Cold Cave Loves Dark '80s Music, But They Aren't a Throwback

Cold Cave plays FYF on Saturday.EXPAND
Cold Cave plays FYF on Saturday.
James Parker

It's easy to get swept up in a music nerdfest with Cold Cave. On a recent weekday morning, the conversation quickly veers from their own tunes to the artists that inspire them. Wesley Eisold, who founded the project, rattles off a list of artists he played in a recent DJ set at Mount Analog. Amy Lee, who joined forces with Eisold about three years ago, reminisces about the time her older brother took her to see The Jesus and Mary Chain. (She was 11.) Eisold flashes back to when he attended high school in Germany and flipped for a new British band called Suede.

This isn't just off-topic rambling. For Cold Cave — who opened for Jesus and Mary Chain in Pomona last week and play FYF this Saturday — the references are part of their story.

Eisold had already been making music as Cold Cave when he moved from New York to Los Angeles in late 2011. "I had this habit of moving every two years," he says, adding that he was a "Navy brat" and was used to the frequent change of scenery. Not long after he moved to Los Angeles, a friend introduced Eisold to Lee, who had moved to Los Angeles from Detroit years earlier. They started playing together almost immediately.

Lee, who had previously played with The Meek and Singapore Sling and collected vintage synthesizers, caught on easily. "Playing his music was really natural for me," she says. Their similar taste in dark, '80s alternative music, stuff released on Factory Records, didn't hurt. Cold Cave, formerly a solo project that involved a changing line-up of collaborators, was now a two-piece. Lee handles the bulk of the synths. Eisold plays bits and pieces, but concentrates on singing.

Cold Cave came up as a new generation of music fans embraced post-punk and early-1980s synth music. With its echoes of early New Order and other similar artists, their sound has helped give the project a cult following. But Eisold and Lee don't consider themselves a throwback group. Their work is an extension of that sound, a natural progression for people who grew up with an interest in those U.K. groups. "I check out new music, but I'm still listening to The Smiths, The Cure, New Order, Jesus and Mary Chain, Depeche Mode," says Eisold. "It's still what I like."

Eisold, 36, and Lee, 40, grew up in the era when buying records at a physical shop was the norm and getting ahold of a copy of NME was crucial to keeping up on music — even if, as Eisold notes, the imported news was already old. They still buy records — Velvet Underground bootlegs and Siouxsie and the Banshees picture discs are often must-buys. They still check out hard copies of NME, too. After all, Lee's other gig is newsstand owner.

Their recent release Full Cold Moon reflects that influence. It's a collection of previous singles, including limited-edition ones. "We weren't really in the right space to do an LP," says Eisold. "We like the idea of being pretty immediate and putting [singles] out right away."  So for anyone who couldn't find that 7-inch for "A Little Death to Laugh," it's now on Full Cold Moon — just as many great songs of the '80s by bands like The Smiths were never part of official albums, but eventually released on compilations like Louder Than Bombs

In other ways, Cold Cave's approach to the business side of things is thoroughly modern. They release their music on Eisold's imprint, Heartworm, and handle their own press. Eisold also books their European gigs. "I don't like middle people in my life in any form," he says. It's a lot of work, but the move has given the duo the freedom to make their own career decisions.

"We learned after the fact of opportunities that came our way, and somebody else decided, nah, you don't really want to do that," says Lee. "Lots of people are really conventional, even when they say they're not. They have ideas on where you should tour and what you should do and what you're interested in, and they [presume to] speak for you."

Cold Cave fits well in Los Angeles, where dark, electronic music has long been popular. Before Eisold moved to the city, he released music through Dais Records, the partially local label that works with L.A. industrial outfits Youth Code and High-Functioning Flesh. Their music has also been championed by influential Highland Park record shop, Mount Analog.

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However, Eisold and Lee, who are also a couple, haven't spent much time in Los Angeles in the few years since Eisold settled here. They have toured extensively, including stretches on the road with Nine Inch Nails. At the time of this interview, they had just finished hopping across the country for a few gigs, including a show in New York with electronic music innovator Genesis Breyer P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV fame.

Soon, though, they'll be taking a six-month hiatus, as the couple is expecting a baby this fall. During that time off, Eisold plans to take on a few shows with his other band, American Nightmare. They intend to return to the road as Cold Cave next spring. 

Cold Cave play FYF Fest this Saturday, Aug. 22, at L.A. Memorial Sports Arena. More info at fyffest.com.


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