After The Commotions, Lloyd Cole moved to New York to enjoy the quiet life. He spoke to Paul English about his influences, the glory days and a lost guitar…
Nearly 20 years ago, Lloyd Cole was sitting in the ancient lecture halls within Glasgow University, thinking over the kind of proposition that would have made his classmates wet themselves. The years of trashing around in teenage bands were coming to a close. His new band, The Commotions, had the offer of a recording deal on the table.
As the other students were leaving for home to listen to their Velvet Underground records, little did they know that the man who would help mould the personalities of the next generation to fill those self same halls, was in their midst. It was then that Lloyd Cole made the most inspired choice if his life. He did something that everyone wanted to do… he dropped out of University to become a rock-star.
With a new compilation, ‘Lloyd Cole; The Collection’ out this year, and another solo number in the pipeline, Lloyd might not hold sway over the student population in the way he did during The Commotions’ ‘Rattlesnakes’ days. But he’s hardly slipped out the back door either – he’s just stepped over the pond.
Since leaving the UK ten years ago to live in West Greenwich Village and now Chelsea, NY, Lloyd has enjoyed something of a quieter lifestyle.
So is NYC the place where old pop stars come to burn out?
No not really. I’m more kind of underground here and that’s nice. I’m not particularly famous outside those who know much about music. It’s very solid here. But if my livelihood had depended on being commercially successful in Britain, then I’d have been broke about ten years ago. The thing that’s nice is that I have a lot of people in Ireland, France, Scandinavia and Portugal who form a bit of a core following throughout the world.
Surely you must be proud that you’ve made a record like ‘Rattlesnakes’? It’s regarded as a classic of its time now. People do talk about it that way now I suppose. I think there are songs on the album that were quite lucky to be successful, and there are others that weren’t heard at the time that sound quite good now, which is one of the reasons I was happy for the record to come out this year.
But is there any one track or album that you’re particularly fond of?
I’m not too keen on the Concept Of Pride really. When I listen back to stuff, I find I’m either pleased or disappointed. What was nice when I was playing the compilation record back was that there was very little I was disappointed about – even the things that I don’t particularly like, such as the piano solo on Lost Weekend. That doesn’t bother me now. Isn’t pride a deadly sin anyway?
So do you ever feel that your anthems like (Are You Ready To Be) Heartbroken? and Perfect Skin have been a bit of a monkey on your back?
No I don’t think so. In Britain, and with the perspective that the British media have had on me, it’s been up and down ever since ‘Rattlesnakes’. But when my first solo record [‘Love Story’] came out in 1990 it did quite nicely. Most people seemed to like it, but I admit that there were some solo albums that were clearly flawed – albums like ‘Bad Vibes’ and ‘Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe’. But you live and learn – I don’t regret mistakes, because how else was I going to learn what it was I was any good at?
My first Lloyd Cole experience was as a 14-year-old, when my sister handed me down her worn-out copy of ‘Rattlesnakes’. Are your fans growing older with you?
Every time I go out play a gig I think there’ll be no young people anymore and every time there always are. A lot of that is down to ‘older sibling’ syndrome. I think there’s no way that younger people in the UK will have heard too many of my recent songs on the radio, so it’s encouraging that there are still some out there.
Do you still get the same buzz out of playing, live even now that The Commotions have split up?
Well last summer I went to Scotland and played some acoustic gigs which were absolutely terrifying. In Dundee I couldn’t get off stage until I’d played Forest Fire, which was kind of scary because I hadn’t played it for about five years. I went out there with a book full of songs and a guitar, but I really enjoyed it.
Were you ever prone to taking the guitar out on to the street for an afternoon’s busking?
No not really. I borrowed a busker’s guitar in Paris once, just to see if I could make any money.
And did you?
So it was all raw talent honed to perfection on stage?
The Commotions did no more than 15 concerts before we made our first TV appearance. We never really paid our dues, I suppose. Every gig we played we got paid for. We were just lucky. The Commotions never turned out to be what they wanted to be. We originally wanted to be like The Style Council with me singing my own peculiar take on that. But evolved into this rock/pop band because that’s what we were together.
How did you start playing the guitar?
I played bass in a punk rock group in Lancashire called the Vile Bodies. I learned to play guitar listening to the album ‘1969 Live’ by the Velvet Underground. I tried to play rhythm guitar like Lou Reed. I’m still trying to play rhythm guitar like Lou Reed.
Who else can you recall wanting to be?
Well, they were so far and wide that it’s almost like a case of trying to count the negative influences among them. At the time it was really generic sounding pop music with bad synthesisers. If you think back to that period there were some great records being made with synths, like Human League and Soft Cell, but the chart was dominated by stuff that was like that but worse. The Commotions were conscious of wanting to find something of our own and ended up having the same line-up as the Byrds – guitars, bass, drums and keyboards.
Calling anyone who ever bought a white Fender Bullet from a shop in Glasgow. I hear you lost a similar guitar and you want it back – but why is it so important to you?
I had a guitar that I bought in Glasgow, and it wasn’t very good. I traded it in for a Fender Bullet – a cheap version of a Telecaster. That was a fantastic guitar. I played all the early Commotions gigs with it. Then we got a few quid and I traded it in for a black Telecaster.
I’ve always regretted losing that guitar. If anyone has a white Fender Bullet that they bought from CC Music in Glasgow in about 1983, then I want it back. I’ll give them a good amount of money for it too. That’s the one guitar I regret not having any more.
On ‘Rattlesnakes’, I played the acoustic which was a cheap Yamaha that we had. All the guitar on ‘Rattlesnakes’ was done with a £200 Yamaha. We also had a Strat and a 335. All the rhythm electric is either a Telecaster or a Vox Teardrop 12-string. On Perfect Skin, the rhythm guitar is 12-string. I used to use the 12-string so it would sound more acoustic when I played it electrically. I used to strum it and vamp on it more, but keeping it in tune was another thing.
I played a Rickenbacker on the ‘Easy Pieces’ tour. I could never really get into playing the Rickenbacker what with that lacquered neck, so I had to get rid of that.
I’ve still got the Vox Teardrop, and I’ll never get rid of that. It was the guitar we had when we played TOTP – the first time we were on TV. I got a Gibson 330 basically because of the back sleeve of ‘Revolver’ by the Beatles. That’s my main guitar. These days I guess it’s mainly Telecaster or 330 or 335.
Publication date: 01/05/99