|COMPULSION NUMBER 1|
by Tony Dickie
Coil, archangels of chaos fronted by John Balance and Peter Christopherson have been around a while now producing some of the finest and most exquisite recordings you're ever likely to hear. From their debut album Scatology in 1984, to the dark record that is Horse Rotorvator it is clear that very few bands have their aims and ideas as well thought out as Coil. Rather than hold onto the past, Coil have never remained static and in some respects Love's Secret Domain and the ensuing EP The Snow was the nearest to contemporary styles they got, though remaining distinctly Coil in it's inherent ability to appeal to the listener on different levels. Having managed to obtain an interview with John just after the release of Stolen And Contaminated Songs,and as John believed Scatology was 'too long ago' to be still answering questions relating to it, the majority of this interview is based around their most recent releases. Hopefully it will dispel some of the myths surrounding this enigmatic duo in addition to providing some information on their current and future projects in the forthcoming year - which seems to be shaping up to be their most fruitful period since their formation.
Regarding Hellraiser, what actually happened? Did Coil pull out or did the financial backers think the music was too weird?
Well we pulled out about 10 minutes before they said we were going to pull out anyway. The thing is we were in right at the very beginning of the project, like Clive Barker was writing a screenplay and he came to our house and took away a load of piercing magazines and things. Which is where they got all the Pinhead stuff from.
Apparently, it was quite s & m orientated
Yeah, we saw some original footage which we unfortunately didn't keep but it was really heavy and good, like a sort of twisted English horror film. And then when the Americans saw this footage they thought it was too extreme and they also gave Clive ten times the original money.
It completely changed then,
Yeah, so then Clive sort of felt, because it was his first film and with Hollywood being involved it was his gateway to the stars. So they changed the location to America, dubbed all the actors over and took out a lot of the explicit sex.
Did you feel let down about this? It could have been your gateway as well,
Yeah, it would have been brilliant but we wouldn't have carried on because they were changing everything and they weren't being very nice to us the actual film people. They were keeping us in the dark a lot. We said we'd had enough just at the same time they decided they wanted to use Howard Shore. They just wanted normal film music. They didn't want anything too scary which is sad and ridiculous for a horror film.
Are Coil still doing music for commercials?
We haven't done any for a while.
When you did do them, were they used to finance Coil projects or were they an integral part of Coil?
Well Peter does adverts and videos as almost his main job really and if he didn't do those we couldn't do Coil, but we don't do it to finance Coil we do that anyway but it helps.
Peter does a lot of video work as well,
He's done loads of videos.
You made one for Windowpane. Did you enjoy that?
It was really good, best video I think we've done. We've done about six in all.
I understand you made one for Loves Secret Domain in Thailand it's supposed to be quite sensual.
We made Windowpane in Thailand as well. Yeah, they both are. The Windowpane one we filmed in the Golden Triangle, actually in the water of the Mecon River. It means Laos and Burma means Thailand. The original opium dealing areas. There was an area where the sun dipped down into the hill just at sunset, and we filmed it at sunset on this island.
It was on snub, the visuals were really good
Yeah, really trippy.
What else have you made videos for?
Tainted Love, The Wheel, and a couple of others I can't remember which ones.
What about The Snow video?
It's a sort of, not a collage, a barrage of images. A couple of people threatening to dance, but it's done sort of mandala, the images go in and out, there's four of them basically. An image repeated that makes patterns, there's loads of stuff in it, actual snow and flurries. It all looks like it was filmed in a snow shaker.
Have you any plans to issue these commercially?
Yeah, we keep waiting. When we do the next album well do a couple of videos from that album and we'll put them all out together.
Do you think video is a good medium to get your ideas across?
I do think so. Yeah, but they're not useful you see. We have to spend a lot of money on them, a lot of our money and unless they can use them on commercial TV it's almost stupid for us to make them, but we still do. In Thailand we were actually filming somebody else and because we were there with cameras and stuff we managed to get two videos out of those. For next to nothing, it's just juggling it all.
In the Empty Quarter interview there was talk of Coil making a film. Is this true?
We keep talking about this project Live at Bar Maldoror.
What is it going to be?
I don't know. (laughs) We haven't started it yet. We've got lots of other stuff I would like to make a 45 minute film or something. It will take a year to do it. Steven Stapleton's doing one as well.
Yeah right some of the soundtracks been released.
Yeah, in little bits. The film is about two hours long.
What is it based on?
Nature and magic around his house in Ireland. The whole area is about to be made National Heritage which means fuck all. It means a lot of trouble for him, they're widening the roads so tourists can come up it.
Moving on. Coil seem to have a low profile, little press attention, tracks on obscure compilations and the mail order releases won't exactly gain much press attention. Do you not think you should keep a higher profile?
Yeah, probably. We sort of have to but we haven't got the set up really. We have a much better profile in Europe, because we don't follow album releases with a single and keep up the pressure.
You have a promotion company though
No, not any longer.
You had one for Love's Secret Domain.
Yeah we did, but we won't use them again It's difficult because you give a lot of control over and we thought it might work and it sort of worked but it also backfired a lot.
Is this why Stolen And Contaminated Songs was mail order?
Yeah, to get money. We can double the money we get, which isn't much but we need it all.
It's coming out on album as well,
How do you know all of this?
It's on the leaflet. . .
We're going to do a thousand as a lot of our friends don't have CDs and have missed out.
In Tape Delay you stated "We're making a conscious effort to be isolationists". Do you still feel this way?
Yeah, I compromise I watch TV and stuff and it drives you mad you have to spend 90% of your time getting rid of everything.
Coil use a lot of symbolism both aurally and visually. How important to you is this?
Just the way we think. The Black Sun is a weird one, it's what I call the 'Millennial Emblem'. I've noticed it in a lot of other peoples stuff. All About Eve's video ended with a black sun and the Shamen have been using it in weird ways. It's like this strange shape is appearing and I don t know why.
Where did you take it from?
Well the one we used is taken from Aleister Crowley originally. He drew it as a cipher for something. Then we used the chaos symbol which sort of dovetailed to the use of that in chaos magic. We are going to do a book on expanding it all to see how many we can come up with. I'm going to get as many people in, just everything I can find on it. I've got a tile on it but I know if I ask as many people as possible it could go on forever It'll be out by next autumn or something.
How To Destroy Angels was designed specifically "for the accumulation of male sexual energy", yet so was Love's Secret Domain. In what way was this?
This is like one of those weird press releases that was going around. It was part of this misleading thing. We never said that.
How To Destroy Angels was an actual ritual piece though,
Yeah, it was. It was designed, if you break it down there was like five gongs we used and the piece was 17 minutes which was associated with Mars. There was lots of things with that we couldn't do, on the original one as it had to tit in. When we did the CD, the new version we've expanded it out a bit.
Why did you decide to rework it?
Because I thought we could do more with it.
It's based on magical structures and specific timing. How did you work it out?
For Mars there's load of numbers associated with it, and the metals and the colours and we used male orientated instruments, like gongs that was the metal part of the iron, bullroarers which are used in male initiation rites, which we covered in blood and symbols and stuff and we didn't let anybody see them. The way your supposed to use them.
Do you think people actually listened to it in it's required context?
Well that's beyond us. One of the best things is that people said it relaxed them in the bath. That's fair enough you didn't have to keep women out of the room when you are listening to it, that certainly wasn't the intention.The idea was music with a function, once we've done that people can use it for anything.
Derek Jarman designed the cover for the new one.
Yeah, it's a painting of his sort of 2 foot by 2 1/2 toot of gold on gold with smashed glass on a black background. He's doing a lot of art now. He does his painting in Kensington in a friend's sort of room. He's doing massive canvasses now.
The 12 inch was to be the first in a series,
Well, we are going to do another one, another ritual one which we'll be starting just before Christmas on Mercury.
Love's Secret Domain like previous Coil releases seems fragmented and disoriented. Is this the way you like to work?
It's the way we are. (laughs) It's partly to do with the tact we like a two year gap between each one, as we do other things in between to pay the rent. From now on, we've decided to do things quicker and make each one more of a whole. Instead we'll do different projects each one taking an idea and expanding it.
What's the best conditions for listening to Coil?
Whatever you feel.
It helps perhaps It'll bring certain things out though I'm not advocating it.
With Scatology you spoke of using "alchemy in sound". What did you mean by this?
Literally, some of the sounds shitting and toilets were all raw noises. We were making good things from what is perceived as being bad things, dealing with subjects other people wouldn't touch such as rotting and death. That wasn't the total picture, we were touching on things and it seemed easy to say that to people.There was much more to it.
It wasn't shit you were celebrating then?
It wasn't shit we were celebrating at all. but the undergrowth, the rotting vegetation type thing.
What were you trying to convey?
Back then. Too long ago. (laughs)
With Love's Secret Domain you seem to have dropped the references, leaving the music on it's own. Any specific reason?
Deliberately, because if you look at all our album covers before they had loads of references as you said and I kept seeing other peoples albums doing that. So I wanted to take away every pointer or reference people could have including vocals. I took a lot of the vocals out of the mixes and just left sounds and fragments and stuff. That make sense but not on the surface. We took away the sense and just left sensation, is what we said.
What were the ideas behind Love's Secret Domain?
Electricity and drugs. It's about sound sensations, physical sensations and frequencies.
Is that why you chose the sample from 'performance'?
"Pulsating energies ...."
Yeah right, and they were on mushrooms in that part of the film.
The vocals were via tesla's wireless, going back so was metal in the head. Do you like using recurring themes?
Yeah, absolutely. Sort of the same thing. We don't look back as much as other groups do. I've toyed with the idea of rerecording some of our older songs to see how it would be.
Love's Secret Domain saw a slight change in Coil. Horse Rotorvator was such a dark record - right down to the apocalypse quote, a death album while Love's Secret Domain was more up lifting a life album maybe. What changed you?
Well you can't go much lower than that. It's like the wake after the funeral basically. We're seriously exploring pleasure.
Did people think you were getting too doomy & gloomy then?
It didn't bother me. Lots of people criticised Love's Secret Domain for being too uppy and clubby. It isn't really at all.
Going back to that press release it said "deranged techno house compatriots". Even though it's been overstated do you feel comfortable doing dance music?
We don't do dance music.
What about The Snow?
You can dance to it. It's physical music but not dance music I mean we know how to do it, but we don t want to basically. We do dance music for the head. This is what "deep listening" is about. We used the rhythms and the sounds of dance music to some extent but had meaning behind it, in a sense it s like ritual music again.
What did you mean by "trance as dance"?
That was that press release again. (laughs) It's giving me grief.
Last time we spoke you mentioned the possibility of releasing some dance records under a different name. Any more on this?
No not yet, (laughs) Still thinking about it.
It would still be Coil under a different name?
Yeah, I think so.
Considering people had said Coil had gone dancey. How did the Coil audience react?
Confused them a bit. We never get enough feedback though some did say "Why are you doing this?" or "I hated this", specific tracks they didn't like. This was from people in Norway and it doesn't really mean the same to them.
The Snow contained a line of crowley's poetry. Why?
I just liked the quote. Annie Anxiety says it at the end. You can't really hear it.
How did the Jack Dangers remixes come about?
We wanted to do different mixes and we knew him vaguely so we phoned him up and he was into it. He's a really nice guy and we wanted to work with someone we liked. We could have given it to someone else who could have come up with something we didn't like. Something commercial, God forbid.
What did you make of them? They were quite heavy.
I liked it. I said make it as relentless as possible and he did.
Tim Simenon was to remix Windowpane,
He was I'm not sure if he's going to anymore. We've done a track with him for the new album which is called "Damage From A Diamond". In fact we worked on the track together and he's releasing the track as Bomb The Bass and we re releasing it as Coil as well. We re setting up a whole bunch of collaborations for the new album.
You've been remixing Nine Inch Nails. How did this come about?
Yeah, he s a Coil fan. We got in touch with him to do a video and he said of course you can and by the way Tainted Love by Coil is my favourite video ever. So I said do you want to work with us on some music and he said yeah. So he said do you want to do a remix and he sent the tape and we chose one it's 'Gave Up' off the new album 'Broken' It's to come out in a couple of months I think. We cut all his vocals up completely, it's really good actually I mean that's commercial because the original thing is. It's got choruses and that and we tried to take those away.
You cut-up a lot of Love's Secret Domain,
You didn't mind that people thought this was an old technique?
No, we wanted people to think it was old hat. We went back to actually cutting up quarter inch tape into one inch pieces and taping it together. It took about three days to do it. We had two 40 foot loops across the room.
What were the tapes of?
A prison documentary, male rape and Chinese girls banging percussion and stuff. Almost random it wasn't chosen for any meaning.
DO you do a lot of videos for other groups?
Recently we've done Ministry, two videos one with William Burroughs, Bjorn Again and Gavin Friday which is a really good video, though I haven't seen it on anywhere Pete's done his last three as well.
You seem quite inside the music industry, for Coil to be so far outside it. If you know what I mean,
Yeah absolutely. We haven t made a conscious attempt to get inside, even to be perceived as being inside you really have to make an effort. Go to places and meet journalists and I'm just not up for that.
How do you feel about still being labelled industrial, as you were in the indiecator magazines industrial article?
Doesn't bother me. It's quite good as people who like industrial might buy it anyway. It means nothing to us. It doesn't influence what we do in any way whatsoever. They can call us anything.
Do you think you've still got a deviant viewpoint?
Yes, (laughs) always will have.
Do you enjoy collaborating with other people?
Yeah, we enjoy it more than doing it purely off our own back. It's just another person s energy as we work as a threesome including our engineer and once you've done that and done all your ideas, all the music and done the work on the mixing desk and then listened to it over and over, then the test pressings, you're just sick of it from over exposure and it you've got someone else sitting in there making a triangle of energies it's really good.
How did the Annie Anxiety collaboration come about?
She's been on the fringe of our social circle thing for ages, ever since we knew CRASS in 1978.
Marc Almond's from your Psychic TV days. Does he enjoy working with Coil?
He likes to work with us. I sort of ask him once we've finished a track "What did you think of it?" and he says great. That's all you ever get from him. I think he enjoys it because it's sort of different for him.
What about Boyd Rice, from Throbbing Gristle times then?
Yeah, we're going to do some more. He's coming over at Christmas as he's playing with Death In June live and hopefully he'll record with us, doing something similar to what we done before.
What's new in the collaboration front then?
We're going to work with Diamanda Galas on the next album. She'll be doing vocals and piano and ideas. It will be an angry song. She wants to do our press release in America as well.
It sounds like you need someone new after what you said earlier.
Yeah, right. (laughs)
> What was this about a Ministry video with William Burroughs?
A track called 'Just One Fix' and AL Jourgenson said William Burroughs, they had used some Burrough's samples and their record company made them take them off as they were scared of copyright infringement and William heard and he said "Oh No put them back on". So we went over and filmed them all, William shooting and stuff and while we were there we also did some recording with him for Coil.
What is this going to be?
Another track on the album.
Well I'm fed up of hearing him speak over other people's work so we got him to say a load of words, from which we'll do an original cut-up from.
That will be interesting as he along with Brion Gysin were the first to do cut-ups.
Yeah, that's right. We're going to try and recapture what they were trying to do.
You've met him before,
Yeah, Peter worked with him on the Nothing Here Now... album and we've been in touch with him by post and also James Grauerholtz his secretary and right hand man. We've been doing secret dealings and stuff, but we're going public with them now.
Melody Maker reported that Coil were to be involved in the soundtrack to the Naked Lunch. Was there any truth in this?
Almost. (laughs) We were sort of up for it at some point and in some way. There's things in the pipeline which we're tar more in control with Burrough's texts and books, but that's like three years ahead, but we're sort of developing ideas and we've got full permission from Grauerholtz and Burroughs.
Burroughs was working with the Disposable Heroes...
I don't know how much he did.
Did he mention how he feels about working with them?
Yeah, he did. He obviously gets so many requests and James says look do you want to work with these people and they've got good sense. If they meet the people and like them they'll do it. At the moment he's doing loads of paintings not just gunshot art but automatic drawings, some of which are brilliant. He goes for pure art and at the moment that is painting.
What did you think of the film the Naked Lunch?
I didn't like it. I thought it was homophobic which was one of the weirdest things I thought about it. If it had been more caricature it would have been much better. I didn't enjoy it full stop. However good it was.
What about The Gay Man's Guide To Safer Sex, how did that come about?
The people who produced it, were friends of ours.
From the Terrence Higgins Trust? What did you do for the film?
Yeah. It's like 45 minutes of new music. It suits the tone of it which is slightly new agey, slightly progressive house type thing. I wouldn't want to release it as Coil particularly.
And the other one "Sarah Dales Sensuous Massage"?
Same again, same production company and that's even more ambienty.
What is it about?
How to please your partner using kitchen utensils and oils and stuff. (laughs)
Do you enjoy writing music for films?
Yeah I do. I'd like ideally to do brilliant films, a good project These projects are interesting and we do get amusement from them.
Is it a different process to writing actual songs?
Yeah, absolutely as you have to fit it into their timing and to their briefs. You obviously can't go mad, you have to tone it down usually.
More disciplined then. Ideas from them and you
Well there are no ideas. You have the pictures and there s almost the music that is obviously for it. You can easily ruin everything by using inappropriate music.
How do you approach song writing, as unlike guitar bands you can't exactly jam in the studio?
No we re not. It's difficult we just find sounds we like I mean we do jam, we jam onto tape. If it doesn't work you take that part away. It appears but it probably isn't as spontaneous as a guitar based band. Ultimately it's the same sort of thing.
What about playing live. You've been talking about it for years?
(Laughs) Probably will talk about it for years. Not as Coil I would imagine. If we do a different sort of thing with other members, like I've got this other project the Black Light District I could imagine us setting up equipment to enable us to play live as you couldn't cart all our equipment on to a stage.
What is the Black Light District, I saw T-shirts a few years ago,
It's sort of techno but weirder. No releases yet but there will be through Threshold House.
If you did play live how would you tackle it?
It wouldn't be a normal rock club, not a church either we need technology it's what we are about. A good high tech club or something.
You played before using smell as well,
Yeah, we would do that and all sorts of things Performances going on in the audience as well.
John McRobbie of the grey area approached you to perform live with some films possibly the Jarman ones. Will you?
I doubt it. Depends how much they offer us. It would be at the Scala a cinema so I doubt it.
You seem to be spending increasing amounts of time in Thailand. What's the fascination with the country?
Over the last six years we've gone every year. It's spiritual. It really is spiritual. England is completely fucked up, it's all to do with the church everything is based on guilt here. You re fucked unless the church or society says your not. In Thailand it is the opposite your tree and if you fuck up it's you're own fault. It's a completely reversed system over there the whole thing is about having enjoyment in lite.
Is bee (ex- Into A Circle) still living there?
Yeah, right and also Bee lives there and we go and stay with him. He's thinking of starting a studio in Bangkok. He was back over here recently.
Is Stolen And Contaminated Songs more of a stop gap release than anything else?
Yes, we said originally it was more ambient but... the tracks are longer.
How much of it was reworked?
There's only a couple, there's a different version of Love's Secret Domain a rougher mix and much of the rest is new or unheard anyway.
The track based around the suicide, was this taken off of your answering machine?
It's really powerful and emotive,
We edited a few clicks out and that. We actually had seconds thoughts about putting it on or not. It is good. It was a friend of ours. We came back and it was on the answering machine, devastated me a bit. I couldn't believe it.
Devastating that's probably the right word for it. Do you have a lot of problems in releasing records - like the sound of music?
No, it's our own fault for putting the titles out before we've even got the project. The next album should be out in March.
This will be "International Dark Skies" I take it? Featuring those we've mentioned, who else?
Trent Reznor. When he comes over were filming a video for him. He'll be doing lead guitar and vocals.
Do you like Nine Inch Nails?
I like the idea of Nine Inch Nails, that's my stock answer. I respect what he does. We listened to his backing tapes and it's all really well done.
What about NIN namechecking Throbbing Gristle and calling themselves industrial?
Well, Throbbing Gristle don't own their history in a sense. I think it's good in a sense as it can only reflect well on the original industrial groups. I mean these people are stadium bands in America and they are genuinely into these bands.
Would you not like to think you have moved on since then?
Oh yeah, we're doing something completely different. It is college rock'n'roll that they're doing.
What's happened with the Coil/Nurse With Wound project?
It's still happening. It will be an album We tried to record some up in Yorkshire but it didn't happen so we packed up our bags and headed back to London.
Are you writing together or covering each other's songs?
Well there was a Clawfist single which I don't think will happen now I mean it might eventually come off the album.
Coil are doing music to accompany a graphic novel,
Yeah Dark Horse Publishing. They do major league comics in America and we re in touch with a couple of projects. We're helping them with a Tattoo comic and the main one which is called Underground which is a very adult novel, a graphic novel as they call them and we re doing the soundtrack that you play while you re reading.
It is very violent and very good.
Have you seen the storyline yet, what is it about?
It's about tunnels under a futurist city where people play games.
Tunnels under cities, that's you back to sewers again,
Yeah, it is very much our thing. In the games they play people collect ears, they play like computer games but with people.
How did this come about?
Through our Wax Trax contacts. The people at Dark Horse we've been corresponding with on magic and all sorts. They're very up on it, the writers.
Who are they?
Andrew Vachss. He's a major comic writer.
It will reach a whole new audience as well,
Absolutely, and it will sell a lot, but the clever thing is we can incorporate Black Light District into the comic. So we would actually appear in the strip, not as Coil as a group, but as a theme running through-out it Black Suns I'm going to get those put in it too.
When should we expect this?
It's due out July next year.
What else project wise?
The Black Sun book which will have a single in it. That's the main thing I want to concentrate upon. I want to get some good people to write articles and stuff.
On a lighter note, this is from Melody Maker's true stories column - "...This allows us to neatly sidestep into a story concerning how Peter & John got laid up for several hours with blood poisoning after traversing through the sewers of Brighton on a gay activist tour. Seems they survived that okay, only to be laid low when they started cleaning out their goldfish pool and got severe cuts". What's the story?
It's these fucking people again (laughs) We went down the sewers in Brighton as you can do on tours and then completely something else, I cut my hand on rosebushes and then went into our pond. We've got a big pond round the back with frogs and stuff and I got really bad poisoning. The scars went septic, though they've completely gone now.
It's not as bad as it sounds then?
There was no gay activism in that thing. I got arrested for gay activism with Derek Jarman on a march though. (laughs)
Did you. Was that the act-up thing?
Yeah, we got arrested and then taken to the station and cautioned.
No further action?
I don't think so. We re probably on their list, I was probably on it before. (laughs)
I do you get hassle from the authorities at all?
Secretly, nothing hands on-touch wood. As tar as they know, we don t break the law.
Is there anything that's interested you lately?
Well, Terence McKenna. I did a course with him recently in a couple of days and it was pretty inspiring. We're going to work with him Evolution the label are doing an EP with four or five tracks, each with different groups and I think we're on that with Terence.
What are the aims of Coil now?
To do all the things we've said we would and keep us going. I want to do some more higher profile stuff. I would like to do a really good film soundtrack and as I said that's three years on down the line Then I think the Burroughs influenced thing will appear.
What about financial backing for the film?
There are ways. You just get professional film backers We don't have to put our money up for it.
You don't want to compromise your ideas though?
That's the trouble, finding the backers who will allow you. These French TV people, Canal + finance pretty weird things. Maybe they will
This would be under your own names, not Coil?
Yeah, it will be a more complex set up.
Filming, directing and writing
No just about it, that's the hardest bit. I want to do everything.
You've never helped on the Derek Jarman films?
No, I haven't actually. We did the Angelic Conversation soundtrack. But helping out, no I don t know why. Haven t even been in one, everyone else I know has. (laughs)
Did you enjoy the Angelic Conversation?
Yeah, it's Derek s favourite film as well. People have said why don t you put the soundtracks out on their own, but it doesn't work. It is more than the usual soundtrack is meant to go with the video. This is what The Sound of Music will be eventually.
Will it see the Light of Day?
Yeah, probably. It'll be soundtrack stuff, slightly reworked to make it a bit more interesting on record.
What about the side effects of life?
That became Love's Secret Domain.
And I remember another called funeral music for Princess Diana
(laughs) Ever since the current scandal I thought maybe we should cash in and release that.