Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Upon meeting his wife and becoming a father, Cold Cave's Wesley Eisold fully surrendered himself to love. The shift in his personal life inspired his lyrics to bridge the gap from Cold Cave's previous themes of hopelessness and despair to acceptance and reconciliation of joy, all while staying rooted in the aloof, cold aesthetics of his music. In this interview, we discuss leaving behind the comforts of depression, evoking confidence through songwriting, and holding romanticized visions of love.
There have been a lot of big personal changes for you in the past several years. You’ve said how meeting your wife, Amy, and the birth of your son has allowed you experience more love and purity than you’ve ever felt before. I’d like to translate that to your lyricism in how you write about love. The song “Nothing is True but You” off your latest EP, for example, is a romantic song but still rooted in themes of heartbreak. What is the significance of keeping these two worlds of pure love and despair still connected in your music?
I think this whole journey of Cold Cave has been an arch from hopelessness to hope. All of my music and art is referring to love, but with Cold Cave the music has always been a bit desperate, hopeless, and narcissistic. Lately, though, there's been a surrender to those emotions. There's been an awakening of sorts with reconciling with love, that it is something attainable and possible. I no longer dwell on this idea that you should turn your back on it before it turns its back on you. I think that through this surrendering in my musical themes, I created space for something good to happen to me in real life, which is seriously the best case scenario. I never thought that this could be possible. I thought I was going to spend a lifetime brooding on this idea of heartbreak.
I'm so grateful that I ended up in a place where I'm feeling happy, secure, loved and understood. It was a long time coming, and it's a great place to be. In terms of making music, It's definitely a foreign idea for me to make music under this pretense, but I'm liking the challenge. I did the music about being miserable for 20 years, so I like the idea of trying something new. With that being said, balancing love and despair isn't so black and white. I think there's a lot to express about both ends, but currently it's all just coming from a place of hope. I'm reveling in these feelings and tackling on this whole new perspective, and I'm still just amazed it has all come to this.
That's incredible, and we as listeners are grateful that you've shared every step with us. Going off that last question, “Glory” is another song that’s incredibly romantic but there’s still this sense of longing, wanting and dreaming. I'm interested in how your idea of romance has evolved. Can you describe this juxtaposed feeling of having profound love while still maintaining this romanticized notion of an unattainable desire?
Yes, definitely. I think that that song is in a way the best representation of the trajectory of all the Cold Cave music, both in terms of the lyrical message and just the way it sounds. That's the song I would play for someone right now if they wanted to know what the band is all about.
The lyrics relay this idea of being confronted by your past inadequacies. It's like a hug or an embrace of the sadness that you've known for so long and letting to. There's this weird feeling that happens when you've been depressed for so long that you tend to hang onto those feelings and don't want to say goodbye. "Glory" represents to me that farewell of years and years of hoping, wanting and feeling outcasted from the rest of the world. You have to be willing to say goodbye to the negative things in your life. You don't need to hang onto all these things that may be harmful for you or anybody else just because they're familiar.
Absolutely, a really difficult but necessary process. This conversation reminds me that you mentioned on twitter recently how hypocritical people are of wanting to champion conversations of mental health while also mocking people as soon as they slip. How has songwriting and poetry helped you in these types of conversations and how do you think other people can use their art to improve these discussions too?
Well, it's definitely tricky because it's a really loaded conversation with so many different variables to it. For me personally, I don't recognize myself as a mentally ill person. I recognize myself as someone who's just handled a lot of ups and downs in my life. I've been told that I'm bipolar and all kinds of other things. I've tried medicines for them before and nothing really worked out. The only thing that ever helped was working out my emotions through creating music, for better or for worse. That doesn't come without some sacrifices either. I had a lot of years where it was pretty brutal for me and I'm definitely happy those times are gone. Without writing and without sort of sanctuary of art, I wouldn't made it through that.
In terms of the hypocrisy about this subject, I just think there needs to be a more open perspective about these things. I'm in no way saying this to justify people's actions, but it's never talked about how the majority of people who are doing awful things have also had those things done to them, you know? I think that people act out based upon something that was traumatizing to them in their own lives. I think when people in those situations try to express themselves, they don't usually article their feelings well, and they get just get crucified by other people. It never ceases to amaze me how this cycle just perpetuates itself. People have traumatic events happen in their lives, and then they go on to do horrible things, and there's no point of conversation for anyone to be heard.
In an older interview, you stated how you only connect with song lyrics that have an extreme sense of urgency to them. I think it’s really interesting because a lot of your listed inspirations do have those lyrics but have a notably more monotone or deadpan delivery (i.e. 80s new wave bands). Can you describe what you think works about this contrast and how you feel passion can still be conveyed this way?
Yeah, that's a great question. I guess in terms of like urgency, I really mean honesty. What I find attractive is a lack of inhibition and a good choice of words. The words exist on paper and everything else is just how you deliver it, and how you articulate the sounds that accompany those words. Ultimately, it does comes down to the words but if you're a good singer you can take pretty basic words and make them say so much, even something simple like "I love you" can be a profound statement. When I'm discussing urgency, I often mean that a person is saying something that I can feel but I didn't know how to say. That's an urgent feeling to me. It's exciting. It's like lightning. I think that's the beauty of music when someone can describe how you feel with sounds and words better than you can. It's the kind of thing that can lead to an epiphany when you're just sitting on a bus with headphones on. That's what good music is.
Let’s discuss the process of turning you poetry to music. I know you've said your process includes scoping out words with an inherent sexiness to them, so tell us about how you’re able to mimic certain words or phrases with movement. Do you start with syllable breaks, word play, etc? Where does it stem from?
I think it's just like painting a picture. It's setting a mood and being in a place mentally to capture that moment. If I'm not in that right place, I'm not going to finish a song because it just wouldn't be honest. When I say sexiness, I'm also referring to confidence, because that's what sexiness represents to me. The pen is mightier than the sword, and I'm using my pen to pin down confidence. You can become who you want to be, you can write who you want to be...it's magic. A lot of people use song writing as a way to create an otherworldly version of themselves. You can make it all up, you can have your life evoke the words or have the words create your life. I think personally it's a balance of both. The beauty of writing and confidence is that you can further create your own self image versus how you were born and what the world tells you you should be.
Let’s talk about your two new incense fragrances,, “LOVE” and “DEATH,” which coincided with the 10 year anniversary shows for your releases Love Comes Close and Death Comes Close. I’m interested in how the scent notes you picked mimic your and Amy’s ideas of love and death. Could you elaborate a bit on those notes and how you came up with them?
Amy and I had been fans of the company who put these out, Blackbird, for awhile. They had this scent called 'Plume' that we had been burning on stage for our last few tours. I realized I had actually met the creators from Blackbird in New York, so we reconnected and decided to collaborate for the Love Comes Close and Death Comes Close shows. So we thought about what things represent love and death, what things can be referential to Cold Cave, and of course keeping in mind things that actually smell good. So for love, we picked ivy, rose and honey, because in my lyrics I've mentioned all those things in reference to love, except maybe for ivy. For death, we selected sage, marble and leather. Our logos is sage, so we wanted to use that for sure. We used cold stone because marbles are often used for headstones. We liked that idea especially because those anniversary shows were being played at a cemetery. The leather just kind of goes with the aesthetic of Cold Cave, that sort of chic, black leather jacket look we usually carry. I think they came out really great, and we're really proud of them and the way it represents the music too.
Let’s discuss your evolution of book making and publishing. I know you started making zines since the age of 16, and I’d love to hear about some of the zines you made in the early days. And how do you think getting involved in that scene imprinted the DIY ethic that you use today for both Heartworm Press and self-releasing your music?
I remember when I was in like in ninth grade, I was getting super into music and started going to shows. My dad got station to a military base in southern Germany, and I was super bummed that I suddenly had to move. While we were out there, my parents took a trip to Boston and I had asked them to go to a record store out there to pick me up some stuff so I could still stay connected with the music scene out there. They brought me back some shirts and records that I had wanted, but they also got me this stack of local Boston fanzines. Those became my favorite things. I would read them religiously and order tapes, CDs, and records from each issue.
When I moved back to the states, I was like 15 or 16 and I didn't really know anyone. I just knew that I was into music, so I sought out local shows and then started making zines full of my personal writings. I'd give 'em out and do trades with people that I was meeting at shows. Then, before I knew it, I was trading zines with people all over the country. I started booking shows, then playing in bands, and it all led to what I'm doing now. It's something I've been doing for the majority of my life. I think I started because I just liked the intimacy of zines. I also wasn't in a band yet and had a lot to say. I wasn't even writing about punk or hardcore, a lot of it was just writing my poetry.
For the last Cold Cave tour, the visuals were all from very natural and minimal elements. Will it be similar for this tour or has Amy worked out something else?
We're still sort of expanding on the natural element. I like the idea behind mixing natural images with the synthetic element of our music. I like reshaping the idea of nature and what the world is or supposed to be, how far we can take it, and really just the plasticity of it all. Amy will listen to certain aspects of the songs and think about what images can accompany them the most, and she just expands on it from there. Whenever I see shows, visuals tend to be really busy and fancy, but we just wanted to stick with beautiful and minimal visuals that are just repetitious. That's what we thought would suit our aesthetic the best.
On another note, I saw you recently posted a picture with Tony Hawk who I know you're friends with and I gotta ask - how influential were the Pro Skater soundtracks to you growing up, and what do you think is the best one?
I know that those soundtracks were really influential for people's music taste (and they should be), but because of my age they weren't as impactful for me. I was like 18 or 19 when that game came out, so I everything on that soundtrack I had already heard when I was 13 or 15. The funny thing is, though, that I had never owned a video game before Pro Skater, so when it first came out I played it all the time. I used to turn off the sound and then put on a Misfits record or Samhain or one of the first four Danzig records [laughs]. I thought that was a good contrast. But I literally sat in my apartment, stopped going to class, and play that game around the clock. Full depression, full don't care, full on this-is-my-new-life-now mode [laughs]. It's really funny to have come to this place now where I consider Tony a good friend, and he included me in the new game which is really cool.
Aside from this upcoming tour, is there anything else you’d like to mention in the works from Cold Cave, Heartworm Press or American Nightmare?
Well, I'm really happy with the new Cold Cave single and video for "Promised Land" that just came out. The director is a good friend of ours. They had this cool idea to light the video just with Roman candles. You can't really tell because of the way the video is time manipulated, but they were shooting Roman candles at us constantly for like two minutes straight. That was really fun. After this Cold Cave tour, I'm doing six dates with Ministry for the Wax Trax! documentary. There'll be a lot more from both Amy and I in the near future. I'm not exactly sure what yet, but much, much more.