AHEAD OF A SHORT RUN OF UK DATES, LLOYD COLE SPEAKS TO THE MOUTH MAGAZINE ABOUT HIS MOST RECENT ALBUM GUESSWORK…
HOW ARE YOU DOING, LLOYD?
I’m very well. It’s morning here, so I’ve just done all of my morning things, my usual routine. And now I’m talking to you, and then I’m going to go out for a walk around. It’s an interesting city.
YOU’RE IN LOS ANGELES AS WE SPEAK… DO YOU HAVE A SHOW THERE?
Yeah, I’m in LA. I have a show here, tonight. Currently I’m travelling around on this American leg of the tour, which I’m actually doing solo. I did some dates with Neil [Clark], but I’m doing this leg without him, before meeting up with him again in Amsterdam a bit later.
WELL, WHAT A PLACE TO MEET UP…
Yeah, Amsterdam. Neil used to live there, actually. I think we were all still in Glasgow when he moved to Amsterdam.
IS THAT HOW THE INFAMOUS LOST WEEKEND IN A HOTEL IN AMSTERDAM CAME TO PASS?
Ha… well, actually, as I remember it I was going over to Amsterdam and was going to sort of rendezvous there with my girlfriend of the time. But I got ill, properly ill and was confined to hotel quarters… So maybe not quite what you thought. It was a long time ago.
… AND HOW IS THE AMERICAN LEG OF THE TOUR GOING?
Yeah, it’s going okay but I am really looking forward to meeting up with Neil again, to be honest. Meeting up with Neil will be very welcome. Getting back to proper human interaction.
TOURING SOLO MUST BE QUITE DIFFICULT… AWAY FROM YOUR WIFE AND SO ON…
Yeah. It’s nice to travel but it’s very difficult just touring around on my own – and I do miss home. It can get very insular and isolated on the road. It’s quite easy to fall into a sort of… Well, a sort of depressive state.
THE TOUR IS CALLED FROM RATTLESNAKES TO GUESSWORK, SO IT COVERS A LOT OF GROUND…
WE’VE TALKED IN THE PAST ABOUT THE IDEA OF NOT NECESSARILY MAKING WHAT COULD BE THOUGHT OF AS A TRADITIONAL ‘CONCEPT ALBUM’, BUT HAVING A REALLY STRONG CONCEPT GOING INTO EACH ALBUM…
Yeah, and that was definitely the case this time, with GUESSWORK. I wanted to integrate some of the things that you would’ve heard on those two electronic records I put out [SELECTED STUDIES (WITH ROEDELIUS), AND 1D ELECTRONICS]. Some of the types of sounds I used carried over, or are common ground, I suppose. I’m still singing and playing guitar but the sound of GUESSWORK is a sort of hybrid acoustic / electronic… I like spending time with the modular synths, and I really wanted to try and see if I could make some of that work in a more traditional songwriting context.
… PERHAPS A SMALL STEP BACK TOWARDS THE SOUND OF THE 2002 ALBUM MUSIC IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE?
Well, sort of… I think MUSIC IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE was a folk record with electronica, and I’m not sure it worked completely – though it is a record I still like. But this latest one is built around the synth, really. MUSIC IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE was a difficult record to make because it was programming and sounds and all of that, and making that work for those songs… It was a deliberately small and slight sounding record. I was sort of trying to make a Massive Attack record, if Massive Attack used nylon strung guitars rather than synths. GUESSWORK is altogether more robust.
I THINK THE SINGLE VIOLINS IS ALMOST REMINISCENT OF THE EARLY HOWARD JONES STUFF, TO BE HONEST… IT’S A SOUND, AND A ‘VIBE’, HE SORT OF WENT BACK TO ON HIS ALBUM FROM LAST YEAR, TOO… I THINK THERE’S REAL COMMON GROUND BETWEEN GUESSWORK AND TRANSFORM – AND I THINK THAT’S DOWN TO SOME OF THE DRUM SOUNDS AND THE SYNTH PADS AND THINGS…
Well, maybe. I don’t know about that, because I haven’t heard it. But I don’t think GUESSWORK is “an 80s sounding record” if that’s what you mean? – although I have heard it described that way by other people.
NO, I DON’T MEAN THAT… IT’S NOT A NOSTALGIC SOUND, BUT IT SHARES SOME DNA OR SOMETHING?
Well, I think if anything it was more like my attempt at the electronic things Sparks did in the late 1970s. Something like NUMBER 1 SONG IN HEAVEN was what was on my mind, probably. That’s what I was going for.
YEAH, I CAN HEAR THAT… IN THE CONTEXT OF LLOYD COLE RECORDS GUESSWORK IS QUITE EXPERIMENTAL…
You have to try new things. I have to do that. I could quite easily make the same record over again, but I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to churn things out or become a ‘legacy artist’ or something. I still have the desire to create. I feel like I have a couple more really good records in me, and then when they’re done I’ll be in my mid-60s – so we’ll see where we are then. By that point it’ll definitely be time to…
Well, I was going to say “reassess”. I wasn’t going to say “retire”. So, we’ll see.
PLENTY OF GOLF ON THE HORIZON, THEN?
Well, maybe. I’m sure I’ll still make music in some way, too. But I don’t think it’ll be quite as it has been. Maybe another record. Maybe do one or two live shows, here and there. I think I’ll probably always do that. I don’t know.
I THINK ONE OF THE NICEST THINGS ABOUT ‘OLDER ARTISTS’ STILL MAKING RECORDS IS THAT THOSE OF US WHO HAVE BEEN INTERESTED FOR A LONG TIME CAN ‘CHECK IN’ WITH AN ARTIST WE ‘KNOW WELL’ WHEN WE’RE IN OUR FIFTIES, AND HEAR STUFF THAT’S THOUGHT PROVOKING AND AGE RELEVANT… OR HOWEVER YOU WANT TO PUT THAT IDEA…
Yeah. And I think it’s nice that people still want to listen. It’s really lovely that I’ve been a part of people’s lives in that way. You can’t take that sort of thing for granted. And it means I can still play live so I can still make a living doing this. It’s sort of funny, in a way, but these days we make albums in order to be able to justify playing concerts.
GUESSWORK IS MOST DEFINITELY A LLOYD COLE RECORD…
Yeah! Actually, it’s taken me a long to realise, and maybe even come to terms with, the fact that I belong to a tradition. That tradition is songwriters like Paul Simon and Ray Davies and Leonard Cohen. But I have tried to keep things interesting by approaching that tradition from different angles. I don’t want to keep making the same record. So because of that you end up with something like GUESSWORK, after a couple of relatively traditional sounding albums [BROKEN RECORD and STANDARDS]. Certainly, GUESSWORK seems like it might be a long way from STANDARDS. But I’m not sure it is, really?
ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS IS THAT FOR THE PREVIOUS TWO ALBUMS THERE WAS AN ‘ACCOMPANYING’ ALBUM EACH… WORKING SKETCHES, DEMOS, WHATEVER… THERE WASN’T THAT FOR GUESSWORK, SO I PRESUME THAT STUFF DOESN’T EXIST AND THE FINISHED RECORD IS THAT STUFF, BUT BUILT UPON?
No, it was more-or-less the same process. The reason those two albums you mentioned had those extra things was that they were partly crowd-funded. So I needed something to offer extra ‘value’ for people who were putting the money in. It’s not something I’d necessarily want to do every time – and because GUESSWORK wasn’t released in the same way, there was no need to do an extra disc. But there are recordings and things. Most of the songs were done that way, and so there are recordings of other versions and ideas.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THAT SAME COIN, THEN, IS HOW DO THE GUESSWORK SONGS ‘TRANSLATE DOWN’ TO THE LIVE SHOW?
Surprisingly well, actually. I think the songs work well. I think I’m playing five of them in the current set, and they work well. A couple of the songs on the album I don’t think there’s any way I could do them in this format. Certainly the ones Blair wrote?
I DID WONDER WHETHER THE SONGS WERE WRITTEN ON A GUITAR…
Well, I did write some things on the guitar, partly because the songs were always intended to be played live. But I couldn’t take a record like GUESSWORK out on the road in the way you hear it on the record. It would actually bankrupt me to do that. So the way you hear the songs on the record – the keyboards and the drum machines and so on… that’s not ‘an afterthought’ kind of stuck onto the songs. They were always meant to sound like they sound. But they had to also work for this ‘folksinger’ thing I’ve become.
HOW DO THEY WORK FOR YOU AND NEIL IN COMPARISON TO PLAYING SOLO (AS ON THE CURRENT LEG OF THE TOUR)..?
They work in a slightly different way when it’s just me. They still work. One or two of them sound really lovely. But I’ll tell you something – Neil is incredible. His playing is incredible. What he does with the songs from GUESSWORK is phenomenal. We’ve worked out a way to make things work so that the show builds. It starts a bit quieter and more standard, but Neil has developed a way of just getting it to somewhere else by the end of the set. It’s a real… cacophony. I think I’ve now accepted that the guitar can be more than just a guitar.
IS THAT BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN PURITANICAL ABOUT IT?
Absolutely, yeah. I’ve always wanted it to be straight. A guitar, or two guitars, playing very well but very traditionally. Neil has now opened up something else for me, though. We must record some of these shows and do something with the recordings, because there’s something really great about the sound we’ve achieved. The GUESSWORK songs sound really lovely.
I THINK THE ALBUM RECEIVED GOOD NOTICE, AS THEY SAY… DID THAT COME AS A SURPRISE TO YOU?
Apart from in The Guardian – which I read… Erm… No, I don’t think I was surprised, to be perfectly honest with you. I think everyone involved in the record, as we got to the end of it I think we all knew we’d got something really good, something which we felt people could really like. And people do seem to like it. It could be polarising, in one way, because of the sound of it – but what I’m hearing is that people appreciate the fact I pushed myself.
THE OPENING TRACK OF GUESSWORK IS THE OVER UNDER… I THINK IT’S A REALLY BOLD WAY TO START THE RECORD. IT’S UNCOMPROMISING BUT IN A SLOW BUILD SORT OF WAY – NOT IN SOUND, PERHAPS, BUT IN THE INTENT OF THAT SOUND, IF YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN…
Yeah, it sets a certain tone, I think… If that’s what you mean? It was more-or-less always going to be the opening track of GUESSWORK. I think it works really well. I did try another version of the track-listing, with another song starting the album. And as an opener that one also worked really really well – but I just couldn’t get any flow after it. So, it had to be THE OVER UNDER. I’m really pleased about. I think it might actually be one of my favourite starts on a record of mine.
TO BE HONEST I WAS SURPRISED VIOLINS WASN’T THE OPENER. I THOUGHT WITH IT BEING THE ‘SINGLE’ AND WITH IT BEING PRETTY DIRECT…
Well, in the past if you were signed to a record company they might have insisted that tracks one, two and three were the singles. Not always… I mean, BRAND NEW FRIEND was buried away on side two of EASY PIECES. But I don’t have to do that ‘front-loading’, and I didn’t want VIOLINS to be the opening track. I think the balance of the record is good, and the flow.
I THINK VINYL MIGHT BE THE WAY TO LISTEN TO IT…
Yeah, I think vinyl might be the way to listen. Twenty minutes is a nice length of time to listen to some music before you need to give yourself a break and have a little time off so that you’re not overwhelmed or lose interest. Sometimes I think albums can kind of peter out [on CD or streaming online] without that break. So having to get up and change the record over works in favour.
THE SONG NIGHT SWEATS CONTAINS THE LINE “I’M A COMPLICATED MOTHERFUCKER, YOU KNEW THAT”… THAT’S QUITE A BAD VIBES LINE…
It is… I’d never actually thought about that before – but you’re right. It’s very BAD VIBES.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT BAD VIBES, 27 YEARS ON?
I think it was a mistake. Or, rather, I think it was a failure.
Yeah, it was an artistic failure. I don’t mind telling you that at that point I had too much money and I didn’t have enough good ideas. There was not enough focus in the right areas. The concept of BAD VIBES had been, pretty much, to make a record that didn’t seem like it was a Lloyd Cole record. At that moment that was probably the exact wrong thing to do. I was heavily into the machines in the studio, and when we began the recording some of the songs were only half-written.
I’VE SAID THIS TO YOU BEFORE… BUT I THINK THAT DESPITE WHAT YOU THINK, THERE’S SOME GREAT STUFF ON THERE…
Well, a few people have said that sort of thing to me over the years. But I look back at that record with huge disappointment. I do know there are one or two good tracks on it, but BAD VIBES was also the weakest set of lyrics I’ve written. I wasn’t really focused on the lyrics, and a lot of them came towards the end of making the record. A lot of the lyrics border on self-righteous, which I hate. I think I’ve said this to you before, but above anything else that always makes me cringe. Weirdly, they’re sort of smothering one or two of the best lyrics I’ve written. I think I was… lost for a while, really…
I WONDERED WHETHER, AS THE CURRENT TOUR COVERS SONGS FROM YOUR ENTIRE CAREER, THERE ARE SOME YOU’VE DUG OUT FROM DARK OR FORGOTTEN CORNERS?
I think on this current tour there are only about ten songs that have been played on the previous acoustic tours. I mean, I play [ARE YOU READY TO BE] HEARTBROKEN? every night, or RATTLESNAKES every night. But there are one or two you might come along expecting me to play but which have been ‘rested’ this time. Say, LIKE LOVERS DO from LOVE STORY. That’s gone. But I’ve put some others into the set that haven’t had an airing for a while. ICE CREAM GIRL, from the first solo album… That’s a song this time which I don’t think I’ve played since… that first solo tour, actually. Sometimes songs have to go in there that you’re perhaps not overly fond of, but you need them there because they work in the context of the set, and they work for the mood you’re trying to create. Like SENTIMENTAL FOOL. I don’t think it’s a particularly great song, but it works really well where it is in the set at the moment.
IT’S FANTASTIC THAT THERE’S STILL APPETITE FOR THE SONGS…
It’s very nice when there’s a murmur of approval or a smattering of applause when I start one of the older songs. You know, there are songs that have meant things to me over the years, so it’s good that I have some of those of my own.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN VERY FOND OF THE STEADY SLOWING DOWN OF THE HEART… THAT WAS A B-SIDE IN THE MID 1990s?
Yeah, it was a b-side. It was an outtake from the LOVE STORY sessions. I think it’s a good song, it does have charm. But I was a bit lost around that time and I think maybe the song goes on a bit? It’s too long. Maybe it didn’t need a third verse.
INTERESTING YOU SHOULD SAY THAT… I RECENTLY WATCHED A THING WHERE ART GARFUNKEL AND PAUL SIMON WERE TALKING ABOUT THE WRITING AND RECORDING OF BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER…
… I think I heard about this… that there was a new video, or something. Because the song is fifty years old?
YEAH… ART AND THE PIANO PLAYER ARRANGED THE SONG IN THE STUDIO AND IT KIND OF BECAME HUGE, AND THEY PRESSURED PAUL SIMON INTO WRITING A THIRD VERSE SO IT COULD BE EPIC… WHICH CAUSED A BIT OF… CONFLICT…
Ha ha… Really? Well there you go. I can believe that. It’s a great song but maybe it doesn’t need a third verse. I don’t know.
WE’VE TALKED IN THE PAST ABOUT ABC, AND HOW THE LEXICON OF LOVE WAS A RECORD WITH A GREAT ARTISTIC INTENT AND A SPECTACULAR SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT ABOUT IT…
Yeah! We have… THE LEXICON OF LOVE. That is a proper album.
IT WAS SOMETHING I THINK YOU SAID YOU’D WANTED TO EMULATE IN THE VERY EARLY DAYS OF THE COMMOTIONS… THAT SOUND, SOMETHING OUT THAT WAY… DID YOU HEAR THE ‘SEQUEL ALBUM’ WHICH MARTIN FRY DID A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO?
No, I didn’t. I’d knew he’d done it, but I haven’t heard it. Is it any good?
IT HAS CHARM, AND IT WORKS IN AND OF ITSELF… BUT I DID GO RIGHT BACK TO THE LEXICON OF LOVE AFTERWARDS, AND THAT STILL SOUNDED PEERLESS.
There you are. I’m pleased that he’s still making music. But I don’t think you could actually better THE LEXICON OF LOVE. I’m sure he knew that.
I WONDERED IF THERE HAS BEEN MUCH MUSIC YOU’VE LISTENED TO LATELY WHICH HAS EXCITED YOU, OR INTERESTED YOU…
Not really, no. Well, in terms of pop music that is. I mean rock music. ‘Serious rock music’… There’s been nothing to interest me, and I haven’t listened to anything like that in a long time. Mostly it’s ATHLETICO MINCE, the podcast by Bob Mortimer. He’s sort of a friend of mine. He came backstage after a show and we got on really well, and we’ve kept in touch. He’s really funny.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE FISHING SHOW ON TV?
I haven’t, but people have told me it’s good.
GENTLE, AND FUNNY. REALLY NICE.
I should look out for it.
SO IT’S BOB MORTIMER PODCASTS, NOT MUSIC?
Well, I do listen to some pop music. It’s always pop music these days – and by that I mean proper pop music. Robyn, I always really like her, although I haven’t heard anything from her for quite a while. Childish Gambino, that was also very good recently, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does next. Christine And The Queens, now Chris. That was really good. So it’s pop music and serious stuff – I mean really serious stuff. I don’t mean Radiohead. I’ve never understood Radiohead, and I’ve never really got what all of the fuss is about, either. Radiohead does nothing for me at all. So when I say “serious” I probably mean classical. I’ve listened to one or two things by Debussy, lately… and that’s given me an idea for a record I think I might like to make, or something I might like to do next…
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