Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds was originally formed in late 1983 by two former members of the Australian band The Birthday Party: Nick Cave (vocals, songwriter, keyboards, harmonica) and Mick Harvey (drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, occasional songwriter). The name of the new project indicated the shift in Cave's role from lead singer, as in The Birthday Party, to band leader, and coincided with his shift in songwriting style from expressionism to detailed lyrical narrative.
Cave and Harvey were joined by a semi-fluid group of bandmates, initially including Einstrzende Neubauten member Blixa Bargeld (guitar), Hugo Race (guitar), and former Magazine member Barry Adamson (guitar, bass, piano). After some studio work, the band's premiere public performance was held on New Year's Eve, 1983, in Melbourne, under the name "Nick Cave - Man Or Myth?", followed by a tour. The band then briefly called themselves "Nick Cave and the Cavemen" before adopting the "Bad Seeds" moniker, in reference to the final Birthday Party release, The Bad Seed E.P. The group soon recorded their debut album, From Her to Eternity, released in 1984, which was quickly followed by Race's departure.
Cave separated from long-time girlfriend and credited Bad Seed lyricist Anita Lane in the mid-1980s and began a relationship with Elisabeth Recker. While in Berlin, he released four albums with the Bad Seeds: The Firstborn Is Dead; Kicking Against the Pricks; Your Funeral, My Trial; and Tender Prey. Kicking Against the Pricks was the first album to feature the drumming of Swiss Thomas Wydler, which was shortly followed by Adamson's departure and the arrival of American guitarist Kid Congo Powers, along with short-tenured keyboardist Roland Wolf. In 1987, the Bad Seeds made an appearance in the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire.
In 1990, the band collectively eliminated hard drugs from its diet, relocated to Brazil, and released The Good Son, Powers' final collaboration with the band. Their next record, 1992's Henry's Dream, was the first to feature current members Martyn Casey and Conway Savage. Following it came 1994's Let Love In.
In 1996, Cave and the Bad Seeds released Murder Ballads. It includes "Henry Lee," a duet with British rock singer PJ Harvey (with whom Cave had a brief relationship), and "Where the Wild Roses Grow," a duet with Australian pop idol Kylie Minogue. The latter was a mainstream hit in the UK and in Australia, winning three ARIA Awards including "Song of the Year." Australian violinist Warren Ellis began working with the band at this time, and would play an increasingly significant creative role in the band's output in coming years. American drummer Jim Sclavunos also joined the group.
Their next album, The Boatman's Call (1997), is marked by a radical shift away from archetypal and violent narratives to biographical and confessional songs about his relationships with Carneiro and Harvey. Cave then took a short break to rehabilitate from his 20 years of heroin and alcohol abuse, during which time he got married.
Following Cave's rehab, the band resurfaced with No More Shall We Part in 2001. After the release of the 2003 album Nocturama, which failed to excite reviewers, Bargeld announced he was leaving the Bad Seeds after 20 years with the group to devote more time to Einst?rzende Neubauten.
The next year the band released their first double record, the acclaimed two-disc set Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, with English guitarist and organist James Johnston (of the group Gallon Drunk) replacing Bargeld. In 2005, Cave and the Seeds released B-Sides & Rarities, a three-disc, 56-track collection of B-sides, rarities, and tracks that had appeared on film soundtracks.
In 2006 Cave, Ellis, Sclavunos and Casey started a new group called Grinderman. The band, essentially half of the Bad Seeds and featuring Cave on guitar for the first significant time, plays garage rock-influenced music that nonetheless retains much of the Bad Seeds' aura. Since this time, the two bands have operated simultaneously.
In October 2007 Cave was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and expressed his intention to induct the Australian members of the Bad Seeds (excluding Hugo Race), plus the members of The Birthday Party (excluding Phill Calvert) in his acceptance speech.
In March 2008 the Bad Seeds released their 14th studio album, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, inspired by the Biblical story of the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus Christ . The album received excellent reviews. The band also released an exclusive "Live Session" EP through iTunes in April 2008, recorded at Air Studios on March 2, as part of iTunes' "Live From London" series. The group next embarked on a North American and European tour supporting Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, with a seven-piece lineup omitting Johnston, who had reportedly left the group after the album's completion.
Cave and the band curated an edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival, the first in Australia, which took place in a number of locations in January 2009. On January 22, 2009, following a string of Bad Seeds concerts in Australia, Mute Records issued a statement from Mick Harvey announcing his departure from the band after 25 years citing professional and personal reasons. It was the end of a 36 year long musical collaboration between Cave and Harvey and left Cave as the group's only original member. Shortly thereafter, the band announced plans to perform summer festival dates with the addition of guitarist Ed Kuepper, formerly of the influential Australian bands The Saints and Laughing Clowns.