Lloyd Cole on the Value of Deadlines

While some of the more recent output from Lloyd Cole, known for his work in the '80s with his group the Commotions, has been acoustically driven, he realized early on in the writing songs for his most recent effort, Standards, that he wanted to steer the album in more of the rocking direction.

So he called drummer Fred Maher, who has worked with Scritti Politti, Massacre and Material, and Matthew Sweet, with whom he'd worked on a couple albums fifteen years ago.

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They both agreed to work on Cole's new album, but Maher had a baby on the way, and he only had a small window of opportunity. When Cole first talked to them, he says he hadn't written more than a quarter of the record, and with time booked in Los Angeles, Cole had about ten weeks to finish writing. He went to work in his home studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and spent eight to ten hours a day working on the rest of the material for Standards.

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Over the last decade or so, Cole says he felt that he should really write songs when he would feel particularly inspired, when the songs really kept banging into his head.

"Then I'd say, 'Well, you know, then that's a legitimate idea,'" Cole says, "and I got into this sort of way of thinking that the idea of sitting down at the piano or the computer to write songs was kind of Tin Pan Alley kind of jingle writer feel to it, and I felt like I didn't want to be that kind of person.

"It's funny how your life changes. The more I look at that way of thinking now it's sounds like a pretty good excuse for being lazy. I am a songwriter. And actually, like with a lot of other writers, deadlines do seem to help. And focus, turning the computer off and focusing on the page in front of you does seem to actually help. It's very difficult to be disciplined. Imagine trying to finish a short story if you don't have a publisher, you know? I'm not sure I've got that kind of discipline. I'm not sure if I'm that good. But when you know you've got a project which you're excited to do then writing isn't all that difficult. It's just that is what I do. I wrote."

Even though he was under the gun to finish the songs on Standards before he flew to LA to record the album, especially since he knew he was going to produce it, he says he didn't feeling like he was forcing the songs.  

"It was an enjoyable process making this record, because I knew I was happy with the songs," Cole says," and I knew that they were all finished. I don't think there was a missing verse. Everything was completely finished before I got to LA. I didn't do any demos because I had the songs written and I wanted to be able to just play the songs on guitar for Fred and Matthew, and for them to come to completely fresh and for them to have their take on what the song was going to be like."

Part of the initial inspiration for making Standards was listening Bob Dylan's 2012 album Tempest, which Cole listened to intently over a 24-hour period in order to review it for Salon.com.

"I was kind of blown away just by the fact Dylan is still doing exactly the same thing he was doing when he was 23," Cole says. "He's probably maybe rarified it some way that he's a little more this or that with his songwriting than he was but still he's basically just being that person. And I got the impression that he doesn't any idea of how old he is. He doesn't have any concept of any kind of music being age appropriate. And I think I focused heavily on the idea of age appropriate music in the 2000s, from when I stopped playing with a band in the late '90s until the last few years.

So Cole wondered what happen with the songwriting for the songs on Standards if he just didn't worry about being age appropriate.

"I'm naturally pretty flamboyant with language," Cole says, "and what I've been over the last fifteen years or so for the most part is kind of reining that back and aiming for something which is more spare or maybe a bit more concise. On this record I just thought, 'What would happen if I didn't worry about that too much? What would happen if I just let it hang out?' So, this is what happened."

Expect some material from Standards when Cole performs a solo show at Swallow Hill on Sunday, February 8. While Cole says for many years he used to go on stage without much of a play other than trying to play on song from every record, he really doesn't worry about that any more because there's just many songs in his catalog that stretches over thirty years.

"The show kind of leans this way and that way depending on if I've been playing a song a lot for a couple of years," Cole says. "I might need to give it a break or I might find an old song that I didn't think I could play on the acoustic guitar and I finally found a way of playing it. Dragging out songs every couple of years that haven't been played acoustically before...Eventually I suppose I'm going to run out of those songs but I still seem to keep finding ones that I didn't think I'd be able to play on the acoustic guitar, which somehow or another I find a way to do it."

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