety of personal and professional reasons". Harvey concluded his public statement by stating, "I shall continue working on the Bad Seeds back catalogue re-issues project over the coming year and look forward to the new opportunities I shall be able to accommodate as a result of my changed circumstances." Harvey's departure was the end of a 36-year-long musical collaboration between Cave and Harvey, and Cave was left as the group's only original member. The band enlisted guitarist Ed Kuepper, formerly of the Australian bands the Saints and the Laughing Clowns, as a touring member to complete the 2009 summer festival dates that were scheduled. Also in 2009, Cave published his second novel The Death of Bunny Munro, and Mute Records commenced work on a series of remastered versions of the Bad Seeds' back catalogue (some of the remastered albums included documentary footage from Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard).
Following this string of activity, the Bad Seeds became dormant while Grinderman reactivated and released Grinderman 2 in 2011. The group also attracted further attention when their song "O Children" appeared in the 2010 film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. In December 2011, Grinderman disbanded immediately following an Australian tour. Their final performance was at the Meredith Music Festival in rural Victoria.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' 15th studio album Push the Sky Away was released in mid-February 2013. During the album's recording, former member Barry Adamson rejoined the band as a bassist, then assumed a multi-instrumentalist (percussion, keyboards, vocals) role on subsequent tours. Kuepper briefly returned as the band's touring guitarist, but was replaced by George Vjestica for the European leg of the tour; Vjestica's 12-string guitar-playing was featured on several Push The Sky Away tracks.
During the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds summer US tour in 2013 a smaller incarnation of the band recorded Live from KCRW (Cave, Ellis, Casey, Sclavunos and Adamson). In 2014 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds toured North America with Ellis, Adamson, Sclavunos, Casey plus Conway Savage and George Vjestica. Cave embarked on solo tours in Australia & New Zealand in late 2014 and Europe in 2015 with Adamson on keyboards and percussion, joined by the rhythm section of Wydler and Casey, and with Ellis as the featured multi-instrumentalist. In May 2015, Toby Dammit replaced Adamson as a guest touring member; Adamson has not returned since, and Dammit did not participate in sessions for the subsequent Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album.
On 2 June 2016, the official Nick Cave website announced a documentary film titled One More Time With Feeling (directed by Andrew Dominik) which was screened on 8 September 2016. It accompanies the band's 16th album titled Skeleton Tree (released 9 September 2016), from which no singles will be released.
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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds became one of the most original and celebrated bands of the post-punk and alternative rock eras in the '80s and onward.