There’s a strong visual link between Lydia Cole’s 2012 debut album and this year’s sophomore release, textured, messed-with artwork in textured shades of brown, and printed on matt card. The effect of each is a sense of contemplative introspection well matched to her brand of gentle vocal-led folk. They also share the same producer in Nic Manders, but with five formative years between them the background to the two albums differs considerably, as Greta Yeoman discovers.
Lydia Cole is back with new songs, a new outlook on life and a new instrument on board. While still built around her trademark spaciously quiet acoustic guitar songs, the Auckland folk musician’s second album, ‘The Lay of the Land’, adds a welcome variation into synths and electric guitar.
“After ‘Me & Moon’ [her 2012 debut album] and touring that, I just really felt I needed something new,’’ Cole explains.
While the move from playing folk tunes on an acoustic guitar onto an electric “felt different’’, it was still folk music she was writing.
“It’s not a groundbreaking genre shift.’’
On the new album she plays three tunes on acoustic guitar, two on piano and three on electric guitar. She wrote Time Is A Healer on a nylon-stringed guitar. The song’s traditional folk song-style simplicity meant she and longtime producer Nic Manders could play with it – and the track includes Adam Tobeck on drums, piano, synth and even a backwards electric guitar solo from Cole.
“I feel quite proud of that.’’
While her 2009 EP ‘Love Will Find A Way’ and debut album were both recorded at Auckland’s Roundhead Studios, the first funded by an NZ On Air grant and the latter paid for her by former management, Cole’s newly-self-managed career and limited funds meant an album recording budget that didn’t stretch that far.
The album was recorded in Manders’ home studio. The location near to a school meant they might be all set up for a take when Manders would realise the bell would go in five minutes and advise her to catch a break.
“Certain times of the day were out of bounds,” she laughs.
The pair have worked together on all of Cole’s previous records, including EPs ‘Twenty Years’ and ‘Love Will Find A Way’, as well as ‘Me & Moon’, but it was the first time they had recorded in Manders’ own studio.
Almost five years after her last release, Cole put out the call to crowdfund the new album via Kickstarter. It was a matter of faith in her fans, and the response was overwhelming, bringing in more than $15,000 to a campaign (from 261 contributors) that had originally aimed for $10k.
“The support from people… you can’t put a price tag on that.’’
She says the success of the crowdfunding had given her confidence to step out and book three Australian gigs, even though she had not performed there in years.
The Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane shows – all in the space of a weekend – fall just before Cole’s planned NZ tour on which she will be accompanied by Manders with Jol Mulholland on synths, guitarist Luke Oram and Adam Tobeck on drums.
While two of her Aussie shows see her singing solo, several members of Australian folk-pop band The Paper Kites will join in her Melbourne show. The connection that goes back years, to when the Kites’ frontman Sam Bentley joined her on stage when she toured as support for Brooke Fraser’s ‘Flags’ album tour in 2010.
“I’m real pumped for that,” Cole enthuses.
The release of Fraser’s 2003 debut album ‘What To Do With Daylight’ provided inspiration for a teenaged Cole to pursue music.
“A Kiwi girl with a guitar, it’s possible,” she recalls.
However, while the opportunity to make music her career was fast taking root, it first had to overtake her long-held dream of becoming a visual artist.
“I would spend years watching people [working on a craft] before stepping out and doing it.”
A renewed reconnection with visual art is part of the reason Cole is set to uproot her life in Auckland this April and move across the world to Berlin, a city she has never even visited.
While Berlin was not an expected choice she says observing several Kiwi friends being able to pursue making an income from their art there was an exciting thing.
Several well-meaning friends have for years asked when she was going to move to LA, Melbourne or London – but previously she hadn’t felt inclined to move. She finally decided to transport her life to a new city where she could pursue visual art and also hit the streets busking.
“It is encouraged and… respected,” she points out.
Cole’s willingness to jump into new adventures ties in with the title of ‘The Lay of the Land’ and the themes behind it.
“The last few years have given me the realisation that I need to accept things they way they were – and also not accept them!” she says with a laugh. “While people can look at mountains ahead and think they could not change them, if they walked the same route for years they will eventually make a path and quietly change the landscape.”
The mountainous inspiration of the album title transformed into the album art – once again created and photographed by Cole, moving from a 3D layered mountain scene to album artwork.
“I always love looking out and seeing different layers.”
The theme of acceptance or changing things also interwove into other parts of her life, including leaving behind CRS Management to become self-managed. There was no major fall out she says, but admits she always had a default tendency to take advice and orders from anyone else in the room – leaving her with little “clarity” to think for herself.
“It wasn’t their fault and it wasn’t mine, it’s just the way I am.”
Having set out by herself she immediately started songwriting again.
“The lack of support scares me into action,” she laughs.
In between albums Cole hasn’t been quiet on the musical collaboration front, sharing backing vocal duties with Annie Crummer on Ed Waaka’s No Enemy Of Mine, gifting an old single Feels Like for a remix by Mzwetwo (formerly Loui The Zu), sharing vocals with Sam Bentley for a song on fundraising album ‘Jonny Be Good’ and contributing a song to her church’s 2016 Best Worship Album Tui-winning album, ‘Edge Kingsland Vol. 3’.
But, for now, Cole is focused on touring, moving cities, creating new art and living out the themes behind ‘The Lay of the Land’.
“This is me saying, ‘This is how things are and I accept it.’’’