For a band that plays moody, dramatic synth pop, Cold Cave (due at the Larimer Lounge on Monday, April 11) has an unusual pedigree. A veteran of several hardcore bands, including Some Girls and American Nightmare, Wesley Eisold turned to electronics as a way to take more control over the music he made.
After making some murky, Throbbing Gristle-ish, mostly instrumental solo recordings, for his debut album, Love Comes Close, Eisold enlisted the help of Caralee McElroy, formerly of noise-pop institution Xiu Xiu, and Dominick Fernow, who, through his work in Prurient and Ash Pool and his proprietorship of boutique record label/record store/studio Hospital Productions, presides over a small empire whose territory is the most hellacious corners of power electronics, harsh noise and black metal.
Released in 2009, Love Comes Close is a unique collection of frosty, fuzzy, industrial-leaning new wave that boasts a single for the ages in its wistful title track. But where Love Comes Close often feels like a weary sigh, Cherish the Light Years, released just this week on Matador, feels like a fist in the air.
Once capable of only a jaded baritone croon, Eisold now belts like a wet-dream mash-up of Davids Bowie and Gahan, and the band (which no longer includes McElroy, but now includes Jennifer Clavin, formerly of defunct L.A. noise-punk O.G.s Mika Miko) swings for the fences on every track, creating an album of stadium-sized goth pop that, with its edgy sound and dramatic flair, would have made prime-era Depeche Mode jealous. (Check out stunning opener "The Great Pan Is Dead" below.)
We spoke with Eisold recently before a show in Cardiff, Wales, and talked to him about the rapid, dramatic and surprising evolution of his band's sound, as well as the sinister power of nostalgia and the awesomeness of the Korg MS-20 synthesizer.
Westword: The new record feels like a huge leap forward from your earlier recordings in terms of the scope of the sound and the big emotionalism. Was this what you were aiming for all along, or was it a bit of a surprise?
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Wesley Eisold: A little of both. I was aiming for it in the way that I didn't want to make any Cold Cave record sound similar to the previous one. So that was the intention, but at the end, when I was done with the record, I was a bit surprised with how it came out, because, you know, when you're making something like that, you don't have much perspective or any time to separate yourself from just listening to it in the studio, the way you hear it there.
It is a little more grandiose than I expected, but I think the songs lend themselves to that sort of treatment. With the vocals, anyway, if I had sung the way I sang on past releases on this record, it wouldn't have really worked, so I had to attempt to be a bit bolder with them. And, of course, everything else was recorded at home, and this was recorded in a studio, so that made a big difference.
The vocals definitely are much different this time -- much bolder, as you say. Was that part of the surprise?
I definitely knew that I didn't want the vocals to sound like they sounded on previous releases, because they were so shielded under effects and things like that. I did want to perform better, but I didn't bring vocals or lyrics until the songs were already done in the studio, and when I went into the studio, they were only about 85 percent done. So I really had no idea what they were going to sound like outside of my head until I started doing vocal takes.
Obviously, you used a much different style of vocals when you were in hardcore bands. Has it been a sort of learning process to train yourself to sing rather than scream?
Yeah, it has been. I think extensive touring over the past two years made up the majority of the lessons I've had.
Trial by fire.
Yeah. And I also just felt, somewhere inside, that there was no other option -- I had to make this work. I just wouldn't have felt satisfied if they hadn't come out the way they did. And then, of course, when you listen to a record after it's done -- well, maybe it's just better not to. You hear mistakes, and you hear things you wish would have been different.
Hopefully, there's not too many of those.
I think it happens to everybody.
In the intro to that mix you put together for Altered Zones a few weeks ago, you mentioned being "no longer ashamed of [your] emotions." How did that feed into the record, or did it?
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. No, because thematically and lyrically, there's been a running thread that hasn't changed. I think in a way, all the releases make sense next to each other. And when I wrote that, I was kind of half-kidding but also serious, because just wearing it on my sleeve more is the goal. That's what I meant.
In the old records, for example, there were never credits given inside the album, because I wanted people to listen to them for the music itself and not who was involved in it, so it was important to keep it as vague as possible for as long as possible. But that only works for so long.
You also wrote on your website that before you recorded the album, you went to many of the different places you've lived, because you've spent most of your life moving often, and that you did this as a sort of research for the record. Could you talk a little bit about that?
I grew up moving every two years, all over the country and other countries, as well, and I think it was a method of letting go of these idealistic fantasies that I was living for a bit too long. I felt like I needed to actually go to these places and see where I used to live, where friends lived, old houses, old record stores, things like that, and just come to terms with all of that. I think the grass is always greener, but things are probably better now than some of the things I held on to.
When you continue to be forced into these situations growing up, leaving friends, you hold on to, like, "What would have happened had I been here?" And probably nothing good would have, but I didn't really realize that until recently.
So I wanted the record to be an ode to that, a monument to that, to close the book on that, and I wanted it to encapsulate the things I thought about then, the things I think about now, and nods to the places I lived, the music I listened to, the music that mattered in my life.
Do you feel that you've settled in New York for the time being?
No, I don't think so. I still tend to move about every two years, but touring can relieve some of the anxiety of being in the same place for too long. And I'll be touring a lot for this record, so...[laughs].
This has always been a solo project for you, and you've brought in collaborators as you see fit, but it seems like the lineup has solidified around you and Dominick and Jennifer. Does it feel more like a band now?
Well, live it does, but the majority of the recording was just me in a room with the producer, talking about things. I do feel like they're a part of it and they're with me. But it is important to me to write everything, because that was kind of the impetus for starting Cold Cave, to avoid compromise in the form of confusing an idea from one person to another, to not dilute the theory of what I was trying to do. And I still feel like that can happen, so I'm very protective about it, but I do also really respect their input and opinions.
There's a sort of goth revival happening right now -- I'm thinking of bands like Light Asylum, the Soft Moon, Austra, a few others. Not to force you into a trend, but do you feel any kind of kinship with bands like that, or are you aware of it?
I'm aware of it, and I like some of those bands, but I don't know enough about them to say that I have anything in common with them at all. To me -- I don't know where they're coming from, but to me, Cold Cave actually has very little to do with music. It's more conceptual to me, and I'm more concerned with the aesthetics of it, and the words. The music is just kind of a vehicle for it. It just seems like the best way for me to write right now. That's why, for me, it feels strange to compare the old songs to the new record, because they're coming from the same place, but they sound totally different.
So is that MS-20 you're holding in that photo on your website yours?
Oh, yeah. That was a picture taken by Dom right after I had it modified.
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Well, I know that I'm excited for you.
[Laughs.] Yeah, thanks. I wanted one for years.
It's a pretty sweet instrument.
During the recording session, I was like, "I'm gonna get this now. I know we're going to use it a lot on the record." I'm really happy to have it.