The lyrics to "We No Who U R" or "Higgs Boson Blues" are very allusive, rather than concretely narrative. Everyone's noting the very modern allusions, like Wikipedia, Miley Cyrus, and Hannah Montana. Why have you avoided such datable references until now?

I think a press release went out that noted something like that, and so consequently everybody's noticing it. There are lines like that, but it's not something I haven't done before. If you look at "Abattoir Blues," there is a telescoping between time that happens. There's a line about a Frappuccino, but it feels like the song exists in one era and then it pulls you into a different era. "Datable" is a good word, and there are references like that.

The song "Dig, Lazarus, Dig" bends eras in the same way.

Nick Cave, center, brings up Wikipedia, Miley Cyrus, and the Higgs Boson in the lyrics to his new album.
Cat Stevens
Nick Cave, center, brings up Wikipedia, Miley Cyrus, and the Higgs Boson in the lyrics to his new album.

Yes, it does. I've been doing it for years!

I'm particularly interested in your use of the Higgs Boson, or the so-called "God Particle." Were you following coverage of its discovery closely? I know you do a lot of research for songs.

It was a nice piece of serendipity that it was discovered while we were recording that song in the studio. One of the engineers ran in and said, "You know that Higgs Boson thing you're singing about? It exists." That was nice. It wasn't written as a response to the discovery, but to the experiment itself. I'd written that song a year before it was discovered.

A lot of people must assume it's a response to the discovery, since many people didn't know what it was until then.

The song is actually about the guy going down to find out if it exists or not. In the press, there was the idea that if they discovered the Higgs Boson, which would be the origin of matter, that God didn't exist. So, it's a song about going to find out if God exists and in the meantime witnessing these spiritual calamities.

In that sense, the Higgs Boson ties in pretty wonderfully to themes you've explored throughout your career. Did it begin with the Higgs Boson or was that applied after?

I'm publishing the notebook I used for the writing of this record. I got this new notebook the day I started writing the record and everything is in it. It shows that it takes a long time for the Higgs Boson to find the song.

One of the album's most musically exalted moments arrives at the end of "Jubilee Street," following the character's declaration that he's above recriminations and he's flying. Why did you choose to resolve that song with such a lofty-sounding ending?

The idea of songwriting is a transformative thing, and what I do with songwriting is take situations that are quite ordinary and transform them in some way. Apart from things like the murder ballads, the songs I write, at their core, are quite ordinary human concerns, but the process of writing about them transforms them into something else. The actual story of "Jubilee Street" is a small, nasty, and tawdry tale of degradation. Through that, there's a transformative process where the protagonist becomes exalted through degradation.

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