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LOOK BOTH WAYS FOR LLOYD COLE: the interview part two

(Photo by Mark Dellas)

“THE THING THAT’S BEEN INTERESTING and helpful to me in the last 15, 20 years or so, is having been forced economically into this role of troubadour from time to time, and finding myself on stage with basically just a guitar and some songs, I found that I had to learn to be a performer, and that these shows are not recitals anymore. They are very much the opposite of recitals because we are reinventing the songs in some manner in order to make them work in this format.”

Lloyd Cole is mid-advice, a singer/songwriter who wanted to talk new songs and shows finding himself somewhere between sage and practitioner. As a man with four decades of plying his trade from Glasgow to Freo (next month, as the last show of his Australian tour) he’s fielding a request to share what accumulated wisdom he has.

In part one of this interview yesterday, Cole explained the process of finding your own voice, even if it sounds like someone else’s for a long while, even if it sounds imperfect to a lot of people, even if at first you didn’t even think of yourself as singing exactly or what you do as putting on a rock show at all.

“Reciting is the way I used to think of it. I used to think of the concerts as recitals,” is how he puts it. But time has moved, Cole has changed and a very imperfect show business needs a showman who isn’t trying for perfection.

“And gosh wish I’d had in some way this necessity forced upon me earlier in my life because this idea of performance versus recital is important,” he continues. “It’s important in that it is very much a fool’s errand to attempt to go on stage and present an album, a sound that you’ve made in the studio. It’s always going to be imperfect.

“Far more useful is the idea that one embraces the medium that one has. The medium might be a guitar, the medium might be an orchestra, the medium might be a three-piece rock ‘n’ roll band, but you embrace that medium and you find a way to present the material as a performance which is not in any way attempting to sound like the record people have at home.”

But don’t people want things exactly as they remember them? Isn’t that the comfort promoters hope to supply?

“[Imperfection] immediately elevates the nature of the performance,” Cole argues. “It makes it better in all ways, and it makes it something that people will cherish because they are not saying, ‘oh gosh I just saw Dark Side Of The Moon live and it’s exactly like the record’, they are saying I saw this amazing performance where the songs are interpreted quite differently and it was’ hopefully ‘amazing’.

“It was not really until I was forced to do this that I became a performer, and I came to this realisation, even if it is not necessarily the easiest way to do things.”

When we last spoke it was around the release of his previous album, Guesswork, and some of the sounds and some of the enthusiasms were attributable to his ongoing interest in David Bowie’s “Berlin period” and the concurrent work of Iggy Pop, both men caught on the verge of imminent destruction or potential salvation, their albums veering into uncharted sonic territories.

On this new album where electronic sounds and vocal distortions expand that influence, the song, The Idiot, makes the original enthusiasms concrete, and even romantic. The romance comes partly from our sense of seeing a fan appreciating the wonder of what happened and speculating about it.

“I don’t think I would have followed through on the idea if I hadn’t realised that it’s a lovely love song. To have a song celebrating two blokes saving each other from almost certain demise – apparently Bowie didn’t remember making Station To Station you know. That’s how things were – I just thought l was lovely. And I don’t come up with lovely ideas very often, so when I do I tend to grab them,” Cole says. “It’s coincidental that it finds its place on this album which is the second of my albums which have been my attempt to find new sounds, new ways of working. Inasmuch as that is emulating one’s heroes, sure, absolutely.

“I found myself at a certain point where I had no interest in pop/rock whatsoever, but I had interest in making music, I had interest in musique concrete. So many of the compositions on this record are made from sounds rather than from instruments. That motivated me, excited me, so I was able to continue making music with enthusiasm.”

The record isn’t an abandonment of his past – far from it, actually – but the willingness to play with his “signatures”, be there instrumental or vocal, is clear. And maybe, given the conservatism of a certain strand of fan, provocative.

“Every now and again I’ll run across somebody on social media who will say ‘I want up-tempo jangly from Lloyd Cole’, well, fuck off. You’ve got those records if you want them; don’t tell me what kind of music I should make,” says Cole. “And I do find myself with a deep admiration for somebody like Scott Walker whose music moved further and further away from the mainstream and yet still seemed to be exactly what he was wanting to do. I’m hoping that I can continue to work in this way, although I do despair a little in terms of the economic reality of where things are at right now.

“I remember hearing in the 90s about how Dylan’s albums were so … what’s the word? … the quality control was all over the place: he’d make a brilliant record and then a terrible record. I heard one time somebody was talking to him about it and in the end he said, well they all still sell the same. Which was probably true. I do despair a little about the amount of effort we put into producing this record for it to basically sell the same as the last one.”

Is this a problem to solve or a fact to accept?

“We are at the point right now where we have one more roll the dice in terms of a lead song, to come out after the album, that might jolt it into the edges of mainstream consciousness. But if that doesn’t happen, then there’s no way I can bring the band to Australia.”

From the outside, we can see how it would be despairing, discouraging, to keep making records when even their early 21st century status as loss-leaders that might help you sell concert tickets is questionable. Cole’s not alone in this, with the likes of Elvis Costello, for one, regularly making comments of the “there’s no point making albums anymore” kind. As fans our only response to that is “yeah, but we want you to Mr Cole”.

“Yeah, but there’s not enough of you, that’s the thing. I have a very specific idea for my next album and I’m excited by it, but I’ve a feeling it’s going to be the last one that’s released in the manner that the previous ones have been released,” he says. “I think I have a pretty simple rule, moving forward after my next record, which is: I’m not entering any contracts in the future that might have the possibility of me ending up in debt. I’m just not going to do it.

“If a record company is not willing to take a chance I’m making a loss on my album, then I’m not going to take a chance on working with that record company. I think it’s an unfair situation that the burden of the failure should fall on me. So that’s where I am right now, a very strange place, because I am extremely happy with this record and there’s very little about it that I can think we could improve, but I’m also aware that the excitement the record generated around the world lasted exactly one week.”

Looked at dispassionately, you could argue it’s noteworthy that Cole can make an eight track, 37 minute record that doesn’t feel underdeveloped or short, a record that began with sounds and structures miles away from his supposed pop foundations, and yet still feel like him. It is in a sense the flipside to the argument about trying to sound like other people, that no matter what you do it will come out sounding like you.

“I think the biggest mistake I ever made was in 1993 when I’d reached a point where I suddenly went, oh I don’t really have a great idea for my next record, and Adam Peters, a remixer, made this lovely remix of Butterfly, from [1991’s] Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe. He was managed by my manager and I said let’s see if I can do some work with Adam, and Adam’s idea was to make a record that didn’t sound like a Lloyd Cole record.

“Now, to set out with that is the goal was incredibly stupid. On the other hand, to set out with the goal of presenting me in an environment that I hadn’t been in before, accepting the fact that it would still be a Lloyd Cole record, might have been a good idea. A great deal of time was wasted and then at the end of the project it still sounds like a Lloyd Cole record, so that was a fool’s errand. A fool’s errand is probably my memoir title.”

It seems that another piece of solid Lloyd Cole advice is stop trying to be not you and recognise that whatever you do is going to be you. What you change is how you make yourself care, how you find what maintains your interest and then maintains ours.

“I think so. And I think also, not dissimilarly, if one becomes an athlete or some kind of sportsperson, you can’t keep doing the same gymnastic moves year after year. You’ve got to find more difficult ones, you’ve got to try and stretch yourself, which is from my point of view, expanding the horizons of what is the essence of me,” he says. “It’s applying this base aesthetic to a wider palette, so that the basic aesthetic is still very similar to the aesthetic that was applied to [Lloyd Cole And The Commotions’ 1984 debut] Rattlesnakes.

“That is why these are still pop songs, because when I set out on the journey my goal was to be a pop singer. My goal was not to be a rock singer, it was not to be an experimental singer, my goal was to be a pop star.”

Lloyd Cole plays

Theatre Royal Hobart, December 10

City Recital Hall, Sydney, December 11

Melbourne Recital Centre, December 13

Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide, December 14

Freo Social, Fremantle, December 17

On Pain is out now through EarMusic.


I’M LLOYD COLE – ASK ME HOW part one of this interview

LLOYD COLE LIVECity Recital Hall 2019


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