Republished in Rip It Up – May 2014
“I hadn’t thought of that,” laugh Lloyd Cole, after contemplating my suggestion to open his Christchurch show with John Hatford’s “California Earthquake”, “I like the obvious irony in that.” Cole tells me he came across the song when he was looking for other material for his acoustic sets. “I originally heard Mama Cass sing it. This one rocked my world – sorry bad pun, it’s late.” Indeed it is. On the end of the blower, the very personable Cole is hiding up in his attic of his Easthampton, Massachusetts home where he’s lived pretty much since marrying his wife, Elizabeth back in 1989 and where they still live with their sons William and Frank. “She has a big family…one of seven children and I’m one of two, so the pull to move to this part of the world was stronger,” Cole replies when I ask him about why he’s based in a part of the USA that doesn’t appear to scream rock’n’roll! “Though,” he adds “I travel a lot for my ‘job’, so I get out and see the world.”
Born in Buxton, Derbyshire, Cole ended up in Edinburgh, and following time at University his band The Commotions hit the indie big time back in 1984 with the single “Perfect Skin”. Their debut album Rattlesnakes contained a heaping helping of literary and pop culture references – Arthur Lee, Norman Mailer, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Truman Capote. Cole can’t help throwing in a few more references on his latest album, Standards which even quote Blondie at one point “Yes I’m touched by your presence, Dear, he laughs, explaining his obsession with quoting the 20th Century. A case in point is the song “Kids Today”. “These songs are not for me, he emphasises, “Originally my plan was to go chronically through parent’s complaints – so you’ve got the New York Dolls, the Jitterbug and the Lindy-Lee hop all in one song – that’s the magic of song writing, you can do that.” Of course Cole is prone to a few covers, too, Marc Bolan, Moby Grape, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Lou Reed to name a few. Occasionally the favour’s returned, too, most notably the feminist version of “Rattlesnakes” which appeared Tori Amos’ Strange Little Girls.
Ironically, Standards only features one cover, that Hartford tune. And it was a bit of a black sheep for Cole, who’d established himself as an acoustic folkie since the break-up of the Commotions back in the late 80’s. “I was not sure I could go back to the sounds of the Commotions and that. I was playing a very adult space. But when I was writing these songs, they were all just ideas in old notebooks…about half were pop, I thought they belonged to my past. But I went ahead and listened to what the songs were saying, how they were. They wanted to be a pop record with a rock’n’roll band.”
“We almost didn’t make this one. The previous one (Broken Record) was a financial ordeal and a challenge.” The recording of Standards was part funded by crowdsourcing, his record company and himself, through pre-sales of a deluxe limited edition of the album and the purchasers were also credited as executive producers of the album. “Fans of mine trust me. I’m not going to make a record cynically. Kickstarter.com does a certain amount for you but we chose to do it all ourselves…even the shipping. There’s always some held up in customs and a group of angry punters…Never again! But then I spoke to (long time collaborators) Fred Maher (drums) and Mathew Sweet (guitars) and we had a window of time to make it, so we just!” Asked about the title, Cole giggles “It’s the kind of title that will annoy the people I like to annoy, impresses those I want to impress!”
His eldest, William is a musician now and are sometimes on stage together. William recorded for Standards, as is about to embark on a US tour. I wondered if it was harder for the younger generation to succeed in music these days. “Well, yes and no because really as it was then and now – you’re either huge or you’re indie. The Commotions never made a number 1 single but we made a lot of money, but now that can be harder. The financial rewards are not as great. Thankfully he’s got his heart set on being huge!”
“For me,” he adds, “Things are a little healthier (with the success of Standards). It’s been a series of diminishing returns since 1987 but it’s amazing to know that I’m still making a living out of this. Plus I get to play a little golf where I go. I have a day off in Wellington. A friend has tee-d up some links. That should be fun.” Fore!