What can you say to introduce Coil? If you don't know anything about them I wouldn't be that surprised, two men of mystery hiding away in a house in West London. One fine morning in spring we chat to Peter Christopherson, known affectionately to his friends as Sleazy, ex member of Throbbing Gristle in his well cool retreat. Unfortunately John Balance, the more ethereal side of Coil is unwell so we didn't get chance to speak of all things weird, which he is known for. Anyway, this is the longest interview in this issue of Convulsion so I'd better get on with it.
Since LSD what have you been up to?
We are doing more music for videos. We did one for a massage video that was being organised by Sarah Dale. She was the prostitute who was renting Norman LaMont's house in Mayfair, we are just doing a soundtrack for a safe sex video that the Terrence Higgins trust is sponsoring. It is quite difficult to do music that is supposed to be erotic, but is also supposed to be very much in the background. But it is interesting for us because there is a direct line of thought from How to Destroy Angels, early ritual pieces that we did that were very abstract and in fact, we are just doing a remix, or several remixes of that one by Steve Stapleton, one that is much more contemporary and an electronic harder sounding one.
We always enjoy doing sound tracks as it is another way of directly channeling audio info into the subconscious. You are aware when you are watching a film or video of the immediate visual content but the audio has a chance to slip in. Sometimes we like to do music that is more immediate and the album we are just starting on which will hopefully be out before Christmas is going to be much more immediate. It is not a dance album particularly, but it will be immediate in the sense of being hopefully much more spontaneous. Although there will be things that you can hear if you want to concentrate it will be more simpler and manic. Quite a lot of Coil music has been used in films. There is a film that was actually going to be on at the London Lesbian & Gay film festival but I think they withdrew it at the last minute. Maybe it was too rude, I don't know. It is like an HIV version of Thelma & Louise. It is two guys, driving around America blowing various people away including themselves at the end. We have done music for other sorts of indie films but generally what has happened so far is that people have taken tracks that were done and incorporated them into soundtracks or remixed them or whatever. But I would love to do more films, it is really good fun.
There was talk about you doing the soundtrack for the Naked Lunch, what happened?
Cronenberg always uses this guy called Howard Shore who is very straight. He is a really good composer in his own genre and I think because he wants his films to be mainstream it is safer to stick. We know Burroughs and the Burroughs sort-of company and all the people quite well. They phoned us up and said well why don't you phone Cronenberg or why don't you phone up Gus Van Sant they are now working on a script for Wild Boys which may or may not be good. I am going to see the new Van Sant film (My Private Idaho) this afternoon so I'll tell you later how that is. It is supposed to be quite good. So we would really like to do that, but the music we do is not main stream so it is difficult to convince main stream Hollywood companies to use us simply because we don't conform. It is not so much a question of compromise, I mean I couldn't write the music that Howard Shore writes even if I wanted to just because he is from a traditional classic background and has those resources.
It has been a while since LSD came out, how did it do?
That went very well. It is always difficult for us in this country because the press generally, who are so unwilling to make any comment whatsoever, for fear of losing face or something. I don't know what it is, in that we don't tend to get paid that much press attention. Whereas in America & Europe we get a tremendous amount. We get literally reams of interviews, faxes, articles & reviews. We have been around for a long time in various forms or another, it is a very blinkered conservative view of life and the whole thing of the indie music genre as being independent and being something new is a total lie. There is nothing new about the indie chart, it is the same music that was around in 1972. Hopefully after the election, things are going to change. The more radical change the better.
What happened with the CD of outtakes from LSD, when is it going to happen?
We are still working on it, although it is theoretically just supposed to be out takes of things we have recorded. What happens is as go through library tapes and as we go through old versions new possibilities suddenly present themselves and we are still doing that, but it is our intention to send that to be pressed at the factory within the next few weeks. We get terribly side tracked by everything, inputs of, well I'm not supposed to say Chemicals, but I mean inputs of anything does tend to side track us. And because we have been doing those other video projects.
What do you do when not doing Coil, I understand you work in video?
I am directing a company at the moment. We do commercials and we did a video for Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes. It has got some nice bits although some of the nice bits unfortunately were too strong for the Island marketing man to allow to be included and so it is not quite as intense as it might have been.
Would you like to be producing more of your own videos for your own music?
Very much, but the problem always is money. Making any video project unless it is very simple is expensive and the kind of videos and films that I do because they tend to draw very heavily and strange locations or something weird going on tend to be expensive things to do. Coil will be releasing a compilation of all our videos we've done plus some other ones. There is about five or six, the Wheel & the Snow etc, Windowpane was shot in the north of Thailand in the Golden Triangle. A spit of land where the Shan drug lords used to exchange opium for gold bars, and that is where we shot the video.
Do you go to Thailand often?
Every year. It is just one of those places where the barrier between the immediate and the virtual is much thinner. You know you don't have to get stoned to be aware of other things going on because you just walk down the street and you can't help but feel an intense atmosphere and it could be a religious atmosphere or it could happen to be a physical ecstatic atmosphere. It is just a much more intense place. That is why it appeals to us any way. It is unfortunate that we live in a country where a lot of the things are not legal. Quite unnecessarily it seems more of the time. You know there are a lot of things you can't do or talk about in this country but there are always places where you can and there is a whole genre of other kinds of smart drugs which so far haven't been classified in this country which don't actually give you a high but at the same time improve your perception and memory.
What can you recommend by way of smart drugs?
Parasatan, a bit like Choline but only better. They use it for Alzheimer's disease and so it does definitely improve your memory and perception and cognition. It is supposed to enhance the communication between the two spheres of your brain. The problem is when you stop taking it and you go back to the way you were and you think oh god you start not being able to remember words. (Mentally addictive?...) It is in a way. They have been giving them to the army big wigs for ages. The army is the testing ground for all those drugs, so they should know what they do by now. But the FDA which is the American drug association has decided, or pronounced, that Parasatan has actually negligible effects even in large doses and so it couldn't really be doing anything and then therefore it can't possibly be illegal and there is no reason to make it illegal, but they obviously haven't tried it. It does do what it says.
What are your opinions on drug banning?
It's a Control System fundamentally because they don't want you to have a good time and the things they do let through simply by allowing the police to accept bribes even in this country is basically just because they do want people to be smacked out or whatever. I don't think there is any reason now to be any less cynical about those things.
What keeps you in the UK when the weather and the media are so shit?
I think there is a perverted streak both in me and in England. Well I say me, I mean both of us really, that because it is such a fucking awful place it makes you do things just because it is cold weather and people are miserable. You can either get up every morning and be like totally pissed off and get back into bed which is a perfectly reasonably thing to do or else you can go out and say fuck it I am actually going to get something together today. I am going to make a record, or a film, or whatever. Because it is only by doing those things that you can resist the flow of mediocrity and shit. It is the difficulty of being in a really nice place for example Thailand or nice parts or South America, North America, there is even some nice places in Europe. Is that you don't do anything you go to those places and you just be. I know a lot of people who have left this country permanently for Thailand or even for Amsterdam and generally speaking they just are, they don't do anything, which generally is fine.
Why do we never see Coil touring?
We haven't ever except for about two gigs that John did at the beginning and we may. It is an on going debate, we have been offered huge sums of money to tour. The problem is just not wanting to do the same old thing if we do do gigs. We want to do something that is actually interesting to people. We have loads of ideas, but most are too expensive. The story I always say is after the next album. The next album is going to be more spontaneous and probably will have more live musicians on it than up till now and so it is possible that we might tour. But it is difficult from a financial point of view, you have to tour, just because you get a lot of press and the marketing - you sell Coil T-Shirts and you can make loads of money.
What do you think about the lack of press you receive, even immediately after an album release?
I think that helps because we are so mysterious to people and fortunately they don't know where we live and we don't tour. Our records only come out every few years and it is like Nurse with Wound or something like that. It is the same sort of underground scene, but perhaps we might be better known than them, but it is just a different way of doing things. We go through cycles of being even more reclusive and cycles of being more public. I don't mind having a high profile but the problem is because I do other things as well, videos and things, it is difficult to find the time to do everything and John sometimes is very reclusive, like today, and other times is much more manic and out going, so it varies. It depends how you find us. The amount of public attention generated totally spurious way by Christian fanatics in that Dispatches program and the amount that received is an indicator of why you need to be reclusive.
Jack & The Snow
It was great, Jack is really nice, in that instance we sent him like a load of elements of mixes we had already done and he rearranged them and said what do you think about this and the stuff he did was really brilliant and we would like to work with him more, although he has quite a busy schedule as well because he mixes everybody. We are always looking for new people to do things with. Frequency in Amsterdam who do sort of weird acid types of things sample Windowpane quite alot on a couple of their records so we are going to exchange sampling. Where we sample them and they sample us. It is a two way street, it is much more interesting to see how others see us.
Do you record your stuff here in the house?
We program stuff here, so far it has all been Mac based apart from the live stuff. We program quite a lot here and try to minimise the amount of time we have to spend in the studio but on the other hand having your own set up at home is very undisciplined. You get up in the morning and watch Richard and Judy rather than actually getting down to something, it was funny yesterday when they changed clothes (Trading places day), it was really horrible. Judy didn't look that bad, but Richard looked rough.
Aids and HIV+ How has that affected you personally?
Well in the fact that a lot of people we know have died. When we did Tainted Love it was 1984/85, it was one of the first records that was supposed to have a moral as well as an entertaining aspect and even now the video we did for that is too heavy to get shown. We did a great video and since then we have tried to do our bit and raise consciousness, a lot of the mail that we got after Horse Rotovator, some people thought it was a down and morbid type of record, and we had quite a lot of mail from people who were already HIV+, or suffering from Aids and invariably it was the people saying thank you for addressing these issues which are now the most important issues in my life. And with the last album we tended not so much to be morbid but to just say "Fuck it, lets enjoy ourselves while we can", and then the next album will probably be quite a bit angrier in it's content, you know because there are a lot of things that are not being addressed by people and it will probably be, not political but have a sort of stronger moral stance. Aids is now killing more people in America than cancer, and not just gay men and drug addicts, its killing everybody.
So what is this film you are doing at the moment.
It's a home video trying to encourage and educate people about safe sex, because there are a tremendous amount of people who don't take any notice. I think they're doing several versions of it, there's a school version, and there's a video shop version, and there's a European version. People have got to get the message and the thing that did not annoy me but it just depressed me was about the government approach to the whole issue which was that the only really affective alternative was to be celibate. Which is absolute bollocks. You can have as much sex as you like as long as you do it the right way, and people are never going to be celibate, you know, its not in our natures.
Are there any boundaries you would not want to cross, musically and personally, that you decided were beyond the realms of taste?
Not from a taste point of view, but maybe from other points of view yes. The things we have done have always been because we have been interested in them personally. Putting ourselves through those things, and learning from them and treating them as education and a process of growth and if just to say we have done a lot of things that are extreme, although it might be true, gives the impression that they were done to shock. Which they certainly never were and so obviously there are things that I am not interested in that would be extreme. I feel that we have a very moral approach to life and even though it might not be the standard morality of Christian society, nevertheless there are moral issues that I still feel strongly about.
Where are your morals from, religion or personal experience?
Everyone's personal experience would lead everyone to the same judgements about not killing people and not destroying one's own environment. The world is an integral unit and just cause you can shit on somebody else's doorstep its still basically fouling up the same place. I am a much more Zen or Buddhist than Christian but these things seem obvious to me. I am constantly dumbfounded that people don't understand what they are doing. Have you seen that programme where people have home videos, the videos are pretty foul but the thing that always really shocks me is they have people on who bring in these home videos of 'My Aunt" and I continually think that they find actors or freaks, but they actually are real people and its really frightening.
Shit, Gold and Alchemy, is this an interest to you either physically or metaphorically?
In those days both, no not metaphorically no, its such a long time ago its difficult to remember, I think were always very willing and interested in looking at other interpretations and so, non-standard interpretations of anything and shit is most typically the most repulsive and most repulsive and most avoided waste product and yet it is so fundamental to everybody that it was very interesting to us to try and see it in a positive light and try and use it in a positive way.
Do you see it as making a personal transmutation by making it into records?
Yeah, we always did that with anything, so yes.
Have you been involved in any of the research stuff. The Industrial Culture handbook is all Genesis and Chris & Cosey.
I have known about it for a long time, I don't know, we just haven't flirted. I suppose we don't do that much.
As an encyclopaedia of sub culture, do you think they are on the right track?
It is very San Francisco oriented. I like Angry Women, it is very much based in that City Lights tradition, it is self perpetuating, I think that is good and that is to be supported.
But at some point it is not going to be a sub culture anymore.
By that point they will have moved on to other things. Anything that enlightens peoples awareness of other cultures or other ways of living has got to be a good thing and if there is a single motive, idea, or desire behind what I do or what Coil do is to introduce to ideas or other things they might not have come across. There is no point in being a sub culture just to be sub. Normal society and normal education systems do not present even a quarter of a realistic view of our culture and so the more truly independent voices whether it is talking about tattooing or whether it is talking about shit or whether it is talking about smart drugs or whatever it is. The more outlets there are for this information the better balanced, the better people are able to make a balanced judgement about the way that they live. Even in America you say the media in this country is shit, the media in America is far worse. It is probably easier to buy the industrial handbooks here than it is in America because in most places apart from NY, SF & LA and some of the other political centres it is very difficult to get things distributed. You can get Soldier of Fortune and Hot Rod and magazines like that, but you don't get those other voices. and so it is with every advance in control new oppressant the more important it is to make this kind of information available.
Are you aware of what happens in the Music Industry apart from yourselves? Do you listen to other bands or read the press?
John doesn't, every time he reads it he gets more and more depressed. I don't read the music press but we watch MTV I suppose.
What do you think of the whole industrial scene influenced by TG which has evolved into the Wax Trax, Ministry/NIN thang?
Some of it is OK, but I just get bored of those sounds which is why we don't do them really. People, especially younger people, like the intensity and energy of a lot of those bands and the point that they can dance to it. I think it is worse than club music, I think in some cases the more extreme forms of club music actually transcends simply because of the physical effect for me, and there are certain records because of the pavlovian conditioning of the experience of when you first heard them for me especially will produce physical and emotional effects on hearing them again. That is the side of club music that interests us more than just the dance aspect is the way that these records do seem to have the physiological effects which always were supposedly attributed to industrial music. When TG first started the things that first interested us in those days was the way that the music would affect people in a way that was more deep, than simply an adrenaline rush. For me, as you say, the disappointing aspect of the Front242ian NIN type of genre was the way in that it has been lost and it is the surface, even the surface isn't very interesting to me now. If I want to listen to aggressive music I would rather listen to aggressive black music or any number of forms of other types of aggressive music. I would rather go to a Nirvana gig than to a 242 gig to be honest with you. Sounds don't interest me anymore, what Coil has always tried to do is come up with actual types of sound that don't have those associations and in a way that has been a disadvantage for us in terms of selling especially to young teenagers in America. They have a fixed view of the kinds of things that's affected them so it is not acceptable for those people to use string quartets generally speaking. Even if it is completely distorted.
When you are going to the rave clubs, what do you get out of that?
It is a transcendental thing in addition to a physical thing.
Did you feel there was an energy there?
It depends, you have to remain at the frontier, at the barrier with those kinds of things. You always have to in any genre and dance music you have to remain on step beyond if you like the norm. And the problem with house music in this country is Pete Waterman, there is that genre of the Hitman and Her which takes something that originally had meaning and completely transforms it into something else, it is like turning gold into shit, going in the opposite direction.
Don't you think that much rave is very banal & boring, it is just like being fed?
Yeah, some people want that but there is a certain kind of person who wants the safe option always, but more it is just a question of laziness in that people actually can't be bothered to hunt out things that do have true meaning and true value. Which is why in a way Coil quite likes being relatively unknown and relatively difficult to find, because it means that people who do actually manage to find us are making an effort and that actually empowers what we do and gives it more value. But for a lot of people wherever they live it is just easier to buy a house record that is in the charts simply because they can just go to Our Price, they don't have to go to some small record label, it is just convenience, it is like micro waves or something.
With this we went upstairs to scout the mini studio that they have in their quite amazing house, it contained a seriously souped up Macintosh and some big league synths. Watch out for the new album next year.