Wes Eisold

Cold Cave

Interview: by Marc Santo

As a troubadour of the underground, Wes Eisold has fronted some of the most well known bands in their respective scenes. After leaving his post as a roadie for the Boston-based hardcore band Ten Yard Fight, Wes formed American Nightmare, a hardcore act many fans of the genre consider to be one of the best of the last 10 years. In a scene associated with political bravado and militant ideologies, Wes delivered deeply personal lyrics and uncharacteristic poetry to one of the most notoriously violent scenes in the country. 

After the band’s demise, Wes joined the San Diego-based Grindcore outfit Some Girls—a super group of sorts that featured members of The Locust, Unbroken and Plans to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower. They released a string of EPs on various labels before signing to Epitaph and calling it a day. 

Transplanting himself to Philadelphia, Wes opened Juan & Juanita’s, a performance space and highly curated bookstore that specialized in underground literature and performances from the likes of Ian Svenonius and Kid Kongo Powers. His side project, Heartworm Press, an independent publishing house featuring limited edition books, became more prolific in its output, releasing rare works by countercultural icons and limited edition LPs. It was also in Philadelphia where Wes developed Cold Cave, a conceptual synthdriven project that would prove to be his most commercial work to date. 

Conceived as a project that would infiltrate the underground anonymously, a string of new wave-inspired singles circulated on music blogs, and a cult-like following ensued. After a deal with Matador Records and a successful tour that included the Matt Groening-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Wes relocated to New York and planted himself in the East Village where he hopes to settle in, without settling down. 

MARC SANTO: How did Cold Cave happen? 

WES: I had been in a number of bands and I was always the front man. I wrote and sang lyrics on top of songs that other people wrote, so I was constantly dependent on other people to write and play music for me. That became really frustrating and I wanted to do something that was my own vision and not have to compromise at the end of day. I was tired of trying to explain to other people what I was thinking or how I thought things should sound sonically, so I purchased a laptop and asked friends for pedals and synths and began recording. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and was really bored and manic so I decided to go for it. The only concept behind the music was that it was restricted to the equipment I was able to play. I never wanted it to be a band and I never thought it would be a band. 

MARC: What encouraged you to release your music? 

WES: I wrote a few songs and decided to release them under a limited 12” with 100 copies because I couldn’t see more than 100 people wanting to hear it. I gave one to Gibby Miller, who does Dais Records, and Dominick Fernow, who does Hospital Productions, and when they heard it they wanted to release it. I wanted the single to be obscured from facts so I didn’t put any credits on the record. I wanted people on the cover, but I didn’t want those people to be me. I wanted it to exist as its own thing so when somebody randomly picked it up, they could judge it without knowing anything about the person who made it. 

MARC: I collect records, and I’d say about 90 percent of them I bought because of the music, but there are quite a few I’ve bought solely based on the album art. I always look forward to your album covers. How important do you think cover art is? 

WES: I collect records as well and I’m always drawn to bold covers with people on them. It’s weird how a photo on the cover will shape what the record sounds like, and to me it’s such an important part of the album. For our 12” The Trees Grew Emotions and Died, I wanted normal looking people on the cover without any explanation. The back of that record features two nude people on it, which I took from a fucked up book on sexuality that was published in the ’60s. For me aesthetics are just as important as the music, and I really wanted the cover to be one that I would pick up. 

MARC: Why are aesthetics so important? 

WES: For me, Cold Cave is an aesthetic, more than just music. Every musician I’ve ever met has been focused primarily on music, but I’m more interested in the people making the music than the music itself. Music is just part of the idea and this project encompasses a wide umbrella of influences. Our sound has gone from noise to classic English Industrial to synth pop and now pop, and to me the similarities of these seemingly drastic different genres can coexist. On the one hand, I’m acknowledging the bands that meant so much to me growing up, yet aesthetically I want Cold Cave to also encompass my favorite writers and filmmakers. Jean Genet and Fassbinder made a point of presenting themselves in a certain light and, like them, I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking and caring about how this project should be presented to an audience, which doesn’t happen too often in music. 

MARC: You run Heartworm Press, which is a publishing house that puts out limited edition books by esoteric musicians. How did that come about? 

WES: I felt there was nothing going on that really interested me, and I wanted to give something back that was underground and more along my tastes. I always made zines and felt like it was time to do something more professional. The first book I put out was my own, and that was a collection of zines and lyrics. I then put out books by Eric Paul from Arab on Radar, Jonathan Shaw and Boyd Rice, and I have a book of early Genesis P-Orridge poems coming out soon. For the most part, I work with people I know or who have had an impact on me. The releases have to be special and something I believe in, which is a big theme in everything I do. 

Wes Eisold's NYC

photo: James Kendi
  • “Dashwood is a well-curated bookstore that has carried Heartworm releases in the past. I used to run a curated bookstore in Philadelphia and I know how hard it is to do, so I really appreciate what they’re doing with this place.”
  • Anjelica Kitchen
    “In the late ’90s, before I lived in New York, every time I’d come to town I had two destinations that I made sure to hit; Angelika Kitchen and Kate’s Joint. Angelika’s has hung on better over the years and I’m a big fan of their dragon bowl. This is a great place in general for vegetarians, vegans, macrobiotic enthusiasts and raw food eaters.”
  • “Juice Press is a little place I visit just about every single day of the week. They have wonderful juices and make raw food dishes directly on premise.”
  • “Atelier is located in the same building as Matador Records and it’s my favorite clothing store in the city. They carry men’s avant-garde clothing by designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Damir Doma and loads of unique designers. It’s rare to find any store in the world that carries their range of obscure pieces in a single place.”
  • “I love walking around, and one of my favorite walks is to go from the East Village to Brooklyn and back via the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s better at night because there are less people. I suggest when you’re halfway across the bridge you take the no-walk lane to catch a magical and evil view of the skyline.”
  • “New York has a lot of great book stores but I tend to go to St. Mark’s Books. They’re well stocked and well curated. They also have the best range of new releases.”
  • “Hospital is my favorite record store in New York. It’s the premier record shop for experimental noise and black metal, and they have thousands of cassettes and rare records you can’t find anywhere else. It’s located in the space that Jammyland used to occupy, and it also serves as a record label and the headquarters for Cold Cave.”

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