Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds are famous for their diverse – and prolific – output. The band’s music was originally described as Goth rock but has since drawn on everything from country and blues to more experimental sounds. In an essay accompanying their latest box set, writer Gerard Elson says they have made “an art of defying stagnation”.
“Members have come and gone, yet the band has remained vital by declining to repeat past successes. Rather, they’ve forged, explored and mastered more musical styles than most bands have recorded good songs.”
The new box set, Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (1984 – 2014), brings together music from throughout the band’s 30-year career. A deluxe edition includes three CDs, a DVD with two hours of unseen archive footage and a 256-page hardback book.
The book contains new and republished essays alongside unseen photographs donated by current and former members. Loose drawings, negatives and printed ephemera are hidden among its pages – there’s a flyer for a gig at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, a rough drawing of a cover for single Into My Arms and a tea-stained sheet of lyrics for the song Deanna complete with handwritten notes.
Essays reflect on the band’s cultural significance and the making of their most famous records, including Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and From Her To Eternity. Photographs capture gigs and photo shoots as well as quieter moments: there are shots of Cave tucking into a hot dog, visiting a theme park and reading a magazine.
Designer Tom Hingston says the aim was to tell the story of the band and create a box set with an intimate feel. “We started with a conversation … just talking about the sorts of material that Nick would want to feature and that would enable us to tell the story [of the band],” he explains.
“We started looking through all the photographic material they had – photography that was from records or press sessions, so professional shots by people that have documented the band – and as we went through it, we realised that some of it had not been seen but a lot of it had. We felt the photography should represent something more personal, so we went to all of the band members who had been in The Bad Seeds over the years and asked them all for their personal photos. As you can imagine, it took quite a long time but what came out of that, when it was all there collectively, was this amazing visual diary of the band at different moments in time. I think that’s what’s really lovely about the photo content – there is the odd portrait [and some professional shots of the band on stage] but for the most part, they’re all personal.”
The book is arranged in chronological order and laid out much like a novel. It’s a simple design but loose photographs and sketches add an element of surprise. “So many Best Ofs and compilation packages are really over packaged and verbose. With this, we were quite keen to strip all of that stuff back. Really, it was about making it feel like a classic book with all of these hidden layers in it,” says Hingston.
Designing a compilation box set requires a different approach to working on an album cover: packaging has to represent multiple records with different concepts and themes written at various stages of a musician or band’s life. Hingston Studio addressed this challenge by creating a series of symbols for the cover instead of a single image. Each symbol represents a different track – a spade provides a nod to Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! while a chapel references the song Do You Love Me?
“We were very keen to present a more holistic picture of the Bad Seeds,” explains Hingston. “It’s fair to say in a lot of the [band’s] records, within the lyrics, there tends to be an icon or a motif … so each of the icons that appear on [the cover] relates to a track.”
An additional symbol of a crying eye was inspired by the idea of song writing as a cathartic process. “Nick always says that when he’s writing, it’s like an outpouring of emotion,” explains Hingston. Symbols also appear on posters promoting the box set underneath lyrics from corresponding tracks.
The box set features a burgundy and navy slip case and discs are packaged in a navy fold-out sleeve. Hingston says he wanted to find a palette that “touched on something nostalgic, but still felt contemporary”. The LP and standard CD editions feature different colour ways – a three CD set is packaged in a blue and yellow sleeve, the triple LP edition in pink and green and the double CD in a shade of lime and a darker green.
It’s a tactile package – from the glossy photo pages and marbling effect end papers to the ephemera printed in a range of finishes. Fans of the band will no doubt enjoy deciphering symbols on the cover and discovering the memorabilia hidden within.
The book also mirrors Cave’s creative process. When writing music, he fills sketchbooks with doodles, found images and lyrics typed out on bible end papers. This process inspired the design of the deluxe edition of the band’s 2013 album Push the Sky and is again referenced in Lovely Creatures.
Lovely Creatures is Hingston’s fourteenth collaboration with Nick Cave. He also designed the pastel-coloured packaging for Abbatoir Blues/The Lyrics of Orpheus and the minimal artwork for 2015 album Skeleton Tree as well as packaging for Push the Sky. Cave, who is also a visual artist, works closely with Hingston and his studio throughout the process. “[He] has a real empathy for the creative process, which makes it really exciting. There’s a lot of trust between the two of us and I think that shows in the quality of the end result, because we’re allowed to do really interesting things.”
It took around a year to curate material for the box set and “make coherent sense of it all” says Hingston. The compilation was initially due for release in August 2015 – in an afterword published in the book, Cave writes: “Thirty years or so had passed since the band had formed and much had happened during that time – the band morphing into as many versions of itself as there were albums to reflect this. It felt, to me, a good time to pay tribute to this unique creation.”
In July 2015, however, a personal family tragedy meant that the box set was delayed and the band focused instead on completing Skeleton Tree. “Circumstances beyond my control took hold. It then became imperative and a matter of great urgency to make a new record and allow this different person to speak,” writes Cave.
“The Bad Seeds made Skeleton Tree in Paris towards the end of 2015 – in a strange, raw and different present. Whatever Skeleton Tree became, it was a wholly necessary addition to the band’s story. Lovely Creatures lost, for a time, its place in the narrative. Now, it seems the time is right to recognise and celebrate the Bad Seeds and their many achievements.”
The album is released on BMG on Friday May 5 and the box set is priced at £55. You can order copies at nickcave.com