After more than two decades as a songwriter, Lloyd Cole is, once again, trying something new. Breaking from screenprinting in his basement, he explains that his performances at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival---a songwriters' circle and headlining show---will be his first solo shows this year, and his first visit to Nova Scotia.
The show also marks another first for him: "I've no idea what this songwriters' circle is going to be like. I'm doing my best not to think about it and will just respond to what happens when I'm there," he says. "I said I was willing to try it so long as there was no jamming involved; that's a rule I've applied my whole life."
This combination of the staunch and the playful has imbued his entire career. Beginning in 1984, at age 23, Cole made his stunning debut on Rattlesnakes (the first of three records with Lloyd Cole & The Commotions). Opening with hit single "Perfect Skin" and closing with one of the finest pop songs of the '80s, "Are You Ready to be Heartbroken?", each song is stuffed with sharp wit, clever pop references and jangly hooks.
Since the disbanding of The Commotions, Cole has had a steady career as a songwriter, quietly releasing a slew of critically acclaimed records the last 15 years.
His most recent, last year's Broken Record, was funded by fans pre-purchasing the album before it was recorded. For an artist with such a clean track record, that sort of blind faith is not surprising; however, Cole admits to recently struggling with his songwriting.
"I've done more thinking about the idea of songwriting over the last few years. I had to consider whether it was still a worthwhile pursuit. Is it worth revisiting themes one has dealt with in the past? Is it valuable?" he muses. "I ended up thinking yes because I'm still in awe of 'Da Doo Ron Ron' and 'Pretty Vacant' and 'River Deep, Mountain High.' The idea of something that is two to four minutes long, that can impact people's lives in so many ways is something that I'm still excited by."
Currently, Cole's working on his second ambient record, a collaboration with Hans-Joachim Rodelius of Cluster. Between noodling around with synthesizers and being caught up in "the practicalities of living" at home in Massachusetts, he's penning some new pop songs.
Cole reminisces about his early fascinations with pop: "I heard T.Rex's 'Telegram Sam' on the radio when I was 10. It was like the previous generation hearing Elvis."
Another songwriter notorious for his use of proper nouns, T.Rex's Marc Bolan taught Cole about the advantages and nuances of playing with the pop consciousness. "If you can find the right object or person to reference, a song can almost be infinite in what it can imply," he says. "Two people hearing it won't come up with the exact same idea, but they'll be in the same ballpark. It's economical."
Another key element in Cole's songwriting is his stark humour. "When I was 20 years old and I tried to read James Joyce I didn't get it, because I wasn't ready for this great work of literature to have humour in it, so I didn't see the humour," he says. "Now, the older I get the more I'm convinced that the idea of a great piece of art without humour is an oxymoron."
The Halifax Urban Folk Fest presents Lloyd Cole w/ Jackie Leven, Willie Nile, Joel Plaskett opening songwriters’ circle, Saturday, September 3 at The Carleton, 1685 Argyle Street | Lloyd Cole w/ Jackie Leven, David Myles and Ron Hawkins Monday, September 5 at The Carleton, 1685 Argyle Street | 9pm, $40
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