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A WhatsApp chat with Nick Cave: ‘Love Island is totally f***ed’

 (CAMERA PRESS/David Vintiner)
(CAMERA PRESS/David Vintiner)

Most rock stars have merch. Nick Cave isn’t most rock stars. He has a company called Cave Things, personally designing everything from ‘Suck My D***’ tote bags and Little Ghost charms to a series of kids’ books about a strange cupcake-like creature. Not what you might expect from a begrudging Goth icon (his wife Susie’s fashion brand is called The Vampire’s Wife, after all) and nobody’s more surprised than Cave himself. But what started out as a distraction from lockdown malaise has grown into a busy side-hustle with a Cave Things installation launching this weekend at Dover Street Market. ES Magazine editor Ben Cobb WhatsApps the modern renaissance man for a chat about the creative process, happiness and coffee, and why ‘Love Island is totally f***ed’.

Nick Cave’s ‘Cave Things’ installation at Dover Street Market (Dover Street Market)
Nick Cave’s ‘Cave Things’ installation at Dover Street Market (Dover Street Market)

Nick Cave: Morning Ben. What are you doing?

Ben Cobb: I’m sat waiting for my Eurostar. Contemplating another coffee. What about you?

NC: I’ve been swimming in a lake. It’s catastrophically cold.

BC: Where in the world are you? Is that a daily routine?

NC: I’m in London. Yes, early each morning. I’ve been doing it for about six months. You should try it.

BC: Maybe (probably not). What’s the desired effect?

NC: Rebirth.

BC: Yes, I definitely need that. Does it get the creative juices going?

NC: Not really. But it makes me happy. Happiness, I find, is the best generator of creativity. That and coffee.

BC: You create so much: from music and books to scripts and soundtracks… Why did you feel the need to add T-shirts, tea sets and bracelet charms to the list?

NC: That’s a very good question! I started off Cave Things in lockdown as a way to lift my spirts, essentially. To do strange, unorthodox, playful and slightly absurd stuff to buy. I had great fun messing around with things. It felt like a different, untrodden path toward high-end merchandise. No one had any idea that it would actually take off! But it did, and here we are!

BC: Were you surprised by the reaction to it?

NC: Well, yes, the last thing I thought I’d ever end up doing, all things considered, was running a business! But I like it. Cave Things allows me the opportunity to indulge in a bit of whimsy and not take things too seriously. Have you seen my new kiddies’ book, The Little Thing is Sad. It’s very beautiful, you know, it’s something I would never have had the chance to do otherwise. I am doing a series of them.

BC: I need to read that. What’s it about?

NC: Do you have kids?

BC: I don’t. I’m working up to a pet soon.

NC: Well, the first in the series is called The Little Thing. The Little Thing is a badly drawn ‘thing’ (maybe a cupcake, I illustrate the books myself) that goes on a journey to find out what his identity is and ultimately sees the folly in that. That’s the first in the series. The next Little Thing book, The Little Thing is Sad, involves the Little Thing waking up, unhappy, and not knowing what to do about it, and he finds out in the end! It’s for little kids. Three-year-olds. You could read it to your pet when you get one.

BC: Does writing kids’ books and designing tiles and wallpaper for Cave Things satisfy a part of you that music never can?

NC: Satisfy is probably not the right word. I just do stuff and have a weird, often compulsive relationship with the thing at hand. You know, so I might start out writing a little kids’ book for fun and before I know what, I’ve written a series of them. On some level I think that probably happened with my musical career as well. I never set out to be a rock star or have a career in music, I just sort of got dragged along by my inability to let an idea go! And here we are.

BC: Would you describe yourself as an obsessive?

NC: No, not at all. Just easily led.

BC: Or misled?

NC: Well, I find a bad idea loses its allure quite quickly whereas a good idea, creatively speaking of course, has its own righteous impetus. You’re kind of dragged along. Is Cave Things a good idea? I don’t know but there is something about it that feels tantalising and a bit dangerous.

BC: Cave Things has the feel of a real collector’s mentality behind it. What do you collect?

NC: Yes, that’s true. I mostly collect Staffordshire figurines. You know, I always saw Cave Things as something that was kind of handcrafted, like cottagecore or Grannycore or something. They were things that were made with my hands, essentially. Even the kiddies books are made by hand, actually by a bunch of monks in Copenhagen. That’s why they’re so bloody expensive.

BC: I saw a copy of Cyrano de Bergerac for sale on Cave Things. What do you love about this book?

NC: Yes, on Cave Things I choose books and records that I like and you can buy. It’s a public service! I love the original film of Cyrano with José Ferrer, which I saw as a child and I don’t ever remember seeing anything quite so sad and romantic and funny. The play is quite gorgeous, but the original film is a masterpiece!

BC: Do you have a favourite book you return to?

NC: One of my favourite books is Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.

BC: What can we expect from the Cave Things installation at Dover Street Market?

NC: It’s very pink. It’s full of wild and wonderful things, Polaroids, art prints, Dover Street collabs, T-shirts, tracksuits, jewellery, pencils, stuff for children on my Shit for Kids label, hand-painted prayer cards, plectrums, Bella Freud collaborations, a f***ing tea set, everything!!!

BC: Sounds amazing. Will you be behind the till?

NC: Maybe. I’m signing the Little Thing books on one day. There will be kids wearing giant papier-mâché tomatoes and toilet rolls and corn cobs, which are recurring characters in the Little Thing books. Dover Street won’t know what hit them. The invasion of the tiny people!

I never set out to be a rock star or have a career in music, I just sort of got dragged along by my inability to let an idea go! And here we are

BC: Like a warped Willy Wonka! If someone didn’t know you and saw the Cave Things world, what do you imagine they’d think about the person behind it all?

NC: A genius.

BC: Naturally. Do you have a studio where you make the objects?

NC: Yeah, kind of. I have a room with a big table, where I do all my stuff.

BC: Is it messy or organised?

NC: It’s a disaster.

BC: Okay, let’s say organised chaos. Do you wear your signature black suit in there or are you in overalls?

NC: I wear a suit, Ben, as you well know. It is rarely black. Although often dark.

BC: I’m glad to hear it. Would you ever consider doing a Cave Things clothing collaboration with The Vampire’s Wife?

NC: Susie and I feel so completely entangled that everything I do and everything she does already feels like a kind of collaboration.

BC: What’s inspiring you at the moment?

NC: Right now, at this very moment, I’m listening to the soundtrack of Andrew Dominik’s masterpiece Blonde, while also listening to Bret Easton Ellis read from his new book, The Shards. It’s a kind of bliss.

BC: Do you have to put on a different creative head for each of the projects you do? For example, when you’re scoring Blonde or drawing a Cave Things tile… or does it all come from the same place?

NC: I think the difference is that somethings I do by myself, write lyrics or make Cave Things and so on and other things are collaborative, like making records. Working with others changes everything.

BC: Tell me how it changes everything.

NC: It changes everything because collaboration is about communion, the in-taking and outpouring of love!

BC: You’re so prolific but do you ever just do nothing? What do you do to completely switch off from everything?

NC: I stop work at 5.30pm like most people, and the rest of the evening I hang out with Susie, see people, watch TV, ordinary stuff. There is an hour or so around 2 or 3 in the morning when I wake up, unfortunately, and I tend to do ‘thinking’ work in that time, think of how to answer a Red Hand Files, or how to arrange a new song or a particular lyric. But essentially I work from the hours of 9am to 5.30pm.

BC: What are you watching on TV at the moment?

NC: Re-watching Line of Duty. My keyboard player, the amazing Carly Paradis, did the score. So good!

BC: So no Love Island for you this season?

NC: Love Island is f***ed.

BC: Would you care to elaborate?

NC: Sure. Love Island is totally f***ed. Wrist-slitting TV as my dear mother would say.

BC: What are you working on next?

NC: Making a new record. Writing a new record.

BC: What’s your favourite part of the record-making process?

NC: Doing interviews for ES Magazine.

BC: Haha! We’re always happy to help — even via WhatsApp. Are you a big texter usually?

NC: Not really. You?

BC: Yes, I’m always tapping away, it’s a professional hazard. So you won’t text Susie while you’re out to see if you need to get milk from the shop?

NC: No.

BC: I should probably leave you alone now. It’s been fun. Last question: what’s your favourite WhatsApp emoji?

NC: 🐨

BC: Love the koala. Mine is 💝

NC: You’re such a romantic!

BC: Takes one to know one. Thank you and look forward to seeing you at Dover Street Market. x