This originally appeared in the Event Guide.
The Good Son
By Aoife Barry
When he’s not tinkling the ivories in The Bad Seeds, Conway Savage is creating his own music: Solo, he trades in blues-infected , down-tempo psycho-billy dirty rock, or haunting, emotional duets with the likes of Suzie Higgie. He’s released six albums over the past 15 years; his latest, ‘Quickie For Ducky’, was recorded with Amanda Fox and Robert Tickner. Melbourne-based Savage is an intriguing character – dry, sarcastic and yet well able to laugh at himself (and others).
“Oh I’m so angry at the Bad Seeds, I’m so angry at the publicity machine -I could just kill it, what am I gonna do about it!” Conway Savage is laughing at a question about his level of ‘fame’ as a solo artist versus that of his work in the Bad Seeds – but if it seems as though I’ve struck a raw nerve, the sarcasm has dissipated within seconds. “What you got to do with music is continue on with what you got to do,” he drawls softly. “I was doing this stuff before I did the Bad Seeds, you know; as Guy Clark said – sing like you don’t need the money.” As part of the hugely successful group Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, he may no longer need to play for the money all the time, but these days it’s all about getting out there and plugging away with his solo career.
“Of course with Nick it’s a wonderful way to spread it around, by travelling around with him I get to play a lot of places, meet up with people,” muses Savage, contrasting his approach with that of the band’s. “I’m not the best businessman with my stuff, all I’ve done is curl into a ball and put it out on my label in Australia so [my albums have] been as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s like that old thing you know, talking quietly and making people draw in to listen – and hopefully it works. So I’m just going with the flow with that one.”
Going with the flow means recording his own albums and going on solo tours in between playing and recording with the Bad Seeds. “I love it, you know. Playing with Nick, I play just huge festivals and things like that. Look, I’ll tell you the truth, sometimes I’m just watching him going ‘wow that’s really cool’…he’s just extraordinary on stage,” says Savage. “And then you break it back down to doing a little gig like I do, and just the pleasure’s really similar for me. But it’s a lot more hard work for me because I’m playing in front of 40 people rather than whatever I do with Nick. It’s great.”
So how does he feel about his impending tour in Ireland? “I’m feeling good, very good,” he says. “It just came about because there’s been a little bit of interest [in my albums]. I’ve done homespun recordings for a while that haven’t been released anywhere unless you come and see me at a gig or something, and I’ve done a few tours of Ireland, so it was just a nice thing to be able to do.” But it turns out he wasn’t always feeling so positive about playing here. “You know, I was a little bit worried at first that ye would stone me off stage…!” he laughs.
One small connection that Savage has with Ireland is his use of James Joyce lyrics on his ‘The Wrong Man’s Hands’ album. However, at the mere mention of this, he baulks. “No I didn’t!” he barks when the subject is mentioned. Then he softens a little and it becomes clear why he is so reticent. “My tone in this round of interviews has been apologies to everyone. Yes I did use a bit of poetry of his but please don’t sue me…I probably owe you the price of a cup of coffee [for it].” He says wrly, before adding: “I know I shouldn’t, but I did it.”
“For that particular album at that time, ‘The Wrong Man’s Hands’, I was just looking around for a little material, because I’d written all these songs for it but was a bit late on catching up with the lyric department,” he eventually explains. “I was working on something else too and it all just sat together just using a few other people’s tunes and a little of my own. It was a kind of mood piece…some of his words drifted into my imagination with the songs and next thing they – they just fitted like a glove and I just went with it. My apologies again!”
In between upcoming Bad Seeds dates, Savage is working on his latest album – “I’ve got a whole new album I’ve gotta do…but unfortunately that long tall skinny bald bloke is taking my time up” –and it turns out it’s taking a rather unexpected direction.” I think I’ve gone pop,” he yelps. “Doctor Doctor, I’ve gone pop! I like playing it, so we’ll see. I’m usually the worst to know what I call pop and what other people do, but anyway…I’ve sold out –I’ve completely sold out.”
Although his solo work – pop or not – is undoubtedly a huge part of his life, the subject is always brought back to the Bad Seeds – after twenty years in the band, it has left an indelible mark on him. “I’m really rather attached to everyone in the band, I really quite like them…” he says. “I play with brilliant musicians and they make me laugh so much…That last tour we did for ‘Dig! Lazurus! Dig!’ was one of the most pleasurable tours we’ve ever done.”
Perhaps the key to the band getting along is that they don’t live in each other’s pockets. “We don’t record for long, it’s get in and get out, we don’t tour for long and so basically you know, it’s just a pleasure to be back in the room with them because we’re all spread around a bit so we don’t see each other so much,” elaborates Savage. “So it’s a love jam for three months.” He laughs. Is that they key to keeping it fresh? He chuckles once more. “As fresh as some 50 year old blokes in a room can get!”
“Ever since I got that call, asking me to be in the Bad Seeds about 20 years ago…” he pauses. “It was so strange you know, the phone rang – and I didn’t have a phone.” Another chuckle. “It worked out fine, didn’t it?”