The band has featured international personnel throughout its career and presently consists of Cave, violinist and multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn P. Casey and keyboardist Conway Savage (all four from Australia), keyboard/percussionist Barry Adamson and guitarist George Vjestica (both from the United Kingdom), and drummers Thomas Wydler (Switzerland) and Jim Sclavunos (United States). The band has released fifteen studio albums and completed numerous international tours, and has been considered "one of the most original and celebrated bands of the post-punk and alternative rock eras in the '80s and onward".
The band was founded in 1983 following the demise of Cave and Harvey's former group the Birthday Party, the members of which met at a boarding school in Victoria. By the release of their fifth studio album Tender Prey in 1988, they shifted from post-punk towards an experimental alternative rock sound, later incorporating various influences throughout their career. For example, the 2008 album Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! and the side-project Grinderman were strongly influenced by garage rock. Synthesizers and minimal guitar work feature prominently on Push the Sky Away (2013), recorded after Harvey's departure from the band in 2009.
The project that would later evolve into Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds began following the demise of The Birthday Party in August 1983. Both Cave and Harvey were members of the Birthday Party, along with guitarist Rowland S. Howard and bassist Tracy Pew. During the recording sessions of the Birthday Party's scheduled EPs Mutiny/The Bad Seed, internal disputes developed in the band. The difference in Cave and Howard's approach to songwriting was a major factor, as Cave explained in an interview with On The Street: "the main reason why The Birthday Party broke up was that the sort of songs that I was writing and the sort of songs that Rowland was writing were just totally at odds with each other." Following the departure of Harvey, they officially disbanded. Cave also said that "it probably would have gone on longer, but Mick has the ability to judge things much more clearly than the rest of us."
Cave and guitarist Kid Congo Powers during the band's 1986 tour.
An embryonic version of what would later become Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was formed in the Birthday Party's then-home of London in September 1983, with Cave, Harvey (acting primarily as drummer), Einstürzende Neubauten guitarist Bargeld, Magazine bassist Barry Adamson, and Jim G. Thirlwell. The band was initially formed as a backing band for Cave's intended solo project Man Or Myth?, which had been approved by the record label Mute Records. During September and October 1983, they recorded material with producer Flood, although the sessions were cut short due to Cave's touring with the Immaculate Consumptive, another project formed with Thirlwell, Lydia Lunch and Marc Almond. In December 1983 Cave returned to Melbourne, Australia, where he formed a temporary line-up of his backing band, due to Bargeld's absence, that included Pew and guitarist Hugo Race. The band performed their first live show at Seaview in St. Kilda on 31 December 1983.
Following a short Australian tour, and during a period when they were without management, Cave and his band returned to London. Cave, Harvey, Bargeld, Race and Adamson formed the project's first consistent line-up, while Cave's longtime girlfriend Anita Lane was credited as a lyricist on the band's debut album. The group, which up to this time had been nameless, adopted the moniker Nick Cave and the Cavemen, which they used for the first six months of their career. However, they were later renamed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in May 1984, in reference to the final Birthday Party EP The Bad Seed. They began recording sessions for their debut album in March 1984 at London's Trident Studios and these sessions, together with the abandoned Man Or Myth? sessions from September–October 1983 that were recorded at The Garden studios, formed the album From Her to Eternity, released on Mute Records in 1984.
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