Nick Cave (centre) with the Bad Seeds (from left) Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis, Thomas Wydler and Jim Sclavunos.
AFTER taking a phone call that briefly diverts his attention, Nick Cave returns to the question of what inspires his writing, which he does up to eight hours a day when home in Britain.
''What was I waffling on about?'' he asks, a smile stretching across his face.
The setting is Melbourne, a few days before Christmas, and Cave knows precisely what he was ''waffling'' on about. He often returns at this time of year, to the city where his old band the Boys Next Door (later called the Birthday Party) formed with guitarist Mick Harvey. The Birthday Party's demise led to the formation of the Bad Seeds, who today release their 15th studio album, Push the Sky Away.
The new album.
That album (with his wife pictured on the cover) is what Cave was ''waffling'' on about; that and the 30-year musical partnership between himself and Harvey, which has come to a close, but more about that later.
As Cave looks out over Fitzroy Street from the balcony of St Kilda's Prince of Wales Hotel, the 55-year-old is relaxed and happy to be back where he first prowled stages, shocked audiences and wrote his earliest songs.
''The sleaziness appealed to my teenage sensibilities,'' he says, adding the St Kilda he now sees ''feels quite different'' and he barely recognises it these days. ''I might be looking in the wrong places,'' he says, flashing another grin.
Much has changed since the Bad Seeds released From Her to Eternity in 1984 and soon after relocated from London to Berlin. The one constant has been Cave's prodigious output, which over three decades has seen him become a novelist, film composer and highly sought-after screenwriter.
The Bad Seeds, however, is what he always comes back to and what most fuels him, regardless of whether it's in the studio or live on stage.
''Most of the other stuff that comes my way - the film scores or film scripts - is people asking me to do things, but the Bad Seeds is not like that; and Grinderman (his other band with Warren Ellis) isn't like that,'' he says.
''It's the records and the Bad Seeds in particular that I really do feel part of … going into the studio with the Bad Seeds is incredible, it's always an incredible experience.
''It was an incredible experience to go into the studio with Mick (Harvey) and an incredible experience without Mick.''
Unlike previous Bad Seeds albums, Push the Sky Away doesn't have any Harvey influences - the multi-instrumentalist opting to walk away after 2008's Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! to concentrate on other musical projects.
His collaborative partnership with Cave ultimately broke down.
''I'd been working with Mick for 30 years and that collaborative mechanism is not something that goes forever,'' Cave says matter-of-factly. ''It's something that works and eventually it doesn't, but it's been mutually beneficial.'' These days, when he's not ''alone at the piano'' at home in England's seaside town of Brighton, Cave is often collaborating with the Dirty Three's Warren Ellis, with whom he formed Grinderman as a Bad Seeds side project.
''When we all play together [in the Bad Seeds] there's this big, congested juggernaut of sound and we just wanted to do something that was leaner and more in your face, so we formed Grinderman,'' Cave says.
''Even though this record doesn't sound anything like Grinderman, there's things we learnt from being in Grinderman that we've unconsciously taken on … a kind of leanness of sound [and] staying away from overdubs.
''This record very much revolves around the loops he [Ellis] comes up with and basically all the songs we wrote together, which is the first time I've collaborated so closely on the writing process with somebody.'' Recorded in the south of France, at a studio where Cave, Ellis, Martyn Casey (bass), Jim Sclavunos (percussion) and Thomas Wydler (drums) lived for three weeks, Push the Sky Away again pushes the group in new directions.
''We were in this situation where we didn't have a guitarist and thought, 'What if we just don't get anybody and see what happens', so there's guitar on this record, but not a lot. You take the guitar out and suddenly there's all this space within the song.
''Looking for something different is something the Bad Seeds have always done … you don't really know what the next record is going to be and on some level, if you're a Bad Seeds fan, you have to work out all over again if you still are a Bad Seeds fan when the next record comes out.''
Looking ahead to the coming Bad Seeds tour, including next month's first-time performance at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the man known for the dark intensity of his lyrics, and an obsession with themes around religion, death and sex, raises an eyebrow at the thought of prowling stages here and overseas.
''On tour you can't even imagine how you can get up on stage and do one of these shows,'' he says, referring to the energy he and his bandmates bring to the stage each time they perform.
''Going on stage with the Bad Seeds changes your chemistry and allows you to be this other thing - it reminds me of getting really shit-faced and doing something kind of stupid, but superhuman at the same time.''
Performing on stage with the Bad Seeds will be former Saints guitarist Ed Kuepper, who has played live with the band since Harvey's departure. Conway Savage will also return to the live set-up.
''I'm still entertained by it,'' Cave says, again peering out over Fitzroy Street, but commenting on the ''imaginative world'' he's dedicated himself to creating through music and the written word.
''It's a completely different place to be in than the the so called real world - it's a world where you're allowed to smoke indoors.''
Push the Sky Away is now available. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on March 2.