Nick Cave may be one of the more disciplined songwriters in the business (he usually spends six days a week working in his office), but he's been especially prolific over the past four years, finding time to pen the remarkable two-disc Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus set, score two films with fellow Bad Seed violinist Warren Ellis and write songs for the Bad Seeds side project Grinderman and the Seeds' latest release, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! We spoke with Jim Sclavunos, who's been drumming for the Bad Seeds since 1994 and is a member of Grinderman, about both bands.
Westword: I heard that some of the Grinderman tunes were spawned by improvisations. Did any of that happen with the Dig!!!, Lazarus, Dig!!! sessions?
Jim Sclavunos: That goes on a lot more than people imagine. Nick is quite capable of writing songs, obviously. He does so with a lot of discipline, resolve and almost a sort of...he very much treats it like work. He does it very seriously. He goes in there, and he composes in the morning until the night, and then he packs up his little keyboard and goes home. But it's not the only way of writing songs, and it's not even necessarily the most enjoyable way of writing songs.
And if he works in the studio, kind of messing around with a couple boys in the band, he sometimes comes up with things he didn't expect to come up with. I think the big difference with Grinderman wasn't so much that we were improvising, because we've been doing that for years, actually; it's just that it's become more fun for Nick now because he plays guitar, as well. So it's got this whole novelty to it that it never had before, and because he's not the most experienced guitar player — basically, he's a novice by most people's standards — it has this kind of rawness to it and a sense of the thrill of exploration that he's discovering things for the first time with it. With the keyboard, he might have fallen into a few habits for having played it for decades.
So it all feels very fresh to him, and of course, being excited about what you're doing can lead to all sorts of new developments and new ideas. And being forced to grapple with something you're not familiar with can lead to all sorts of new ideas.