INTERVIEW: Mick Harvey | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Rare are the musicians that can boast the musical CV that Mick Harvey can. As a founding member of The Boys Next Door in 1975, he was at the front line of bringing punk rock to Australia. When that band reconvened to London in 1980 to become The Birthday Party, he became a lynchpin of the chaotic sound, and a much-needed anchor amidst their notoriety. Continuing to play with Nick Cave as part of the Bad Seeds until 2009, he’s remained in constant demand as a producer, collaborator and performer with artists including PJ Harvey, Crime and the City Solution, fellow Birthday Party bandmate Rowland Howard and Anita Lane amongst others.

In recent years, it’s been Mick Harvey’s own solo career that has blossomed. Having first stepped out under his own name with two superb records of Serge Gainsbourg interpretations in the nineties, his records have slowly come to focus on his own material, writing in a voice recognisable to fans of the bands he has featured in, but also one with a distinct tenderness and emotional insight.

Ahead of his upcoming European tour, I got the chance to discuss songwriting, collaborating and more with Mick Harvey. Intriguingly, this tour finds him splitting his time between his usual solo show and sets centred on his Gainsbourg work. “They are very different shows, which does present something of a challenge. My solo shows are very much in a reflective zone and I am more interested in challenging the audience with something difficult than presenting easy entertainment. I think this, broadly speaking, has always been my approach – I focus on the music and make it as potent and interesting as possible, and rely on that to be what is entertaining or leave the entertaining up to some of the other people on the stage.

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“I am more interested in challenging the audience with something difficult than presenting easy entertainment”

“With the Gainsbourg show, it is a complete flip-flop. I didn’t necessarily realise it would be that way but once I started playing [the songs] it became apparent they were, in some ways, primarily an entertainment. So for me, standing up there as the front man with this ‘show’ going on around me, it was both something of a shock and a surprise. But I think I have embraced that and I just take it for what it is. It does, however, put me into a very different zone compared to my solo shows.”

As Harvey explains it, while the Gainsbourg work was originally a launch pad for his subsequent solo career, recent reissues and live shows have found it becoming a focal point once again. “In a way, the Gainsbourg albums were a bridging manoeuvre. The opportunity to translate the songs and record them afforded me the chance to sing and to discover how I felt about that. When I came to begin my recent series of solo albums some eight years later I was probably keen to do something very different to the Gainsbourg stuff.

“For some time I really felt I had left the Gainsbourg project behind and moved on, but the reissues brought with them the prospect of performing the material live and I decided to try it out and now it has become part of what I am doing again. I must confess there have been a couple of funny discussions about making a third volume of Serge songs, but I am a long way from deciding to do that or even entertaining the idea seriously.”

Discussing his subsequent solo work, Harvey notes that “[his] abiding taste in music is probably quite different to those albums and I guess that shows in the way the next four solo albums sound”, but the importance of the lyric – his or those of another writer – has remained crucial. “In songs, lyrics should be the primary focus. Unless you are just making some inane padding for a pop hit, there is no excuse not to make the lyrics strong or the central purpose to the work. The music can evolve from and give atmosphere to these words. If you can’t be bothered taking care and a bit of love with the words then you should just be writing music.”

More recently, Harvey has become involved with a series of concerts dedicated to the work of David Lynch, In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited. Discussing his involvement, Harvey comments, “I am there under invitation purely as a guest singer which I find quite wonderful. No real pressure. I just get to enjoy the show and perform a few songs. The show itself is very interesting and demonstrates how strong Lynch’s use of music is. There are no visuals, just the music and sounds and the show evokes his films and images from them beautifully. For me it’s a just an enjoyable evening all round.”

Alongside this, Harvey is also starting to map out plans for the next phase of his solo work. Having released his most recent album Four (Acts of Love) in 2013, his attention is now turning toward its follow-up. “I’ve just entered that period of down time between projects, which seems to happen so rarely but which is very important sometimes. The next album or project could be one of many things I have on my list but I think it will likely be the next compositional project as it’s already calling out to me to come into being.”

Mick Harvey plays The Cluny, Newcastle on Monday 3rd August.

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