'It’s all about the volume'
Interview Cameron Cook
Photography Coley Brown
Cold Cave is the brainchild of Wesley Eisold, the thin, black-clad young man taking the stage at the Lower East Side basement venue Cake Shop. Better known to suburban teens and cool kids as the front man and creator behind a veritable slew of hardcore and noise rock bands including American Nightmare, Give Up the Ghost and Some Girls, it may surprise some to see Wesley fronting a band whose roots are seemingly steeped more in New Order’s romanticism than all-American hardcore. However, when you rub away the layers of Cold Cave’s debut record Love Comes Close (Matador, 2009), a lot of the same themes pop up as in the rest of Wesley’s music: a hint of despair, a touch of hope, a little confusion. As he says multiple times during the course of this interview, it’s a continuation.
The term “supergroup” is kind of lame, but it’s well worth mentioning that Cold Cave also includes among its ranks multi-instrumentalists Caralee McElroy (formerly of experimental indie darlings Xiu Xiu) and Dominick Fernow, also known as the noise artist Prurient. Far from novices, the different members’ creative juices form a compelling mix, something not quite pop and not quite experimental.
By the time the band played Cake Shop at the end of last summer, I had seen them perform several times and knew what to expect: abrasively powerful synthesizers layered one on top of the other intertwining with Wesley’s Ian Curtis-esque striking baritone and Caralee’s sweet vocal intonation. Occasionally Caralee will pick up a guitar, adding another pleasurably ear-splitting texture to the mix. Like bands such as Fuck Buttons and HEALTH, it’s nice to hear someone bridge the gap between noise and pop so effortlessly. After about six songs on stage–no lights, no encore–the band dismantled their gear as quickly as they set up and were gone.
Before the show though, a hop, skip and a jump from Cake Shop, I caught up with the band in a booth at a random bar. I remember ordering mojitos, which seems funny in retrospect.
Wesley, you have participated in many musical projects over the years, as well as the other members of Cold Cave. How does the new band compliment those projects, or vary from them?
Wesley: It’s just sort of a continuation of them, in a way. They don’t sound the same at all, but the heart of it is rooted in the same place. It’s a natural progression. A lot of the sound of Cold Cave was based upon convenience, really. I have these instruments, so I used them this way, to make music that I wanted to make by myself and listen to by myself. That’s really the entire reason for it, actually.
Since you first set out to make the music for yourself, how did the inclusion of the band come about? How did you conceptualize it?
Wesley: I wasn’t really in a band at the time and I was slowly collecting equipment, and just decided to try it. I had friends that were really supportive and told me I should release the music.
The first Cold Cave song I heard was “Love Comes Close”, and it struck me as very Factory Records, New Order-influenced. I guess I’m just trying to understand the transition from being in hardcore bands to being in something more poppy and accessible.
Wesley: There are a few reasons, but I actually don’t think it’s that different, in a way. Like, that aesthetic and that sound is something we grew up with, were ridiculed for, bled for. I just didn’t want to be in a really aggressive-sounding band anymore. I’ve done that and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I want to try something new, really. I also think it makes perfect sense: American hardcore is at the root of all good American music, at some point.
American hardcore strikes me as a very hopeful genre of music. Cold Cave seems so much more dark to me, though I see where you are coming from with the similarities.
Wesley: I find every record I’ve been on in the past way more depressing, on various ways. The lyrical content is more or less the same. Maybe it was just more difficult to decipher [in my hardcore bands]. It’s probably just clearer now (laughs).
Yeah, now you know what’s going on (laughs). How did you hook up with Caralee and Dominick?
Wesley: Dominick was the first person to want to put out a Cold Cave record. I met Caralee in New York… [pauses]. I don’t know. I moved a lot and met a lot of people, all of us have. We have mutual friends and we just found each other.
When I saw you guys play at Music Hall of Williamsburg, one thing I noticed was how loud the set was. I recently saw My Bloody Valentine play a festival and it was one of the loudest things I’ve ever experienced, but it was also really crisp and clear. How much does that sort of noise band 101 aesthetic influence your live performance?
Dominick: It’s all about the volume. Something can be loud and muddy and have no definition to it. You want to bridge the gap between that and sounding crystal clear. You want to find that common ground where the melodies are still coming through, but it can be loud and harsh.
Wesley: Clear noise.
Caralee: Powerful, versus just loud.
Wesley: We essentially have another member who does our sound, always tours with us. Between the setup and wanting someone to understand what we’re trying to do, it’s absolutely crucial to have someone with us, essentially playing an instrument, which is the sound system.
Dominick: Especially when it comes to electronic music performed live. There’s no character or volume to the instruments, unlike a guitar or a drum set or whatever, so having someone who’s familiar with the machines is crucial. Electronic music is much harder to perform live effectively than a lot of things.
Wesley: You don’t play the machines with feeling, necessarily.
Caralee: Or at least it’s much harder to make them come across with feeling.
But at the same time, so many bands play with that coldness and make it their whole thing.
Wesley: But I don’t think that’s something we’re interested in at all.
So many noise bands tend to be total gear heads. Are you one of those bands that obsessive over every aspect of your equipment?
Dominick: We use the tools that are necessary, but it could be the cheapest piece of equipment or the most expensive. As long as it gets the job done.
Caralee: Whatever we like the sound of, you know. It could be a total piece of shit. Sometimes that can be the best sounding thing. There’s something to be said about them being reliable or not.
Wesley: We just try to simplify the amount of things we have, just weed stuff out.
Caralee: Especially live. When we’re recording, we use lots of different things, but live we’re trying to make the most from the least.
Dominick: If anything we’re just trying to use synthesizers, find what we don’t like about them and use something else. That’s the biggest instrument change. We’ve gone through quite a few already.
What’s the biggest difference between Cold Cave in the studio and Cold Cave live? It seems like you almost operate the two realms independently of each other.
Wesley: There’s just two different entities, really. There’s a listening component and there’s a visual. Then of course, the audio experience as well. There are things we do live that I don’t think would be appropriate on the record, but that make 100 percent sense to do live. I think the recording is just different from any experience I’ve ever had because I don’t write music, think about it and record it. I record everything I try. A lot of those sounds you have to find different or better ways to play them live. Our practice of writing is recording.
So you never sit down and write a song. It’s a continuous recording process.
Dominick: A lot of revision, too.
Caralee: It’s a lot of editing. It’s a lot of having a million ideas and finding ways to make them work.