Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Lloyd Cole, the Derbyshire-born pop singer-songwriter who sprang to attention in
the mid-80s for his introspective literate lyrics with his band the Commotions,
quit Britain for New York in 1988 for six months - and has now stayed for 12
With his American wife and two children, he lives in the
wilderness three hours north of New York and two hours west of Boston. He has a
studio, space that he didn't have in the big city, there are financial freedoms
and he's been able to take six months off music to design a website.
all sounds perfect. But Cole couldn't hate it more.
"We have no intention
of staying in this hell-hole," he says with absolute seriousness. "I really
don't like it. The studio is great, the school is great, but I hate the weather
and people don't have a sense of humour. And I see the same hippie playing the
same guitar on the same stoop every day and I just want to kick him.
want to go back to the city. You know the Joni Mitchell song, 'You don't know
what you got till it's gone'? That's me."
Cole, speaking in polite,
well-rounded vowels and with a wry self-deprecating sense of humour, drops other
such surprises in a pleasant half-hour conversation.
The second is that 39-year-old Cole,
whose lyrics have sometimes suggested a taciturn, inward-looking character, is
happily chatty about his pop-star past and where he is in his life.
formerly prolific writer -- three albums in as many years with the Commotions,
starting with the British No 1 Rattlesnakes -- isn't writing songs, and hasn't
for a while.
"I have written no more than a few songs since I've been here
this past year, largely because I wrote so many in the previous two years," he
says, "so I've been actively avoiding songwriting.
"I've got so much
waiting to come out I didn't feel I wanted to have a huge amount of stuff and
nowhere to put it. I've got an album coming out with the Negatives [the United
States band he's had these past three years] in Europe soon, and I've got a
bunch of other song ideas floating around. But to enjoy what you do, you need to
take a break."
These days Cole describes himself as an office worker or folksinger, a reference to his website work and the one-man shows with guitar he has been doing intermittently.
"One of the reasons I've got a website now is that anyone can go direct to it and e-mail my agent as well as me," Cole says. "If people have got a business proposition I'm not that difficult to find, and lloydcole.com is easy to remember.
This low-key approach suits Cole, who
repositioned himself outside the pop star circuit and adopted the persona of
singer-songwriter when he went to New York after what might charitably be called "business difficulties" with his former record company.
He prefers to be
outside the album-tour loop which pop status necessitates. He also enjoys being
perceived as a singer rather than Mr Singer-Songwriter.
"When people get
to the age I'm at and have done it as long as I have, it's natural for them to
dry up and lose their spark. I think there's nothing sadder than seeing someone
who doesn't particularly have any great inspiration searching desperately for
it, and trying to convince themselves that these songs or poems or books are as
good as what they were doing in their prime.
"I've made enough albums
now, though I'm not resting on my laurels. But there's no need for another Lloyd
Cole album unless it's really good. We don't need that period where Bob Dylan
made three or four consecutive mediocre records.
his career has been unusual in that just as his star was in decline in Britain
after the third Commotions album, Mainstream, and when he became all but
invisible in Australia and New Zealand, it was in the ascent in Scandinavia
where he recently toured in his folk-singer mode to much acclaim. England was
also been kind to him when he made a recent solo-show tour.
the English press could be very mean about such a concept," Cole says. "They
could have said I was some over-the-hill guy trying to desperately reinvent
himself. But actually they were very nice.
"Maybe I've reached an age
where they know I'm not actually trying to compete with the Verves and Blurs or
whoever, that I'm doing my thing."
The self-confessed city boy - "since
university it was five years in Glasgow, three in London and 11 in New York" -
is in no rush to return to the land of his birth.
He considers himself a
New Yorker now, can't wait to get back, and says that if he'd stayed in London
he would probably have given up music by now.
"I can't really be bothered
with being in fashion and out of fashion as it is there. I had serious advice
from good friends in the mid-Eighties who really wanted me to make a dance record.
But when you see a British person in the middle to last part of their career
desperately trying to do something that is in with what's fashionable, it does
"London is a great place to visit - all the arts and
fashion scene. But they're not for me anymore."
So it's a relaxed Lloyd Cole, folksinger?
"Well, that's what I call
myself. But call it a one-man show perhaps. I tell you, it's closer to Billy
Connolly than the Smiths. I'm an accidental comedian because my guitar playing
can be so poor that I often play the most howling bum notes at the most