Cold Cave’s debut album of 2009 Love Comes Close was a unique display of synth-oriented mood disorder, venturing out from the bedroom to the dancefloor, filled with idealistic tales of romance and disillusionment. Band leader Wes Eisold’s spin on the world appeared to share a voice (in both dour baritone and content) with Magnetic Fields Stephin Merritt, if he’d spent his adolescence listening to The Cure and Depeche Mode instead of showtunes.
On their second album, Eisold moved beyond the testing of the waters that was Love Comes Close and turned its successor, Cherish The Light Years, into his dark dream made manifold. Speaking with Static’s Chris Berkley back in April, Eisold talked about his vision for Cold Cave and the experiences that informed and were explored when writing and recording the new album.
It kinda feels like there there’s noticeably more of you on this album, especially vocal-wise. Does this feel like much more of a ‘Wes’ record?
It does and it doesn’t. I would say it doesn’t because there isn’t any less of me on the last record actually. There was just one song that wasn’t sung by me, and it was very new for me to sing, to actually sing instead of yelling or whatever, and I think I hid a little bit behind effects. Touring over the past year and a half, two years I’ve gotten much more comfortable with myself and less self-conscious and didn’t care as much. So that’s why it sounds drastically different.
So it was a bit of baby steps, and not only learning to sing but also to embrace the music you were making as Cold Cave?
I think a little of both, yeah. I just knew this time I wasn’t scared to kind of own the record. In the past I would kinda put disfigured people on the cover or feature people on the cover, or just disguise myself or other people, and this time I wanted to be more in the open and understood and more clear as to what the project is, and you know, still the sole songwriter and all that.
You must have learnt that over the years as well. You’ve clocked up a lot of time in a lot of different bands and probably seen the machinations of the way you want to present yourself now. It sounds as if you want to hide behind things less.
To me, aesthetics is one of the most important parts of any presentation in any band, any medium, and before I was always, for better or worse, at the mercy of someone else’s vision. I wrote lyrics and sang on music that other people had already written. Now that it’s my band, I don’t have the hurdle of trying to explain what I am envisioning in my head to someone else to interpret to turn it into a song. I can just do it all myself now. There’s no reason to hide, you know?
Is Cherish The Light Years also a result of a different environment too? Did I read that you relocated to New York between the first album and this one?
I did, but I don’t want to put any emphasis on glorifying New York. That’s not something I care about.
There’s plenty of other people to do that…
Yeah, or it’s been done. I don’t want to be the person who moved here in the late 2000’s and talking about what a great place it is, because I don’t care. But to me, it is a strange place to feel lonely in because there’s so many people and there’s so much going on, and it might actually be one of the worst places to feel lonely in. One of the good things about that is that you walk everywhere here, and for me, just walking around the city with headphones was a big part of the record. I would make a demo, and to test if I liked it or not, I would walk around and listen to it and see if it made sense with my environment. I wanted the record to be this culmination of the present, the past, and the future and I think that’s what it is, sonically and aesthetically. It kinda refers to bands I’ve been in, it refers to music I listened to as a kid in different cities I grew up in, and I just wanted it to be a really accurate representation regardless of any pre-conceived notions about what Cold Cave is or was, like minimalism or lo-fi recording was not something that I was ever really interested in. It was just the means in which I had to do it in the past. I was recording my own music and I didn’t know how to record. I was writing my own songs and I didn’t know how to write a song. Just over the last few years I’ve worked out exactly what I want to do and maybe what I probably always wanted to do with this project.
I guess you’ve moved as far east as you can, as well. For someone who started out on the west coast, metaphorically you’re as far away from your past as you can be, and physically as well now.
Sure. I’ve lived on the west coast a few times but I grew up moving every two years, so I don’t consider any specific city or town or location as a home. So it’s kinda always moving, always changing. It’s a lot of what the record is about.
It feels like a braver record than the first Cold Cave album was. Dare I use the word ‘glossier’, but there is more of a sheen about this record. A track like “Confetti” is this pretty disco song which I can barely imagine having existed on the first record. Were you looking for that kind of stuff this time around?
Yes. I think that’s very true. The last record was kinda strange for me, because I had originally released it myself as a pretty limited record, and then Matador reissued it and every release has had intent to it, and that record was never really intended to be this statement like “Hi, I’m this band called Cold Cave, this is my record that I’m very proud of and I want this to represent the band“. That was never the case with that record. The last record was a group of songs that were more about the fluidity between industrial music and synth-pop music. It was just a statement actually. I feel like that didn’t come across, but that’s ok. This time I wanted to make the bridge between traditional synth-pop, with actually more pop-oriented music, and was probably more influenced by other bands that I grew up listening to, like The Cure or Echo And The Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs or something like that. It is a braver record and a bigger record and it sounds more like a full band than before, whereas in the past it was just a computer and myself.
You’ve even got the brass stabs on “Alchemy And You”. You’re skanking, Wes…
I know. Ska is not something I’m fond of. I do like Dexys Midnight Runners and I like playing a lot of more new wave bands that incorporate synths. It just felt like the right thing to do then. It just seemed like horns would be appropriate.
It sounds like you’re having fun branching out on this record. It probably would have been easy to be the prince of dark wave forever but it seems like you are actually having fun too.
It wasn’t that much fun really (laughs). It was this extreme terror of two months recording. I went to the studio with no vocals and without any lyrics so it was kind of stressful. Going back to other bands I’ve been in, I was used to having songs already done where I could only think about vocals and lyrics. Going into this session with the songs only 85% done and I had all this music to make up in the studio and then I couldn’t even think about putting vocals on them until after the music was done. I think that’s why it ended up taking so long. Listening to it now I don’t recall that much fun being had in the studio (laughs). I kinda feel that it’s a darker record than the old one, even though I understand that it doesn’t sound that way.
You also keep busy with your own publishing company Heartworm and you’re a published author. Is music still the main thing you do or do you multitask pretty well these days?
These days I’m doing more Cold Cave because it’s kinda taken over, and it’s what I want to take over, in my life, anyway. There is a difference between writing poems and prose and writing lyrics for songs, but they are fairly similar too. When you write a poem, it’s you and a piece of paper versus the world. When you write lyrics to a song, the song comes with an inherent mood already, so you don’t have to come up with this idea or this statement or some intuition from yourself. You get to incorporate these sounds that already exist. Words aren’t enough to get across the message in a song. You need the music to do that as well.
So does that mean writing songs is a harder task or an easier task?
I don’t know if it’s harder or easier. It’s just different. I would think it’s maybe a little easier for me than writing a poem but I don’t know what it’s like for other people.
We’ll see how you feel after the next 12 months on the road with Cold Cave. You might be just dying to sit in a dark room and write poetry.
There’s a good possibility of that. That’s a very true statement (laughs).
Interview broadcast on Static on 14/04/11. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).