As Life Often Is – The Stereo Embers Cold Cave Interview with Wesley Eisold

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Wesley Eisold is not someone you’d care to doubt. His dedication to craft is so readily evident – be it in his former hardcore persona inside American Nightmare or, more pertinent for our purposes here, his current and longstanding incarnation as Cold Cave – that to say he’s among post-punk/darkwave’s most fervent, accomplished practitioners would be a gross understatement. Agitatingly prolific for, well, ever, Cold Cave, an Eisold solo project until meeting Amy Lee after a move to LA in 2011, ranks as one of the most admired, and emulated, current-day acts on that (or any other) scene. Rare is the act that both draws inspiration from the past – in Eisold’s case The Cure, The Smiths, Factory Records – and influences other young contemporary artists around the world. Given the chance to interview Wesley via email in the wake of the band’s Full Cold Moon release (a compilation of self-released, hard-to-find singles from the last half decade or so), SEM naturally jumped at the chance, and in fact invited our web guru (and super fan) Brett Widmann along to ask his own questions. Ladies and gentlemen, Wesley Eisold. [photos: James Parker unless otherwise credited]

Stereo Embers Magazine: What caused the shift from hardcore into synth-based, post-punky coldwave in 2007? Not a drastic shift but still rather dramatic, and in fact it reminds me of the LA band Middle Class back in the early 80’s, who went from strictly hardcore to what was a very clear post-punk aesthetic.

Wesley Eisold: I grew up with the sounds you can hear in Cold Cave now. I love old hardcore but that was never the only music I liked. The first show I ever went to was the Swirlies and the Lilys. After that, The Cure. Ever since I was young I loved taking in all music. I started going to shows and hanging around record stores. I stopped eating in school and saved the little cash to buy 7”s instead. When I was still in American Nightmare the first time around I made some songs and called it XO Skeletons. It was drum machine, minimal, new wave punk. The first song was called ‘Asthmagasm.’ To me the XO 7” sounded like Generation X meets the Cough Cool single. That project introduced electronics to me and from there I started Cold Cave. So it wasn’t sudden but rather gradual. Eventually I stopped doing American Nightmare and Some Girls and wanted to make my own music that was more in tune with what I had listened to for most of my life.

SEM: The experience of just recording singles etc in 2012 without the expectations that a label might impose was quite freeing for you. Do you think it’s at all possible these days to ‘make art’ while operating under the auspices of a record label?

WE: Yeah sure it’s possible and I’m not anti-label or anything like that. I’ve had great experiences with labels and am thankful for anyone who invests in me, but it’s like hiring an ad-firm or creative team. I just saw myself and so many others losing control of their own vision and wanted to bow out of that for a while. I like when people check out Cold Cave because they found it and connect with it. Same with people writing about it, like you for example. Press and all that is usually paid for and rarely benefits anyone. It’s just not real and I’m into real. I found it all boring really and misrepresentative of me… Recording an album. Building up to the release.. magazines A, B, and C write about you, you do a tour or 2, then you take a break and start the cycle over. The people in tune with that media cycle are on to something else and the inflated image of your band deflates until you do it all over again. Well we’re here saying we are out of tune with this. If you bypass the tradition you can keep releasing music when you feel like it and actually make a living from it.

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SEM: You’ve said that the concept of ‘band members’ is difficult for you, in that Cold Cave, at its essence, is just you, with ‘members’ being rather ephemeral and fleeting. Do you think the band concept is outdated at this point, given the explosion of digital opportunities and the state of the ‘record industry’ (so-called) these days, which would not seem all that conducive to supporting an entire band?

WE: Well strictly speaking economically it is totally outdated depending on your goals. I love bands from the past where the members contribute and the collective is the important thing. Don’t abandon that dream. I hope there are more. Electronic and hip hop artists are more interesting to me now. I like the idea of gangs but identify with the idea of the lone wolf.

SEM: I assume you’re familiar with the revitalized, mostly underground resurgence of post-punk and darkwave around the world these days? Scenes are virtually exploding in the former Iron Curtain countries, in Spain, in the US (esp. on the West Coast), pretty much all around the western world. What’s your take on that, on why that particular movement would be enjoying such a renaissance right now?

WE: For sure, we meet and play with a lot of these bands. I think technology and the decline of the band is partially responsible. All of these various scenes and sub genres that required so much time and work to access are now suddenly available to you. ls It’s also trendy and everything comes around and due to the minimal structure, easy to mimic. I’m not the best person to answer about genre oriented music though. I really don’t care too much. It’s the singer not the song.

[Turning it over to Brett]

SEM: Is there new material in the works?

WE: Always. I have so many songs in some arsenal that I’m about ready to commit to. I rarely take breaks in writing or recording or playing music at home. Songs I love and know by heart that get stuck in my head that no one’s heard. The first actual Cold Cave song was ‘The Trees Grew Emotions and Died.’ I lived with that alone for months before I showed a few friends what I had been up to.

SEM: What happened to the supposed Sunflower album?

WE: It still exists in some form. I have and know the 10 songs that make it. In the meantime of writing and finishing I ended up writing all of these other songs that didn’t make sense for the record but wanted to release them still. Those are the songs that make up Full Cold Moon. Sunflower is done in my head, thematically for sure. We kept getting offers to tour so it held the record up.

SEM: What was touring with NIN like? Did you find their fans receptive or was it a challenge every night to break through?

WE: Incredible. Their crowd varied a lot from city to city but was always passionate. We played over 30 shows with them through Europe/UK and the West Coast here. In Europe some crowds were more modern and akin to how I see NIN, as a current band, pushing, relevant, classic yet innovative. With crowds that big you definitely get some 90’s MTV relics but for the most part, the fans were just with it and into the whole evening. Like, I’m not going to say there wasn’t a guy in an Alice In Chains shirt who was miserable through our set some times. But then there were 3 people next to him in Coil shirts to make up for it.

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[photo by Mara Mckevitt]

SEM: As a youth, who were some of your influences, especially musically? Beyond that, what bands do you listen to now that you would recommend to Cold Cave fans?

WE: The Cure, The Smiths and New Order. Those are the big three for me and I still listen to them more than anything else. They changed me and gave me comfort and hope and I’ve related to their music at all stages in my life.

SEM: Have you encountered bands/artists that are clearly influenced by Cold Cave?

WE: Definitely. It’s flattering usually. The cool part about being in Cold Cave is that it’s also a band that turns people on to underground bands that they maybe wouldn’t have heard before.

SEM: How did you stumble upon the work of Tristan Corbière, who inspired the works on the “A Little Death to Laugh” single?

WE: n 2005 I was visiting the poet Charles Potts in Walla Walla, WA and he thought I may enjoy him. I went and stayed with him for a month to write in between tours and lived in this open loft that was in a ballet studio. Corbière was described to me as a hunchback who prostitutes would turn down and that I could relate to.

SEM: To expand on the above, what other authors influence and inspire you? And in fact, what other artists, outside music or literature, do you tend to find inspiration from?

WE: In literature it’s Celine, Genet, Brautigan. I like Fassbinder films a lot and less successful 80’s teen exploitation movies.

SEM: Finally, what kind of equipment and software do you use to produce your sound, particularly during the “Cherish the Light Years” era but currently as well?

WE: My main two synths are the Arp Solina and the Korg MS20. They just feel right to me and I like to touch them. I’m not a tech person. I find it boring and uneventful usually. You can buy elaborate rare paint brushes etc but really I want to know what it is you’re going to paint. I’ll buy synths and let them go because I go back to my favorites. For Cherish we went all out though. We were based at Electric Lady studios in NYC for a month and a half but were also spending a lot of time in the DFA studios and their synth arsenal. We had orchestra people, horn players, etc. There aren’t any newer or soft synths used on that record, it’s all laborious and analog. They way life often is.