The Bad Seeds’ Jim Sclavunos: ‘Nick Cave keeps a very high bar’

Before they headline All Points East, we caught up with the Bad Seeds' drummer and rock veteran about what makes them tick and the future of the band

Jim Sclavunos, drummer of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, has spoken exclusively to NME about the band’s current tour and what to expect from the future of the band. Read our full interview with Sclavunos below.

Speaking in Barcelona before their explosive set at Primavera Sound 2018 on Thursday in the run up to headlining tonight’s All Points East Presents show at London’s Victoria Park, the rock veteran told NME about the process of returning to the road following the tragic passing of Nick Cave’s son Arthur in 2015.

“’Skeleton Tree’ didn’t have a typical campaign,” Sclavunos told NME. ” We released the movie ‘One More Time With Feeling’ then we laid low for a while because of Nick’s personal circumstances and it felt like too soon to go out. We postponed any kind of touring until the following year, then we kind of moved into it gradually. These are the first dates of the second phase.”

The movie felt like it answered a lot of questions about Nick and provided some kind of punctuation and closure after the album. Were you always planning and itching to tour?

“It answered a lot of personal questions. I can no more speak for the fans than I can for Nick, but I sense a very profound, emotional connection between the fans and the band – and Nick in particular. It was meant to address a lot of that. We don’t know how we’ll feel in the future, but it felt very much like part of the healing process for fans who felt moved by Arthur’s passing.”

In performing these songs after such a personal trauma, have you noticed a different kind of presence from Nick on stage? Has he transformed into something different?

“I think he’s always evolving. There are certain things that are always consistent. He still points at people [laughs, points]. Like the music, I think we’re all always evolving. ‘Evolve’ is more the word than transform. It’s only right that artists should grow. If you don’t, what’s the alternative? You stagnate and wither. That’s your mission. It’s imperative that we grow.”

Have you had any kind of discussions about what you might do for the next record?

“No! [Laughs] Usually there’s some kind of practical discussion of ‘what can we do that builds upon what we’ve done before but isn’t the same?’ Maybe someone will propose something that’s merely the launching pad for what actually happens. It’s good to have a plan, but you don’t necessarily need to stick to the plan. You need to do something that feels organically connected to what you’ve done before, so that it’s not a novelty or some random thing. You need to involve yourself in situations that are conducive to being inspired.”

Jim Sclavunos and Nick Cave

Do you think there will be a long wait until the next record?

“That’s pretty much down to Nick. I hope not, but I don’t see any reason why there should be. We’re all very different musicians and that’s part of the chemistry of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, and the unlikely combinations, rhythms and resonances that it creates. That’s the thing that enriches and fleshes out whatever we get launched on. Nick is prolific in many artistic realms, not just music. When he’s ready, then we’re ready.”

What can you tell about your approach to building a setlist out of such an a sprawling catalogue?

“For this tour, we’ve been rehearsing loads of ‘new old songs’. It remains to be seen, but we always try to have a few surprises. There’s at least one song there that we’ve never done live. There’s always a spontaneity to us. I’ve been playing in the band since 1994 and we’ve played a lot. Another part of it comes from our personal inclinations, other parts are from a directive from Nick. He always keeps a very high bar and we need to be responsive to the unexpected – and actively seek it out. That’s how we roll!”

Do you approach these huge festival and arena shows in a different way?

“I think there’s always been a real epic scope to Nick’s songwriting and the work we do as a band. We’ve always tried to create something that would endure and is larger than just topical fads or genres of the movement. There’s a pursuit of what would make things timeless and speak to people across any culture and time span, in our own modest way. Maybe the words ‘modest’ and ‘epic’ don’t go together, but we’re trying to do something big. In light of that, everything lends itself to stadiums, arenas and festivals. People didn’t expect it to work, but it works.

“There’s a craft and discipline involved in songwriting and making music, but it’s not like you can write a computer programme for timelessness. It’s something that has to happen by luck. It has to happen by luck and gift from above. We’ve been lucky more than a few times.”

Jim Sclavunos

Are there any contemporary artists that you feel are pulling off that timeless quality too?

“I’m sure there are, and I’m sure I like them – but it’s easier to think of the giants of music. The ones that are gone and loom much larger once they’ve passed away – like Cecil Taylor the jazz pianist or Jabo Starks, James Brown’s drummer. You can almost forget that these people exist because they’re so important and you wish you’d paid more attention to just how great they were. It’s easier to think of those people than your contemporary peers. I’m sure there are many, but I can’t think of a single one [laughs].”

How often do you hear your influence in other artists?

“I don’t think about that. I’ve been in a lot of different bands so I don’t even know what that would mean. I’ve been in Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, I’ve been in Sonic Youth, I was in The Cramps and a million others – possibly less known. So what is my influence exactly? It’s all very different stuff, but linked together in many ways. Not just be me but other aesthetic, cultural and historical things. I’m always flattered when someone tells me that they’re an admirer or I’ve influenced them.”

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ headline London’s All Points East Presents in Victoria Park tonight, with performances from Patti Smith, St Vincent, Courtney Barnett, Nadine Shah and many more.