The Bad Seed, “music maker” and solo artist surveys some of his best work

“I do OK, I fool a lot of people,” says Mick Harvey, discussing his reputation as a multi-instrumentalist. “But I’m not as much of one as people imagine. Double bass? Nah! I can’t play it like someone who’s good at it…” Since his breakthrough work in The Birthday Party in the early ’80s, though, Harvey has made a career out of his flexibility; from a continuing role as one of PJ Harvey’s most trusted collaborators, to his decades as musical director, drummer, guitarist and songwriter for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, right up to his solo career and lauded, English-language versions of Serge Gainsbourg songs, the third volume of which is imminent. “I’ve produced an LP for a band that’s sold about 500 copies,” Harvey marvels, while he waits for a rehearsal for PJ Harvey’s live shows to begin. “Then I’ve headlined festivals with Nick, and I’ve played solo shows in clubs. But I’ve enjoyed all those different levels because they’re all challenging in different ways.” Originally published in Uncut’s August 2016 issue (Take 231). Interview: Tom Pinnock.

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The Birthday Party
Junkyard 4AD/Missing Link, 1982
The final, ferocious LP from Cave and Harvey’s group, recorded in Australia and the UK.

MICK HARVEY: “We recorded most of Junkyard in Melbourne, but I think we needed a couple more songs, so we went into the studio in London and did a couple of extra ones. We recorded live. I mean, most of my bands still play live in the studio. I rarely do a ‘one instrument at a time’ recording, it’s not really my style. In early ’82, we were meant to go to San Francisco and play three gigs in the Bay Area, but then Tracy [Pew, bassist] got incarcerated, so I think we just went straight on to London, where Barry Adamson played bass. Tracy was really important in that band. He didn’t write much of the music but he was kind of the centrepiece. He was pretty unreliable, as well, he could be quite out of it at some shows and falling over on his back [laughs]. But he was an important part of the whole thing. That gets a bit lost in time, because Tracy passed in ’86, so of course he hasn’t gone on to do other things. It’s a bit like Dave Alexander from The Stooges. The album still sounds extreme? Yeah, that’s what we were going for. We’d come through a process of finding what we wanted to do as a band, through 1980 and the recording of Prayers On Fire, and I suppose Junkyard is an attempt to take those ideas as far as we could – too far, if necessary – so it’s intentionally visceral and violent, that’s what we were going for. For all the wild, aggressive nature of The Birthday Party, we were never a ‘hard rock’ group, we were an ‘art rock’ group. That was our statement at the time. It stands up.”

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Your Funeral… My Trial
Mute, 1986
Relocating to Germany in ’85, the Bad Seeds, decimated and debauched, create what is still one of Harvey and Cave’s favourites.

It was very cheap to live in Berlin. We had lots of friends there, it was easy to have a nice, busy social life. There was lots of interaction with different kinds of artists from different disciplines, so it was a very healthy place, creatively, for us to be spending time. Hansa Studios was there, too, which we used for many of those recordings. We just used the room at Hansa for reverb – we didn’t really add reverb as such, there’d just always be a mic in the middle of the room and a couple of big mics about five metres in the air. Everyone would be playing in the room, and everything would be going into those mics, and that made the sound what it was. I played a lot of the instruments on this album and, in fairness, so does Nick. Obviously, there were problems at this point: Barry [Adamson] left on the eve of the recording, or after we’d done the first two tracks when the tapes for Kicking Against The Pricks didn’t turn up. He just sort of bailed. He’d obviously been intending to move on once we’d finished Kicking…, but found himself caught up in recording a couple of songs. So we found ourselves without a bass player, and then Tommy [Wydler, drummer] had tendonitis, and he’d also injured his other arm, which is why I had to play half the drums as well. So, it was essentially a one-armed drummer, me and Nick, and Blixa [Bargeld, guitarist], who isn’t technically a musician. We’ve often seen this album as us finding our sound, but in a different way to where we got to with Junkyard – it was a kind of template for what we would continue doing. Somehow the seed of how we could go about playing the music of the Bad Seeds became clear to us through that recording. It all came into focus in a way. The first couple of albums were experimenting with different ideas about how to record stuff – From Her To Eternity was us just experimenting in the studio trying to get a sound together, and The Firstborn Is Dead used the idea of pretending to make a blues album, which obviously we were incapable of doing. But Your Funeral… My Trial, with the variety of songs and the way we went about the arrangements, really gave us a template to go forward with. And we basically used a very similar process right through until the Murder Ballads album.”

  1. 1. Introduction
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