Cold Years: “Success isn’t how big the shows are… The real payoff is seeing my dad’s face when I give him one of my records”

With third record A Different Life, Scotland’s Cold Years have taken all the turmoil that comes with being in a band today and made the album of their career.

Cold Years: “Success isn’t how big the shows are… The real payoff is seeing my dad’s face when I give him one of my records”
Mischa Pearlman
Nicole Mago

It’s 8am on a Friday morning, and Ross Gordon has logged onto Zoom from his home in Glasgow. Surrounded by amps and guitar cases, his eyes are tired and his hair dishevelled, though that’s not because the Cold Years frontman has been up partying all night. A few years ago, that probably would have been the case, but these days Ross is more careful when it comes to imbibing to prevent ruining his voice. The reason he’s up early today is that he has to squeeze in band stuff – this interview – around his job. That’s the reality for most bands these days, but even though the dream would be for Cold Years to be able to do this full-time, Ross doesn’t mind fitting it in. Sometimes he’ll even squeeze the 9-to-5 into band life – there have been occasions, he says, when he’s taken his laptop on the road, because if he’s in the van “for eight or nine hours a day” he’d rather work remotely than take the downtime.

“I think Against Me! were the last punk band who got a million-dollar deal,” he ponders. “If you look at how major labels invest in bands, a lot of the time the money’s in pop music or hip-hop or viral sensations off TikTok. The days of punk bands getting deals like that are gone. We all work normal jobs because we want to do this – I want to be able to pay my bills so I can go on tour assured that I have a wage to come home to. Brexit’s killed it for Europe and we have a lot of upfront costs now, so it’s not a viable living anymore unless you’re doing it 365 days a year, because record sales aren’t what they used to be. So it’s a hard life, but it’s also an amazing life, because I get to experience things not a lot of other people experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Needless to say, Cold Years aren’t in this for the money. What drives the four-piece – Ross, guitarist Finlay Urquhart, bassist Louis Craighead and (relatively) recently-appointed drummer Jimmy Douglas – is simply their raw passion for making music. It’s been there ever since they formed in Glasgow in 2014, and it’s no less diminished on their new album, A Different Life. In fact, its 12 songs demonstrate just as much desire and hunger for this than the two EPs and two albums that preceded it. At the same time, A Different Life very much leans into the struggle of being a musician in 2024, when bands have to tour almost constantly to make it work. As a result, normal life – the thing that continues for everyone else when they are on the road – takes a backseat.

“The sacrifice is tough,” admits Ross. “I’ve missed four weddings in the last year, I’m missing two family weddings this year. I missed my nephew’s first birthday, I missed my dad’s 60th birthday, I missed my grandfather’s 80th birthday, I missed my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary. But I have a supportive family who all understand why I have to miss these things, and you just have to balance it.”

That balancing act also has to take into account the deeper existential struggle of what it’s like to be a human in the world today, too. Because he puts so much of himself – all of himself, in fact – into these songs, there’s often an incredibly thin line between Ross’ life inside of, and outside of, Cold Years. It all adds up and it can wear him down. He got so ground down from living both lives, in fact, that after finishing A Different Life in New Jersey, he developed polyps on his vocal chords.

“It wasn’t actually from singing,” Ross explains. “It was from working eight hours a day and then recording 10, 12, 14, 16 hours a day on top of that. And we’d toured relentlessly up until the point. My voice just wasn’t getting a break. I actually had to go through three months of speech therapy to learn how to talk again, because I damaged it so much.”

That might dissuade most people, but not Ross and not Cold Years. They’re incredibly dedicated to making the thing they want to make work work. In fact, their frontman seems to relish the challenge.

“I don’t see this as a hardship or a struggle,” he shrugs. “I see it as a journey. It would be very easy to complain about how tired I was or how stressful it is or how many sacrifices you have to make. But I chose to do this, so I can’t complain. And I think it makes you a stronger, more resilient person. You only get one shot at life, so I just want to try and gain as much from the experience as possible. Before, I used to say, ‘Fuck this. I’m so tired, I’m so burned out, I’m so fucking stressed and so fed up of having to give up things.’ Now I go ‘I get to do these things!’ Some of the hardships are necessary to go through to get to where I want to be, so I see it as a journey. I’m eternally grateful every moment I get to do anything remotely linked to music, and I’m grateful I got to make a record that will be around forever. It’s something I created that people can listen to in 50 or 60 years – if we’re still alive and haven’t been wiped out by a nuclear holocaust.”

With A Different Life, Cold Years deliberately set out make a rock record, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. But it’s not just any rock record. It astutely captures the zeitgeist of a very broken Britain and world – one that does indeed feel at times like it’s on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. But despite all the personal and political angst that bubbles beneath these songs, they also sound like they could fill stadiums. Given the blood, sweat and tears behind the band – and therefore this album – Cold Years deserve it. But even if it never happens, it doesn’t matter. Because despite the trials and tribulations, strain and stress, that accompanied its creation, doing so was still a real joy for Ross, just as being in Cold Years remains an absolute dream. It’s not one he needs commercial validation for either, in order to feel that way.

“I don’t define success by how big the shows are or how many records you sell,” he says. “I define success by being personally happy with what we’re doing. And right now I’m really happy with what we’re doing. Do I want to go and play bigger shows and bigger festivals and support bigger bands? Yes. But the real payoff is seeing my dad’s face when I give him one of my records. He’s the guy who introduced me to music – at four or five years old, I was sat in his living listening to records and learning how to play guitar. And now I’m like, ‘Here’s one of ours.’ That’s a cool thing. It’s a really cool thing.”

It’s also the most important thing. And well worth a few un-rock’n’roll early starts before work.

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