Australian musician Warren Ellis has been Nick Cave’s musical sounding board for years. The new music documentary “This Much I Know to Be True” shows just how close their relationship is. “It’s almost like meditating when we’re sitting together.”
It seemed like an exciting idea. Five years ago, Australian singer Nick Cave accepted a proposal from his friend director Andrew Dominic (The Assassination of Jesse James) to turn the recordings of his new album Skeleton Tree into a musical documentary. When the project was in progress, disaster struck: Cave’s son, Arthur, lost his life.
After much hesitation, Dominic decided to continue his film. The score, “One More Time with Feeling,” became an influential document and propelled Cave’s friend and musician twin brother Warren Ellis to the fore. He was also the man who took charge of the Skeleton Tree. The documentary will be shown in Belgian cinemas next week as an event.
The close relationship and collaboration between Cave and Ellis is evident from “This Much I Know to Be True”. In the hopeful documentary, Dominic takes the viewer into a life outside of music – it turns out he owns a ceramic studio – and focuses on songs from the albums ‘Ghosteen’ (2019) and ‘Carnage’ (2021). According to Dominic, the way Kev and Ellis join forces is special. “As Nick said in the movie: Warren is a sender, not a receiver,” the director laughs. “It’s almost impossible to get Warren to listen to you. It’s like music is pouring out of him. He makes music by the meter.”
Ellis could laugh about it at the Berlin Film Festival, where “This Much I Know to Be True” was presented to the world. “I honestly didn’t realize I was so messy,” he says. “I didn’t realize it until I saw the movie. If you click another musician, you don’t doubt it. When Nick and I walk into a room, something always happens. It doesn’t always look like something, but something happens. We both are still curious. We’re working On instinct and emotion.
Can you still surprise each other?
Warren Ellis: “I think that’s why we’ve been hanging around with each other for so long. If we don’t surprise each other, we’ll try again. We hope to continue to develop in this way. We never stop thinking about what we did before. We think about the future. Almost It’s like meditating when Nick and I are sitting together. We’re just making things up, without fixed thoughts. To do this, you have to have a lot of faith in the other person, so you can take risks and not be afraid to make a mistake or fall on your face.
In recent years, she has also worked with other musicians, such as Cat Power, Marianne Faithfull and the financial band Tinariwen. What do you get from those experiences?
Ellis: My entire creative life feels like a learning process. The day I no longer have that feeling, I better hang my tools on the hook. I want to constantly challenge myself. I often get suggestions to work on something, but I don’t always say yes. Sometimes it seems worth it, sometimes it isn’t. I have been fortunate, because I have always met the right people throughout my career. First Jim White and Mick Turner in Dirty Three, then Nick Cave. It has made me a much better musician. I’m also a person who needs other people to get the best of myself. Then no need to think. You put me in a room, and you end up with me on my way. ‘
Sometimes you have to let go of ideas and start over. When I was younger, I stubbornly stuck to what I had, often out of a lack of self-confidence.
You also write audio clips, usually with Nick, but sometimes on your own. Do they affect your other business?
Ellis: ‘absolute. That soundtrack helped me keep going. They force me to look at music in a different way. The movie “The Assassination of Jesse James” was a turning point. Before that, I felt that one day my career would come to an end and I wouldn’t be able to perform anymore. On Jesse James, Nick and I got stuck at one point, but that got us to try something new. Then I realized that sometimes you have to let go of ideas and start over. I couldn’t have done that when I was younger. I’ve always stuck to what I had stubbornly, often because of a lack of self-confidence. Since “Jesse James” I find the soundtrack very editing. And they give Nick and I inspiration for bad seed. Without our music for West of Memphis, Push the Sky Away would have been very different. Suddenly I decided to leave the violin and play the synthesizer.
Isn’t it important for bad seeds to have a clear sound?
Ellis: I think it’s important that we look different every time. If some people crave the rock music we used to play, bad luck for them. This is how life goes. For me, it’s a good sign that I’m nervous when we’re in the studio. My job is to challenge the audience, as well as myself. I still remember when I first heard “Low” by David Bowie. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I kept listening to it. These albums become my favorite music, like “Here Comes the Warm Jets” by Brian Eno, and composers like Stravinsky, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane on tough times. The same is true of films, such as “Under the Skin” by Jonathan Glazer. When I saw him, I went to look again the next day. I felt like there was something in it and I wanted to have it.
You are a multi player. Are there machines you don’t master?
Ellis: “Brass players. That’s where it ends for me. I can handle everything else. My studio has just about everything, including Vietnamese musical instruments. To be honest, I’m not a tech savvy. That’s never been my thing. But I enjoy exploring What each machine offers.I’ve made a career out of it.
You’re usually wild on stage. Does your beard ever get tangled in the strings of your violin?
Ellis: This is really a problem. Since we didn’t perform long due to covid, my beard is longer than ever. There is often a gap at the end of the round. It got stuck and then I had to get it out. But the show must go on.’ (He laughs)
“This Much I Know to Be True” will be shown in several Belgian cinemas between Wednesday 11 May and Sunday 15 May. Details at thismuchiknowtobetrue.com.
- Warren Ellis (57) is an Australian multi-instrumentalist who trained as a classical violinist.
- After working in the theater and arts sector, he founded the band Dirty Three in 1992.
- In 1994, Ellis became a full-time member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
- With Cave, he starred in Grinderman and wrote music for films such as The Assassination of Jesse James and The Road.
- In 2021 he released the autobiographical book Nina Simone’s Gum.
- Andrew Dominic’s documentary “This Much I Know to Be True” focuses heavily on songs from “Carnage,” the first studio album of Keif and Ellis as a duo.