Lloyd Cole writes smart, bitter, funny songs, but in the late 1990s we didnt really get to hear many of them because of a myriad of record-company problems that plagued the musician. After three solo albums-the excellent Lloyd Cole (1990), the uneven Dont Get Weird on Me Babe (1991) and the head-scratcher Bad Vibes (1993)-that didnt sell as well as his record label expected, Cole had to scale back on production costs for 1995s Love Story. Even though that album scored a minor hit with Like Lovers Do, it wasnt enough for his label to keep him. But Coles Love Story experience made him realize that fancy studios merely cost a lot of money; they dont necessarily make you sound better. So Cole-already a gearhead who had built and then dismantled a home studio in his NYC apartment in the early 1990s-decided that he would never make a record again that cost a lot of money or that would put him or his label at a financial risk.
Now that Cole has found a new home with One Little Indian, his lost album Etc and the Eno-esque ambient Plastic Wood (both home-recorded) have been released to coincide with the new Music in a Foreign Language. Along with his 1980s albums with the Commotions, his solo debut, and 2000s The Negatives, Coles latest album is easily one of his strongest.
HARP: Tell me about your first studio when you lived in New York City?
Lloyd Cole: I built the studio when I thought I was rich, briefly, and it just about bankrupted me. I spent almost all the money I got in 1991 on buying an apartment and building a studio-to such a ridiculous level. I knew so little about recording in those days that I assumed you had to have a big desk like you see in regular studios. I spent about $300,000. Then my record company basically didnt pay me for two years, and I had to sell the apartment. It was fairly disastrous. It was around about then that I realized, out of necessity that I needed to learn how to do stuff so that doesnt happen again but still be able to do home recordings.
HARP: How about your new studio, the Establishment?
LC: I did all the recording for [Music in a Foreign Language] in a room as big as the one were in here [about 10 x 12]. I am excited by making things smaller. I know I amass a lot of junk, but I would like to move back to New York and if Im going to have the studio in New York it has to be small.
HARP: What kind of computer do you use in your studio?
LC: A Mac G4 with dual one-gig processors and one gig of RAM. Ive been using a Mac for 18 years-it doesnt mean I dont hate them. But when I started doing music with computers, Macs were the only ones you could do it on.
HARP: What software do you use to record?
LC: Logic. I did everything up to mixing the record in Logic, then I took CDs to London and Mick Glossop mixed it in Pro-Tools. I like that in Logic you can customize it. I dont like the fact that its primarily linear as opposed to loop-based. Im going to be working this year on learning to make it more loop-based. I used to use Vision by Opcode, and Vision was much more pattern-based as opposed to Linear, but Opcode doesnt exist anymore. Foreign Language was very much for me about combining linear and looped things. Almost anything that sounds like it was a live lead instrument on this record is actually a really long loop. Even the lead pedal steel on No More Love Songs is actually a loop going around and around but not in the same time signature as the rest of the song, so it happens at different times depending on where the chords and the notes coincide.
HARP: But the music still sounds organic even if much of it is loop-based. It doesnt sound rigid like so much loop-dependent music does.
LC: Its also that a lot of my playing is fairly loose. Late Night, Early Town is the only song that was recorded without any kind of time-I didnt use any sequencing for that one. I just played the guitar, and then played everything along with the guitar. So that was all done in real time because I couldnt find a beat I liked, so I just didnt have one. I expected the album to have more songs like that one when I started it, but that ended up being the only one.
HARP: Were you conscious of avoiding being a slave to the bar lines, which a computer often forces you to work within?
LC: It can, but a good example of how it went really well having the computer there: I did a rough idea for the guitar on Brazil, and it was much better than I expected it to be and I couldnt do it again. I had no idea what I did. And I managed to find just enough to piece the song together from the one take.
By Christopher Porter
First printed in Jul/Aug 2004
Publication: Harp magazine
Publication date: 01/08/04