Lloyd Cole – Another Fine Conversation You Got Me Into

January 27, 2011 by Andrew Watt

Lloyd Cole is no stranger to this little oasis of the internet as you will see if you search the length and breadth of this lil’ website. He’s about to do another Australian tour with a three piece band called The Small Ensemble, because they are, well, a small ensemble. They will be playing many songs from his impressive catalogue including a number of songs from his latest album Broken Record, an album he made after fans pre-purchased the album before it was made, making it a community funded enterprise.

That is probably all the information you need in order to make sense of the following conversation. Off you go then….

HHMM: We’re looking forward to the tour – this time with The Small Ensemble. Prior to this album you hadn’t toured with a band for quite a while. What provoked that idea this time around?

LC: To be honest I felt like I was getting a bit ‘slick’, as a solo artist. When I started doing the solo shows it was a huge challenge. I mean, I’m not much of a guitar player – I’m a bit better now than I was then and a bit more confident now than I was then – but there’s still not a lot of point taking instrumental breaks in the songs! So the songs seemed to segue into stories and the stories became part of the set. The stories had been spontaneous once and new ones continued to pop up, but it started to feel like it was a bit predictable – not necessarily scripted but some of the stories almost adhered to the songs and I felt like, after a while, that I needed to give them a break. I think with music it is a fairly good rule that whenever you get comfortable doing something it about time to do something else.

HHMM: You’ve almost answered the next question which was “ Does the Small Ensemble approach almost undermine the ‘folk singer’ identity you had developed?”

LC: Musically, it’s definitely an extension of that idea, but it’s a massive extension, it’s not just a small step. It’s definitely closer to playing with a full band. To be honest, the arrangements, even though there are three of us, not five which is what there was when I used to tour with a full band, are considerably more complex. With a full band where you have the bass and the drums behind you, and the full beat, the other instruments can play off those things and can quite easily play less. In the Small Ensemble a lot of the time I am the bass and drums with my rhythm guitar and the other two players create whatever atmosphere we are going to have and they have an awful lot of space to play with. It can be quite intricate and it takes a lot more time to put together a small ensemble than a full band who can just listen to an album and just play it the way it is on the album. So its been a lot of work but its also been very rewarding really. There are certain aspects of solo folk singer shows that I miss from time to time and those are usually related to the fact that I have complete freedom when I’m on my own. There are times when I’m touring with the Small Ensemble that I remember why I quit keeping bands. (laughs)

HHMM: Congratulations on the new album Broken Record. Would you say that the fan- funding process was a success?

LC: Well the record got made, so the funding did work, but it was incredibly poorly managed on my part. In terms of planning how much work was going to be involved in order to make it happen it is obvious that there are other ways I could have raised the same amount of money with considerably less work. On the other hand, the fan involvement in the record and the feeling of community behind this has given the record an extra strength that it might not otherwise have had. People seemed to really like being a part of it. It’s not a huge amount of money to spend to feel like this record is a little bit yours and people do seem to feel that way, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m certainly not going to do it again exactly the same way but I will consider ways to do it that are a little more time efficient if people want to be involved again.

HHMM: The response of fans is very important to a record they were involved in funding. Does that give a whole new meaning to the word ‘responsibility’?

LC: I don’t really think so. I’m not going to make a record if I think there is any chance that its not going to be any good. I told the investors in no uncertain terms that there was no guarantee when the record would come out and that it would come out when it was ready. As it was we did an incredibly short and intensive period of work that enabled us to get the record out on approximately the schedule we had been looking at. But I didn’t really feel a responsibility about that, no.

HHMM: When I reviewed the album I suggested it was either very brave or very humorous, or both, to open a fan funded album with the line “Not that I had any dignity left anyway”.

LC: I am well aware of my life being quite full of contradictions. On the one hand there is still a fair bit of ‘rockstar’ in the way I think about things, but on the other hand I do the gardening and take out the trash, things that Morrissey could never dream of doing. But I’m also willing to stand up and say “Actually, I think I’m a much better rockstar than Morrissey!” I just go about it in a different way. So I’m not completely humbled but I am aware that being me is not all that simple and it quite often varies from the time of day, from rthe morning to the evening to how I feel about me. Sometimes I feel like I should just pack the whole thing in and other times I feel that I’m quite justified in going on as long as I feel like it. It wasn’t an opening line that was meant to be taken entirely seriously but as I do think that one of my ambitions as a songwriter is to write things that may be funny one day and on another day may not be funny depending on what kind of mood you are in when you are listening to it.

HHMM: There has been quite a few comments and reviews that suggest the album is ‘country’ flavoured but to me that is little bit lazy based around the presence of certain instrumental textures. Do you define genres according to their instrumental textures or do you have a different criteria?

LC: I think that my work as a songwriter, in places, leans towards something that you would expect from a country artist. If Kris Kristofferson is a country singer then maybe I am too but I wouldn’t say that he is a country singer. There area few songs on the record where we did try and go for a very traditional, old school arrangement. Broken Record is a very simple song with a very darn simple arrangement and the flavours of the banjo and the pedal steel together with some of the harmony vocals definitely pull it in that direction. But does that make me a country singer? I don’t know and to be honest I don’t really care. I do agree with you that it did seem like a bit of a buzzword for a few of the reviews but I got the feeling that some of those reviews hadn’t heard any of my records since 1995 anyway.

HHMM: The reviewers that seem to understand the album best and ‘get’ what you are doing as a songwriter seem to refer to the ‘slyly subversive ‘ nature of your songwriting. Do you see that as the essence of your approach to your craft?

LC: No, no I don’t. I don’t care if its subversive to be honest. I see myself basically as an entertainer and I just think songs that reveal the whole of themselves to you on first listen provoke the thought ‘why listen to them again?’. So I certainly try to do things with the words and with the music that will make repeated listening worthwhile.

HHMM: One of the things that does that across a number of songs are little music nods to other songs and other artists. Are they included to reward trainspotters or to entertain yourself?

LC: I’ve been doing since Day One haven’t I? There’s stuff on Easy pieces that does that. I just find myself doing it. I was a rock music nerd as a child and I could do the New Music Express crossword in about ten minutes! Until about 1995 I felt like I knew exactly what was going on in the music world. I know nothing anymore. But because I was a music nerd as a child I hear things and because wordplay is something that comes semi-naturally to me, I’ll hear one thing and it will make me think of something else. So if I think what could be a non-sequitur to one person could be something different to someone else I might be inclined to include it in a song. But only if I also think it adds beauty to the song. Language needs to be beautiful to be with music, the kind of music I want to make anyway. If you want to be in Neubauten or The Fall then your language can be abrasive to have the necessary effect. But for my sort of music the sound of the words is very important.

HHMM: I particularly like that the album has a Side 1 and a Side 2 and they actually mean something. For example If I Were A Song could only have been the last song on Side 1 and Double Happiness could not have gone anywhere but at the end of Side 2. Is that something you miss about the single song download mentality?

LC: I’m not really a single song download person. I often download stuff for free because I know if I like it I will buy the album. Every now and then you get burned doing that. I think albums are extremely under-priced. I know how much work it takes to make a record and I think 15 bucks is really cheap. But while I accept that there is going to be an entire generation that don’t respect the idea of the running order I still think that there are still going to be people who want to hear the suite of songs that the creator thought was the best order to listen to them in. You can disagree or you can think that there’s a song that you don’t really want to listen to. What I do with I Tunes, when I have the time, is just delete any song from an album that I think really stinks. But generally if I think it is an album worth having I keep the whole thing in its entirety.

HHMM: Double Happiness was a real creeper of a song that could only have closed the album because of its instrumental outro.

LC: It probably could only close the album because it sits least with the other songs on the record, albeit that the chord structure is quite similar to some of the other songs. We were trying to become like ‘kraut-rock” on the playout. In the studio, I was saying “think Dusseldorf 1974”. So yes, I cant imagine anything else following it, so in many ways that song has to go there. If I Were A Song on the other hand was very, very nearly the first song on the record. It was my choose as first song on the record but David bate, my old A&R man who I trust with running order insisted that Broken record be the first song, and I think he was probably right.

HHMM: Just to conclude, can we again expect a potpourri of the catalogue on this tour?

LC: Absolutely. We are not going to be playing a different set to the one we played in Europe because we kind of hammered it into shape there and it worked well. I may try to finish a new song but I doubt that it will be ready for Australia. Most nights we play 28 or 30 songs, 5 of which are from the new record. And only cover versions by Tim Hardin.

HHMM: Given that we have about 10 seconds left, how do you feel about turning 50?

LC: I have no idea, no idea! Closer to dead than alive!

February Dates

Thursday 10th:Brisbane, Old Museum

Friday 11th:Sydney, Enmore Theatre

Saturday 12th: Melbourne, Thornbury Theatre

Sunday 13th:Melbourne, Thornbury Theatre

Wednesday 16th: Adelaide, The Gov

Thursday 17th:Perth International Arts Festival, Becks Music Box

Link to original article online

Publication: Hey Hey My My

Publication date: 27/01/11