The first thing to remember about Lloyd Cole is, he is not having a mid-life crisis. The second thing to remember about Lloyd Cole is he is not having a mid-life crisis.
Back on the music circuit with his new band The Negatives, 40-year-old Cole is aware how his most recent return to the global rock trail may appear – he was once a rather popular 80s rock icon heading the rather popular Commotions and now he is playing with a New York-based entourage all four of which look half his age.
“It must look like Im having a mid-life crisis – working with young people all the time to try to feel young”, he says. But the reality is that all the band are in their 30s except for lead guitarist Jill Sobule, who he admits a tad gleefully, is in fact older than him.
The Negatives came into being three years ago as a result of Coles desire to play the pub circuit. Feeling that his musical career had turned into “numbers, demographics and radio play”, he left Universal (his record company) and decided it would be fun to play some bars again.
Despite the bitter taste left him by his less-than-friendly break with his former record company (after lengthy legal wrangling the company still holds the copyright to all Coles releases outside of North America), having fun seems to be Lloyd Coles latest philosophy and the core of this band.
His philosophical brooding and penchant for moaning in the past made it difficult to separate Cole from his Commotions – Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? and You Will Never Be No Good from their first album Rattlesnakes didnt exactly say “happy”, now did they?
But with The Negatives there is, ironically, a distinctly positive aspect and approach. During the bands live performance at Vicar Street last Monday night Cole took to kicking drummer Rafa Maciejaks cymbal, (playfully that is), while a smiling Jill Sobule pogo-jumped her way through a lead solo.
“This new band is nothing like what it was like being in the Commotions,” Cole says. “The Commotions was a full-time job and it was our livelihood – for all five of us, for five years. The Negatives is not our livelihood at all. We play together because we like doing so. This is more like a hobby – we dont play together all the time”.
Guitarist Michael Kotch has his own band; bassist David Derby also plays with a different band and is studying an Internet Technology course, Rafa Maciejak has just finished a computer programming course and Jill Sobule has a successful musical career independent of Cole.
But together they have an essence previously impossible for Cole to capture. Whats Wrong With This Picture?, his favourite song from their self-titled debut album, (released last week), is a confident and sassy introduction to Coles new, though not entirely different, sound. A sound he credits the entire band with.
“Its got an upbeat feeling that wouldnt be possible without them – well would be impossible for me anyway,” he says. And happiness is something Cole considers essential to his song-writing ability.
“Believe it or not you dont have to be depressed to write depressed songs,” he says. Instead Cole believes its absolutely necessary to be content within to express it without.
Married with two sons, William (8) and Frank (2), Lloyd Cole emphasises their important influence on his life and work. Touring without them “sucks”, he says, but travelling with his music provides him, and them with a livelihood as much in terms of inspiration as with the number of gigs he plays.
And that is the reason he is moving back to New York from his Massachusetts home where he has lived for the last two years. Life is too predictable there, he says and describes with some irritation the groundhog-day-esque scenario of seeing the same man sitting on the same step outside the same shop every day.
Although he denies that his logistical position has any effect on his song-writing, Cole revels in the freedom he feels being able to create his own social life, for instance, in New York – where he has lived since 1987. Being able to go for a drink in the same place you might visit at noon appeals to him no end.
“The one thing I dislike about London, and Dublins similar, is that your night-life is mapped out for you – there are certain possibilities as to what you can do after certain hours. The pubs shut in London at 11 p.m. and after that you have your night clubs. And the effect of that is firstly, the pubs are crap and secondly people are drinking to get drunk for 11 p.m. and in London, certainly, youve got an undertone of violence because people are just drinking too fast – thats how they get in fights. If I drunk that fast Id be getting in fights”.
Luckily, so far, The Negatives have been a war-free-zone, which Cole boasts is good-going for a three-year-old rock band. There have been no arguments, for instance, over the Commotions tag.
On the contrary, the band happily spend time and effort perfecting some of the old tracks that are frequently requested. Tuesday nights sound check ran well over-time as Mr Malcontent himself helped the band do Hey Rusty “negative-style”.
And what would this be? “Its negatives go disco – we really want to go disco because we like it and its fun,” he says.
This might be a good time to point out that Mr Cole does have a particularly strange sense of humour. In fact his imminent return to New York has also been spurred on by the fact that he doesnt find Massachusetts-folk all that funny.
“People there dont have much of a sense of humour in my opinion. I cant bear to be around people without a sense of humour or people who think there are certain things you cant make jokes about – I dont think there are any such things”.
Okay, so did you hear the one about Lloyd Cole wanting to become a food critic while on tour?
Mid-life crisis? Not a chance.
The album “The Negatives” is on the Warner lable and was released in Ireland last week.
Publication: The Irish Times
Publication date: 27/05/01