As chosen by his Bad Seeds and Grinderman bandmates, famous fans including Guy Garvey, Richard Hawley and Bobby Gillespie, and Cave himself…
1 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
THE MERCY SEAT
From the Bad Seeds album, Tender Prey (September 1988)
A hardier perennial even than his favoured wisteria, “The Mercy Seat” touches on Cave’s holy trinity of God, crime, and narrative songwriting. Potent Biblical references abound as we strap into the Bad Seeds’ most infinitely adaptable work…
NICK CAVE: “I was concentrating on writing my novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel. ‘The Mercy Seat’ was a song that I would add to over the months, that I wasn’t really paying attention to, weirdly. It was a thing growing on the side, a kind of… organism growing on the side of the novel that I just kept adding to and adding to. It was written from a different place, a less conscious place than some of the other songs, I think. And I think it has quite a strange, obscure lyric to it in the end.
“It’s a really great song – it’s the staple song of the Bad Seeds live, mainly because it has the capacity to lend itself to seemingly infinite variations, and it can adapt to whatever we happen to be into at the time – a folk song, or a headbanger number. I think that was the one song I wrote when I was writing the novel.
“That record [Tender Prey] was so fucked up, the making of it was seriously difficult for everybody. ‘The Mercy Seat’ was a song that we recorded, and felt like it was there, and every mix we did, we went back in and remixed it, to try and get this song which we thought was monumental, to work in some kind of way, and that was really difficult. I think we even had Daniel Miller from Mute come in and try. Why was the recording difficult? Everyone was very fucked up, in a standard kind of way, and a little bit more so, and not only the band.
“When your heroes cover your songs [‘The Mercy Seat’ was covered by Johnny Cash in 2000], to me personally it gives some kind of… endorsement of the song that’s really meaningful. You have the opportunity to step back from the song and actually hear it for what it is – which you never do if you’re playing it live. I was really impressed. I thought, ‘Fuck, that’s pretty good…’”
INTERVIEWS BY MICHAEL BONNER, STEPHEN DALTON, NICK HASTED, ROB HUGHES AND JOHN ROBINSON