Cold Cave is the project of one Wesley Eisold. In the late '90s Wes fronted American Nightmare, a highly influential band mashing the particularly fast, abrasive strain of hardcore punk that had been brewing in Boston throughout the '90s with a uniquely poetic aesthetic that channeled post-harDCore bands like Rites of Spring while driving the actual lyrical content much deeper into capital-R "Romantic" territories. American Nightmare gained a massive following by travelling the well-worn underground punk and hardcore tour circuits in the US and Europe, though they disbanded after five years together in the midst of legal problems surrounding the usage of their name. Soon after, Wes formed "experimental hardcore" band Some Girls with Justin Pearson, who had himself been radically adapting the genre of hardcore punk to a more progressive idiom for the 21st century via his band The Locust.
In both American Nightmare and Some Girls, Eisold was primarily a vocalist. After Some Girls's breakup in 2007, he moved his attention to songwriting and started Cold Cave. From the beginning, Cold Cave has been, conceptually, a solo project, albeit one with a large, revolving cast of participants (past members include harsh noise tastemaker Prurient, David Scott Stone of LCD Soundsystem, London May of Samhain, and Caralee McElroy of Xiu Xiu). After releasing two acclaimed full-lengths on American big indie Matador, Eisold has gone back to basics. He's again self-releasing Cold Cave material through his publishing house, Heartworm. On his current "Meaningful Life" tour, it's just him and collaborator Amy Lee (though the American dates will also feature the legendary Boyd Rice, one of the pioneers of "noise music" as a standalone thing).
Read on to learn more about Eisold's vision for Cold Cave, his evolution during more than a decade of making music, and his expectations for this tour, which has him playing in Japan, Korea, China, and Nepal. You can see Cold Cave live in Beijing over the May holidays: April 30 at Temple and earlier in the day at MIDI Fest.
SmartBeijing.com: This is your first time to China, right? I remember hearing rumors of Cold Cave coming in 2010 or 2011 but I guess that fell through. How did this tour come together?
Cold Cave: This will be my first time. It didn't work out before but Abe [Deyo] and I stayed in touch and finally made it happen. Everything happens for a reason.. I'm glad it didn't work out before!
SmBj: Lyricism seems to play an essential role in Cold Cave, as it has in your previous projects. You're also an author and a publisher. What are some of your literary influences?
CC: Some of my favorites are Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Jean Genet, Richard Brautigan, Antonin Artaud, Henry Miller, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud. I like romantic depression.
SmBj: In the past — especially touring on Cherish the Light Years — Cold Cave has had a revolving live band including artists from all over the musical spectrum. What do you look for in collaborators? Is it more like you're finding people to play a very specific role that you set in advance, or is it more of a collaborative give and take? I assume there's elements of both...
CC: I've tried playing with different people at different times in different incarnations. It usually depends on the songs I've made around the time of the performance. And my music has changed often. It has only slightly been collaborative live in the way of artistic creation… maybe with one or two people. More often the role is filled by people in my life who are just into playing the songs. It's tricky though because as musicians people want to put their touch on the songs and this isn't very interesting to me.
SmBj: More recently you've stripped down the approach, going back to the ostensibly more personal and insular style of some of your earliest material on Cremations. What led to the decision to release EPs and singles on your own Heartworm imprint and Deathwish, a hardcore label that you've worked with before through Some Girls and American Nightmare?
CC: I released my last two LP's through Matador and now I'm not under contract. When I began releasing music as Cold Cave it was exciting because there were songs and records coming out pretty often. I was prolific but that ceased a bit when the pressure to release albums for labels came in to my life. Right now I want to release music when I think it should be released. My fans know where to find it through Heartworm. Doing a single with Deathwish was great because we are old friends and have worked together on other bands of mine. I wanted to give them songs that were a bit harder.
Heartworm releases, including Cold Cave cassettes and writings by Eisold
SmBj: Speaking of this stripped down approach, on this tour you're coming only with your partner and collaborator Amy Lee, who did some of the recent Cold Cave videos. What will the live setup be for the "Meaningful Life" tour?
CC: It will be electronic. A mixture of modern digital electronics and primitive heavy analog oscillators. Mostly I'm playing as a two-piece with Amy. Though in America Cold Cave will perform as a three piece. It will be myself, Amy and Boyd Rice.
Cold Cave - "A Little Death to Laugh" (video by Amy Lee)
SmBj: After this tour you're playing some pretty high-profile reunion shows with your old hardcore band, American Nightmare. How do you view AN's music in retrospect, viewed through the lens of 10+ years of hindsight and your development as a musician and writer in different directions? Is playing these shows more of a standalone phenomenon, or does it affect your process for writing and performing Cold Cave material as well?
CC: I really enjoy the music in a different way now. I think at the time I was so in it that I couldn't see it for what it is. In retrospect I think the music and my role in it is so honest and earnest. At times I find it sad because I remember how I felt at that time and where I was in my life and in my mind. But it's possible to perform it, recognize those emotions, experience the frustration and sadness but not sink in to it as a lifestyle. I'm not sure it does affect my songwriting process.
American Nightmare in Wilkes-Barre, PA, early 2000s (photo by Andy McKay)
SmBj: I read a while back that you automatically guestlist anyone with a Cold Cave tattoo. How many of these have you seen? Are they all pretty much just the CC logo or have you seen some crazy fan body art?
CC: I've seen a lot between American Nightmare, Some Girls, and Cold Cave. It's very humbling. Mostly lyrics and logos.
SmBj: You've always been rather peripatetic, spending time in Boston, New York, Philly, and LA, which have all in turn seemed to influence your songwriting. How does touring, or traveling in general, influence your creative process? Does visiting new places affect your music, or is it more about memories associated with places where you've spent more time?
CC: It's more associated with places I've lived I suppose. The different cities and towns take on lives of their own in my memory. I grew up moving a lot because of my parents' work. Every year or so. Transition has been a constant for me. Only since I've moved to Los Angeles a year ago from NYC and I happy to be home. It's important for me to see different parts of the world. I'm intrigued by people. I love nature.
SmBj: Have you heard any music coming out of China? Do you have any expectations of playing here?
CC: I know nothing.
Cold Cave is playing on Tuesday, April 30 at MIDI Festival and then later on at Temple with So So Modern from New Zealand. Find more info on Eisold's projects at the Cold Cave and Heartworm sites.