LLOYD COLE INTERVIEWED (2000): This changing man

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LLoyd Cole: Are You Ready to be Heartbroken? (from Rattlesnakes)
LLOYD COLE INTERVIEWED (2000): This changing man

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 years.

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.

It 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.

"I 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.

The 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.

lloydcole"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.

"And I don't want to be like Van Morrison, who makes one good one out of every six. I'd rather be like Leonard Cohen, who makes one every 10 years and it's great."

Cole says 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.

"I thought 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 look pathetic.

"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 plaintive moments."

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