“I love sitting in the studio with Nick and throwing things around,” Ellis said during a break in rehearsal. “It’s a curious relationship … he’s always pushed me as far as I can go, always encouraged me and I hope I’ve done that for him. We don’t discuss those sort of things but it’s a privilege to sit in a room and work with him.”
There’s definitely a feeling of … you know you’re going to this environment where everything is possible.
To see and hear the pair on stage – performing live versions of scores from such films as John Hillcoat’s The Proposition and The Road and director Amy Berg’s West of Memphis among others – is to spend a couple of hours in a place where only music can take you.
“When Nick and I started to work on that score [The Proposition] we realised that together we were able to do something that on our own, probably we couldn’t,” Ellis says.
“You do get in this meditative state, something goes on like when you’re driving a car and you don’t realise who’s driving the car, you wonder who’s at the wheel,” he says with a chuckle. “Working in that way can be like that, it gets out of your hands and then you look back over the day’s work and see if there’s anything in there.
“It’s a way that we’ve developed working, probably since The Proposition. Hopefully there’s more gas in the tank.”
The most recent Bad Seeds album, Ghosteen, released in early October, suggests there’s plenty of gas for several more journeys yet, both with the Bad Seeds and for Ellis and Cave’s film work.
“It runs through everything up to Ghosteen, that sense of excitement and adventure, a willingness to take risks when we get into a studio together,” Ellis says. “There’s definitely a feeling of … you know you’re going to this environment where everything is possible and you can embarrass yourself, do something and nobody is judging you.”
Sunday and Monday’s shows in the Concert Hall, also featuring the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, draw upon 15 film and theatre soundtracks Cave and Ellis have written over 15 years. From early next year the Bad Seeds will again power up their amps and return to stages – but for now, the focus is fully acoustic.
“It was a real surprise for us, how this soundtrack idea took flight,” Ellis says. “It’s very moving for us to see this music presented in such a way and realise there is a substantial body of work there.”
And what about that place Ellis goes to when he’s playing music? “When I pick up my violin, instantly I’m back in this place. It’s a place I know I can go to that’s been with me for over 40 years now … a place you develop over the years,” he says. “It’s not connected to the ground, it’s really somewhere else.”
Warren Ellis and Nick Cave perform live with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, December 8, and Monday, December 9, at the Sydney Opera House. See sydneyoperahouse.com for more information.
Martin Boulton is EG Editor at The Age and Shortlist Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald