“They Have To Say This Or They Wouldn’t Survive:” A Conservation with Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold

Ashley Naftule
The stage is set for Cold Cave at Crescent Ballroom (photo cred: PHX SUX)

If Cold Cave are right and people truly are poison, their beautiful & moody music would make a perfect antidote. Take a strong dose of Full Cold Moon or Cherish the Light Years, introverts of the world, and that should clear up the venom circulating in your veins.

While some punks go country as they get older, trading in Harley Flanagan for Hank Williams, Eisold’s taken a different route. He’s made the leap from hardcore frontman to goth star, trading in blood-in-your-phlegm vocals and shrieking guitars for synth-pop and Batcave croons. It’s a tricky transition, but Eisold makes it look easy. Whether it’s mining early New Order for melodic gold on 2009’s Love Comes Close or embracing an arena-ready epic sweep for songs like “Underworld U.S.A” and “The Great Pan Is Dead,” Eisold is a natural at exploring all the possibilities that the dark music world has to offer.

On tour with his other half in music and in life, Amy Lee (currently the only other active member in Cold Cave), Eisold talked with me on the phone about literature, his love of lyrics, and why you shouldn’t hold your breath about Sunflower coming out in the near future.

I saw y’all the last time you came through town, when you played Crescent Ballroom. One of the things that really stuck out to me is the video projections you used to complement each of the songs. How do you put those together? What’s your thinking behind the visual aspect of Cold Cave’s live shows?

Each song has its own visual and we tried to match it with the most simplistic but beautiful minimal images that suited the lyrics. We used a lot of natural elements for the visuals. We just wanted to create some movement for the songs and enunciate their themes a bit more in a way that anyone could understand, whether you listen to the words or not… Amy, who’s in Cold Cave, works on the visuals and makes them her thing. That’s kind of our process for it.

Something I’ve always wanted to ask you about has to do with your publishing work as Heartworm Press. One of the books you’ve put out is Richard Brautigan’s Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, and I’ve wondered why you picked that specific Brautigan to be a part of your imprint?

There’s three reasons. One being that I’m a huge fan of Brautigan’s. Two, I love that particular book — I have a first edition of it. And three, it was one of the few titles by him that had not been reissued in America. So that was the idea behind it. And it was a lengthy process, dealing with the rights and making sure it’s done right — cause he is one of my favorite writers ever. I can’t believe we got to work on anything by him. I had to deal with his daughter, who was really wonderful to work with, to get it released.

I stumbled onto a copy of In Watermelon Sugar awhile back and it blew me away. He’s such a great stylist.

That book is incredible. The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster is one of my personal favorites. Watermelon Sugar and Trout Fishing are probably his most well-known works, but he deserves so much credit as a poet. I’ve always been more drawn to his poetry.

You’ve often expressed in past interviews how important lyrics are to you as both a music fan and as a songwriter. Who are some of the writers that inspire you in your approach to crafting lyrics?

It’d be a mix of some of my favorite writers, like Jean Genet and Celine. Growing up, The Smiths were a huge band for me… To this day I still consider Cold Cave to be a lyric-driven band, not music-driven. I think of myself as more of a lyricist than a musician. I don’t feel like I have that much in common with traditional musicians.

I’m happy to love music, and to put it together with my words so they can make this otherworldly element of magic. It just turned out to be the vehicle for how I wanted to express myself and write.

I have a hard time getting into new music and listening to bands because there has to be that very special, personal touch to it. Where it feels like they could die, where they have to say this or they wouldn’t survive. I can’t move past nothing lyrics.

What’s the status on Sunflower?

That was the record that was supposed to come out a few years ago, but never did. It did get finished, in a way- it’s 90% done. I just never mastered it. I got kind of bored with it, so I thought I’d get back to it at some point. It’s living on a hard drive somewhere.

As an exercise to help me finish that record, I started making these singles to keep the creative process going without having to fit a song into this ongoing album. It turned out that I liked that process more, just putting together A side/B side records whenever I felt like it. I don’t completely understand it but it seems to be working for Cold Cave, for us to keep releasing these singles sporadically.

I also like not having to subscribe to the music game of waiting for an album to come out to go out on tour and putting all your hopes on that one record. Repeating that process over and over got boring for me; I’ve been playing music since I was 19, so I just wanted to do something different.

Photo cred: PHX SUX

NOTE: I interviewed Eisold for Phoenix New Times at the beginning of the month. My normally reliable phone app decided to eat the recording and I couldn’t retrieve it, so I had to write a Plan B. I thought this Q&A session was dead and gone (much like the 40 minutes I spent talking to Cosey Fanni Tutti last year that got eaten by the gremlin in my phone). The new gods of technology smiled on me and I was able to retrieve the file yesterday from iPhone Purgatory, so voila: consider it a post-script interview.

Ashley Naftule

Written by

Associate Artistic Director & playwright @ Space55 theatre. Bylines in Vice, The Outline, Phoenix New Times, The Hard Times. Chico & Karl are the best Marx Bros

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