Cold Cave's Wesley Eisold on the unending loneliness of being in a band
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Cold Cave mastermind Wesley Eisold has been a bit of a nomad over the last dozen or so years. He’s moved from Boston to Florida to Southern California to Philly, leaving a handful of bands in his wake and taking little more with him than his equally mercurial artistic vision. With outfits like Some Girls and Give Up The Ghost, Eisold explored the drum-pummeling and scream-steeped nuances of hardcore punk, but his latest project takes an entirely different tack. Cold Cave is, essentially, synth pop—keyboard music with drum machine beats whose dissonance comes in the form of hazy computer fuzz and Eisold’s dry, dour lyrics. Cold Cave also seems to carry an air of permanence to it. He recently relocated to Manhattan and seems uncharacteristically content with his surroundings. And even though Cold Cave’s membership has grown since Eisold’s Matador Records debut, Love Comes Close, he considers Cold Cave a collaborative solo project, which means just enough creative instability to ensure some real longevity. In advance of Cold Cave’s show Feb. 25 at Empty Bottle, Eisold talked to The A.V. Club via e-mail.
The A.V. Club: You’ve said that you love dance music but loathe clubs. What attracts you to using elements of that medium now—say, a 4/4 pulse over the old double-kick thrash?
Wesley Eisold: I just love it. I like walking around and listening to music. When my steps coincide with a beat, in my head I feel in unison with the world that I’m living in. Also, this is music that I can make and play myself. It’s not about choice so much as necessity, and I hope it sounds that way. Virtuosos don’t provide much for me—I like hacks with heart. I think it’s great that someone can be so qualified, but I’m attracted to primal desperation over options. I don’t have options. I wanted them for too long to know this much is true.
AVC: You’ve moved between projects pretty lithely until now, seemingly unconcerned with leaving one behind for something new. Is there a sense that Cold Cave is permanent?
WE: Like anyone, I just did what felt like the right thing to do at the time. There was a lot of emphasis on the idea of “a band,” and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to sustain a healthy marriage, which is what being in a band is like. It’s a bit embarrassing how telltale it is, but having grown up moving every few years, I think you put so much hope into the idea of other people saving you, helping you plant your feet somewhere, making you feel at home. I feel like I’ve admitted that, ultimately, all we really have is ourselves, and so this is me.
AVC: You’ve said in other interviews that you essentially created Cold Cave as an alias, something that there’d be no reason to quit. Why bring in other players, then?
WE: Initially, I asked friends to perform live with me because it wasn’t something that I wanted to do, or even felt like I could do, alone. It was basically three non-musicians pushing buttons on stage. I was, and still am to a degree, interested in aesthetic and presence first, and music second. I love music, but more for the context within the music than a certain sound. There isn’t a permanent lineup to this. Cold Cave exists as my alias, as Prurient is Dominick [Fernow]’s. I’d asked Caralee [McElroy, formerly of Xiu Xiu] to play guitar on the record because I couldn’t. Then it just ended up with them performing with me regularly.
AVC: Were you specifically seeking artists with a background more steeped in electronics than your own?
WE: Not at all. I just want to play with people who understand the context of the band. There are a lot of people I’d like to make music with, people I find inspiring. The process is a little abnormal because you have to explain to someone what it is you’d like to extend to the world via music, but there aren’t exactly words for it—you can only hope that the other person will feel what you’re trying to articulate. You can’t expect drive and compassion from everyone who enters your life, but you have to demand it of the people you are creating with.
AVC: In Ye Olde Maids, you modified your voice to create the project’s fictional female half. Do you appreciate having Caralee’s voice in the mix, to work with and write for?
WE: I do really appreciate the female voice. I’m writing for me, but there are other singers I’m interested in working with. At the same time, I think I was so uncomfortable initially with hearing myself sing that I looked for any possible way to cover it up, from using pedals or pitch-shifting to literally having someone else sing how I felt.
AVC: As a writer, do you view Cold Cave as an opportunity to create a character separate from yourself, or does the project represent “Wesley Eisold” literally?
WE: There isn’t a difference between how I feel in the world and how I feel as a musician, or someone who writes. They are one in the same. It’s just a different presentation.
AVC: So then, are you as dour and despair-riddled as people seem to think?
WE: Well, you can imagine the extraordinary agony of my predicament: I don’t want to interact with people but I do get lonely.
AVC: You’ve expressed admiration for the work of Franz Gertsch—even styled an album cover and music video after it. What draws you to his paintings?
WE: It’s just a moment in lost youth, something I’ve known about for too long. As a teenager, I would tell the teacher I was sick just so I could lie down in the nurse’s office and listen to my headphones, thinking about how that day may be the best day ever, but I’m only capable of acknowledging that from a sickbed, lost in my own world.
WE: I’m honestly flattered and humbled that anyone would show interest in something I’ve done, forever. That whole situation was really blown out of proportion by miserable second-hand misinformers. I’m actually quite fond of [bassist] Pete [Wentz]. I hold him in high regard.
AVC: In the past you’ve expressed a nihilistic outlook that seems to stretch even to making music. How do you feel then about Cold Cave’s success? How do you interpret people’s interest in your art?
WE: I feel there is love and confidence in me somewhere and I want to find it. So far, music is the only medium that’s allowed me to flirt with a sense of self-worth, with joy and comfort. I’ve felt love from certain songs that I’ve wanted to experience from other people—where I know that love may never happen—and I want to give that to someone else. I don’t expect anyone to feel that way with our music yet, but it’s out there and there’s more to come. I don’t know why people would be interested in what I do. Maybe they feel how I feel. Maybe it’s because we’re all missing something, and I just happen to wear that on my sleeve.
AVC: You’re set to be on the road into April. Are you leaving with a second album completed?
WE: Not at all. My hair turns gray with every passing day that I’m not able to sit at home and work on it. It’s a bit unnerving to perform songs that were written in bed a year or so ago with no intention of performing them. I like them okay, but there are only about 10 that we can play live. And the way the writing and recording process is, it just takes time. It’s not a band in the sense that we can jam on songs, then iron them out in a rehearsal space and test them live. They have to be orchestrated and recorded first, then transcribed to a live setting.
AVC: Cold Cave has evolved since creating Love Comes Close. In what ways do you expect the next album to differ from your debut?
WE: The material that makes up Love Comes Close and [singles compilation] Cremations was all made within a year. It spans me knowing nothing, to only starting to understand the sound and the equipment I’m using. It’s been another year, basically, so there has been some evolution. Dom and I have been working on some songs, but I haven’t ever really collaborated on a recording, so it’s hard to say what this next record will be made of. One key difference between now and then: Before, I was buried in a Philadelphian home with little human interaction; now I’m in Manhattan and using my feet every day. I’m really enjoying life right now.