Lloyd Cole interview: "It's nice to know the songs mean a great deal to people."

Reporter:

Jamie Bowman

Lloyd Cole first stepped into the spotlight when Lloyd Cole & The Commotions released their effortlessly hip debut album Rattlesnakes in 1984. 

He went on to make two further albums of cerebral pop with the Commotions, clocking up era-defining hits like Lost Weekend and Perfect Skin, before the band split in 1988 and Lloyd decamped to New York as a solo artist and made a home in the city that had always loomed large in his imagination.

Now, 30 years later and following the huge success of two box sets which collected both his work with the Commotions and his solo output, Lloyd is returning to these shores playing songs from the classic period covered by the pair of anthologies.

“This is about the fifth or sixth leg of a tour that doesn’t seem to what to end which I guess is good for me in terms of making a living,” he says on the phone from New York.

“A few years ago Universal released these box sets of the Commotions stuff and my solo records so I figured if I ever was ever going to do a retrospective tour it would be now

“This is the third time we’ve gone around the UK and we’re basically going to some smaller towns where we haven’t been before which is great.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played Wrexham before - maybe the Commotions played there once but my memory really isn’t up to much.”

More than three decades on I wonder how he feels about singing and playing songs he wrote in his early 20s when Cole became known as one of pop’s most intelligent and witty lyricists with a neat line in name dropping literary, film and musical influences such as Arthur Lee, Norman Mailer and Eva Marie Saint.

“It’s been lovely looking back,” he admits. “It would be impossible to make music for 30 years without taking a few wrong turns but for the most part putting these boxes together has been enjoyable and reinforced the belief that most of the time we made the right decisions.

“I always tried to make albums that were different to the one that went before and I’ve always made sure my quality control was pretty high.

“And of course it’s nice to know the songs mean a great deal to people.”

What about that unfair reputation for being a bit pretentious?

“The music and the literature that you love stays with you for life,” he replies.

“I still love T Rex and as a writer I still love Joan Diddion but I think as I’ve aged I’ve changed.

“I went to see the Psychedelic Furs recently and they were great but I’d never put on a record by them. That’s how I feel about music now.

“I don’t need to consume as much as I did because I think I digested so much when I was learning to be a pop singer and studying these artists.

“Often I think ‘oh God what was I like’ when I’m singing an old song but thankfully I don’t have to revisit the interviews I did with the NME or Smash Hits.

“At the same time I was a young man and young men are supposed to be stupid and there aren’t too many of the songs that I find embarrassing to sing.

“Luckily I can leave those ones that do out of the set for the most part.”

When he split the band it was fully expected that Lloyd would achieve huge solo success but apart from the odd hit like the sublime Like Lovers Do, he’s remained something of a cult interest with a loyal fanbase which has stuck by him.

“The serious regret I have as a pop musician is not putting enough effort into our videos,” he offers when I ask if he could have done anything different.

“There were no videos before we started and I’d studied everything except videos because no-one was making them until the advent of MTV.

As an American resident for 20 years I wonder how he feels about the current climate in a country whose culture has influenced his music so much?

“I don’t love America to be honest,” he answers quickly.

“I live here because my family are here and pulling my children out of school because I’m not happy with the political situation isn’t really on.

My youngest son has another three years of education to go and after that point who knows? All I can say is that I don’t want to die here.”

Touring must be a relief then – especially coming back to the UK?

“It’s nice to travel but now because I have a Green Card I always feel there’s a good chance when I get back to the border they might say you can’t come back in. I keep expecting someone to pull out NME and say ‘didn’t you say this about America in this interview in 1986?’

With thousands of Twitter followers and a flourishing website, Lloyd is one of a number of musicians from his generation to have embraced the internet age and used it to maintain that loyalty but he does have his misgivings.

“The landscape in which we worked has completely changed,” he adds.

“I think to continue working I had to embrace the interaction online but has it been a good thing? I’m not sure.

“I think there was a mystique about the artist when there was that distance and I think that has been lost.

“On the other hand people like to know they’re contributing to the continuation of a career that they enjoy.

“It’s mind boggling really but that’s the way music is going: we make albums in order to play concerts.”

l Lloyd Cole plays William Aston Hall, Wrexham, on Tuesday, February 20. Tickets: £22.50 from www.glyndwr.ac.uk / 0844 888 9991.

Email:

jamie.bowman@nwn.co.uk

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