Boston. Philadelphia. New York. Los Angeles. American Nightmare. Some Girls. XO Skeletons. Cold Cave. It’s blatantly obvious that Wes Eisold isn’t idle. His creative output and the list of cities he’s called home over the past decade is proof of that. And his ability to translate emotions into words has captivated an entire generation of the underground.
Starting out as the front man for Boston-based American Nightmare [Give Up The Ghost], Wes Eisold eventually came into the next major chapter of his career under the moniker Cold Cave, in which he has been releasing music since 2007. While the sound of the music has changed, one constant has remained–deeply personal lyrics delivered through Eisold’s unmistakable poetic aesthetic.
Progression and a consistent output can often be the crutch of many artists, but not Wes. He’s been able to forge his own path over the past decade, pushing himself forward as he explored different sounds which has resulted in a body of work that spans genres and subcultures. In addition to his music, he’s published a collection of poems and short stories [Deathbeds] and operates his own publishing company Heartworm Press. Wes spoke with us about the transition periods of his life, music being his first love, and creating an aesthetic as an artist.
TYLER W: Let’s take it back to post American Nightmare and Some Girls, just before Cold Cave. Do you remember your mindset and outlook on music at that period in your life?
WES EISOLD: I knew that I wasn’t done with music but joining another band was not something I was interested in at all. Bands can be potent of course, but there’s also this ego-driven idyllic democracy that doesn’t account for human nature. You can’t all be on the same page for too long. Dedication and motive wane and bands break up. Not always, of course, but when a band is all you’re doing, you won’t be doing it for much longer.
I thought I should make music by myself so I wouldn’t have to ever break up. Even though I had no intention to start a serious new project, I just wanted some freedom in music that I hadn’t had before. I never thought about not making music, it’s just what I do and music was my vehicle for writing. I took music semi-serious. I believed in what I was doing in the past but it wasn’t really my prerogative to care too much about anything. Up to Cold Cave starting, I never played music that sounded anything like music I listened to at the time. Seems pretty crazy in retrospect but it’s true.
“NOW THAT I’VE RUN NAIVELY IN ALL CIRCLES, I HAVE TO HUNT.”
How has your outlook towards music as a medium evolved since that time?
When I started writing Cold Cave songs, it felt like an endless well and I could’ve written album upon album. Imagine you’re at an animal rescue, and you let the puppy out of the cage to check it out, and it just runs and runs and runs until it can’t anymore. It’s new and exciting. You take the dog home and it’s still excited, but eventually the reality of life lends the animal less reasons to run and run and run. This is how I see the creative process in writing music. Now that I’ve run naively in all the circles, I have to hunt.
Music is my first love. It hasn’t broken my heart like I’ve seen happen to so many. Singing in a band was a no-brainer. I imagined that since I was really young. Writing music and singing in a band, well I never thought of that. I just assumed I couldn’t and was even told I couldn’t. I have a respect now for the medium and the technology that I didn’t have before, because it opened up a world for me, a person with a physical disability, to contribute to and create in.
Do you identify as being a writer first and a musician secondary?
The only time I’m confronted with being a “musician” is on customs forms and visa applications. I often find the music writing process daunting and wish it could be done already so I could just write the words. Writing music gets in the way of writing lyrics, but I have to have the music done in order to write lyrics. It’s a relationship I don’t really care for, but for me lyrics are written to the feel of the music.
I just do what I can until they complement each other. If that means I’m a musician, that’s fine. I can’t read music. I find instruments tedious. Equipment and gear nears irrelevance. I have one hand and endless attitude which somehow transformed into a “music career.” I do enjoy performing, but the most satisfying times are when I’m making music and the lyrics fall right in to the song.
The world of punk and hardcore is more known for aggression and raw emotion than its curated aesthetics. Did you ever feel creatively restricted during your time in American Nightmare?
The American Nightmare aesthetic up ’til the first LP was close to flawless. It was stark, black and white, iconic without trying and original for the time. Not to take anything away from the LPs, because they are successful in their own ways, but we were never consistent again. When you’re going that fast it’s hard to present everything perfectly. I never felt creatively constricted until we started making the last album,We’re Down… I wasn’t satisfied with all of the music and my tastes had moved pretty far from what we were playing. There are songs on there I’m really happy with too of course, but only a few. After that album, there were new songs and I wasn’t feeling them. I had made my mark with AN and wanted to try other things.
Was it always your intention to break away from that world or was that a natural progression?
I naturally progressed to that world and I naturally progressed to others. I’m passionate about everything I do, but growing up a military brat and moving every couple of years always made me have to fit a lot of passion in quickly. I started XO Skeletons when I was still in American Nightmare, which sounds like a mix of AN and Cold Cave. So it was building inside me. Even then, I don’t think I broke away from that world, but needed a break and needed to challenge myself. There are only about 3 years when I wasn’t directly involved in it.
Did you feel like you’ve had to re-invent yourself when you first started Cold Cave?
No, I’ve never felt like that. On the first few Cold Cave releases, I left my name off of them because it was still a time when people outside of hardcore didn’t want to take music made by someone from a hardcore band seriously. I never viewed myself as just a guy from a hardcore band but I wanted the music to be judged for the music, not the musician. I didn’t hide it, but I didn’t advertise it and that was a good decision.
Up until a few years ago, people still weren’t making the connection. In the adverts for the first AN 7” that came out in 2000, I’m wearing a Sisters Of Mercy shirt. Not cool at the time, but telling. You just grow into who you are. Your face changes, it shows where you’ve been. Personas make me uncomfortable, nauseas. I never chose one.
Certain artists are sometimes frustrated to be constantly associated with a project from the past. How do you feel about the clout you have from American Nightmare?
I understand that but would suggest that it’s a matter of confidence and not perception. You’re the only person who can control how you’re seen. I knew in AN that something special was going on but never felt like I deserved anything because of that. That’s why I’m not bitter when I started new bands and had to play the 100 cap rooms all over again. It’s just how it goes and I’m happy to do it again if thats what I feel needs to happen with my music. I’ve had friends who tried to make self-proclaimed “pop music” but open tours for metal bands and get frustrated that no ones taking them seriously. Why should they? You have to do the work, believe in yourself, and not care about what others think. Honesty goes a long way in a crooked world.
How have you had to evolve your craft as a songwriter as you’ve navigated from genre to genre?
I never thought about songwriting and hardly do now, but I learned how to do it. It’s more about articulating the right sentiment you’re feeling at the time of the song. I throw a lot of songs away because they don’t suit my voice just right. When inspiration hits I have to forget everything else and roll with it. I also know you can’t really wait for inspiration to hit. Lyrics are useless without context. Context is useless without taste. Some lyrics I’ve written for AN would be really banal for Cold Cave because of the music, vice versa.
Did you always know this was the direction you wanted to steer your career towards? Or do you feel that you’ve landed here by equal parts intentional and accidental?
I grew up on The Smiths and The Cure and American Hardcore. With everything else I’ve consumed and coupled with having one hand, I can’t imagine what else I would be doing. I don’t think it’s intentional or accidental, [but] more circumstantial.
To touch on fashion for a bit, in the punk/hardcore community, it’s commonly frowned upon to be interested in designer labels. Was fashion something you were always interested in, even back then?
Fashion is a huge world that turns a lot of people off, myself included. It’s also, at times, forward thinking and inspiring. I like to surround myself in any way possible with things I identify with, support and believe in. This carries over into clothing and design, the one thing we touch and wrap ourselves in daily. We live in it. It’s not absurd to care about this on some level. Even people who deny fashion’s role are forced to interact with it, if even by denial. It’s hypocritical to frown upon it while buying a band shirt. You’re buying the same thing, the idea, the meaning. And it’s cool, wear what you feel good in, regardless of anything else.
How do you think your personal style relates to your music?
Style is just a word for expression, communication. Music and style complement each other and come from the same source, ideally an individual. As a fan, I like when it’s cohesive. I don’t find it cliche when the musician looks like their music. I actually feel like, Fuck yeah, I love this! My music is cold but the face of it is sincere and kind. It’s night time or early morning music. I don’t want to be bothered too much and struggle with relating to people and the music is the same.
You’ve also spoken about fashion giving you more of a choice of how to present yourself to the world. Is there a tipping point where someone can lose their identity by being too defined by the clothing they wear?
Clothing shouldn’t make your identity. That’s the shallowness I think you were referring to earlier. It’s about balance and clothing should be an extension of your own identity. I want the elements of my life to compleent each other. The home, the car, the clothes, all the shit material aspects that I’m forced to interact with can at least support how I feel. And I’ve felt pretty bad and insecure about myself for the majority of my life so I’m good with anything that makes me feel better in my body.
Do you ever see yourself getting more involved in that industry?
Definitely. In the same way musicians often end up working with musicians that influenced them, I’m lucky to have already been involved with a few designers whose vision I respect.
To wrap this up, visuals have always played a big role in your music. American Nightmare had a long partnership with Linas Garsys and Jake Bannon, and more recently you have been heavily involved with the art direction of the Cold Cave albums. What is so important about the visual aspect to you?
Just like we were talking about with clothing, I want the record sleeve to be the perfectly tailored clothes of the record. It’s just a matter of taste and what I’m attracted to and thats not an original idea obviously. When it hits right and everything aligns, we fall in love. Linas and Jake were a huge part of AN. I was fortunate to meet people who understood the music. Amy Lee is to Cold Cave now what they were to AN. I’ve tried to work with people less connected to me personally and always feel bad, as if I’ve wasted their time. If I want my music to exist in its own world, and I do, then it has to be its own world.
Was there ever a point in your career when you considered exploring and focusing on the more visual side of things?
Cold Cave is that point. The only times I’ve faltered is when I’ve let others not so close to me personally, contribute.
Lastly, where do you think you learned the ability to be such a versatile artist and performer? Obviously a Cold Cave show demands a different type of energy than an American Nightmare show, and vice versa.
I know the music so well that I can’t disrespect it. Everything comes from the same longing and sometimes damning honesty. I don’t think of myself as versatile–it all feels like a part of me so I don’t have to consider the differences.
Deathwish Records will release “Full Cold Moon”, a collection of EPs now grouped for the first time, on 12”LP vinyl format with an alternate cover [a CD collection was released on Eisold’s Heartworm imprint in 2014]. In stores June 15th, 2015. More info available here.
All photos provided by Cold Cave.