Final Coil | The Lockdown Interview:
Answers: Phil Stiles – vocals/guitar
So, how is ‘lockdown’ treating you? Are you still working? What’s your daily routine look like at the moment?
Both Jola and I are lucky that we do have work that we can do. I’m a teacher, so I’m currently conducting my lessons remotely. It’s not nearly as much fun as teaching in person, but at least I can maintain contact with the students and help them through their assessments. It is, however, a hell of a lot of work and lessons take a considerable amount more preparation in order to run smoothly. I think there’s a perception that you can just translate a lesson from the classroom to the virtual environment, but you lose so much without the actual interaction, so you really have to think about how to keep the attention of the group.
Jola works in horticulture so, although her actual workplace is closed, she has been able to volunteer to look after the stock (watering and so on) a couple of days a week, which is something she very much enjoys. It’s good that she can get out of the house, as I’m starting to go a little stir crazy and find myself talking to the rabbit quite a bit. However, as long as he doesn’t start talking back, I’m probably OK.
In terms of routine, we get up early, do what work we have and then we get out for a walk. We’re lucky, as we live close to a beautiful country park – a vast space with a lot of wildlife and hidden trails – which is almost entirely deserted, so we can go for a quiet walk without getting close to anyone or having to travel anywhere unnecessarily. Other than that, we don’t really leave the house, except to go into the garden. The evening is mostly for listening to records, to practice or record music and, occasionally to watch something; but we’ve never really been big TV watchers. We also seem to have reverted to our habit of staying up until the wee small hours – I guess it’s not having to fall out of bed at 6:15 every day!
Are you able to keep up with individual practicing? What is your practice routine? Any tips for fellow isolated musicians?
Well, Jola, Richard and I all have access to home-based studio equipment, so we’re still making and sharing music. Trying to hold a virtual practice doesn’t really appeal; but Rich and I are able to trade files remotely and, as we’ve kinda gotten into that routine anyway, it’s not too much of an issue for us. That said, when it comes to getting ready for a live show, I imagine we’ll be rusty as hell and it’ll take a few weeks to get back to where we were before all this chaos kicked off.
In terms of routine, it’s actually really important to try to set aside some time to have a practice of some description; so Jola and I have one night a week set aside to work on material together – either working out new songs, or running over existing material with studio backing tracks. Working to click and backing tracks is quite different to our live approach, but we’re used to it from recording and it’s a good skill to have. The most important thing is learning to play around the click so that the music sounds natural and not mechanical as far as possible.
In terms of tips – I think that any band is advised to keep a channel of communication open and to continue to be active in whatever way possible, whether it’s promoting on Social Media or trading files of riffs, there’s always something productive that you can do if you’re willing. This situation is forcing all of us to be that little bit more creative in how we approach things, and maybe (in the short term at least) that’s a good thing.
Has the band been forced to make any cancellations or changes to release schedules?
So far, no – we were lucky. We’ve been working hard on new material, so we hadn’t really got round to booking much for the first part of this year. However, it’s difficult to know, at this point, when we will be able to start playing live; but I guess everyone’s in the same awful position in that regard.
With gigs becoming a distant memory at the moment, what’s the best you can ever remember playing – and witnessing?
I think the best gig we’ve ever played was opening for Marky Ramone at the London Garage. Marky is a living legend and, without the influence of the Ramones, so many of the bands that we love just wouldn’t exist. They epitomised cool, and Marky is keeping that flame alive with his band. It was such an honour opening for him and the crowd were super-supportive as well. We put so much energy into that show and then, as a bonus, we got to stand out front and watch Marky and his band rip the stage up – I’d say that was pretty damn special for all of us!
I think, for me, one of the best gigs I ever witnessed was when Rich and I went to see Nine Inch Nails in Wolverhampton. It was a rescheduled date and the band had crammed all their arena-dazzling lighting into a much smaller venue than normal. It was so intense that, even from the back of the room, when the light blazed on, it felt like you were being cooked! More than that, though, Nine Inch Nails have always been a visceral, intense experience live and they were on fire that night. It was the period just after Year Zero, so they were airing a mix of material from across their catalogue and the Year Zero songs, in particular, came to life on stage. I’ve loved Nine Inch Nails ever since I first heard them, and that was a stunning gig for so many reasons.
For Jola, one of the best concerts she’s been to was Alice in Chains in Birmingham on the Black Gives Way To Blue tour. The interaction between band and crowd, the set (which included new and old material) and just the experience of seeing the band back on stage made it one of her top gigs of all time.
What’s the latest news from the band? Anything that people should be checking out at the moment?
Well, we have a lot going on. Last week we announced our brand new EP – The Convicted Of The Right EP, which caps off the concept and material promoting The World We Left Behind For Others. The EP is very special because, not only did we record a powerful video for the title track, but we also went into the studio specifically to record (and film) a selection of b sides.
So, the b sides are live versions of a selection of tracks – one from The World… and two from Persistence of Memory, our debut album. Doing the Persistence… tracks was something really cool because Barry (drums) didn’t play on the original album, so it gave him the chance to put his stamp on the songs. For me, I’ve always wanted to do some tracks live in session, because it’s a very different process from our normal method of recording, which is very layered and considered. I grew up on the likes of John Peel and my favourite session tracks were always those that took the studio original and shook it by the scruff of the neck a little. We kept things very raw here – no click and no overdubs – and I think they came out sounding great. It’s a little something for the fans who have stuck with us over the years.
Have you been able to use this time to work on new material?
I’m always working on new material and the collection is ever-expanding. As a band, we’re putting the finishing touches onto some new songs and, although we don’t know exactly what (or when) the next step will be, the songs we’re currently putting together stand (I think) as the best music we’ve yet created.
What have you been reading and watching to keep yourselves sane?
I usually have a few books on the go. At the moment, I’m reading December, by Phil Rickman. It’s a weird book – a kind of gothic horror with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe – and it’s one I’ve read before, some years ago – it’s one of those books that sits in the memory, and it’s nice to return to it once again. I’m also reading a book a friend lent me, A History of Heavy Metal by Andrew ‘O Neill, which is hilarious and yet full of passion for its subject matter. Finally, I’m reading Understanding Intercultural Communication by Adrian Holliday, which is related to the subject I teach. It’s one of the better books on the subject, easily digestible, and with a lot of ideas that I aim to incorporate into the course as it evolves.
Jola also loves reading and she has two books on the go. The first is Louis Theroux’s latest book, Gotta Get Theroux This, which she says is funny and poignant in equal measure. She’s also reading one of my books, Politics by Andrew Heywood, which is one of the best primers for political theory out there. It’s a book I use a lot for my course, and now Jola has liberated it from my collection.
We don’t watch a huge amount of TV, but we did catch an Amazon movie called The Professor and the Madman, which is a period drama that looks at the creation of the Dictionary. The acting was largely exceptional and it’s very well filmed. It takes a few liberties with the story (but, then, what film doesn’t), but it’s an interesting movie and a change from all the CG stuff that seems to dominate at the moment. Aside from that, we’ve been re-watching (and really enjoying) a lot of the old Simpsons cartoons. Familiarity had dulled their edge for some time, and we stopped watching them; but coming back to them after a long gap, you realise how sharp a lot of the writing is.
What are you listening to at the moment? Your Top isolation albums?
We’ve been listening to so much music since this thing started. On average, we listen to five or six records a day anyway; but that’s probably tripled since we’ve been at home more. It’s nice to have the time to turn to our vinyl collection, too, but these are the records that have stood out in the past week or so.
1. Tricky – Maxinquaye
2. My Dying Bride – Turn Loose The Swans
3. Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty
4. Sunn O))) – Domkirke
5. Fugazi – The First Demo
And what are your Top 10 albums of all time? The greats that have shaped you and never get old…
Ah man – this list changes every time someone asks (and if you ask tomorrow, you’ll get a different response), but we’ll do our best. So, and in no particular order, these are the albums that Jola and I hammered out between us (we’ll mop up the blood shortly):
1. Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
2. Nirvana – In Utero
3. Tool – Lateralus
4. Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible
5. Pink Floyd – The Wall
6. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
7. Alice in Chains – Dirt
8. Swans – Soundtracks For The Blind
9. Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
10. Paradise Lost – Draconian Times
What’s the first thing you’ll be doing when lockdown ends?
We’ll be looking to make up for all the gigs we missed, both as a band and as attendees. Jola and I try to get to as many gigs as we can and we really miss that surge you get from walking into a packed, stifling, noisy venue… it’s hard to explain why an experience that, by all rational criteria, should be uncomfortable and disorientating, is such an adrenalin rush… it just is, and I hope that we won’t have to wait too long for things to start up again.
What plans do you have for the band when you’re free to get working again?
We’re going to continue working on new material and, equally important, I want to get back out on stage. I’ve always felt that a band belongs on stage and I start to really feel the absence of playing when there’s a lengthy gap. Right now, there’s nothing that can be done about it; but as soon as this thing comes to a halt, I would like to get back out there!
A message for your fans, followers and friends at this difficult time…
This is an exceptional time for everyone. It’s very difficult to suddenly find yourself shorn of contact and cut off from the things that, until now, we’ve taken for granted. Firstly, it’s important to use this time constructively as best you can. Although everyone has been affected in different ways, if possible, read the book you never finished; write the song you always wanted or learn to paint… use the time to do the things you’ve never been able to do, rather than wonder about what you are missing. The other important thing is to remember that everyone around you is going through something similar. Reach out to your friends, family and community and make sure that they’re doing OK through all of this. There’s so much in the media about the selfishness of people, which makes for a pretty good story, I guess; but the little acts of kindness that people perform every day, although less newsworthy, are far more important.