Ahead of his gig at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall and Manchester’s Albert Hall, Explore Liverpool music writer Matt Jacobson interviews singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole.
Following the release of his twelfth studio album, Lloyd Cole heads out on tour. On Pain is Lloyd’s twelfth album as a solo artist and features eight new songs, four of which are co-written by Commotions founding members Blair Cowan and Neil Clark, who also appear and perform on the record.
“I like the idea that songs are things — and that they exist independently of their creator. But if I’m conscious of anything with my writing, it’s trying to write from the part of life that I’m in now — there are aspects to being an older person that provide angles that didn’t exist before.”
Llloyd Cole has also announced a UK/Ireland tour in the autumn, with Blair Cowan and Neil Clarke appearing alongside him. I recently interviewed Lloyd to discuss the process of songwriting, touring, and cancel culture.
You are about to go on tour, do you feel the same excitement of touring now, as you did when you first started going out on the road?
It is different, but still terrifying, we are in the middle of rehearsals right now and if you were to see us tomorrow – you would think we were terrible, but by next week – we will be great! (laughs). But you know, things have changed over the years, When we first started we had success and people were paying to see us and we received lots of cheering etc, it was very exciting. But that wasn’t really what I was excited by at all. I was more interested in making records. Back in the day I thought concerts were recitals of the records and we did them to promote the record. I didn’t consider myself to be a performer and it was only back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that I was basically forced, due to economical reasons, to tour on my own and I learnt how to appreciate the audience and become more of a performer, which has alos helped my singing in many ways.
So the initial desire was just to produce and record albums more than performance?
Yes very much so, that was the initial desire. I think a lot of bands used to think when you tour and you have to sound exactly like the record, but thats fine when you’re a band. But as just an artist, the idea to go out now and sound like the record is a complete fool errand. What I try to do now is gather a band and see what we sound like and see how we interpret material with I suppose the aesthetics I have to hand. We will sound like the Commotions at times , because some of the songs an only be played one way – but we will try to be a four piece rock band and it will be more of a show.
I’ve interviewed many bands and some of them find the relationship between the band hugely beneficial, as a working creative hub, but some have found the relationships strained and toxic – and you eventually began a solo artist, what was your experience in a band?
To be honest, I never really went solo, I left the band and didn’t know I could be a solo artist. I didn’t know if I had what it took to be a solo artist. I was sort of the ideas person in the Commotions, but I wasn’t a musician at all. I was extremely lucky was to be in a band with four great musicians and over five years I sort of learnt how to be a musician like them. So, when I did become a solo artist i was surprised that I could play a guitar a bit, but that was being around Neil for five years, or I could programme drums, but again that was because I was around Stephen. So, being in a band was great but we weren’t like U2 who had all been friends forever – we had come together with the love of music and if we had a great idea for a fourth Commotions album we would have recorded it, but the band had ran its course. We wanted to be different from the last album but we were limited on what we could do.
The only negative was the fact I didn’t want people rely on me to provide a livelihood. If I wanted to go to live in Jamaica for a year they would lose their livelihood, so I thought i didn’t want to be in this forever. But with Blair and Neil we never stopped working together. They were both on the second tour in 91 and since we worked together on and off. We worked together on the Guesswork album and Blair wrote three of the songs on the new album and Neil wrote one song and here we are, all back on stage together – it is now three of the five commotions but with I suppose a slightly different aesthetics.
In terms of influences, you moved to America, did you notice your influences changing or was it a natural change. How did the move change your thinking, writing?
Well when you’re in the middle of it and be at the heart of it you cant really see the changes, its not until years later you realise it. Songwriting is like that – you think thats right at the time and then years later you see what else you were thinking. One thing you can guarantee is that radical change can have a positive step can change creativity. It took me a year and a half of super hard work to write and record the ten songs that were mainstream in 86, 87 – and I then moved to New York and wrote 20 in a couple of months because I was excited again! And then I moved to Massachusetts and I wrote new music that was much more exciting than the music from the previous five years. It is quite easy to stagnate.
Can you think of an artist that hasn’t been lost once or twice in their careers? Bowie was totally lost in the 80’s and Prince in the 90’s. Even Dylan wrote some awful and terrible records but he has recorded great records too. But i was also lost at times and I am frankly lucky the albums aren’t worse than the are. (laughs)
Are you always thinking about writing songs or do you have the stop and write records?
Well there is always one song twirling around the head, that is why I will be quite happy to retire. You are basically walking around and working all the time – it doesn’t stop. That’s why I play golf and go cycling and cycling really helps, I just think about how i will go up this damn hill in front of me! So I need escapism. So, as long as the ideas come I’ll still record and I’’d like to partially retire but I cant afford to do that.
After so many years in the industry what is the motivation to continue?
Well I want to make art and make music that people love and enhances peoples lives just the way literature and the visuals enhance mine. I’d love to be able to retire but I cant because of economics and also I don’t think I could as my notebook is still full of ideas.
In terms of social media and the cancel culture. And the on going hunt to bring someone down and cancel them for anything, it can be from politics to the type of cereal they like . Do you think artists are now weary of recording albums songs that contain views and thoughts – I mean even labels are stopping albums being released, for me – it is just ridiculous.
I think people would, it’s a scary time. There are certain things I wont mention on Twitter – I just wont go there – it’s not a fair paying field.
Well debate is dead…
Absolutely, I went on a Radio 2 show once, a literary review and the host and I reviewed a book and I/we didn’t like it – so I was honest and the artists fans went for me they tried to ruin my career so I won’t do shows like that now. I didn’t ask to review that particular book!
Venues taking share of merchandise and the campaign to stop this, it must be frustrating, I mean you don’t take a share of the bar?
Well, we would all welcome it if it didn’t happen if they stopped. I now have volunteers to set up the table etc and I give them free seats as a thank you. At the table, I / we will be also providing information about my website – we never take T-shirts on tour as we never have the exact size people want so it’s all on the website! I now have a patron page and people can contribute to support. I was thinking this morning if the venue want more and more and they basically take the piss then we won’t take anything – they can have 100% of nothing.
The tour an setlist is it difficult to put the setlist together?
Yes, its difficult – I usually tour around albums and as given I aim to have half the setlist different from the last tour. The tour wont have all the new album as its difficult to play – we have to interpret the songs with a four piece. We will also try to play an old song and we have just found one from 86, so it’s is varied. Theres a score of 20 songs that hardcore fans want me to play but I play around half to mix it up.
Memorabilia – I am a huge Morrissey, Smiths fan and collect and display memorabilia, my favourite treasured item of my memorabilia is Morrissey’s shirt from a gig in Liverpool. Are you a collector yourself?
Well, yes I have actually put 100 to 200 items of my memorabilia on my website I have ticket stubs from Kraftwerk in 79, a ticket stub from 78 from Bowie and my tour laminates for the years over the years. I do have a lovely Meat is Murder T-shirt signed by Morrissey and a lovely letter from Morrissey at the end of 86 asking where are you, you don’t call? But he kept changing his number, but is a lovely letter.
The patron page was going to be a document of my career, notebooks and memorabilia – and it’s actually a multi media version of my memoir. I love the quote from Neil Tennant – he was asked you have this book of songs when is your memoir out? He replied “It’s out – in my songs” and I feel the same. I started selling hand written songs and i’ve seen pictures of houses with so much memorabilia – it’s lovely when we see it stored carefully at a fans home – that is why we are artists.
You are playing Liverpool on tour, are you looking forward to it?
Oh yes! last time at the Philharmonic was banging! We have played various venues over the years and we love it. The only negative is we are unable to stay overnight this time as we are off the Dublin the next day – we would love to go for a drink in the city. We are really looking forward to it!
Lloyd, on behalf of Explore Liverpool and myself thank you for the interview and very best wishes.
Thank you, its been lovely talking to you Matt.
Lloyd Cole plays the Philharmonic Hall on SATURDAY 07 OCTOBER and you can book your tickets here and he will also be playing Manchester’s Albert Hall on TUESDAY 10 OCTOBER.
For more information on LLoyd Cole you can visit his website here.