In his memoir, “What’s Welsh For Zen,” printed in 1999, John Cale tells a tale a few birthday celebration that Columbia Data threw for Bob Dylan on the Whitney Museum within the mid-eighties. Underneath a financial institution of televisions appearing Dylan’s face, a staggering collection of stars queued up for picture ops: Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, Yoko Ono and Judy Collins. Someplace within the line used to be John Cale, very inebriated. “It used to be some of the occasions after I totally misplaced vanity,” Cale writes. Lou Reed, his estranged pal and previous bandmate, walked by way of and shot him a glance, “as despite the fact that to mention, Fuck you,” Cale recollects. By the point Cale reached the tip of the road, he used to be status with Speaking Heads, “however it gave the impression to me that the entire photographers have been in point of fact taking footage of Speaking Heads and Bob Dylan, and I used to be excluded.”
Cale, who has launched greater than a dozen solo studio albums—amongst them “Paris 1919,” “Worry,” and “Song for a New Society”—and composed the ratings for dozens of flicks, together with “Basquiat” and “American Psycho,” is one thing of a musical Zelig. Born to a miner and a schoolteacher in Wales, he took to track early, becoming a member of the Nationwide Early life Orchestra of Wales, as a violist, when he used to be 13. After finding out at Goldsmiths, in London, he got here to the US with the assistance of Aaron Copland. Cale used to be an early fanatic for the paintings of John Cage and, in 1963, joined Los angeles Monte Younger’s avant-garde workforce, ultimately known as the Theatre of Everlasting Song. Two years later, with Lou Reed, he co-founded the Velvet Underground; the band got here to paintings intently with Andy Warhol. Cale has additionally produced albums by way of the Stooges, the Fashionable Enthusiasts, and Patti Smith, amongst others. He’s carried out an orchestra of drones and he has even walked the runway for Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto.
In spite of all this, he turns out oddly underappreciated. (David Bowie as soon as known as him “one of the vital underrated musicians in rock historical past.”) After I requested him about this not too long ago, he stated it didn’t trouble him. “What I did used to be paintings very exhausting and do up to I may despite the entire difficulties, so I don’t have an awl to grind,” he advised me, on Zoom, from his recording studio in Los Angeles. Cale, now 80, will unlock “Mercy,” his first album of recent subject matter in a decade, this month. A slinky, nocturnal assortment evoking bombed-out constructions, seedy bars, and vampiric criminals, the album is steeped within the paranoia and insanity of modern American lifestyles. It is usually an affidavit to Cale’s enduring enchantment to more youthful artists: Weyes Blood, Laurel Halo, Animal Collective, and others make visitor appearances. In past due December, we spoke now not best concerning the new album however about rising up in Wales, his friendship with David Bowie, the tactics during which he and Lou Reed’s legacies are perpetually entwined, and the rapacious urge for food for the brand new that assists in keeping him going. Our dialog has been edited for period and readability.
I used to be in point of fact struck by way of how apocalyptic the brand new album is—now not best lyrically however even the sound of it, with the glassy synths on “Time Stands Nonetheless,” as an example, or the droning strings on “Marilyn Monroe’s Legs.” How a lot of what used to be occurring on the earth over the previous few years knowledgeable your songwriting?
Oh, very a lot so. I imply, it’s one thing that climbed up my neck. This album began about two and a part years in the past. I didn’t wish to move that path however in spite of everything it used to be unimaginable to keep away from it—what came about on the earth took over. The scientific facet of the sector and the noisy facet of the sector with weapons going off. A few of these songs weren’t an immediate response to what used to be occurring, however it had the entire components of it.
The hole strains of “Mercy”—“lives do subject, lives don’t subject”—recollects that duration, in the summertime of 2020, and the protests towards police violence that have been raging on the time.
You couldn’t keep away from it. The album used to be in point of fact dictated by way of what used to be occurring with COVID and the harm that everyone used to be feeling, and I simply went with it.
The album has those reasonably sinister pictures—melting ice caps and animals migrating and liquor and weapons. However amid all of this you set up to put across a way of hope as smartly.
There used to be the reacting to the sector facet of it, after which there used to be additionally the myth facet of it—like in “Marilyn Monroe’s Legs,” which got here from being within the studio with a host of string avid gamers. I used to be in point of fact pleased with the whole lot they have been doing. I had them improvise drones. There used to be a large number of depth in how they approached the duty. Ache and anger are gorgeous in the proper strokes.
Any other putting factor concerning the album is how fresh it sounds. One of the crucial beats evoke hip-hop, and also you recruited plenty of more youthful artists to collaborate with you on it. What assists in keeping you pushing and difficult your self at this level?
There’s a large number of causes for going on this route. The means used to be to not write a tune after which have so-and-so take part. I knew a large number of those artists sooner than from collaborating in some Velvet Underground retrospectives over time. I assumed that the construction of the item used to be one thing they may all means and experience.
What made you bring to mind Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood for “Tale of Blood”? It’s a perfect pairing, together with her voice form of gliding round yours, growing this spectral feeling.
Yeah, the variability—her vocal vary is excellent. There have been many alternative facets to the tune that have been in point of fact pinpointed by way of how she sang it. She has an overly sublime and passionate method to making a song. It can be raining out of doors, however her voice transcends all of that. Her tonality used to be the very best have compatibility to deliver the darkish and the sunshine into the thread. Her appreciation of harmonic dissonance used to be precisely what I used to be after.
On “Moonstruck (Nico’s Tune)” and “Evening Crawling,” songs about Nico and David Bowie respectively, you conjure those expensive other folks out of your previous and pay homage to them. Was once there one thing specifically that forced you to revisit them on this second?
When it comes to “Moonstruck,” I didn’t in point of fact comprehend it used to be about Nico till I ended it. And it used to be bothering me that I didn’t somewhat know the place it will take a seat within the album—however then rapidly there it used to be, I couldn’t keep away from it anymore. The principle personality within the tune gave the impression bent on self-destruction, however the entire whilst she if truth be told left a creative footprint that best grew as time went on. I sought after to light up her groundbreaking contributions to true independence. She craved recognize however best on her personal phrases. That’s after I knew it used to be about Nico.
I used to be pondering so much about how she developed as a songwriter, and it slapped me within the face, occupied with those songs she wrote and the way they simply were given higher. And I began guffawing about it—right here used to be this German nationwide writing songs in English. I used to be glad to peer that she spent such a lot time growing one thing that used to be, I feel, in point of fact for Jim Morrison. She used to be all the time glad to discuss his function in her building.
You’ve stated that “Evening Crawling” is concerning the occasions you spent with Bowie in New York within the seventies, participating and partying in combination—and perhaps just a little extra of the latter than the previous. Such as you, Bowie continuously developed. Did you’re feeling a kinship with him?
Completely. He used to be any person who used to be now not gonna move away. He intentionally went for classes of songwriting, and there used to be a intensity to what he did. He patterned himself after a kind of overt musical-theatre style, however deconstructed it so it was one thing in particular his personal. He crafted his pictures so moderately, as particular identities the place the ones songs lived. They have been notated by way of personality names, like Ziggy, Skinny White Duke, et cetera. So I sought after to take that on.