Artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard On Working with Nick Cave
, July 7th, 2009 10:27
The pair behind the music videos for Nick Cave's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! album, and new documentary Do You Love Me Like I Love You? Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard talk mix-tapes, Mat Snow and 'Scum', and freaking out Warren Ellis.
In a recent Q + A, an audience member asked Nick Cave what he thought of the documentaries compiled by video artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard to accompany the re-release of his 13 studio albums with the Bad Seeds. He responded "I was shocked that some of my friends could actually string full sentences together. No, but seriously...", he continued in the most genuine tone you'll hear from Cave in an interview, "...it's really nice to know that people appreciate the effort that I put in. I had no idea how people actually felt."
The format of the films - consisting entirely of bandmates, journalists, musicians and everyday fans reminiscing in front of a black background, may have seemed like a gamble at the time but it's clear how much faith Cave has in Iain and Jane's work - having also entrusted them with directing all the videos for Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and currently, with recording an audio book of his latest novel. Iain and Jane have always had an interest in music, having in the past re-staged Bowie's last performance as Ziggy Stardust and The Cramp's famous gig the Napa State Mental Hospital.
The Quietus sat down with Iain and Jane to discuss their various Bad Seeds related projects.
Tell us a bit about how the Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! videos came to be?
Jane: Nick took the money they would usually spend on videos and gave it to us - some artists who'd never made music videos before, though we'd used the language of music videos before and we use it in our art. So the first thing we did was this set of one minute pieces for YouTube. We wanted to have a kind of a laugh with the band and we wanted to do something that was sort of a middle ground - which wasn't a video for one of their tracks.
We talked to Nick about a lot of the ideas behind the album. He was reading Larry Sloman's book about Houdini and a lot of references in Dig have come out of an interest in escapism and Houdini. We also have a strand of our practice which came out of the The Silent Sound Project we did with Jason Spaceman a few years ago to do with Victorian spiritualism and performance so we thought we'd do this seance with the Bad Seeds where we taught them how to do Victorian parlor tricks. It became a bit Monty Python but it was a great way of starting working and it was loads of fun.
I'll still never forget Warren [Ellis]'s face when... there's one of them called 'the levitating table'. It's probably one of the neatest of the parlor tricks. We'd teach them the trick and we would deliberately not give them time to practice - turn the cameras on and just do it.
But Warren hadn't seen how the trick was done and when we put the cameras on and Nick was like "OK can you feel the spirits?" and he lifted the table up and Warren's face...[laughs] cuz he had no idea! It was amazing, he was looking under the table... We didn't use that one, we ended up using the second take.
Is it hard making videos for songs whose lyrics are so naturally visual and narrative?
Iain: For 'Dig' is wasn't so much the lyrics but the music. We played it over and over again and it had such a kind of New York groove about it - the same as those great Velvet Underground sounds - and you just feel New York through the sound and that sense of motion and travelling through something.
Jane: Narrative, we don't get on with narrative very well. As artists we find it a tricky thing.
Iain: Particularly with music video, if a song writer has done their job well the last thing you want is a picture. For me as a person there's something disrespectful about taking the pictures that everyone has in their minds from the music and saying 'scrap that!'.
Jane: We've faced that with 'More News From Nowhere'. This is an amazing song, full of amazing characters and there's a real narrative. We chose to bring in character instead of narrative - we tried to assign certain characteristics of the girls he talks about to some of the people in the video without being very literal and going, "this is Deanna and this is whoever". We would try to be very loose about it. ...Seeing Peaches Geldof and Will Self - they create an uncanniness in the video between the mythology and celebrity... We wanted that odd tension.
For Do You Love Me..., why did you decide to forgo archive footage and photos and only use talking heads?
Iain: I guess it never felt like a decision really because we came to this not as filmmakers - that's not our background, our background is more visual arts. We were never really approaching it with a sense of a narrative structure or a sense of documentary or a sense of representing history. Our approach was much more about how can we say something about these records, how can we evoke something of the spirit of the records without just telling a story.
I suppose there would be a danger in giving closure on a band which is still making great records. How did you avoid this?
Jane: Part of it is the format because it's like a sentence that never finishes. The format never really resolves itself. We just find a place and start editing and it becomes like this conversation between the people. You'll have Mick Harvey saying [Tender Prey] was one of the messiest albums to record and then having Bleddyn Butcher say "Well that's probably because Nick was at his most fucked up." Mick and Blevin were interviewed in different countries and nobody saw each other's interview. We find in the footage these moments, these strands, that allow us to weave a sort of fictional, conversational monologue which feels quite open.
We were surprised that those records that surfaced as being incredibly popular at the moment were not the ones that we thought were going to get a reaction. So a record like No More Shall We Part ended up being one of the most appreciated records in London but we expected The Boatman's Call or something. There were surprising things that came out.
Any major disagreement over fact?
Jane: Yes, the recording of 'The Mercy Seat' could have been in any of three cities if you believe different members of the band...
All the people have very different speaking styles. It's ironic that some of the celebrities are the ones shying away whereas some of the fans are the ones giving a performance and posing for the camera.
Jane: That's an interesting point cuz, i guess, the people who are more media savvy, who are used to having cameras in their faces, like the Bobby Gillespie, we were asking them to do something quite different - for one, not talking about their own music but about other musicians and getting them to talk on a more personal level. They are really kind of laying themselves out there and laying out a part of them, that music fan, that normals part of them which is the same as you and I when we fall in love with a record. There is a really awkward avoidance, whereas the kind-of more normal fans come with quite a feeling of "this is my chance to tell my story" and in some ways, in their head, they rehearsed a way of articulating that anecdote.
So, how was it talking to Mat Snow [journalist who is the target of the infamous song 'Scum']?
Iain: While we've said that there was no list of people who we have to have or without these people the project doesn't work, but inevitably certain people come to the top of your list and there's so much of a myth built around that song 'Scum' written about Mat Snow, we had to try.
Having never met him and knowing very little about him, we had no idea what to expect - was there still a damaged relationship there?
Jane: ..or would Nick even approve of it because we had no discussion with Nick before filming. What transpired is that, because he's told that story many, many, many, many times I think he was quite happy to run though it one more time. It was a bit of an epic 40 minute soliloquy delivered to camera.
Iain: Kinda like an after dinner speech.
I understand you exchanged a lot of mix tapes when you were first dating. Did the Bad Seeds make any appearances?
Jane: [laughs] Well, back when we were studying at Goldsmiths, the way in which Iain kind of talked to me was through mix-tapes. In the first run of mix-tapes (Iain made me about seven in a week) on the first side of the first tape was 'Slowly Goes the Night' and 'The Ship Song' and there's lots of Nick on those. Everybody knows that the Bad Seeds are perfect mix tape music.
I completely and utterly fell for Iain because of this music and because of the world that it opened up for me and what I presumed on his behalf he was trying to say to me. Some of the Bad Seeds songs were some of the most powerful.
As the people who have probably met the most Nick Cave fans in the world, do Nick Cave fans have any defining characteristics or common traits?
Jane: It's different in different cities I think.. It's so hard because even though we've met a lot of people, it still feels like it's not enough. It's easy to say things like that they all seem quite well read and obviously have good taste...
Iain: It's a massive generalization but something that did become apparent from filming in different countries is that you get a sense of the point at which the band connected most in that country. Obviously in Australia the fans tend to be a little bit older who, say, were even around when The Birthday Party and The Boys Next Door were gigging. I think going to America, the band seems to have really connected around the early 90s, around the Lollapalooza tour - that was a big thing for them. Henry's Dream and Let Love In are quite popular albums in America.
A lot of really good bands, The Birthday Party included, seem to have come out of art school. What does art school give to musicians?
Iain: I guess what it does for a lot of people is gives them space and time, on a practical, fundamental level, it gives you the space to sit around and think what you do want to do.
Jane: ...art by its very nature has no strict definitions and I think that's what appeals whether you're a designer or fashion designer or musician. If you come out of that art context, I think you're less respectful of the boundaries of discipline - of what a genre, what a movement should be. When you think of the Bryan Ferrys who've come out of art school there's a real disrespect for 'what should be'.
Iain: Part of the allure of music as a medium is it has a way of relating to an audience which visual art struggles to. What we don't like about most art is that it doesn't take into account it's viewer - doesn't try very hard to connect and as artists, in a way, its that connection that we're trying to achieve - to engage with our audience in a very special, very direct kind of way.
Do you Love Me Like I Love You? will accompany each of the Bad Seeds remasters released throughout 2009 by Mute. The audio book of The Death of Bunny Monro comes out September 3