Nick Cave says helping a friend in need inspired him to write ‘Carnage’ during lockdown

Cave had nothing in his head "but a whole lot of dread and uncertainty"

Nick Cave has revealed that helping a friend find the drive to create art is what boosted his own songwriting for ‘Carnage’.

‘Carnage’, last month’s surprise release made in collaboration with his Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis, was written over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when Cave said he had “nothing in my head but a whole lot of dread and uncertainty”. As such, he was struggling to write music.

Cave went on to explain in the latest instalment of his Red Hand Files blog that his friend, the California-based British sculptor and painter Thomas Houseago, had suffered a breakdown.


“He told me he’d had a breakdown, but with help from various people in LA he had begun the process of putting himself back together,” Cave wrote. “He said that he was currently in Malibu recovering. He seemed subdued, he said that he was doing okay but could no longer find it in himself to make art.”

Nick Cave performs live. CREDIT: Getty

To help his friend and to also motivate himself, Cave set a task in which Houseago would create a piece of art for him and Cave would create a piece of music for his friend. “I felt that this challenge might give him the impetus to create something – I have found that sometimes it can be helpful to remove oneself from the creative process, and do work in the service of others. I personally felt I could write a song for my friend Thomas, even if I couldn’t write one for myself.”

‘White Elephant’, which features on ‘Carnage’, was written on the night the challenge was set. And Houseago started on a painting.

Cave explained further that ‘White Elephant’ was the catalyst for the rest of the album. The song kickstarted “a period of intense lyric writing for me that would culminate in ‘Carnage’. Thomas claims that the painting he did for me broke him open and got him working again. He has since gone on to create the most extraordinary series of what he calls Vision Paintings — massive, ecstatic, confronting, God-soaked paintings — and in my opinion his truest, bravest work.”

He added that the pair are “indebted to one another, like friends often are” and often Facetime one another from their respective Brighton and Malibu locations. Housego’s new paintings, Cave continued, are “mighty, defiant and subversive works, a testament to one man’s struggle with his own destructive energies and the miraculous healing power of art”.


In a five-star review of ‘Carnage’, NME‘s Andrew Trendell wrote that Cave and Ellis “take an adventurous leap into the COVID era’s dark night of the soul with this surprise new record”.