One of the main reasons this website exists is to talk to people like Lloyd Cole. He’s articulate and intelligent and still very much in command of his craft and able discuss it in thoughtful and insightful terms. He deserves more than a couple of column inches in a daily newspaper.

He’s touring here soon so that gives me an excuse to request an interview. Our interview gives him a forum to explain that he is planning on funding his next album through an innovative scheme where enthusiasts pre-buy the album before he makes it and in return for that investment they get the album first and a bonus album of demos as well. Only an artist who has earned the respect of an audience can do that. And that, old friends, is an example of the new music industry working well.

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Rather than me prattle on I’ve decided to just provide the questions I asked and report the answers Lloyd gave. The questions were pretty good (except for the first one which was a bit pedestrian) and the answers were better than even pretty good questions deserved. So why mess with a good conversation by pretending to be journalist?

HHMM : We are looking forward to you returning to Australia. You appear to have a good relationship with Australian audiences.

LC : I do yeah. I came over there in 87 with the Commotions and we played gigantic places that we really shouldn’t have been playing. We felt like little boys on the stage there. We were presented with all these gold discs and things that we got from the Australian people. We went home and when the next album came out,,,well I’m not even sure if it even came out there. I’m still trying to figure out who did what on that tour to end it all for us. Did somebody say something? Did somebody sleep with the record companies managers wife? I don’t know what happened, but I didn’t get to come back until I was a folk singer in 2000. I didn’t know what to expect. It went fabulously well and I enjoyed it immensely and I’ve come back as often as I can.

HHMM : Do you find that the intimacy and direct contact with the audience that you get from touring as a folk singer makes for a different sort of relationship with an audience?

LC : It’s still theatre. You are up there and you are thinking on your feet. But it is still a show, just a different kind of show. Every now and then I miss being with a band, but I don’t miss having loud drums behind me any more. I do really like the freedom I have of being on my own and making up my own schedules and Going places I want to go and not having to worry about whether or not we can afford the hotel rooms and the flights for the whole band. Usually people are willing to pay me enough for a show that I can usually make a living doing it. Having said that I’m forming a band right now! I’m getting ready to do some shows with a band in America when I get back from this tour.

HHMM: For an artist such as yourself I was thinking that a band almost acts as a filter between yourself and the audience in the way the songs pass through the band on their way to the audience. Is that something you are conscious of and try to avoid?

LC: It is something of a filter and it is a necessary artistic filter with any band, because there isn’t a band – outside of bands like the Bad Seeds that have been together playing with the one guy for years and years – that could play all of my music. It spans such a long time now and I did band records and solo records and folky records. There isn’t one band line-up that would be perfect for a Lloyd Cole show to be a show of my whole career. Acoustically I can play the whole career. I cant necessarily play every song, but I can play songs from my whole career and I don’t necessarily know what it is that I’m going to play when I go on stage. Quite early on in my life I knew that I didn’t want to be in a band for all my life. So yeah the band imposes a filter and also acts as a conduit between myself and an audience and if you take those two things away and me on my own with a couple of guitars is a much more raw experience.

HHMM: You have chosen to document the solo shows through the Folksinger series of albums, albeit a small series of two at this stage. Is that something you’d like to continue and how do you select which shows to make into one of those albums?

LC : They serve two functions. They are a document of this thing I’ve been doing for about ten years. When my old manager came to see one of my concerts and said “I cant believe you don’t have a fucking record to sell at the show. You are doing a show and you don’t have merchandise, you don’t have something like what you just done for people to buy?” So eventually I thought I should make one. I decided to go to this venue in Ireland where I had an amazing run of gigs at a few years ago called Whelans. So booked three nights there and thought we would record all three and out of those three nights we would be bound to get a decent record. We were well prepared. I was bloody nervous but I was well prepared. It turns out that in the interim Whelans had changed the room and the acoustics had changed a little bit. The room was still great but the level of audience noise and bar noise was hyperbolically high. I went on stage the first night and immediately I knew everything was wrong. Frankly the first show wasn’t very good because I was seriously frustrated. We addressed the issue for the next nights and we ended up with a great record but I knew that it wasn’t the record I wanted to make. I wanted to make a record that showed the quiet elements of my show as well as the louder ones, and I assumed that only the louder things would have recorded well. In retrospect I was wrong but that’s what I thought. So I decided to make a single album from that show instead of a double album as I intended and I had this 2003 recording from Radio Bremen which I thought had turned out really well at the time I thought that that show was pristine and quiet and the new one was vibey and I figured between the two of them it represented the show the way I was happy with. Originally I wanted to just do one record but it’s worked out well. I think the Whelan one is infinitely better than the Bremen one but I know an awful lot of people that disagree with me and love the Bremen one better. There will at least another three of them.

HHMM : You seem to have adopted rather well to the “new music industry” with websites and street teams and downloads etc. You appear to be a healthy little cottage industry.

LC : I’m getting there. I’ve got to tell you, it’s not as great as it looks. Things like the Folksinger needed a fair amount of investment to get it started although it is paying for itself really well now. The Cleaning Out The Ashtrays project (a four volume, 59 song collection of b-sides, album outtakes, alternate mixes and pretty much every studio recording from 1989 until 2006 which was intended for commercial release, but which did not end up on an album.- HHMM) was something that was never ever going to make any money for anybody other than at the retail level because most of the songs had to be licensed from Universal. But it was still a worthwhile project and I am making money from it at a retail level. The website is constantly work and I now twitter after saying that I would never do it. So yeah, I’m fairly comfortable with it. Every now and then I do like the idea of going into a hut somewhere in the woods and not having any access to it all for a while. But that’s what touring is like for me. I don’t bring my laptop on tour, I have my iPhone, I can borrow the tour managers laptop to update the website if I need to, but when I’m on tour I’m out being a musician.

HHMM: I also like your idea of people pre-buying the next album. To me that idea goes back to the very old idea of “patrons of the arts’ – when an artist will find people who want to commission him to do a piece of work.

LC: It is very much like that. In fact maybe twice a year I get hired to play private concerts as well and that helps me stay afloat. It is close to that concept but it is considerably more democratic in that you are not playing for a bunch of toffs in a stately home, you are playing for everybody around the world. My main job on this tour is to let people know that that is how I am doing the next record. We need to sell quite a few of them to make it work and we haven’t sold near enough yet!

HHMM : It will work though because for artists like yourself there is an element of reliability – if you invest you do know what you are going to get.

LC: I think if you listen to the records I’ve made the last few years, if you are a fan of mine, you can be fairly sure that you are not going to get a record with dodgy filler on it. I’m going to make the best record I can. And the year that I don’t think I’ve got good enough songs is the year I stop. The one thing that is quite nice about the cottage industry I’m in is that I’m not frightened of that anymore. When I did Cleaning Out The Ashtrays there was enough songs to do four more like that. So if I do ever stop writing song I’ll do stuff like that for a while.

HHMM: The career longevity that you’ve been able to achieve is almost like a reward or justification for the early adopter fans who have chosen to go the journey with you. It’s like they are rewarded for backing the right horse.

LC : Maybe so. I wish I could say that all the Commotions fans are still coming regularly to my website, but that’s definitely not the case. You know, just before I went to Australia in 2000 I was not sure if I wanted to keep working any more and it was mainly through the live work that I decided that I did want to. I prefer the idea of making a living providing a service than being involved in a speculative venture. People pay money to see my show and they leave. I sign CD’s for them and I can tell that they are happy and that I’ve contributed something that made their day better than it might otherwise have been and I feel like I’ve earned the money that I get paid. Comparing that to the deal that I used to have with Universal where they give me $100000 and I would be expected to be creative and make an album. I got to the point where I realised that I just didn’t want to work that way any more. I cant tell you that my motivation for writing songs is 100% altruistic – it is my job and if was to stop writing songs people might make the judgement that I am not the kind of person that they want to see play concerts any more. But right now I still do have the desire to write them and I’m still finding things to sing about that I haven’t already sung about exactly the same way before. It is my job, but I am happy that it is my job.

HHMM : Do you distinguish between the songs that were released and became hits and became a part of people lives and the songs that might be discovered on an old DAT in a bottom draw? In your mind are they are they all equals?

LC: They are equal in the way that all citizens are equal in a democracy but some are more famous than others. I don’t go into my concerts with disregard for those songs. In a given concert I might play thirty or thirty five songs on a given night and there’s probably a core of 15 or 20 songs and I might play 12 of those 20 on any given night. I was in Aberdeen recently and I overheard a guy leaving say ‘No Forest Fire, very disappointing!” And I was thinking well I played ten others from that core group – fuck him if he’s going to complain because I didn’t play one of them! What I have to do with my songs and not just the well known ones is to rest them. The all have to have a sabbatical for a year or so at some stage, so then when I bring it back its fun to play again. There’s very few songs that are fun to play every year for 25 years. Even if you love them you get to auto-pilot and I don’t want to do that. I know that there are songs that mean a lot of people and I make an effort to play a good bunch of those.

HHMM : Playing new songs or obscure songs is kinda like introducing your friends to other friends that you think they might like. It’s healthy.

LC : It is. I spent most of the last 18 months opening my set with a song called Woman In a Bar from Antidepressant and I know full well that 40% of the audience wont know it because they don’t have that album but it always goes well as the first song. Its great to introduce them to that song because then they want to know what album its from.

HHMM : Are you sometimes surprised by your own songs in the sense that you look back and listen to them and ask “where did that come from?” or “what was I thinking there?”

LC : Oh yeah, absolutely. Many times. The songs that I feel that way about tend to be songs that I don’t play. Or maybe by playing the songs I find a way to understand them again and I forget that I might not relate to what they were originally about. I don’t have too many songs that I feel embarrassed about singing at the age of forty-eight. There are a few that are definitely young mans songs. Perfect Skin is definitely a young mans song but there are ways to play it that make it feel comfortable.

Link to original article online

Publication: Hey Hey My My Music for Adults

Publication date: 20/10/09