Coil Interview transcript - Threshold House 21/7/98 15:00-17:00
Peter Christopherson: I was born in Leeds and grew up in Durham and Yorkshire where I went to school. From there to NY to got to Uni to graduate I just went for a year and I DJed for a bit and then came back and moved to London and started working for Hipgnosis a company who did album covers for the likes of Peter Gabriel and Genesis and Led Zeppelin and stuff. I did the last two Pink Floyd, the first 3 Peter Gabriel and Presence the Zep one and loads of small ones - Wishbone Ash and stuff. At the same time at doing that I met Genesis and was a part of COUM which was like an art movement and started Throbbing Gristle which was also kind of an art movement in a way. I met John in 1980 or something. I'd done experiments in school with tape-recorders and feedback. My band was called Pulsing Vein - as opposed to Throbbing Gristle. There's a theme here - I was always interested in experimental music - early electronic music, Stockhausen, Captain Beefheart, Can and Amon Duul and people like that when I was a kid and it just seemed natural to us to want to continue doing experimental stuff. At the time when punk started and took off as an alternative movement it seemed to me that it was really reinforcing the whole conservative stereotypes of having to have guitars in a band and drums. So TG kind of went in an opposite direction.
I was only interested in rock music as a way of making money [laughs]. I was working for the super-groups of the time but it didn't interest me to play, y'know, Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or something. . .
John Balance: When I moved in your record collection was nearly all soundtrack stuff - hardly any Rock music at all.
PC: Working with all those super groups did put me off the whole thing. . . when you have to listen to a thing over and over again in order to be inspired to do an album cover it spoils your enjoyment of it and you see the vanity and the concerns of the artist and you get a totally different impression to what a fan might get at a concert or something. I think it was essential to separate my art from my financially-motivated work because when we started doing TG there was nothing like it at all, no common ground whatsoever. I still feel that today with Coil in that the music we do is outside of any genre really, I mean there's little similarities with other World Serpent artists and some isolated people working alone in different parts of America but I don't feel particularly part of a movement now any more than I did then.
It's maybe true that there are more people engaged in similar pursuits today, in new Electronica for instance, and technology has reached the point where sampling and that kind of stuff is accessible to lots of people so it's much easier to do it which is great. I think people should use wider types of colours on their palette of sound. I was using early sampling techniques with Throbbing Gristle, computers and stuff.
JB: That little prototype sampling keyboard used to be on the shelf behind you. We'll show you later.
PC: I was using live sampling in 1978. It pre-dated HipHop and dance music's use of it. There were mellotrons and things which had tapes in them which could be used to make like the string sound on Abbey Road or whatever. Things like that but nobody in that era had the idea of using other sounds rather than just a way of recreating an orchestra live on stage. The first sampling equipment was the Fairlight and even then Rock bands were just using it like, I remember going to an ELP concert and Keith Emerson was using a Fairlight to basically just play tympani, trumpets and things. . . really boring.
For us there was no barrier between high art, literature and popular culture. At the same time as we were doing that William Burroughs released an album of his cut-up tapes [on Industrial Records] his work had totally as you say a literary base. Nothing to do with contemporary music particularly but we made it, we brought the two together somehow.
Cut-ups are interesting in lots of ways - they reveal a kind of musical aspect to sounds which you wouldn't expect to hear music in. [A drill starts up below] Like drills for instance. . . secondly when you get so-called random juxtaposition between things you get. . . new meanings emerge that you weren't previously aware of. It's a new way of interpreting information and the whole principle of using random juxtaposition of anything whether it's music or words or ideas or pictures is a very fertile way of stimulating the mind in a way that it wasn't expecting and therefore and reaching some new place. It's like drugs in the sense of reaching a new place that you couldn't otherwise have been.
There's always a random element to what we do. Yes? [Looks to Balance] John's too occupied with the drill. . . perhaps you'd like to develop that idea a bit more?
JB: I find it hard to jump from what you did in TG to what we do in Coil. I mean I think it's probably the same thing but I don't like to comment on what he did.
We've really been reassessing the way we approach music which is why we started this series of EPs - one for each station of the year. It's a different way of approaching things, it's just fixing them in a point in time. Because the way we work in a studio it constantly evolves and folds into itself and different people can weave into it and disappear again.
PC: We've been working on a record for Trent Reznor's label Nothing for about five years. It's called Backwards and the problem that we've encountered in trying to do a definitive version is that every time we leave it for two months and go back to it we're no longer interested in what we were then, know what I mean? Particularly because we were seeing the thing we were making in an American light. It was recorded in New Orleans at Trent's studio and although they didn't interfere in any way with what we were doing we naturally sort of tended to do songs which had kind of rhythms and lyrics and although we still believe in rhythms and lyrics and the use of them - it's impossible for us to do anymore what is the definitive version and we'll probably do one version of the album this year and another version of the album two years on.
JB: It happens with any band once you've been going for, say, 20 years. It's like an albatross round your neck. What you have in your head is an expectation of what people will want and try to sidestep it and double think yourself first and what people might think of it secondly. It's partly why we've diversified. . .
PC: Yeah, why we do things with different names is that we don't really want anybody to have expectations for example Time Machines, which we just heard last week much to our surprise is in the CMJ Chart in America - the college chart. Y'know it doesn't sound anything at all like Coil but at the same time it's interesting to us to make that kind of music and so we feel it's important that it's not shackled with a kind of Coil terminology. . .
JB: If it's anything it's Time Machines by Time Machines. The next one is gonna be a 5CD box set. Again it's challenging concepts of what an album should be and what a project should be - a 5CD box set is actually a really small piece of what I think Time Machines would be. It's borrowing slightly from La Monte Young in that he's got this, y'know, chord system set up to the year 2000, the perpetual drone. We wanted to stretch the idea of what a CD or project could be, I'd like Time Machines to play live for a week constantly so people could come in and out in a different sort of flux and flow would appear from it. Just play around with it. Or record constantly for a week and release hour long albums so each one - divide the week into hours and each one of those would be a single CD-R.
PC: So there's only one copy of each hour you mean? Yeah we could do that. It's weird for us that you can do an album that's basically only four notes - because there's basically nothing on the album besides four individual notes - and yet receive folders full of e-mail from people saying this is the most trippy music I've ever heard and describing weird things that happened to them while listening to the record. That's the reason that we started doing music in the first place and it's gratifying to still be having the same effect to a new generation of people 20 years later.
JB: One of the interesting things with Time Machines is that there's a handful of responses which we've had where what happened to the listeners was exactly what we intended to happen. There would be some kind of temporal disruption caused by just listening to the music, just interacting with the music. The drugs thing is actually a hook we hung it on - it originally came out of me and Drew talking that some of the types of music you listen to - sacred musics like Tibetan music or anything with a sacred intent which often is long ceremonial type music which could last for a day or three days or something. There are periods of time in that where you will come out of time. That's the intention of it to go into a trance and achieve an otherness. We thought can we do this sort of electronic punk-primitive? We did demos with a simple mono synth and we managed it. We sat in the room and listened to it loud and we lost track of time - it could be five minutes in or 20 minutes in but you suddenly get this feeling, the hairs on the back of your neck, and you'd realise that you'd had some sort of temporal slip. We fine-tuned, well, filters and oscillators and stuff, to try and maximise this effect. It was that we were after with simple tones - somehow you could slip through.
PC: What we haven't done yet is get two stopwatches and left one inside the studio and one outside of the studio like in X-Files. . .
JB: We tried lots of drones, some of them worked and some of them didn't. It's a very rough science if it is a science.
PC: You just get a feeling for it working, feel it going off on one, as you do if you're connected to the molecules.
JB: It's the same thing as when you're on certain psychedelics.
So you tried out every different psychedelic on every track then narrowed it down?!!? That's real fuckin' devotion to duty. . .
JB: Well, no, we didn't precisely but we have tried the psychedelics that are mentioned.
PC: Once we recorded the music, different tones had a different character and that character seemed related to us to how we'd felt.
JB: We matched the drug to the tone - we thought, hang on this is most reminiscent of 2CD experience or this is most like a ketamine experience. On the next one the reason it's a 5CD box-set is so you have much more time to expand on it. Each one is gonna be generated on a different type modular synth system - that's the idea anyway. The cover is supposed to be John Dee's scrying mirror. John Dee and Edward Kelly were two Elizabethan sorcerers.
PC: They advised Queen Elizabeth the First on matters of occult significance, didn't they?
JB: John Dee did, he was librarian and advisor and spy. He had the biggest private library in Europe - hundreds and thousands of Arabic manuscripts that were rescued from the lighthouse or whatever. All completely lost Arabic archaic stuff - science and philosophy, angelic magic and things. He had a scrying mirror which we're not quite sure where it came from but it was probably an Aztec obsidian scrying mirror. It actually looks a bit like a cheese board. Flat volcanic glass. It was meant to be hung on a string, there was a hole to hang it on. Him and Edward Kelly did a series of recorded, well transcribed, visitations from angels where they had this complicated system of angelic - well it's The Angelic Conversations - using a language called Enochian. There's a record of what happened - it's very interesting - Enochian was a proper language which has it's own syntax and structure and stuff. It's the language of angels. The black disc on the front is sort of supposed to be a portal through which you can travel - I also meant it to be an echo of John Dee's scrying mirror.
JB: If you superimpose all the symbols on the free stickers they all add up to make this hieroglyph - the hieroglyphic monad. Which was John Dee's personal alchemical symbol.
PC: Also they're symbols that are used in meditation.
JB: The original edition had six coloured stickers - flashing colours that can be super-imposed and vibrate. Loosely based on an Indian system called Tattwas - bloody Kula Shaker thing - we don't wanna get into all that stuff. You meditate on them and they provide you with another portal through which you go again and each one tied in with each of the drugs. Again, it was just a hook to tie it on. . . nothing concrete and fixed. . . just how. . .
PC: I'd have to say, though, for me there's no difference between chemically altered states, spiritual states and magic. Psychedelics specifically. . . it opens you up to something that objectively exists. Well, all experience is subjective, there is no other kind but the places that you go to with those drugs are just as real for you as. . . Croydon.
JB: I mean these places have been accurately mapped by certain people including John Dee. Certain people can access these areas, like Amazonian shamen, Terrence McKenna, certain people. Some people using their 'maps' precisely will go to the same place and have comparable experiences - the equivalent of geographical regions. You go there and you see what is there.
PC: Having said that I would also say that I think that taking those drugs in an environment where there are loud noises and bright lights and it's difficult to breathe is totally detrimental to the experience you have when you're on them. I mean we did go to a lot of raves but that's how we worked that out. I certainly wouldn't recommend that.
JB: That's a complete turnaround from what we would've recommended in 1988 or whatever, 90 even.
PC: Yeah it's taken us ten years to figure that out [laughs]. We were heavily into Acid House when it first started - we knew somebody who. . . I don't know if I should say that. . .
JB: We've been taking MDMA since 1980 when it was first brought into the country. Our circle of friends were taking it constantly - there was no context to take it in. It took to 88 for a context to arrive or 87 maybe. . . it was a sacred situation and some sort of sacred ceremony was happening, for a while anyway. Then the focus shifted and the scene dispersed.
PC: It's like there was a moment when album covers were art and then they became packaging and I kind of feel the same about the Acid House scene. There was a time when it was sacred and then there was a time when it was packaging - getting bums on filthy floors.
JB: Elph, yeah, it's channeling. That's why we're finding it difficult to do another album because we're not sure if they're still broadcasting. Someone else said this is entities being channelled by you and I had to say yes because it really did feel like that for like a week something opened up above us and poured into us. We were constantly inspired and then it finished transmission. . . we felt it finish. Hopefully we can open the channels again. This was in 96 the Elph thing. I think we consciously set up these channels - we didn't say let's. . . we felt something happening so we sort of changed tack and left what we were doing aside and got on with what suddenly seemed really important. Bit like that bit in Close Encounters where he's making mountains out of potato. But I couldn't draw a picture of who was doing it or anything.
PC: I think all that stuff is happening all the time, it's just a question of listening. Putting yourself in a position or a place mentally and physically to be able to be aware of it. We do tend to think about things a lot before we go into something and prepare equipment. A lot of times I'd be buying software or boxes without really knowing why or what they're going to be used for and then when the time comes they turn out to be the right thing or the thing that we need.
JB: Black Light District is another but one that's most similar to Coil. It's a way of getting our heads to perhaps do another Coil album without having the burden of actually being Coil.
PC: The next thing that's liable to come out apart from the set of 4 eps is we're hoping to be able to do another Elph album for release September/October. It's called Surface. We can pray for an encounter with Elph - get a torch and a camera and go and sit in a field with your sandwiches, a woolly hat. We're very bad at forcing any of these things to happen. Some people can get up every morning and go into the studio at 9 or 10 or 11 or whatever - work for eight hours and do that on a regular basis but we can't. It's just impossible for us because we - a lot of days we don't feel well or we get distracted by other work or the dogs need to go out or we're going out of town. . . whatever. We've kind of just learned to accept that. . . when the time comes it'll be the right time.
JB: The actual body of the Backwards material is recorded - we've recorded about 14 tracks, maybe more bits and pieces, but there's some serious editing we have to do.
PC: But it'll still mutate.
JB: Then we'll do some more tracks, because we always do.
PC: Trent was a Coil fan - one of those bands who said they were Coil fans.
JB: He was probably listening to Scatology or Horse Rotorvator when he was 14 or 15. Then he suddenly found he could sign the band. . .
PC: It was a big budget for us but not by contemporary music standards - most of our records are done on a budget of nothing. But nothing compared to NME standards. We stayed in his house for nothing, which was nice.
JB: I loathe the idea of interactive CD-ROMs where you make your own mix. I don't see the point of it.
PC: When you partake of a record or a film or any kind of creative work like that it's like sitting down by the mouth of the cave and wanting the storyteller to tell you a complete item, a complete thing which has meaning for him or her so that you can be entertained but also so as you can learn something of their vision and it's no different with music - the idea of an interactive record or film is ridiculous. Not to say that you can't do like a sample CD with material you could use or something but that's a separate thing from creative work that has meaning built into it and follows from a beginning through a middle to an end.
So you think that your stuff has meaning built into it, in other words it's possible for people to mis-interpret it or get it wrong? It's not just an empty palette that anyone can project whatever they want onto? There's definite purpose there?
JB: There's definite purpose there but I think people can interpret it how they want - it's up to them. There's a lot of stuff we imbed or hide - or make quite apparent - and they still don't pick up on it but that's our little game. It's up to other people how they respond, really. We can't really comment on 'Deep Listening', because [writer] Biba Kopf used it, he brought that phrase to our attention - borrowed it from another source, Pauline Oliveros. He adapted it quite rightly, it made sense but I think it's a bit of a thing to take over, it's not really our phrase. We chuck around ideas - like with Elph we have what we call Sidereal Sound - Sidereal sound means appertaining to the stars but also means sideways and this is where my interest in Austin Osman Spare, you know the occult painter and philosopher comes in because he had a whole Sidereal system which he applied to portraiture and paintings. He would make his portraits slightly sideways as if to reveal aspects of the person that you wouldn't normally see, and he would paint pictures of ghosts and elementals and spirits. . . and these are sidereal portraits. We're trying to do the same with sound, to sort of skew it to the side so as you can see the things that you wouldn't normally perceive - the musical equivalent of catching a glimpse of something peripheral in your vision.
PC: It's like when you haven't been to sleep for several days and you're always seeing stuff out of the corner of your eye that you don't see when you look at it directly - but in a musical sense. Quite how it works I don't really know. . .
JB: Well, it is a specific mechanical process we go through - it's boring and would give away too much to say how we do it but we deliberately try and achieve that in sound. Deep Listening is - we've always wanted something that was beyond what was apparent on first listening. One of the Coil phrases I made up was, actually I didn't make it up but it manifested itself - When you listen to Coil do you think of music? The ambiguity of that is there's always something behind it.
PC: We use non-musical sources all the time [a hammer strikes up downstairs as if on cue]. We do use some musical sources but. . .
So it's the alchemical idea, like on Scatology, of turning shit to gold?
JB: I mean, literally on some records. . .
But you're still interested in song-form and structure to a greater degree than some of the people who are influenced by you, like Autechre or Oval?
JB: I tend to agree with you but, not to be patronising, they're kids - a younger generation and they were hard-wired into computers at the age of four or whatever so they have a totally different viewpoint to what we have. I've still got folk songs echoing in my head and the legacy of what I listened to up to now.
PC: Also I think what they do is absolutely relevant, interesting and good but it doesn't necessarily mean that an idea has to go on for ten minutes in order for it to be complete. You can have an idea/piece that is complete in two or three minutes. It's true to say that we do things that are short and sort of coherent and complete.
JB: And have vocals.
PC: But very few of the things we do have choruses and middle-eights. . . I think you always make constraints for yourself cause without them everything becomes dilute.
JB: This is what happened with the Backwards material, we formed sort of songs with a start and a finish and a build and we're really trying to break away from that. I want to explode it and splinter it and make something completely new out of it but. . . it's gonna have to be another record really. There's probably gonna be a Further Backwards or something. . .
Forwards. . .
JB: Yeah, Forwards, I thought of that one. We're planning and have been planning to work with Autechre for a long time - we've started to swap tapes but I really wanna do that. I like what Drew Mulholland does in Mount Vernon Arts Lab. We're meant to be remixing Labradford for a remix album on Blast First but also we met them when they came over - really like what they do. We're so bad at hooking up with these people.
PC: We're just anti-social bastards basically [laughs].
JB: No, we are, we genuinely are. It's sort of not even a joke any more, because I really want to meet people and have a bit more of a bond. A lot of my friends have died now so I need some new ones. But I'm really up for doing like a split single with Mount Vernon Arts Lab or whatever. Me and Drew go to Rough Trade a lot and stay in there for a long time just listening and are completely inspired by music again. I'm trying to like Add N To X but they're just trying too hard. . . I tend to not listen to anything for a long time then I'll buy the new Genesis retrospective box set and then I'll go and buy lots of stuff on A-Musik or that new Pole record. . . I really do like a lot of the Basic Channel stuff. Richie Hawtin's new Minimalist stuff, I really like that, there's a big Steve Reich box over there - I'd rather listen to that. I need to have my ears cleaned out so I'll either put vintage Beefheart on or listen to some systems stuff.
PC: I just hear what he plays.
JB: This guy never puts music on.
PC: I do sometimes. . . if I was on my own I might put Arvo Part, a lot of Armenian stuff I really like. . . Mouse On Mars. I suppose maybe because I work amongst it I don't want to hear it so much. I did a Nike advert last year that won the top advertising award in Japan. It didn't play here. There can be a contradiction between working in advertising and doing what I'm doing but the only commercials I do now are ones where the contradiction is less uncomfortable. The advert that I did for Nike had a lot of Japanese boys in pain, cramping up and jabbing themselves with safety-pins and stuff like that. . .
JB: Back to punk. . .
PC: It did have a punk aspect to it, yeah. Those old themes. . . the most famous film-related thing we did was the Seven title sequence which was a remix of a Nine Inch Nails track. We weren't credited for it though. . .
JB: Industry standard.
PC: Because it was a remix and we didn't write the song.
JB: 50 per cent of the actual sound you hear was created by Coil but that counts for nothing.
PC: To compensate for that I went and spent a weekend with Trent and David Lynch last year and they used some of the stuff we did on Lost Highway. We did get credited for that one. We even received our first PRS payment.
JB: Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson went on as well, unfortunately. . .
PC: We also did a whole load of stuff for Hellraiser but in the end, about halfway through the production of the film it got taken over by American investors who were putting in a lot more money and we quit at the same time that they decide that we were 'too weird' for the kind of mainstream horror college boy they wanted.
JB: When it was low budget everyone was more willing for us to be the risk factor cause we'd never scored anything before and it was Clive Barker's enthusiasm that got us on the project originally.
PC: Before he'd even made it - we were friends of his at the time - he gave us a copy of a short story and a treatment. It really wasn't very good and we showed him loads of piercing magazines when nobody knew what piercing was - a whole bunch of fetish imagery which subsequently he used in writing the script.
JB: It was this magazine called PFIQ and some of the images, if you look in there it leads directly to old Pinhead.
PC: Yeah, there are people being torn apart with hooks and chains and stuff. We felt sad that what we thought was gonna be a pretty intense underground cult kind of movie that would have totally suited our music got diluted with the application of several million dollars. They dubbed the actors who were speaking perfectly normally in English into American accents so that it would work in Milwaukee or something.
JB: We've only been burned by being excluded, which is when we went to Clive's office the people there were really friendly, remembered us, offered us grapes and cheese and shit. . . well not shit. . . they said, 'Send all your back catalogue and we'll work you into all these projects and things. . .'
PC: What they always say to us is can we have a piece of music to use in the film although we can't pay you very much but you'll be on the soundtrack album and you'll get a lot more money and then when the album comes out we're not on it because there's a load of Smashing Pumpkins and people like that. That's happened several times. . .
We laugh about this quote that was in the NME about us - that we were "unnecessarily scary" - I think that's the reason though, that people unconsciously - sometimes it's conscious but generally an unconscious feeling that the stuff that we do is actually about something. That it has a kind of power even though it's not particularly musically accomplished, the harmonies are unconventional and the sounds are unconventional, subject matter. . . although you can't put your finger on anything there's just something about our music that is a bit too much for a lot of people. Some people can't cope with it.
We wouldn't dilute what we do on that basis and although it would be nice to do the theme music for the next smash hit Tim Burton movie at the same time - people always say to us, 'Why don't you do a CD sampler of all the kinds of music you do that would be suitable for films and send it out to loads of directors?' And we say, 'Yeah, that's a good idea', but we never get it together [laughs]. I don't know what it is we just don't get it together.
PC: We've never held back from looking at imagery or subject because we were worried about what people would think. I mean our first album, Scatology, was about shit.
JB: It was about alchemy. So it's not shit.
PC: Oh. Sorry. We've never held back. The second album was when our friends were starting to die, disease and lifestyle, we looked at that a lot. Music is the best way to do that because it's a way of communicating directly with the unconscious. You can put a record on and be doing the washing up or hoovering or lying on the floor thinking about something else but the music is still kind of going in and so you can address subjects that are much more deeply buried in peoples minds and you can communicate on a level that would probably be embarrassing for an English person to talk about in words. English people get embarrassed talking about all manner of things.
JB: We're not typical English, I don't think.
PC: I feel there's more similarity with what Steve Stapleton does because he uses sounds in kind of a new way. I think David Tibet's use of music is more traditional.
JB: Well, deliberately.
PC: Yeah. I really like a lot of it. . .
JB: When we evaluate how we stand in relation to our music making friends there is a trilogy of Current 93, Nurse With Wound and Coil. Although there's not often musical similarities that triangle remains in my head at least as a sort of very solid thing. It works as a triangle - Tibet's music has progressed through enormous amounts of permutations and styles and so have Coil's. We've always maintained a parallel course and we see each other regularly - we've been feeding off the same things for quite a long time.
Why is it that the English underground - Nurse, Current, Coil - are so interested in esoterica? Sometimes I think it's like a resurgence of an English archetype - the English mystic. Do you see yourself as being 'in the tradition'?
JB: I do, that's why I like Julian Cope's later stuff. Even if I didn't like the stuff he's doing - which I do - it's the way he's doing it. He's representing himself as this ur-pagan, as he calls it, and I'm totally up for that. I don't know whether it's an English thing or a Celtic thing or just a new way of being. It's so important to be like that - it's what being illuminated is, however you see it. It is in the mystic tradition, not necessarily English, although you can go back to William Blake, there is this resurgence, this emergence, of people behaving like that and being seen to be like that.
I always get that feeling from London - secret places, mystic paths, old buildings hidden away beneath the modern. I always get that feeling from your track "Lost Rivers Of London". That crystallises the exact feeling I get.
JB: That's why if London still has any magic that's where we find it. It exists somewhere else really, Mystical London I feel very strongly. It's one of the few reasons I can tolerate it still. It's been a sacred place for a long, long time. One of the reasons I like Austin Spare so much is that he's such a London artist - he used to say that he was a reincarnation of Blake. Though in a way he was probably being more than tongue-in-cheek, he saw himself in that mystic tradition. I see ourselves as being like that. Me and David Tibet more so, we read these things and we immerse ourselves in it.
PC: Whenever you find a culture that has strong regenerative music it's always a culture that has a tradition of mysticism and mystic individuals. I mean English music, whatever you think about it is constantly reinventing itself and changing and mutating into something new and it's actually much more of a living entity than music in America for example which is much more focused on particular styles, repeating the styles, making permutations of it but within quite narrow guidelines.
So you would say that Coil music was in the tradition of 'English Outsider Invention'?
JB: We would, yeah. I think it's more of a Celtic thing, though. I can't be precise about it but it is the mysticism of it. Iain Sinclair, the novelist, taps into similar areas that we are. I've experienced paranoia, I'm not very much 'interested' in it. [Laughs] I'm trying to shed all that stuff, my God. Early on I really bought into that stuff. I was very interested in it.
The overheard voices in Coil music make me think of surveillance. . . being watched.
JB: You are being watched. Living in a city, it's so easy to experience paranoia and have it manifest in your work - like Tricky, or Mark Stewart. You're dealing with control systems and if you tackle them in any way, confront them in your work the same way William Burroughs did, it's such a fine line you can't walk it. It'll cut into you. If you deal with those things you will become emeshed in them. If you explore paranoia you will become paranoid. Myself, I'm really trying to get rid of that. Not to say it isn't happening everywhere all the time. I find it very unhealthy to focus on it these days. The conversations in Coil stuff are things that we've overheard.
PC: Sometimes we use a scanner. I personally think that any kind of sound is fair game to use. I mean I'm not interested in stealing riffs from other people's records - that's boring. But whether it's a scanner or stuff that you record on the tube from people sitting next to you or whatever, in a different context has a different meaning.
JB: It's another way of what we were talking about before about opening windows. You open a little window and a chink comes in - whether it's a vision or an image or a sound. You've opened a little doorway and something's come through and if we're lying in bed listening on a scanner for fun and listening all night. Obviously we're gonna think that this is good material. Sleazy used it in Throbbing Gristle. Covert recordings that he'd set up.
PC: I was bugging people in the army and rent boys. You can buy bugs, you get them in like sometimes it's like a double-adaptor - you plug it in the wall and it takes power from the wall.
JB: Or lightbulbs in the middle filament will also be a microphone.
PC: At that time I was interested in people in that context and what they were saying, so I would try hard to get into situations where you could leave something, record them at your leisure, or come back a week later and pick up the tapes and stuff. It was fun, but I'm not so much interested in that now because I've sort of moved on. It's true what John said - when you become interested in a thing you do get drawn into it and you do become, you suffer from it in a sense. In the old days we used to be interested in dark imagery but we aren't really anymore and I always find it frustrating when people send us magazines with like autopsies in them. It's boring.
You must attract a lot of psychos. . .
PC: Well. . . yeah [laughs]. Quite a lot.
JB: We have our share of delusional people who are interested. As you get older you have to shut all of that stuff out otherwise you grind yourself down. All those things are abrasions, constant assaults on your senses, if you think you're being surveyed all the time, for instance. If you're staying up for four days constantly like we used to do on amphetamines and stuff you start to go crazy. Literally.
PC: There's not much point in staying up for four days if the last three of them are spent peering out of the curtains at the van opposite.
JB: There was a time, though, when our phone was being tapped and people were monitoring us. Many times, actually. Because of who we were and what we were doing. In the early Psychic TV days what we were doing was pretty high profile. There weren't that many people doing such open things and that always attracts attention. TG got called 'wreckers of civilisation' in the House of Commons. Once that goes on the record they're gonna keep a little track on you. We still always presume we're being surveyed.
PC: Conspiracy theorists are people who assume that things are much worse than the press and so would have us believe and it's obvious that they are.
JB: They're far, far worse than anyone could ever intimate. It's a given.
PC: It's obvious that politicians don't tell you what they really mean and businesses are not set up to do the things that they say and television is actually not in the business of providing entertainment it's in the business of providing viewers for commercials.
JB: And there's already three generations of material goods and mechanical devices waiting to be sold to you in ten years time which they haven't released. Same again with the military. . .
Aren't you part of that process - you make the advertisements?
PC: Uhh. . . yeah. So? [Laughs ]
You're working for it and scared of it. . .
PC: I think it's just part of a realistic view of the world. John's right if you get too involved in it it just grinds you don't - you just have to keep focussed and stay pure and concentrated on what you're doing.
Also, the overheard voices are really poignant, to hear that one-to-one communication which you'd never normally hear - even the very sound of the phoneline and the voices - there's that distance which just makes it really, really sad every time. "Who'll Fall?" is one of my favourite tracks.
PC: That was a genuine message that was left on our answerphone.
JB: It's just slightly edited to take the names of certain people out - that's all. The rest is as it was left. We came in one evening and there it was on the answer machine, so. . .
PC: We released that and about six months after that we heard that this guy had committed suicide. . . no, I got mixed up.
JB: The guy who left that message is a good friend of ours and he has that kind of mind. . . the cover for the single of "Who'll Fall?" it came out as a 7" on Clawfist and we took the photographs for the cover from a bedroom window of a Coil fan who'd committed suicide while on LSD and he jumped through a 13-storey window. . . so again. . . who'll fall?
PC: Apparently he'd been playing "Windowpane" over and over again on the day he died just before jumping through the window.
JB: He also had wings tattooed on his ankles.
PC: It's his karma. . .
JB: Zos Kia was almost just while I was messing around but Coil had already been announced as existing. If Coil was mine then Zos Kia was John Gosling's. He was with us in Psychic TV - recorded as Sugardog. This was concurrent with PTV and Coil would play live, well, Coil/Zos Kia and we did about three gigs that I entirely forgot about until I compiled the CD. It was me and John and a girl called Min. We'd use the same backing tapes and it would be Coil or Zos Kia. I'm not sure if this was the same time as Current 93 - David left PTV first. I didn't want to leave PTV particularly cause I was with Sleazy, we were a couple, so I couldn't leave if I wanted to - there was nowhere I could go. So David wouldn't speak to me for about 2 years - not wouldn't but didn't - he did his own thing and then eventually I came back in. Oh, we recorded Lashtal the first 12" so we must have been talking. Then we probably went off and did different things.
What are your memories of the Scatology period?
JB: First proper album, dealing with alchemy and pataphysics and Marquis De Sade and sexual experiences in Morocco. Produced by Jim Thirlwell - soundwise he had quite a lot of impact. From about halfway through anyway - we started it here at home on a Fairlight Two, same as Kate Bush used to use. I was really into Kate Bush at the time. You can hear that on the record - if you hear the machinery you can. I used to think that actually somehow she was stealing my ideas - talking about paranoia. I've got notebooks, this was about the time of The Dreaming, I'd write ideas for songs down and then when I heard The Dreaming they'd all be on the album. I think that possibly some kind of parallel psychic space is being carved up there.
Have you ever met Kate?
JB: No, no, I think I'd be too in awe to do it.
PC: She's only little.
JB: Yeah but she's powerful. . .
Horse Rotorvator. . .
JB: That's the death album.
PC: It's about crossing over. . .
JB: Everyone says that's our best album - it's probably our most realised album in that we'd got over the anger of the first one and settled into a more pastoral or twisted lyricism. I got a bit more confident with my vocals which I wasn't on the first album. We had a lot more time to work on it - the first one was done in an amphetamine - amphetamania. The second was more thought out. The themes had blossomed. We'd just been to Mexico which was a major thing and we'd seen how Mexicans deal with death and we'd been to all the Mayan temple complexes - all round the Yucatan penninsula in Mexico. That's really what influenced me with the lyrics and stuff. How sacrifices were made so the world would keep turning and that's how I saw people dying of AIDS at the time, how my mind could deal with it, that they'd died to keep the world turning. We also dealt with Pasolini's death - in his films and his writings he also dealt with these ideas and of course it tied in. . . Horse Rotorvator was this vision I'd had of this mechanical/flesh thing that ploughed up the earth and I really did have a vision of it - a real horrible, burning, dripping, jaw-like vision in the night. Actually it might have been at dusk. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse killed their horses and use their jawbones to make this huge earth-moving machine. Which was the Horse Rotorvator.
Pasolini as a person I find inspirational because he stuck true to what he knew was right even though he had the fascists trying to nail him, the church trying to nail him, the communists tried to nail him. Everybody - he was in court 47 times and convicted of nothing each time. They kept trying to pin something on him.
Love's Secret Domain?
PC: Wasn't that the party album?
JB: I love that. . . certain people don't like it because it's got so-called 'disco' elements on it. We never considered it as disco, we weren't trying to do House or dance. . . no. 1990. Even during Horse Rotorvator we started listening to dance music but we wouldn't let it in to the records at all it was like hermetically sealed off. It dove me a bit mad trying to keep the two separate. Eventually we let it in with Love's Secret Domain but we weren't trying to do dance music. That rhythmic thing is moronic, totally moronic. I think we intended these records to be psychoactive - to be music to take drugs by. The title and everything points to that. . . how obvious could we make it? Jack Dangers did a good thing which I was so slow to take up on - he did "The Snow" mix which he called "Answers Come In Dreams" about five years later I was looking at it and I went ACID. . . God!
The Solstice EPs. . .
JB: The way we're recording them is we started them last year on each of the equinoxes and solstices. . .
PC: But actually on the minute - the astrological time - we were recording live then.
JB: If it had been four in the morning we'd have done it then but it wasn't - one of them was seven in the morning I think. We'd record then for about three hours - starting the hour before and then a year later come back to it and start it again. They're all improvised - we use viola, played by Bill Breeze. He's a Coil member. They're very improvised - we could take a lot of time to finish them off or change them but the point is to just let them flow. Some of the lyrics I haven't even finished making complete words up. I think to leave it like that is more pure then to solidify it too much.
PC: One of the things we liked about these records is the mystic thing of making a piece of music specifically to welcome or to celebrate a particular time - regardless of whether you're recording it or not. These pieces are improvised at that time for much more ritual reasons rather than just plucking a date out of the calendar.
JB: They're all gonna be reassembled and remixed, reworked is the best word, to be released on an album in spring solstice next year.
PC: So if anyone misses one there'll be a different version - never finished are we? We'll probably do some special editions of them like [the compilation] Gold Is The Metal. . .
What's this about disc rot?
PC: Oh, that's not specific to Coil.
Shame. . . it seemed kind of appropriate. . .
JB: Yeah, stolen and contaminated CDs.
I was hoping that as they rotted they turned gold.
JB: They do go brown I think. . .
PC: Dust to dust. . .
Black Light District. . .
JB: Almost a Coil album but with an expanded line-up. We're trying to start a new one now - hopefully this year.
PC: Probably Christmas.
JB: International Dark Skies is the title of it. The band should get mentioned - Drew McDowell, John Balance, Peter Christopherson, William Breeze - at the moment.
What do you think of the term 'Industrial' now?
JB: Well, this [Christopherson] is the guy who invented it. . .
PC: We went into this record shop out in the middle of Wiltshire and they had an 'Industrial' section - so many of which I'd played on and I suddenly felt separate from it - like, this is not me, this is not what I'm about. But then again I think I was the first person to use it in that context. . .
JB: It doesn't hack me off that other people have used the ground we broke to further successful ends than we have. . . it should, shouldn't it? Maybe not. . .
PC: But you have to remember they wouldn't have chose to do it the way they did if it wasn't for us and so part of the credit must come down to us being an influence.
JB: I have nightmares of being backstage with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson because we have been and I literally wake up with cold sweats about having to go through that lifestyle and be that sort of person. It's as far away from what I wanna be as possible. I'd like our music to be heard by like a hundred thousand times more people but I'm not prepared to do any of that stuff.
PC: It'd be great if everyone who ever bought a NIN record knew what Coil was like and turned round and bought a record. But we're not prepared to make the sacrifice that it would entail to our life to live like that. Apart from the fact that we wouldn't know how to make a NIN record if we wanted too.
JB: Backwards is scheduled for a spring release in America. Hopefully there'll be an Elph album pretty close on when this piece comes out. September 21st - a new solstice single and the last one will be out December 21st which will be a double. Time Machines box, January/February - me and Drew are flying to record on a Buchla analogue synth at this electronic music institute. So that'll be the first CD. We're searching the world for an EMU system - they originally did these big modular synths and if we can find one of those to do a CD on it would be fantastic. It'll take how long it takes.
I'm still thinking of [doing] the Time Machines live performance/installation but we can't say when. Live Coil. . . there would be four or five people playing.
Interview copyright David Keenan/The Wire. All rights reserved. The article based on this interview appeared in The Wire 175 (September 98)