Sean O’Hagan: So, back in your younger, wilder days, when you drew on biblical imagery as a source for your songwriting, was that also a reflection of a deeper interest in the divine?
Nick Cave: Well, I was surrounded by people who displayed zero interest in spiritual or religious matters, or if they did, it was because they were fiercely anti-religious. I was operating in a Godless world, to say the least, so there was no real nurturing of these ideas. But I was always struggling with the notion of God and simultaneously feeling a need to believe in something.
I have to say that was not always immediately apparent.
No, I guess not! But I think people just saw what they wanted to see. I mean, those early Birthday Party shows were religious in their way, with all that rolling around on stage and purging of demons and speaking in tongues. It was old time, God-bothering religion! Or at the very least preoccupied with religious matters. But, of course, I also had a huge appetite for mayhem. My life was extremely chaotic, and my music was, too, of course, but I was always trying to find some kind of spiritual home. Perhaps the chaos was one of the reasons for my underlying yearning for some deeper, more substantial meaning, but I don’t know for sure. The idea that there was no God or no such thing as the divine – no spiritual mysteries to speak of, nothing beyond what the rational world could offer us – was just too difficult for me to accept.
So did you see religion as a way to give your life a degree of order?
No, I don’t think that’s right. I had a major taste for havoc – but I had other things going on, too, genuine preoccupations. I might wake in my hotel room surrounded by the detritus of a heavy night on the road – empty bottles, drug paraphernalia, maybe a stranger in my bed, all that kind of shit, but also an opened copy of the Gideon’s Bible with passages underlined. It was forever that way.