home | table of contents |feature | record reviews | live shows | news | events |archive | record label | links | contact

“City of Refuge”
Berlin and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1986 – 1990)

Bad Seeds Live in '88
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in 1988. Photo by Rob B - courtesy of From The Archives .

It was 1986 and The Fur Bible had come to its demise and I was hanging around in London at this houseboat in Chelsea with these girls – these two sisters. It was a central place where people were meeting up. A lot of bands were staying there like Einsturzende Neubauten and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - and different people would float through. It was a place where people congregated a lot and stayed. There were a lot of parties. And I was there one day with Mick Harvey and he told me that the Bad Seeds were looking for a guitar player. Barry Adamson wasn’t going to go on tour with them – so he was going to play bass and they were looking for a guitar player. And he asked me if I was interested to do it. I thought it was a really great idea because I was a big fan and I’d known Nick for a long time – known him since The Birthday Party – and Mick as well. So I was glad to accept his invitation.

Der Himmel über Berlin

So I got on a plane to Berlin and started rehearsing for the tour. And right before the tour we were going to film for the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin). In the film Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are playing at a concert – so we were playing ourselves. They needed a live version of “From Her to Eternity” – live sounding because the studio one was too studio sounding. And also they wanted it to be a live concert. And I learned their version of the song which was a stronger more live version. So we recorded it in the Hansa Studio and then proceeded to film the concert scene right on the border where the east meets west. It was a great old ballroom – but all bombed out – walls missing and stuff. And it was a big hotel where a lot of diplomats stayed. It was a big fancy hotel. It was all bombed out – in the intact parts of the hotel. That was my first experience with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

And it was really really cool to see Wim Wenders and watch him working because he is like one of his films. He’s really slow moving and really thoughtful about everything – a calm, observant type of person. He actually came up to me - he was directing us - and said, “Oh… Kid Congo – I’ve seen you before. I saw The Gun Club a bunch of times. I saw you at the Club Lingerie in Los Angeles…” And I was really impressed.

In Berlin, By the Wall

The Berlin Wall in the 1980sIt was really great to land in Berlin too because I’d been in London for a year or longer. And the whole experience was a bit oppressive in London – just coming from America to there – the whole way of life and structure of the culture. It made me start to feel really kind of crushed under foot or something. I really felt like I was not myself somehow. I felt like I talked too loud. I was weird. People thought I was Pakistani all the time. I really felt racism for the first time in my life. Although I had great friends there and had a good time, in the long term I still was not down with the whole cultural structure and class systems and racism and different things. And, like I said before, I wasn’t really into this pop culture – having to have the new thing happen every ten minutes the new pop sensation every ten minutes – and the new style of music and the new look and the new everything.

So when I got to Berlin I really felt like, “Wow, I’m going to unbutton my shirt.” I didn’t speak the language. I’d been to Berlin to play but I never really spent any time there. And I immediately felt really at home and the atmosphere there was really strange. And I could see why Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds had staked a home there. It was a place where I found that everything really met up with each other – the film world met up with the rock world met up with the dance world met up with the visual arts – people would do things together. And this was some years before the divided wall came down between East and West Berlin. So it was just West Berlin I was in. And so there was also that special feeling of some kind of isolation because you were just surrounded by Eastern Europe – East Germany. And you really got the feeling that you were in a really special place.

Tender Prey

And so we went on the Your Funeral My Trial tour. I remember we did very little rehearsing and I kind of learned all the songs on the road. It was a really good kind of experience because the last things I’d done were The Legendary Stardust Cowboy and The Fur Bible and I was not really into these things – they were fun, but I was starting to feel that I was around people that I was supposed to be around at that time. And that the music was experimental music and that is really reflecting the city of Berlin. I could see that right away in the sound of the music and the approach to the music – a little bit cold, a little bit harsh, and quite romantic… and fed my interest in using the guitar as an expressive sort of instrument. Nick's songs are very narrative-led – a lot of them written on piano. It was a very different approach again to things I’d done before. It made me have to reinvent another kind of style - and I did – I wasn’t playing rock’n’roll music any more even though there were a lot of elements of that in it - and blues. It was not cliché. The beats were very offbeat and the time signatures were very strange time signatures I wasn’t used to. And it was really good for me to have to fall into that. It was just definitely another good learning experience.

My bandleader there was more Mick Harvey than anyone - who would show me how stuff goes and what the timings were. The other thing was that there was really a lot of freedom in what was going on. Everyone’s individual ideas were welcomed in that band and that’s what I think Nick really wanted – that’s why he chose such individuals to be in his band. And that’s very much the same as - Jeffrey chose me because he just met me and I didn’t play anything, The Cramps chose me because I seemed to fit some kind of sort of strange idea that they had, and the same thing with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – that they were looking for something that wasn’t what everyone else was doing and that’s who they chose to be in their band.

Tender PreyThe creative process with the Bad Seeds seemed to be very different and unpredictable. Usually it started out with drums, maybe piano or a guitar part that Nick or Mick would come up with. Then me and Blixa or whoever else were left to fill in the blanks really and see what kind of sound would come up that would be good for a song. The first thing I did was learn songs they already were doing because I was filling in on a tour so I was just learning other people’s parts. Sometimes stuff was pieced together and left and come back to, sometimes it was a band dynamic. But there actually wasn’t one process really. Usually it was like they do something, “OK Kid, you go do something. OK Blixa you go do something. Show me what you’ve got.” Kid and BlixaDefinitely Tender Prey was much more like that. Later The Good Son was a little more structured. And it was the experimental era in the Berlin way and very democratic. Mick and Nick would obviously have the last say so in things but it was a very kind of free environment.

We were doing a lot of touring and I took up residence in Berlin. I got there and decided, “I want tolive here.” I was offered a place. I met Maria Zastrow – who was the bartender at Risiko. Somehow it reminded me a little of New York – somehow - I don’t know why - maybe because it was so cosmopolitan in a weird way. Or rather, the people I was with were cosmopolitan. And next to London, it seemed like somewhere I could call home. And I ended up there in Berlin for three years without any desire to leave.

Nick was really working hard at the time on his book And the Ass Saw the Angel. So he really just made music and wrote that book. I didn’t really hang out with Nick so much. I mean I knew him well and obviously we toured together. At that point I knew Anita much better and Mick Harvey and Thomas and Roland Wolf. Actually me and the keyboard player Roland Wolf were the new guys in the band and so we bonded on that kind of level – we weren’t sure what we were doing there but made our way in. Everyone else was just going along with what they’d been doing.

Berlin at the time was full of speed and drugs. That (Tender Prey) is a very druggy sort of record. I know Mick and Nick refer to it as a really black period in their lives. There was a lot of heaviness going on – mostly do to probably drug-taking – just life was very heavy at the time with relationships with different people. And there was a big influx of Australians moving there in the Bad Seeds path – Crime and the City Solution and just different people. A lot of Australian groups were moving to Berlin at the time because, like now, then, it was an even cheaper place to live and very free with the music process. I’d just come from London where it was all about success in the music industry and getting your picture in the paper and being on the latest trend and that was really the opposite.

London in 1988. Courtesy of From the Archives.


The Road to God Knows Where

The Road to God Knows WhereAfter Tender Prey came out we were doing a lot of touring. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are very much a live touring kind of band – always have been and still are. We toured all over the world: Australia, Japan, all of Europe, America. On the American tour the film crew came and made the documentary The Road to God Knows Where by Uli Schuppel - who I recently saw. And that was a strange thing to see because when you’re on tour you’re just being on tour and that’s your life and it’s a lifestyle in itself where your only job is to get to the next place and play. You’re just constantly on the move – something I’ve grown very comfortable with. It was strange to see it all played back on film because you don’t really know what you’re like and you don’t know what touring is like. The cameras were always there. It was like being on a reality TV show. And after a while you forgot that they were there. You’d see them and be like, “Hey.” And just do what you’re doing. They got some really candid stuff – really great stuff.

And I found that, touring with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, that they had some very dedicated, overzealous fans. The band was really popular but I could see that it was going to go really really popular. The dedication to, and obsession with, Nick, especially, I was pretty astonished at - to the point of stalking, threats of suicide, just really crazy crazy fans.

So I stayed in Berlin for like three years and this time me and Jeffrey were keeping in contact and we started up The Gun Club again. So I was really on the go. I was doing back-to-back tours really a lot. My last year in Berlin especially I was hardly there because I just on tour the whole time

The Good Son

Kid and Nick in BrazilThe Bad Seeds went to Brazil to play. Nick really fell in love with Brazil and he fell in love with a girl in Brazil. By this time I’d actually moved back to London. Mick and Nick had moved back to London and I followed suit and got a house with Nick and Anita in Cobham Common. There we had a three-story house and in the attic there was a piano where he wrote all of the songs for The Good Son. This time we left Berlin because drugs had really taken their toll and we really wanted out. Nick and Anita had gone to rehab and I had started going to NA meetings and stopped taking drugs and started to get myself together because by the end of Berlin, even though this was the height of the most popular thing I’d done, I’d really lost interest. I was no longer excited about music. I’d turned to stone. That’s what heroin does to you. People were overdosing and dying in the scene and I was seeing that people didn’t care about it and I had this crazy moment of like, “This is so fucked up and this is not me. I was this crazy music fan and now I’m just this jaded feeling-nothing person.” And it really scared me so I decided to move with Nick and Anita back to London with a fresh start of things. And since they were going to be there anyway it made logical sense.

And at this time we went to Brazil to play and it was about this time Nick met a girl who was to be the mother of his child. He was really taken with Brazil – as we all were. So we decided – Nick decided – that it would actually turn out to be cheaper to get a studio in Brazil, and fly us all out there and stay there to record an album. So we went to Sao Paulo and stayed for three weeks making The Good Son – tracking it all. And that was a great time. A great experience. I was sober and I was excited about making a record again.

The Good SonThe music was changing. He was getting more songwriter-y – they were more song-like. Although there was still an experimental edge, the songs were a little more formed – I think because he wrote them all on piano. He was going through a big change at the time as well. And so that was really a great experience being in Sao Paulo and being in Brazil. It was such a completely different atmosphere than Berlin or London which was a kind of cold and hard reality. And Brazil was beautiful and sunny and the people were really nice. Even though there was a lot of poverty and crime there, it still was OK with us. It was a good good good time.

Victor (Van Vugt) went with us. Victor had been doing our live sound for a really long time. Tony had been doing it. He was a kind of crazy sort of guy. Then he went back to Australia and Victor stepped in on that American tour - because he’s in that documentary.

Making The Good Son – I really feel like that’s some of the best guitar stuff I did. Even though it seems really minimal, I think I started learning to play again. It was a very piano-led kind of record - so the harsh guitars are at a minimum but they’re still there. It was a real transition from that harsh Berlin sound into something - whatever needs to become at the time. It was kind of strange, when we were recording, we didn’t really notice it was any different than any other record we were making. I kind of had a little bit of a return to a kind of Gun Club-y sort of style of playing - melodies and rhythm and things instead of seeing what jagged edge I could put into the songs - a lot of acoustical guitar – which Mick Harvey played all of – because I don’t want to play an acoustic guitar.

...And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

Berlin Wall comes down

We returned from Brazil to mix the album in Berlin and when we were mixing the album, the Berlin Wall came down. It was a really funny run-up to the whole thing because the TV was on and my German’s really not that great. Blixa and Thomas kept running in saying that “so-and-so resigned from the East German cabinet.” And then they were saying, “And then the president resigned... And now the vice president resigned… And now there’s nobody there!” And they were saying that people were coming through the wall. I remember we came out at six in the morning or something and there were all of these people wandering around and people asking us if they could stay with us because no one knew what was going on. They didn’t know if they were going to be taken back. They didn’t know if it was permanent or whatever. And then the next day I woke up to go to the studio and I was like, “Wow, it seems like a lot of people here.” There were a gazillion people in acid-washed genes in all of the train stations and everywhere you were there were just crazy people. And you realized that “Wow! People are coming through.” It was a really crazy crazy time. It was like a circus.

We were at Tritonus studio - which was actually near one of the borders. So there were a lot of people coming through there. And it was an exciting time. I remember that it was our friend Maria’s (Zastrow) birthday the very night of the first night. And she was having a birthday party at her house and I remember she arrived going, “ Look, I brought some East people with me. They’re from the East! Give ‘em a drink!” So I’ll always remember the event by the mixing of The Good Son.

One More Man Gone

A lot of things were changing in The Bad Seeds and in people’s personal lives – in my personal life. I was changing. We were all going through changes because we all got clean. With that comes a different viewpoint. You can start to reassess what you want to do and follow different desires. And, as it turned out, Nick had fallen in love with a Brazilian girl. So his relationship with Anita ended. And that was a traumatic thing. I had to bear witness to it because I was living in the same house. Whatever – that’s they’re personal thing and not very much of my concern. But that was one event…

I had a real desire to move back to the United States. I was going to move to either San Francisco or New York. But then I went to LA and got involved in a love affair and decided, “I’ll move to LA.” And that was over in six months and I was stuck there for a while. So then I was deciding, “OK maybe I’m going to move to Los Angeles.” I was staying there a lot and I was really getting busy with The Gun Club.

And Nick just called me and said that they were trying to figure out what to do about touring for the record or stuff. And they were trying to figure out if they needed all the people. Because I was changing so much and bent on moving to Los Angeles, it didn’t seem like a bad idea for me not to do the tour – not to be in the band. Because I for one had only joined to do one tour and ended up there for three years. And I was also having a real desire to do something on my own and something different again. You’ll see through these interviews that there’s a three-year cycle of my attention span with one project and obviously other people’s attention spans with me. He just said, “What do you think?” And I said, “I think maybe it’s a good idea I stay in Los Angeles then and just work on the Gun Club,” who were increasingly more busy. “And if you can’t justify having two experimental guitarists in a not-so-experimental band anymore, then maybe that’s a good thing.” Once again, Mick Harvey was going to change to be the guitarist. And so they went. Actually it was a very amicable split because I felt like I was kind of through and done what I could do with them and I could see that I wasn’t really needed and I was quite busy enough with my band with Jeffrey. And so that was kind of the end of that.


New York Night Train would like to thank Hans from Nick Cave site From The Archives for his amazing photos.

Continue to 8. “Please Come Home”: The Gun Club Pt 3 (1987– 1988)


Kid Congo Powers Pt 2 home page | Kid Congo Powers Oral History table of contents
New York Night Train home page | New York Night Train table of contents



© New York Night Train , 2005