Mick Harvey is best known as a former Bad Seed, the right-hand man to Nick Cave for the better part of 35 years. But for all the stardom, one of the Oz rock scene’s elder statesmen is making breakfast when I speak to him on a Monday afternoon. “I hope that’s not too revolting for you,” he laughs. Beyond the spotlight, the multi-instrumentalist Harvey has brought much more to the music world than the mainstream might realise. “I don’t know how many albums I’ve made as a producer, or the albums I’ve made with bands. It must be more than 50, or maybe 60 or something,” Harvey says with an awkward pride. Aside from his partnership with Cave – which spanned The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds – he’s scored handfuls of films, released six solo records and produced many of PJ Harvey’s.
But Mick concedes that he’s hardly a songwriter. “A lot of people misunderstand that, because [they think], ‘What are you talking about? You’ve written a lot of songs!’ And I kind of have written songs. But if you look to about ten years ago, [it was] barely any. In terms of writing the music to a song, then yeah; because I’m a composer. But songwriters are people who are just always writing songs. That’s their vocation. That’s not my vocation. I make music. So if I’ve written some songs along the way, then that’s a bonus.”
And since Harvey didn’t even pen the first of his own solo releases, he kind of has a point. 1995’s Intoxicated Man and 1997’s Pink Elephants translated and reinterpreted the Serge Gainsbourg originals for English-speaking audiences. Now, almost 20 years on, nostalgia for the French provocateur will once again be relieved as Mute Records reissues Harvey’s efforts as a double album. And finally, we’ll get to see them played live on Australian soil.
“It seemed like an appropriate time to actually get out there and perform the material,” he says. “When the albums came out back in the mid-’90s, I’d played no shows for it at all and it was a very conscious decision. I was sick to death of it by that time. I’d worked so long and hard on the recordings that the thought of going out on the road and having to…” he pauses. “If I’d done shows when the albums came out it would have been a struggle to make them and to not lose a lot of money. And they would have turned into tribute nights too. Which I wasn’t interested in doing after the amount of time I’d spent working on the material. But now, I don’t mind. They can be anything, I don’t really care. I’m fine about doing it now, it should be quite funny [laughs]. Hopefully there’ll be finished copies [of the re-issued albums] in Australia by the time I finish the show.”
Playing alongside a six-piece band, Harvey will revisit the records at Paradiso at Town Hall for Sydney Festival. These Gainsbourg-turned-Harvey creations have an air of majesty to them. But though he says he’s “never felt like being in The Ramones,” Harvey’s discography proves diverse; sometimes with the serenity of his later works, other times with the racket of The Birthday Party. “The only notion of what I’d do next is that it’d be a much more upbeat, band-oriented kind of thing. I’m never far away from those sorts of things. I’ve continued to make music all these years, which is kind of odd in a way, but also kind of really great.”
BY RACHEL EDDIE