Nick Cave on finding inspiration: “I must commit fully to the task in hand”

Nick Cave

Nick Cave has discussed needing to actively work to find inspiration by committing to a regular creative practice, rather than waiting for it to come to him.

In a new edition of his Red Hand Files Q&A site, Cave was asked questions by fans about lacking inspiration and faith, with the singer-songwriter drawing parallels between both in how one must pursue and seek them out.

Cave begins by disagreeing with a notion offered by novelist Franz Kafka, who once wrote that one must “simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary” and as a result, the world will “freely offer itself to you to be unmasked”. Cave says that in his experience, this has not been the case. Instead, inspiration, like faith, is “not something that finds you, or offers itself to you”.

“Inspiration and faith are similar in so far as they both ask something of us. They each require real and constant practical application,” Cave continues. “For me, inspiration comes only when I practice certain things regularly and rigorously. I must commit fully to the task in hand, sit down each day, pick up my pencil (actually it is a medium black or blue Bic Biro) and get to work.

“It is not exactly toiling down the coal mines, but it is labour enough, and I undertake it through the good times and the bad, through the dry periods and the periods of abundance, and I keep on going regardless of my successes or failures. Inspiration comes because I put in the work.”

Cave goes on to say that, similarly, faith is “not something that just magically materialises”, but is instead something that “first calls to us with its demands, and sometimes these demands are significant”.

“Faith in the universe, for example, requires our active participation. The world awakens to us as we set about the task of its rehabilitation. Faith is not passive but fiercely active, so we need to invest something of ourselves in the world in order to appreciate its value. The more we put into the world, the more value it appears to have,” Cave explains.

“To have faith in God, if this is what you want, requires an active involvement in the mechanics of belief. We set out on a journey, and that journey can be long and very hard, for the light is often buried deep, emerging from the darkness. We labour to improve our relationship with God, whoever or whatever that may be,” he continues.

“We stand before the world, in all its majesty and torment, and say, ‘we mean something’ – we, who contribute in some way toward the betterment of the world; we, who have skin in the game; we, who improve matters; we, who care. We find, to our utter astonishment, that we have faith in ourselves.”

Cave has maintained his Red Hand Files site for more than four years now, using it to respond to all manner of fan queries with lengthy and considered responses. In recent weeks, he has responded to a question from a fan about what he thinks is the “point of life”, and also discussed his decision to start doing interviews again.

Last month, during one such interview, Cave also opened up about finding comfort during the grieving process by performing live and connecting to his audience following the death of two of his sons, 15-year-old Arthur in 2015 and 31-year-old Jethro earlier this year.

“The care from the audience saved me,” Cave explained in an interview with The New York Times which arrived ahead of his new book, Faith, Hope and Carnage. “I was helped hugely by my audience, and when I play now, I feel like that’s giving something back. What I’m doing artistically is entirely repaying a debt,” he continued.

“My other son has died. It’s difficult to talk about, but the concerts themselves and this act of mutual support saves me. People say, how can you go on tour? But for me it’s the other way around. How could I not?”

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