FILM REVIEW: Once More With Feeling

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Music documentaries often follow one of a few common narratives, whether documenting the rise (and often) fall of a band or musician, or following the making of an album or tour. Once More With Feeling fills a couple of different roles in that it acts as a preview and scene-setter for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ new album Skeleton Tree, released the day after the worldwide screening of the film, as well as a raw and intimate insight into negotiating the cycles of grief and how real-life tragedy can inform creativity.

Filmed on exquisite black and white (and in 3D), Andrew Dominik takes a layered approach of performance, voiceover, evocative and inventive establishing shots and straight interview footage. The result is a documentary of a documentary. He’s produced a film that looks magnificent and most importantly, conveys the range of emotion when Cave’s family unit is fractured by the accidental death of his son Arthur who fell from a cliff in 2015. Cave is confused and frustrated, seesawing between self-doubt and resilience while he and wife Susie immerse themselves in their work as one way of dealing with the trauma.

Warren Ellis is portrayed as a loyal and steadfast friend and musical partner and there is a strong sense that their music – and the physical process of making it – is a critical way forward, a beacon through the darkness. Cave comes out of the film as an utterly human figure, creatively paralysed by his loss but knowing that the music and his family are also his saving grace.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds | Live From KCRW

Rating8.5square-600This is Cave and cohorts fourth live album, capturing them at in interesting junction in their career with Grinderman running its course, Push The Sky Away being the first album to not include founding member Mick Harvey and unlike some of its more varied predecessors it is for the most part considered and restrained in its delivery. Live from KCRW continues that mood, even when it includes seminal Bad Seeds tracks like Mercy Seat, here stripped of its bombast and imbued with creeping dread and angst. Remarkably the intensity remains just as gripping, with added ache and sorrow courtesy primarily of Warren Ellis’ violin.

All four of the Push The Sky Away songs are the real highlights of the set. Higgs Boson Blues sets the scene with nine minutes of funereal, pulsing gothic blues, laced with line after line of Cave’s finest lyrics. Wide Lovely Eyes sticks closely to the album version with its gospel feel and rhythmic industrial chug while Mermaids is a warmer and improved rendition with the addition of a magical distortion-drenched guitar solo rumbling and groaning through the latter sections.

Not everything works as well as the most recent songs with And No More Shall We Part sounding forced and not quite in the band’s grasp. The session winds up with a comical introduction to Jack The Ripper, the band hamming it up teaching pianist Cave the chords before he commands Jim Sclavunos to “hammer it Jim” and the the sonic bar brawl of a song kicks into life. As live albums go this sounds fantastic and it feels like a celebration of the rarefied air the band are currently working in.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

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INTERVIEW: WARREN ELLIS


written by Chris Familton

Warren Ellis is a busy man. On the line from his home in France he is momentarily catching his breath before diving back into the world of Dirty Three, the band that he first came to fame with in the early 90s. They are due to play shows across Australia and New Zealand early in 2010, including full performances of their classic Ocean Songs album.

Ellis is of course also the foil to Nick Cave in The Bad Seeds and Grinderman as well as his co-composer on a growing number of film projects that have been compiled on the recently released 2CD White Lunar.

Juggling all of these projects must be a tricky thing to manage I ask Ellis. “There are times when you have clashes and things don’t work and you just have to work with it. Fortunately everyone is kind of understanding as it has its inherent and inevitable problems. I just try and do as much as I can while I can, while its there,” he replies.

Looking back on Dirty Three’s discography, Ellis finds it hard to have a perspective on which is his favourite. “They’re not the sort of records that I put on for my own enjoyment like I do other records. They are just things I’ve done and been involved with. I don’t look upon them in the same light as other records. Its very difficult when its something you’ve been involved with,” he admits, before adding “We are yet to write our classic album.”

Compare their recorded work to their infamous and emotionally resonant live performances and Ellis is more forthcoming. “For me Dirty Three’s evolution took place on the stage. Its very much what happened in the live context that I found of interest personally with the group. You really live in the moment. The album is a very different experience, there’s the recording and then thats the end of it. I always thought we were a much more enjoyable live proposition,” he opines.

“If you don’t see it like that you just end up doing covers of your own records. That’s how I see it, you may as well be playing in a covers band at the Chadstone Shopping Centre – at least you could play songs you like; you could play Stairway To Heaven till the cows come home. You’d get to do that great lead break all the time. Or you could do Whole Lotta Rosie down at the Frankston Football Club and have the time of your life every night doing the intro and the sing a long,” laughs Ellis.

With increasingly longer periods apart, I wonder if Dirty Three have to work to recapture the magic or whether its just like riding a bicycle. “We’re all playing outside of the group so we keep our foot in it so to speak – that helps. You come back into it with a bit of what you’ve been doing affecting it and you’ve learnt things you wouldn’t have just playing with Dirty Three. Its a constant trade-off, each thing informs the other,” explains Ellis.

“We just toured so much in the early days and when we weren’t playing we were trying to kill each other. It was both a close and unnatural relationship. The thing is we can have days where we run out there and it all comes together and other days when it goes flat on its face and you’re constantly picking yourself up off the ground and I think that’s a great thing about playing live. You never really know which way its going to fall,” says Ellis.

The good news is that a new Dirty Three album is already underway and the Australian tour gives them a chance to reconvene and finish the record. “We’ve started work on one and the plan is that when we are out in Australia we’ll hopefully get it concluded and look at releasing it next year. Its become increasingly problematic over the years as people have established families and doing other work. There’s just not the time to do things and find a moment when everybody is available but that’s fine too. We’re due a record and it feels like the right time which is good,” says an upbeat Ellis.

Grinderman are still in their relative infancy but they too have almost completed work on their second album, which Ellis expects to be out in the first half of 2010. “We still have to finish off a couple of technical things and the mastering. Its basically finished so we’ll have to decide which songs to keep and which ones we won’t be using,” says Ellis.

“We’ve tried to steer clear of the first one and tried to let it go somewhere else and take it somewhere else and it feels like that happened so we’re really happy with it. The last thing we wanted to do was make a record the same as the first one, as charming as it was. To repeat it would have been pointless. Its going to be a great record that one, a ripper,” enthuses Ellis.

Ellis is also proud of White Lunar, a collection of soundtrack music that works just as effectively outside the movie theatre. “It was nice to collect that stuff all together in one place and put it out. Things get put forward and we look at them, we don’t say yes to everything. Its not like its the only thing we have to do. I really like doing the film scores, I find them really liberating and its great to have something you are working for as opposed to a big blank canvas when you are making an album.”

Cave and Ellis have a specific modus operandi with their film work that suits a specific type of film. “We come from a very different background to traditional score composers and we work in a very organic way. Our approach isn’t for every type of film or director. It wouldn’t work for James Bond or something like that. We don’t have the skill to do that kind of thing.” he admits. I suggest that Grinderman would do a killer Bond theme and Ellis laughs, “Well that would be fun, I’d have a shot at that!”

Among all of these projects Ellis also has a solo album that has been burning a hole in his pocket for a while now. “I have an album worth of stuff that I spoke to Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine about working on but its still just sitting there, I oddly thought it was something I’d get onto this year and finish it off. Its just a matter of finishing some of the material and then mixing it, explains Ellis.

The final word on the world of Warren goes to The Bad Seeds and how Mick Harvey’s departure earlier this year has affected the group. “I guess how that impacts on the band remains to be seen. Another album hasn’t even been discussed yet so the impact will be seen when we get to another album you know. These things always have some kind of impact.It was very sad that Mick left.” says Ellis.

Warren Ellis is a man on a musical mission and though it requires a huge amount of energy and planning it is something that he clearly loves and is driven to do. “Its fortunate I’ve been doing so many other things otherwise I might have gone mad. I’m very happy to be doing lots of different things.”

This interview first appeared on FasterLouder

NEWS: ED KUEPPER joins the Bad Seeds…

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Confirmation has come through the wire that Ed Kuepper has been announced as the replacement guitarist for the long serving Mick Harvey in The Bad Seeds.  Ed has had a long association with Nick Cave stretching back to the early days of his band The Saints and then Laughing Clowns, both of which reunited for shows at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are planning a world tour later this year and in the meantime they are set to re-release their first 4 albums – From Her To Eternity, The Firstborn Is Dead, Kicking Against The Pricks, Your Funeral… My Trial.

Laughing Clowns have announced a show at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival on the 26th April and a couple of nights  at The Basement in Sydney on the 2nd + 3rd May.

NEWS: MICK HARVEY departs The Bad Seeds…

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An end of an era today with Mick Harvey ending his role in the band that he has been a part of since they first formed.  His relationship with Nick Cave stretches back into the days of The Birthday Party and he has filled the role of musical sidekick to Cave and director of the Bad Seeds’ affairs since the start.

In recent years Warren Ellis has taken a much stronger role in the band which led to the formation of Grinderman as a side project to The Bad Seeds.  In retrospect the signs were there at the recent All Tomorrow’s Parties shows with Harvey playing a noticeably quiter role in the band, less guitar , more keyboards, with Ellis firmly positioned stage left rather than his customary background spot.

Thanks for all your work in the Bad Seeds Mick, your legacy will remain strong and we look forward to other collaborations and solo albums that you will no doubt continue to release.

Mick Harvey press release:

“For a variety of personal and professional reasons I have chosen to discontinue my ongoing involvement with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. After 25 years I feel I am leaving the band as it experiences one of its many peaks; in very healthy condition, and with fantastic prospects for the future.“I’m confident Nick will continue to be a creative force and that this is the right time to pass on my artistic and managerial role to what has become a tremendous group of people who can support him in his endeavours both musically and organizationally.

“It was a fantastic experience to finish my touring days in the band with the recent shows in Australia and the unique events that took place in conjunction with All Tomorrow’s Parties, especially Mt. Buller, which was one of the many highlights of my involvement with the band throughout the years.

“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.”

Click here for an interview with The Age in happier Bad Seeds times…