Wesley Eisold is a singer, songwriter, poet and author. Although he doesn’t consider himself a musician, he has crafted some of the finest synthpop and darkwave music of the last decade under the Cold Cave moniker. Through his publishing imprint, Heartworm Press, he’s released his written work, as well as that of authors such as Boyd Rice, Max G. Morton and Richard Brautigan.
Shunning the typical music cycle of constantly releasing albums and touring, Eisold prefers to release music when he feels like it should be released and touring when he feels like he should tour. This seems perfectly appropriate for Cold Cave’s aesthetic, one which steadfastly resists facile categorization. Drawing influences from electronica, new wave, hardcore punk and goth (to name but a few genres), Eisold continues to forge his own unique and fascinating path.
Cold Cave’s latest release is the EP You & Me & Infinity. Eisold has a remarkably flexible vocal range, and on these four songs, his croon is as deep and dark as the night sky. It’s also beautifully complemented by the harmonies of Amy Lee, who in addition to being Eisold’s musical collaborator, is also his wife.
Cold Cave is known for a rather gloomy sonic palette and You & Me & Infinity is no exception. Instead of inviting the listener to wallow in misery, however, the songs on the EP make one feel much less alone in a cruel and often uncaring world.
To support the release, Cold Cave is currently on a tour across North America. In advance of the band’s upcoming Toronto show, I chatted with Eisold about his influences, the entity that is Cold Cave, and the importance of art that challenges us.
I’ve seen you cite The Smiths, The Cure and New Order as influences when you were growing up, which, listening to your music and lyrics, seem like pretty obvious influences. But newer songs like “The Idea of Love” and the second half of this new EP kind of remind me of early 1990s Pulp, which is really more like the 80s version of Pulp, since they were always a little bit off of the curve of what was popular at that time. Have you actually been influenced by Pulp?
Yeah, I love Pulp; I love Jarvis Cocker. The first band I was in as a kid was called American Nightmare; there were Pulp lyrical references in my songs. The first tour I ever went on with that band, we went to England, and we played this small club, and next door was a PR agency that represented a lot of the bigger Britpop-related bands. And it was decked out with like, Melody Maker and NME covers with Jarvis Cocker on them. I went in and asked what the place was and they told me, so I gave them a copy of my record [laughs] that was full of Pulp references, and a love letter to Jarvis Cocker in it. I was 20 years old.
Pulp is certainly a huge influence on me and definitely one of my favorite bands. Also they turned me on to so much cool music that become influential, like Scott Walker.
It’s interesting that you hear Pulp’s influence on this record. The song “Glory,” I hear Pulp in that certainly. And it’s so obvious to me but I wondered if anyone would ever hear that in my music. I mean, I know it sounds like New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies. But New Order hasn’t been that much of an influence on me in terms of writing or lyrical content as someone like Jarvis Cocker.
Pulp’s one of my favorites as well. I still have all of my Pulp fan club fanzines packed away somewhere.
Cool, I have a bunch of those, too!
Speaking of the 1980s… I think that the 1980s sound, or New Wave sound, has become such a thing in music now. Whenever I hear something new and think it sounds like something I listened to on college radio in the mid-1980s, I feel like it sounds retro, but it also doesn’t sound retro at the same time. Do you think that era of music could be called a genre unto itself?
I wonder how it sounds to other people who maybe aren’t of our generation? Maybe it’s because we’ve never changed our music tastes so it still sounds current to us. Maybe we were just stubborn in our tastes and it caught back up to us. Maybe we’ll be out of step in the next six months.
[Laughs] It’s funny because when I’ve read interviews with bands who have that sound, they’ll say things like, “Oh, I’ve never even heard of the band that you think I sound like.” They’ll say they were influenced by something else that doesn’t sound anything like the music they make. I wonder if it’s an unconscious thing, like they just picked it up and they don’t realize it.
Yeah, it could have been something in the periphery of their life, maybe something their parents listened to. I think another common trait among musicians is extreme dishonesty…
… and not being able to say what actually influenced them.
Which is why I like to say that yes, I’ve been influenced by New Order because it’s so blatant, that it would be insane not to acknowledge that. I think people are afraid to say what their influences are at times because they take ideas from their influences and they don’t want to be called out for taking too much.
Hardcore bands do that so much. They’ll reference the names of obscure 7-inches that they’re into but it’s like, no, that’s a Minor Threat song, that’s all it is.
It’s a weird phenomenon among musicians.
To be honest, bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order and Depeche Mode are the bands that changed my life and that I feel indebted to. You know, I love Felt and I love Cabaret Voltaire, and they were influential for me, but they didn’t necessarily change my life in that same way. It’s ok to still feel indebted to the people who made you better, in your music or art.
As far as Cold Cave as an entity, you’ve often said it’s really just you, but for the last few years there has been a full touring band. Do you still think of Cold Cave as a solo entity or a full band per se?
It has changed in that it started as a solo project. I had different collaborators at times based on people who were in my life at different times. For the past five years, my partner Amy [Lee] has been with me so it would be totally dishonest to say it’s a solo project at this point. She does so much for the band in terms of art direction, videos, stage production and more. I can begin the creative process of writing songs by myself, and get as far as I can with them, and she will come in and we’ll talk about how to finish the song or make it better. She’ll offer ideas that I never even thought of.
Aside from her, the others are people who’ve been in my life for a while. One of those people is Max G. Morton. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time. He’s an author who I’ve published a few times [through Heartworm Press]. I like to bring him on tour when I can. It’s important for me to have people that I get along with, who’ve known me since the beginning of the band. I think there’s a bit of Cold Cave in their identities, too. And I think their presence sort of defines the idea of Cold Cave live.
In 2013, you were doing some shows with Boyd Rice.[Cold Cave cancelled shows in Montreal and Toronto when the show organizers refused to let Boyd Rice perform.] And Toronto’s very famous for having knee-jerk reactions to things, like cancelling shows rather than causing controversy. I guess that’s a Canadian thing, but particularly in Toronto. Do you think that music fans, or fans of art in general, have become less willing to engage with things that are challenging or problematic in some way?
I’m not sure. I think different artists require different contexts and require different amounts of research to fully grasp. I think that artists who require that, and face that sort of opposition to them, I think that’s actually what they strive for. I think they like playing those roles, and I think that’s also part of their performance.
But I also think that people have the right to oppose things, so I support that.
I do think now it’s easier to oppose something that you probably don’t fully understand. I don’t think it’s necessarily a trend in just music, but something across the board in all topics and all formats. I think people support things that they don’t fully understand why they’re supporting and oppose things that they don’t fully understand why they’re opposing.
I think it’s become a dumbed-down sort of society, unfortunately, and one that I’m happy to sit outside of.
Cold Cave is currently on a North American tour through the end of June. Opening acts on the tour are Black Marble and Choir Boy.
Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.