Lloyd Cole Discusses His New Album “On Pain” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Monday, October 2nd, 2023  

Lloyd Cole Discusses His New Album “On Pain”

Do Songwriters Get Sexier as They Get Older?

Aug 23, 2023 Photography by Mark Dellas Web Exclusive
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Unlike many of his contemporaries, Lloyd Cole started and has never stopped. Through peaks and troughs, he has beaten his own path to wherever he wanted to go. With his twelfth solo record, On Pain, released in June, Cole has made the sort of album that many singer/songwriters were making when he released his 1984 debut, Rattlesnakes with his band The Commotions. Synthesisers and textures are placed in the forefront while guitars are moved slightly to the side. The path to On Pain has taken Cole through some pleasant and some challenging places, but at 62, he seems genuinely energized about making music.

Ian Rushbury (Under the Radar): The opening line of your new record is “I can’t be trusted with your money, look what I did.” Are you subconsciously warning off any other record labels?

Lloyd Cole: I never thought of it that way! [Laughs] No, I’m definitely not, I’m definitely open to offers. But I had this idea for an “I can’t be trusted” song for a few years, with the melody actually, but I didn’t know what the music with it was going to be, and it was very much a coming together of two ideas for that song. The instrumental idea was just the soundscape kind of thing and it was very fortunate that it seemed to work with that melody because they weren’t written at the same time. They were two distinct, discrete entities.

In your press release you say “I’m excited to still be finding new methods, new perspectives and new sounds but the album may be nearing commercial death.” Does that mean the album as a concept?

Yes. The playlist in the wider sphere of life has superseded it. But there are some of us who hold on to the idea of the album. With this vinyl resurgence, there’s definitely more focus on the album than there was maybe five or ten years ago.

I think that’s really exciting because it’s guiding people to listen to an album as a whole rather than just cherry picking the odd track.

We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to get the running order perfect, and for that to be thrown out of the window can be hard to take. When this playlist thing started happening, it was quite upsetting—when I’d release an album I’d include a note which said, “Please, at least listen to it in my order once!” [Laughs]

If someone was new to your work would On Pain be a good album to start with and if not, what would you recommend as the “beginners guide to Lloyd Cole?”

I think you could go either way. I think you could start with On Pain and go backwards or start with Rattlesnakes and go forwards. I wouldn’t start in the middle—I think the middle was the weakest period. Although I got away with making some decent records in the time when I was really quite lost artistically. The mid-’90s was not a good time for me. I’m very happy with my first two solo albums for sure, but after Bad Vibes, I was just a bit lost. I know Love Story turned out well, but it was difficult to make and my relationship with it is not…there’s too much dirty laundry. One of the things I’ve found looking back through the archives is that even when things aren’t going particularly well in my life overall, I was a really good editor. I didn’t miss many great ideas but I did throw out a lot of mediocre ones. Even though there are aspects of Love Story I find frustrating it’s definitely the best album that it could have been, given the material I had.

I interviewed Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne a while ago and we had a nice conversation about him occasionally writing something and recording it but on listening back to it he’d think that the band couldn’t release it because it was “too Saint Etienne.” Have you ever written anything that was “too Lloyd Cole?”

Every now and again I’d say, “That’s too identifiable as me. That’s too arch.” Without being overly mean, there are a few writers out there who are too clever. I don’t want to be one of them. “Clever” is good: “clever clever”—no thank you! Martin Amis is wonderful but every now and again he goes beyond the pail. There’d be metaphors relating to obscure Italian cuisine that literally nobody other than him and his mates would be able to understand. I don’t see the point of that. Also, one of the concepts I have embraced more and more the older I get, is Roland Barthes’ idea of “The Death of the Author.” Basically, he said that to impose a specific meaning or interpretation on the text is basically to close the text, and surely it makes a lot more sense to present the text or the song with no limits. It’s almost like a censorship. If you’re putting your song out there and then telling people, “this is the way to understand it,” you’re censoring yourself, which is very unhealthy.

Do you think your songwriting has changed over the years?

I think I am less lazy than I used to be. When I delivered the final version of Love Story to David Bates at Fontana Records he said, “There’s too many ‘babes’ and ‘babys’ in the lyrics on this record!” We were at dinner at the Groucho club in London and I said, “I’m the songwriter, you’re the A&R man and that’s the end of that.” But he was right, there absolutely are, and it’s lazy. And Dylan was quite often lazy—he’d throw in all these ‘babes’ and ‘babys’ and I think because of that I thought it was cool. But it’s lazy songwriting. But Leonard Cohen—he’s never lazy.

Last year, in an interview for The Big Issue, you said in the UK we don’t want our pop stars to become middle aged, we prefer them to disappear and reappear as elder statesmen. Do you think you’re an elder statesman now? Have you achieved that status yet?

Well, let’s see! The initial response to this record and the response to the last record suggests that maybe so. It certainly wasn’t much fun for me being 50 and releasing records in the UK, because I was borderline invisible. When Antidepressant came out in 2006, I would have been 45, and I played this little theatre off Leicester Square called the Arts Theatre, which must only hold around 300 people. I did a couple of nights there but I mean… really? On my next tour, I’ll be playing to about four times as many people, so I’m definitely doing better as an older artist for sure. I think there’s something very unsexy about being middle aged isn’t there? Whereas, there’s something quite sexy about being old and still having something going on. Look at the last 15 years for Leonard Cohen—Cohen became fairly invisible in his 50s and it was only when I’m Your Man came out that things got better again for him. If someone like him can become invisible, then anyone can.

You’re touring the UK and Europe in October and November. What’s the format going to be?

It’s going to be two sets—the first set will be primarily acoustic and will start with me on my own on stage and then over the course of half an hour or so the rest of the band will come on. The second set is going to be very much electric—I’m going to be playing bass guitar for most of the second set. Two guys from The Commotions are playing with me—Neil Clark will be playing guitar and Blair Cowan is on keyboards

Are there any genres you’ve not tried that you’d like to have a crack at?

Rather than thinking about styles or genres that I can embrace, I think more in terms of concepts. On this album, I really wanted a minimalist feel on some songs. I still think I’d like to go a lot further with minimalism and find out how little music can be. In the same what with this album I wanted to take the complex stuff and be even more complex—can it be denser? But the longer I go on the more I wear my eclecticism as a badge of honor. I’m not trying to be a particular genre, I’m just trying to make beautiful music.


Revisit our 2013 joint interview between Lloyd Cole and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell.

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