ZT INTERROGATION: FINAL COIL HAVE A SPRING IN THEIR STEP
Leicester’s Final Coil have a terrific debut album out, Persistence of Memory, mastered by Cult of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg. Likened in places to Alice in Chains, Paul Castles caught up with singer Phil Stiles to find out more about it and the band’s future plans.
ZT:Thanks for talking with Zero Tolerance. Our readers have had a taste of new album Persistence of Memory as one of the tracks appears on the current issue’s cover-mount CD – So how pleased are you all with it?
Hi, thank you for taking the time to put these questions to us. I’ll try to put this carefully, because I know how easy it is to sound arrogant and that’s not my intent. I think, because we write primarily for ourselves, our expectations for this album were always that it would be, first and foremost, what we wanted to listen to. Obviously we want other people to like it too, but the most important thing was that the music reflected our passions and interests. So, we spent a lot of time working on the demos and those demos were with the studio a good six months before we ever set foot there, so we had clear expectations of what we wanted to achieve and the studio knew what to expect from us as well.
With those demos done, obviously, the music was filtered through a few people: Our label, headed up by Carlo Bellotti, Wahoomi Corvi, our producer, and Magnus Lindberg, who mastered the album, and their input only made it sound better to our ears. I don’t think too much changed from those original demos, but what did change, changed for the better. In short, the album came out better than we could possibly have hoped for and it was a mixture of that slight selfishness when it came to the initial writing coupled with the input of experts who know how to bring the best out of the bands with whom they work. I listen to the CD quite regularly, and it’s still hard to believe that, after all these years, we’ve had the opportunity to do this.
ZT:Are these all songs that you’ve written in the last couple of years?
Yes, when Wahoomi first approached us we were in a good position because we’d just done an EP (‘Closed to the Light’) which basically featured two songs that I’d written and really liked but which weren’t right for the album I wanted to make. So, we already had it in mind to make an album. We had, I think, about 11 songs and the label asked for another nine so that we had a pool from which to choose. So, I set about writing those, but, with the exception of four songs, the bulk of the tracks on the finished album are songs that we had always intended for inclusion. The big additions were ‘Lost Hope’, a song that far exceeded my expectations when I first put it together, ‘In Silent Reproach’ which just seemed to fit the overall theme of the album and the two tracks that Richard wrote – ‘Spider Feet’ and ‘Moths to the Flame’ – otherwise, the remaining songs were written over a period of about a year leading up to the point where we started to speak with WormHoleDeath.
ZT:How personal are the songs – there’s a lot of emotion pulsing through the album?
The bulk of the songs are drawn from personal experience, although that’s not to say they are always literal. In many cases, it might be that I’ve experienced something and then tried to draw a more universal lesson from that, rather than simply pouring out my woes to music – I’m not sure anyone would want to listen to that! ‘Corruption’ is a good example. The song looks at two very different forms of corruption – corruption of the body and corruption of the spirit and juxtaposes them, so the first verse is about someone who’s very ill, possibly in hospital, whereas the second verse is about someone who’s morally sick and ruminating upon the behaviour that has ensnared them. In both cases our reaction to it is similar, that we’d rather face anything than that sense of loss and regret.
Other songs are more literary. ‘Alone’, for example, taps into that same sense of regret and loss but from the perspective of Robert Jordan, the lead character in Hemingway’s masterful For Whom the Bell Tolls. In that song, he’s lying, mortally wounded, justifying his actions and wondering why he didn’t do more. It sits nicely next to ‘dying’ which looks at apathy in a more general way, as if physical death is not the only way of dying. It’s quite a dark album, in many ways, but it’s not all loss and regret. ‘Failed Light’, in particular, has a more hopeful tone and considers how the belief of just one person can help to summon light from the haze.
ZT:Did everything fall into place when recording or were there any hiccups along the way?
Honestly, it went so much more smoothly than I could have hoped. I was worried sick! There was the logistic challenge of moving the entire band (plus gear) to Italy, there was the fact that the accommodation appended to the studio was a one room flat (bearing in mind that the four of us were going to be closeted up there, in winter, for 18 days), and there was the simple (!) matter of getting the music right! In the end, you just have to trust the people in your band and the people whom you’ve chosen to work with on the recording and believe it’s going to work out or you’ll go nuts. So, we closed our eyes and took the proverbial plunge. The recording went great, really… I can’t imagine a better group of people with whom to spend time and, for the most part, it was not only exciting but really fun.
Of course, I’m a huge music geek, so even when not recording I was happily sat next to Wahoomi at this vintage console that he’d lovingly restored just watching him work. It was a pleasure and I learned a lot too. The only real hiccup was that Richard and I were due to fly back on Christmas Eve. Now you may remember that Christmas Eve 2016 was the day when there was a proposed BA cabin Crew strike, a proposed baggage handlers’ strike, a possible storm, travel chaos thanks to Christmas and, the day before, a terrorist was shot in Milan, close to where were flying from! We were getting phone calls for the last week telling us we should leave and that we’d never get back and, of course, Rich has children, so I was picturing some horrific Planes, Trains and Automobiles scenario kicking off. As it transpired, the strikes were all cancelled, the storm didn’t materialise and we were back exactly on time. Nonetheless, that was stressful!
ZT: Does the album carry any particular theme?
It’s loosely built around a concept of change in the face of an increasingly alienated society. Just a few generations ago you lived with, or at least near, to your family and friends for life. There was a community and there was a support network that seems to be increasingly distanced as we travel further and rely on technology to fill the void. We see adverts on the TV now of families sat in the same room but all tapping away on tablets and it fills me with this existential horror. Human communication is so important and yet, increasingly, it seems to be remote and riven with fantasy. Rich has similar concerns, but he focused more on the way that social media is used to sell an agenda. Whether it’s posting pictures of the ‘ideal holiday’ that never really happened, or simply presenting an opinion as fact in a world where even presidents can produce ‘fake news’ (and have you ever heard a more Orwellian term for bullshit?), I think these are concerns that a number of people have and yet their buried by the sheer volume pouring from the multifarious media sources.
Not to labour the point, but Jola and I were watching John Carpenter’s They Live the other day, and it’s amazing how those themes of wanton capitalism and mass hypnosis by an all-pervasive media continue to be relevant at a time when we should be so much more educated and critical of what is around us. So, loss, regret, fear of technology erasing humanity… the usual, happy themes that you’d want from your friendly neighbourhood band!
ZT:You’ve had a few personnel changes – do you feel the current unit is now a settled one?
Like any band we’ve had a few people come and go, but the thing is as you get older you find that responsibilities get in the way of hobbies. We’re lucky in that Jola and I are married (so band stuff for us is time together, whereas for so many people practice can be a terrible source of conflict) and Ches, our drummer, is retired. Rich has children, so that can cause scheduling issues, but he’s very good at working around his family life and commitments and keeping time free for the band, so actually it works.
The other factor is finding people who are committed to making the band work and who believe in the music. We had a couple of members who just weren’t that bothered about either and so it was, in many ways, a blessed relief when they left. It was the arrival of Ches, really, that was the final piece of the puzzle. Rich, Jola and I have been together since 2008 and Ches was so driven to bring the band, as he put it, “to the next level”, that it inspired us to get our act together. So, yeah, this current line up (as far as anyone can ever be certain), is settled.
ZT:How significant for you is the deal with Wormholedeath Records?
I started out in bands as a teenager in the 90s and the dream, the absolute dream, was to get a record deal and put an album out. That was the thing to which you aspired and that’s a difficult idea to put out of your mind. Of course the industry has changed quite a bit since then and today, getting a deal does not equal scantily clad maidens, free drink and endless publicity (not that we were ever motivated by that) but what it does mean is that you have a support network who are there to help you be a better band. When we signed with WHD it was never about fame and fortune, it was about working with people who have the experience and the tools to help us reach a wider audience and so, in that respect, it’s a hugely significant deal.
More than that, WHD really is like a huge family. You hear such horror stories about bands getting locked into hell-bound contracts and getting ripped off, but Carlo is totally professional, totally hands-on and so we have an amazing relationship with him. He treated us with great respect and affection from the start and it is under his guidance that we were able to make this album in the way that we did. Signing with a label now… it’s probably not the be all and end all (and I know plenty of bands very successfully going it alone), but it did help to focus our energies and that’s crucial.
ZT:You produced a series of YouTube videos in the build up to the album release. How did that work in terms of building up interest?
Well, we’re a band just releasing our debut and the reality is that few people outside of the Midlands had ever heard of us before this release. As such, we made the videos as a means of sharing our journey with those who were interested rather than as a means of garnering interest, although they did give us something different to talk about other than just “buy our album please!”
Again, there’s a bit of a selfish motivation behind it as well: When I grew up I loved the bands that had liner notes and shared stuff with their fans, so I figured that, were I ever lucky enough to be in a position to do the same I would. The videos were simply the type of thing that I have enjoyed seeing from bands that I like, and therefore something I felt we could offer to the people who like us.
ZT:Have you had much chance yet to gig outside of the East Mids?
Before the prospect of a release ever came about, the driving force of playing in a band was to play live. I think Clutch said it best when they said “if you’re going to do it, do it live on stage or don’t do it at all!” and those are words to live by. So we have a policy wherein, if it’s physically possible for us to get somewhere and play, we’ll do it. Over the last two years we’ve played Red Roar Festival in Gravesend, Catterick Garrison, Sheffield, and Derby to name just a few and we have plans (possibly tied into my grand scheme of world domination) to expand that list considerably in the coming months!
ZT:Any summer festival slots for Final Coil?
Sadly not. We did well in Metal 2 the Masses this year, but competition is fierce and the album stuff all came out quite a time after festivals had finished filling their slots so we’re in a bit of a vacuum this summer between the digital release of the album and the actual physical release which is not until September 22. However, we are doing a local all-day event in Leicester with a number of great bands (not least Furyborn, Morti Viventi and Mordrake) on August 26, so we’ll be out making a noise, having a few beers and generally causing carnage. Nonetheless, there’s no better way to learn about a festival than to go along as a punter, regardless of whether you’re playing, so we’ll be charging around Bloodstock as fans this year so keep an eye out for Final Coil T-shirts and say hello!
ZT:What’s the state of play for the rest of the year?
Well, the album’s out on September 22 and then there’s a Japanese release scheduled for late November so we’ll be playing as many dates as we can get our grubby hands on in the meantime. We’re proud to say that we’re now part of the Enso Management Roster, which we hope will open up new opportunities, and so that’s our primary concern. We’re also releasing a new performance video in September, so that’s something that we’re looking forward to. It was filmed, once again, by Jay Hillyer of Cabin Boy Jumped Ship and it will be quite different to the vibe for ‘You Waste My Time’.
I’m also writing the new album as we speak, so I’m hoping that, come the end of the year, we’ll be into rehearsing and developing the new songs ready to go back into the studio. No one knows what the future holds, but as far as I’m concerned this is just the start of Final Coil’s journey and I can’t wait to see what the future brings. Thanks for talking with us!