OLIVER Cole is telling me that his second solo album is part of his “late Beatles phase”. But before he’s accused of blasphemy on John Lennon’s ‘bigger than Jesus’ scale, he’s not pretending to walk in their shoes — he’s on about the Fab Four ditching the past and heading into the unknown.
“I was having a debate with a friend who said I was obsessed with writing the perfect pop song, and I just thought, ‘You know what, fuck that, there’s loads of them’,” he says. “Think of The Beatles, they were a boyband really, but that I Wanna Hold Your Hand formula — they got so bored of it. Within a few years they were at Strawberry Fields, then into mad song structures and mad instrumentation and arrangements.”
We’re chatting in a Dublin bar about the former Turn frontman’s second solo album Year of the Bird, a real labour of love that’s been five years gestating. Cole wrote, recorded and produced it himself, playing all the instruments and doing all parts in one take. He also got by with a little help from friends like Gemma Hayes and Glen Hansard — and some musicians roped in from Hansard’s New York recording sessions: “The best session players, people who’ve played with Bob Dylan in The Band, proper dudes”.
He says his 2010 debut LP We Albatri “didn’t stick in the way I wanted it to”. It was a collection of finely crafted indie-folk songs, but he says now: “I found myself treating songs like radio songs, three minutes 20 and everything fits in… since then I’ve become profoundly bored with making that type of record.”
Cole says the album is in essence a “love album… like 80 per cent of albums”, but its widescreen arrangements and minor key melodies are a huge leap from We Albatri. His head is a world away from five years ago, as he reveals: “Since the last album I met my wife, had a daughter… the record was written in that blissful falling in love period.
“But I didn’t want to take my eye off the ball… it’s a love album but I wanted to do it in an interesting way, with richer language and unorthodox song structures.
“Falling in love throws up a lot of questions. To be worthy of falling in love you have to improve yourself, it comes with a lot of self-reflection and a lot of growing up. When my wife was my girlfriend I couldn’t believe she wanted to be with me because I was a mess… I came out of a 10-year relationship in a total tailspin, drinking way too much, doing everything too much. I thought, ‘Well if this girl wants to be with me I’m gonna have to do a lot of improving, to be worthy of it.”
Cole says he’s “pretty old school”, by writing with an album in mind. He begins with a few coherent songs and takes it from there.
“With the songs Golden Leaf and Ah Ooh Ooh, I knew I had something… I then listened to hours of iPhone bits to find pieces to complement it,” he says. “It works on a feeling… it’s not a very literal record.” The album very nearly didn’t make it as he “literally had no money at all… I didn’t want to do a Fundit thing because I don’t like the smell of that, going cap in hand”.
A mutual friend played one of the songs for Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody at a party in London, and Lightbody wasn’t long in signing Cole to his Third Bar label. He says there’s a load of graft in making an album, but a music career is often built on these chance encounters, adding: “The world is full of incredibly beautiful records that people will never hear.”
Cole says his gig in Whelan’s tonight is “the important one”, as it’s his biggest gig in years, after a few treks playing with Glen Hansard around Europe. After setting up a tour in the next few months, he already has “another album ready to go… my next album is gonna be crazy.. I might be the only person who likes it. The listener will have to listen and work through it, you’ll just have to go with it.”
Original version in Irish Star