Lloyd Cole picks up the phone in the attic of his New England home. There is where the literate English singer-songwriter’s career is headquartered these days, having packed up his family, guitar and golf clubs and fled across the Atlantic at the beginning of the 90s.
The move came after he parted company with his major label and band the Commotions with whom he delivered three era-defining albums with songs like Perfect Skin, Forest Fire, and Rattlesnakes.
Since then, he’s steered himself into a steady but low-profile solo career, one increasingly embracing his American influences on record. And he’s one of the few 80s Brit hit acts to have survived with their dignity intact. He’s proved he’s no longer the po-faced guy of those 80s videos on his entertaining solo tours of New Zealand in the past decade.
And next month he returns for another. Only this time he’s bringing two backing musicians …
So why the band?
Well, I felt like I needed a change. I have been doing the stand-up comedian one-man show thing for the last 10 years. I may have got to the point where I was a little too good at it – a little bit too slick. I just felt like I needed to step away from it for a while and just find something which was a new challenge.
From an artist point of view, my fans like my solo show but how many times can you expect them to come back and see the same thing. It makes sense to mix it up from time to time.
Of course, you got many of those fans back when you fronted a group.
There are still some people who don’t understand why I don’t want to make music that sounds exactly like that still. I think that is always the case when you discover a certain music through a certain record. I still have problems thinking about Bruce Springsteen making folk singer records. I still think of him making Born to Run. So I can understand if people would have the same problems as me. If Springsteen doesn’t feel comfortable making something like Born to Run anymore, I certainly don’t feel comfortable making mutton-dressed-as-lamb music.
Do the songs from Commotions days still cast a long shadow?
We did a reunion in 2004 for the Commotions. It was great fun but it was clear to me I had made the right decision going solo, which might sound like a contradiction in terms. It was an exercise in nostalgia but I was an old man playing young man’s songs. What we do now with this small ensemble is take those songs and play them like old men. Well, I am really the only old one but we don’t attempt to make rock ‘n’ roll with acoustic music.
What do you think that young Lloyd Cole would think of the old one?
I think the young Lloyd Cole liked Leonard Cohen. And Leonard, in terms of the way he managed his songwriting throughout his life, has been a role model for me. I don’t think I would hate it. I think the young Lloyd Cole would be appalled with the current Morrissey show but the old Lloyd Cole says “it’s a free country do what you want”.
So you have a career based out of your attic in Easthampton with a record label in Hamburg …
It’s a little strange but the last 10 years of me using the UK as a barometer for my career is more and more depressing because I have good years and I have bad years. But when I look at the UK music scene, I don’t have any desire to be part of it anymore and I have the feeling that other countries behave closer to my ideal. You get to a certain point in music that you have established an identity and that has been accepted in a lot of places but in the UK I think they would prefer I had died. I think if I had died I would still be hot shit in the UK.
It can be a good career move.
I think it would have been. And so working with Germans, boy. their enthusiasm for my work is outstanding. I am an old geezer gently refreshed by working with these Germans.
And with a German label, I’d imagine when they say your album will be out on this date, it really is out on that date.
Ha ha. Yes, it was and the older I get, the more German I get. I’m leaning more towards Pils as my favourite drink these days and I have always loved the various sausages.
The new album Broken Record, however, is one of the most American-sounding of your career.
It’s a fair comment. I don’t think I have ever made a record where there are eight or nine musicians on the record and only two of us are Brits. So I think it’s fairly natural – I’ve got an American band. I have always thought the music that the Commotions made and that I have made is derived from American popular music with a European aesthetic applied to it.
Talking of which, is Westchester County Jail [on Broken Record] your first jail song? Can’t get any more Americana than that?
Is it my first jail song? That’s a good question. I have been listening to a fair amount of Johnny Cash.
Nice jail is it, the Westchester?
I have yet to even get a traffic ticket.
Who: Lloyd Cole
Where and when: Glenroy Auditorium, Dunedin; Thurs Feb 3; Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch, Fri Feb 4; Mercury Theatre, Auckland, Sat Feb 5; Paramount Theatre, Wellington, Mon Feb 7; Cabana, Napier, Tues Feb 8.
Also: New album Broken Record, out now
Publication: TimeOut-NZ Herald
Publication date: 23/01/11