An Interview with Lloyd Cole

Paul Caparotta
Lloyd Cole (Credit: Kim Frank)
Lloyd Cole hits the Great American Music Hall this Thursday night (Feb 5th) -- Tickets are still available here.  Luckily, Lloyd was recently able to carve out some time to speak with us about the upcoming show, his latest album Standards (iTunes), and his thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl records. Read on for our full interview below.

SFBAC: It’s always a fascinating puzzle approaching a new Lloyd Cole album and Standards (iTunesis no exception. With a name like that, you’d expect tried and true re-treads, but the only cover here is “California Earthquake” (iTunes) which kicks things off. Would you like to elaborate?

Lloyd Cole: Not really, I’m just probably still the snotty kid who called an album Mainstream (iTunes) in 1987. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can quite remember why I wanted to call the album Standards (iTunes). I think I was kinda messing around with sleeve art and I wanted to do something that looked like Keith Jarrett’s Standards (iTunes), and just thinking it would be kinda funny to just call an album Standards (iTunes), you know? There’s no standards on it, not yet anyway.

SFBAC: You know, the first time I saw you play was about seven years ago at an in-store appearance at Amoeba Music, and you did a heart wrenching acoustic version of “Rattlesnakes” (iTunes) — and Lloyd Cole acoustic has always been exciting. I’m sure we’re going to love the Great American Music Hall show this week.

Lloyd Cole: Well, great. Thanks for that and I remember that actually. Amoeba’s always been a great help to my career. I’ve always been well stocked, and the few times when I’ve been without distribution, they’ve always bought from me directly.

SFBAC: This is an album that’s punctuated by crunching guitars and pounding drums, except a couple of tracks in, we come across "Myrtle and Rose" (iTunes). I know you’ve mentioned how you’ve been inspired by Dylan and his story-like qualities. Can you tell us a bit about what you were trying to do with that song?

Lloyd Cole: Well, with any song these days, even more than probably when i was younger, you know, I’m aware that when different people listen to songs, they’re going to hear different songs. And that is what makes my job completely more enjoyable. If there’s only one way to understand a song then it’s a bit like the Oscar Wilde thing — why listen to is more than once? I think he said that about a book, if I can take everything from a book in the first reading then why read it at all? So, I like to write songs, which depending on the point of view of the listener, could be seen as being, I mean everyone’s heard the stories about Sting getting the letters from his fans telling him how beautiful his song “Every Breath You Take” (iTunes) was, and that’s it’s the song that brought the husband and wife together. And you know, it’s one of the nastiest songs ever written, depending on the perspective or mood you’re in when you’re listening to it. So "Myrtle and Rose" (iTunes), I don’t particularly like the idea of explaining my perspective from songs, but "Myrtle and Rose" (iTunes) are two of the flowers that the Greek muses wore, and that song was originally written from my point of view thinking about the idea, as it happens every 3 or 4 years, where I think I’m done with writing… And to be honest, when i’m finally really done with writing, I’m probably going to be quite happy about it. You know? Being a song writer means walking around all day with the song that you’re writing in your head. It’s kind of a kin to prison some days, I mean obviously you’re excited about the idea of the song.. usually… but yeah, the idea of … that’s one of the reasons why I play golf… Golf is one of the few times where i don’t walk around with music playing in my head. So "Myrtle and Rose" (iTuneswas certainly constructed from my point of view upon the return of creativity after a very long break. After which time I’d become resigned to the fact that I’d probably, might be done. So it became immediately apparent to me that if i wrote something about that, it would sound like a love story with a woman, but in actual fact, it was about a relationship with writing and the relationship with creativity. But it doesn’t need, or it’s not necessary information to enjoy the song. It’s my mothers favorite song that I’ve done for a long time, and I’m absolutely sure that she doesn’t think about it in those terms. It’s probably the most, it’s certainly the most talked about song on the record, since the album came out… you know the album came out in Europe about a year and a half ago, and that song has definitely emerged along with probably “Women’s Studies” (iTunes) as the two songs that people have rated most highly.

SFBAC: Now that people seem to be gravitating towards audiophile grade digital files or high end 180g vinyl, do you have any thoughts on the formats and format shifts considering your career has spanned across a few of these?

Lloyd Cole: I have various thoughts about it… I do think that at least 50% of it is fettishism. I think it’s wonderfully ironic that this has happened when we finally found a way to make CDs sound lovely. I defy someone to listen to my CD and my album and tell me the album sounds better. It doesn’t. It sounds about the same. But, if you set-up a lovely turntable in your house, you’re probably more likely to set-up a lovely pre-amp to go with it, and lovely speakers, so yeah, it’s probably going to sound lovely. It’s probably going to sound lovelier than your next door neighbor who’s got a CD player going through speakers sitting on their desk next to their computer. Absolutely, it’s going to sound better than that. And certainly high-end audio files can sound better for certain types of music, but if I were to tell you that my album was recorded entirely at 44.1(kHz) then why on earth should I master it at 96 or 192? You know? We figured it out quite a long time ago, probably about 15 years ago how to make CDs sound great. And 10 years we figured out how to package them so they’re not disgusting. But you know, the resurgence of vinyl, the best thing about it in my opinion, seems to be the thing that keeps record stores alive. Vinyl is not something that is very efficient when it comes to shipping. I mean I have a webstore, but we don’t sell vinyl because it’s too expensive to ship. You can do it, but it’s really difficult and certainly, the small independent retailers are severely disadvantaged obviously, if you’ve got a deal with UPS like Amazon has then you can ship whatever you want. But I know when we tried to ship vinyl, it’s massively expensive. So I’m happy for my record to be in record shops, and hopefully if people want vinyl, they’ll go to record shops to buy it. I’m not ambivalent, I’m just vaguely amused by the whole thing, I love the format. I mean, I was in tears in 1995 when they told me Love Story (iTunes) wasn’t going to be on vinyl. You know? But, life goes one. But now, audio files are the greenest way to pass music around, but the second greenest is definitely the digipak which is incredibly light. I mean, just the difference that we notice in the shop, the price of the cost of shipping the digipak compared to a jewel case is about 50%, so… I think they’re lovely and unfortunately from my point of view on the album, these days, the last few albums I’ve designed, I’ve designed with a 5” sort of square. it’s more like a rectangle, but I’ve designed them with that idea in mind, rather than a 12” thing in mind. And certainly, in terms of having and holding, the CD is considerably more beautiful than the album. So, you know, it’s kind of ironic, but I’m positive on it, purely because it looks like its gonna be the thing to keep record stores in business.

SFBAC: We had a chance to speak with Matthew Sweet last year and both he and Fred Maher contributed on Standards (iTunes). Did the addition of Matthew and Fred help create a creative spark on Standards (iTunes)?

Lloyd Cole: It just made sense… I mean I started writing the songs and two or three of them were just crying out for a rock and roll rhythm section and I just thought, well, if I’m going to make this record, what’s my favorite rock and roll rhythm section that I’ve worked with? And yeah, I’ve worked with some great ones, but Fred and Matthew are probably at the top of my list. So I called them up and I said, you know, I’ve got this record I’m thinking about making, do you feel like doing that thing again? There’s no money in it.. And they both said yes. So yeah, once we were in the room together, Fred still looks relatively youthful, but Matthew and I are both considerably aged compared to the early ’90’s, we don’t look the same way that we used to, and when we started playing, it was just the same. It was like a year had passed, instead of 20 years… It was rather strange. I was just talking to another gentleman this morning, and I said, one of the big helps on the recording process was how vocally supportive Matthew was about the material I had written for this record, he just wouldn’t shut up about how great he thought it was… Which helps frankly, you know?

SFBAC: That’s great to hear about the positive energy in the recording process.

Lloyd Cole: It was. Yeah, and it was great that I’d gotten past the point about worrying if I was too old to do this kind of thing. I just don’t worry about that type of thing anymore. I’ve worried about that concept far too much after I’ve turned 40.

SFBAC: Speaking of anniversaries, we have to take a minute to talk about the reissue of Rattlesnakes (iTunes). What is it you feel about that album that resonates and which is so timeless?

Lloyd Cole: You know, I’m not really the right person to ask that question! I mean, I was in a great band at the right time, and we wrote the right songs, and everything went well for about a year. The re-issue isn’t out yet, we’re working on a box set of the complete Lloyd Cole compositions right now. Yeah, that’s probably going to be coming out next year. A little easier to release now in America now that Universal owns Capitol. Universal always had my catalog in the rest of the world, but now that they own Capitol, so it’s going to be pretty easy to release it over here if they want to. We’ve been thinking quite a bit about that time. We’ve all did interviews with the journalist who’s written a fairly lengthy essay for the sleeve notes, and yeah, the consensus with us all is just we had this moment that went from the autumn of 1983 through the end of 1984 that everything that could go right, went right. Neil Clark is a fantastic guitar player, but without the songs, and without the rest of the band, none of us I don’t think had what it would have taken to do it on its own. We all needed each other. And it’s amazing to me, that when I left the band about 5 years later, I really had no idea if I could be a musician on my own because I’d relied on the band for so many things. I didn’t leave the band to go solo, I just left the band because I didn’t want to be in a band anymore. And it was amazing, when I started making demo recordings on my own, I found that I could do a bunch of stuff that I didn’t know I could do, and that was purely because I was around those guys for 5 years. And I had just kinda picked it up by osmosis. I feel very, very lucky to have been in that band.

SFBAC: Well, now knowing about the box set, if I could make a recommendation about adding “No Blue Skies” (iTunes) and “Downtown” (iTunes), those were my first real entry point into Lloyd Cole…

Lloyd Cole: That’s the case for a lot of people in America, yeah, that’s when Capitol gave it fairly a big push… If this box set with Universal goes… umm… Trying to work with a label that you’re no longer on, trying to find tapes, tape libraries… It used to Polydor, it became Polygram… it hasn’t been the easiest thing. But if this box works, I know that they’ve said they want to do a box for my solo records as well. They don’t want it to be as lavish because the rest of the world, The Commotions were always a bigger deal than I was solo, but they do want to do a box for my solo records. But most of the rarities from the solo records has already been released on a box called Cleaning Out the Ashtrays. 

SFBAC: Are there a set of demos for “Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe” (iTunes)?

Lloyd Cole: There are… But I’m not sure if there are demos for Blair's songs unfortunately. Blair's songs were the orchestral ones. But there are demos of the rock and roll songs, and there are a whole bunch of demos of me just playing the songs on my own with a drum machine, and some of them are quite cool actually. Those things, I think, will see the light of day before I finally sort of trudge off into the sunset.

SFBAC: “Perfect Blue” (iTunes) is my favorite song and I have one question about all the different versions of it. There are two, the one on 1984-1989 (iTunes) and the version on Easy Pieces (iTunes)… They’re just so different… Did you make a conscious decision to make them so different?

Lloyd Cole: No, we just thought it was better… It’s better in every single way other than it’s in the wrong key for me to sing. I don’t think we… I mean, the sessions we had in between Rattlesnakes (iTunes) and Easy Pieces (iTunes) with Paul Hardiman didn’t turn out so well, and a lot of it was that we didn’t figure out the right key for me to sing in, so the singing sounds awful. So… I mean we did a version of "Brand New Friend" (iTunes) on those sessions, we did a version that ended up becoming "Grace" (iTunes). These versions are all going to end up on the box set that’s coming out. The version of "Brand New Friend" (iTunes), the singing is just tragic… I mean, I wonder why nobody in the band or Paul Hardiman, just say Lloyd, why is your singing so awful right now? But I think, no body wanted to hurt my feelings, and my singing had been fine on Rattlesnakes (iTunes), but the truth is, we recorded it in C and it needed to be up in D, for me to hit the notes properly. By the time all was said and done with, we ended up making Easy Pieces (iTuneswith Clive, and Clive wanted to make more of an uptempo version of "Perfect Blue" (iTunes). We followed his lead, and it was only a couple of years later where we listened to that album and we went, well, that’s just too fast. It’s lost the groove it was supposed to have. So that’s why we put the Hardiman version on, even though it’s flawed from a signing point of view, but it’s superior in every other way.

SFBAC: So for the upcoming SF show at the Great American Music Hall, will you be changing up the setlist at all for the Bay Area crowd?

Lloyd Cole: No my setlist kinda evolves each time I go out. And I’m at the end of touring around on the Standards (iTunesrecord. And the setlist took 3-4 months to really settle into something fairly similar night to night. I don’t play the same thing each night, but there are a bunch of things that I’ve added… Like “Perfect Blue” (iTunes) I’ve figured out to play acoustically for the first time, I haven’t played that for years and years… I finally found a way to do the song without the rhythm section thing. So, that’s exciting. I’ve figured out a way to play a few other songs that I haven’t played in quite a few years. Plus, I’ve finally figured out a way to play most of the songs on Standards (iTunes), so I have a rough idea in my head of the set that it’s going to be… It’s not dissimilar to the set that I played in New York a couple of months ago. But I don’t know exactly for sure. On any given night, things can change. And that’s one of the lovely things about being up there on my own. That if I feel like taking it a certain way, I can. My relationship with San Francisco, doesn’t really have anything to do with the history of the city really. My only real affection for the city, musically, is probably, the bunch of 1969 live was recorded there. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, I’m not interested in. But somehow or other, San Francisco has always been a great town for me since the Commotions days, you know? In the States, San Francisco, New York and Chicago, more people always came to see us in those towns. And obviously, we like that! Haha. I mean, I have friends in San Francisco, and I know the area around the Great American quite well. I’ll be staying next door again in a motel thing just along the street. But I’m flying in the morning of the show, grabbing a quick lunch, doing sound check, doing the show, and flying out. It’s a slightly frustrating visit as touring can be. I have to get to LA the next day, so that’s that.

SFBAC: Well, thanks for your time, and for our last question, what can we expect next?

Lloyd Cole: I have two ideas for my next record, and I can’t decide which to do first. I think there might be a possibility I might try and make both and then release them at different times. One of them is quite loud, and possibly fairly electronic. And the other is quiet and involves string sections. That’s about as far as I can let you know right now. I do have an album of electronic music already recorded and that’s going to come out sometime in the next year. And the Commotions box set is gonna take all my energy for the last few months. It’s a lot of work. I’m keeping busy.

SFBAC: You’re definitely keeping busy! That’s great for us! Well, thanks again for making the time and we’re looking forward to see you Thursday night at the Great American.

Lloyd Cole: Cheers

#buttons=(Ok, Go it!) #days=(20)

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. Check Now
Ok, Go it!