“You look like sh*t, your voice has gone, the hotel has lost your laundry”: Nick Cave's description of touring will put you off the idea for life

Nick cave onstage 2008
(Image credit: Ross Gilmore/Redferns/Getty)

“They pay us to travel, they don't pay us to play,” Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry said recently, and anyone who’s toured or possibly just gigged will know what he means. A successful show is fun, a buzz, the kind of thing you’ve prepared for and, if you’re lucky, might even have the talent for. Touring, on the other hand, is a drag. 

Traveling, driving, flying, waiting in departure lounges, sharing a bus, loading in, loading out, packing up. Endless motorways, highways, autobahns. The pressure of arriving in one town after the other, facing a paying audience looking for the night of their lives when you feel slightly broken? That is what they pay you for. 

Nick Cave’s new book Faith, Hope And Carnage – a series of conversations with writer Sean O’Hagan – is a frank and fearless insight into Cave’s life as an artist recovering from the tragedy of his son’s death and contains a priceless insight into touring at a level most of us can only dream of. And it still sounds hellish.

In response to O’Hagan’s questions about why he can’t write songs while on tour, Cave gives the following description.

“Touring is actually hard to do,” says Cave. “I understand that it's not working down the coal mines, of course, but it has its own struggles.”

And then he details some of them:

"You stagger on to the bus for an 8-hour trip to the next town and it's 7:30 in the morning and you've had three hours sleep and you're still fucked up from the sleeping pills you've had to take – because on tour you never just get to bed and go to sleep, you have to knock yourself out – and you look like shit, and your voice has gone and your knees are skinned and weeping from knee drops and you've fucked your back and you have a urinary tract infection and last night's Mexican is roiling away and you think you're getting the flu and the hotel has lost your laundry and you fucking hate everybody and you look at Warren [Ellis] and he says, ‘How are you?’ And you punch the air and you say, ‘Fucking awesome, man.’ Because you know he is in precisely the same condition. 

“And you sit down and the bus moves off. And Warren says – because he's ten years younger and terminally fascinated by the world and has had 16 coffees – ‘Fuck. I saw this documentary last night on Iranian new wave cinema. Just amazing. Have you seen it?’ And you say no. And then off Warren goes.”

And that’s why he doesn't write songs on tour, he says. Because the last thing he wants to do is “engage in some parallel occupation that makes you feel even worse, that picks away at your self-regard, makes you feel smaller or emptier or insignificant or a fucking failure or plunges you into a kind of dark place that you have to climb back out of, or that makes you cry or makes you despair. 

“Songwriting does that. Songwriting would be essentially the last straw. It's just too fucking hard.” 

Interviewer Sean O'Hagan is a little bit sceptical.  "Sorry,” he says, “I'm not buying most of that. You love being on the road." 

"Okay,” says Cave. “Yeah, it's true." 

Faith, Hope And Carnage is out now, and Cave has just announced a 19-date US tour. You can see the full September and October dates below...

Nick Cave Live in North America, Solo

September 19, 2023 - Asheville, NC - Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
September 21, 2023 - Durham, NC @ DPAC
September 23, 2023 - Washington, D.C. @ Lincoln Theatre
September 25, 2023 - Cleveland, OH @ Playhouse Square
September 27, 2023 - Milwaukee, WE @ Riverside Theater
September 29, 2023 - Chicago, IL @ Auditorium Theatre

October 2, 2023 - Minneapolis, MN @ State Theatre
October 6, 2023 - Brooklyn, NY @ Kings Theatre
October 7, 2023 - New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
October 10, 2023 - Boston, MA @ Wang Theatre
October 12, 2023 - Montreal, QC @ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
October 14, 2023 - Toronto, ON @ Massey Hall
October 15, 2023 - Detroit, MI @ Masonic Cathedral Theatre
October 17, 2023 - Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
October 20, 2023 - Atlanta, GA @ Atlanta Symphony Hall
October 22, 2023 - Dallas, TX @ Majestic Theatre
October 23, 2023 - Austin, TX @ ACL at The Moody
October 27, 2023 - Los Angeles, CA @ Orpheum Theatre
October 28, 2023 - Los Angeles, CA @ Orpheum Theatre

Tom Poak

Tom Poak has written for Guitar World, Total Guitar, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Esquire, The Big Issue and more. In a writing career that has spanned decades, he has interviewed Brian May, Brian Cant, and cadged a light off Brian Molko. He has stood on a glacier with Thunder, in a Norwegian fjord with Ozzy and Slash, and on the roof of the Houses of Parliament with Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham (until some nice men with guns came and told them to get down). He has had a drink with Shane MacGowan, mortally offended Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and been asked if he was homeless by Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch.