an interview with Phil Stiles from Final Coil

an interview with Phil Stiles from Final Coil

Welcome to Music Festival.gr.Give us a brief Bio of Final Coil.

Well, Final Coil, broadly speaking, emerged in late 2008 when I returned from Poland and sought to put together a band with my good friend (and lead guitarist), Richard Awdry. Jola very quickly joined us on bass, initially to help us out, but later as a full-time member and we went through an inordinate amount of drummers before finally settling on our current line-up. Our early shows were very punk rock – lots of feedback and flying hair and we played in venues that would be condemned if they were housing rather than a place of entertainment! It was great fun and we really honed our playing skills during that period. The turning point, I guess, was when we recorded live with doubt, a four-track EP comprising a fair representation of our live set at that point. It was a cracking EP but, shortly after, we lost our drummer, so Rich and I worked on an acoustic project (somnambulant), which can be downloaded for free from our bandcamp page (www.finalcoilrock.bandcamp.com). We really worked at that EP and, although it started out as an acoustic piece, it ended up being a really progressive work with lots of synth elements. It pointed a new direction for us, and that’s what we tapped into on closed to the light.

Closed to the light was the debut EP for another new drummer, Ches, and it certainly helped us reach more people, not to mention the press. It was around that time that we also entered, and achieved the finals of, the Metal 2 the Masses competition, earning a slot on the huge stage at De Montfort hall in Leicester, which was a great achievement. At the same time, the EP somehow found its way to WormHoleDeath who decided to sign us on the strength of it. We were blown away (we still are) and the label really pushed us to develop our debut album, persistence of memory, which we recorded in Italy in December 2016. It was, without doubt, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. We had so much fun working in the shadow of the Alps in Northern Italy, with the amazing team at Real Sound Studio and we put together an album of which I’m very proud. It really showed the level of our ambition and I think it’s a great first step for us, although there’s a lot more to come.

Name your 10 favourite bands and singers.

Ah dude, these questions are always a nightmare because, for me at least, such a list changes depending on the day. Right now, I guess I’d go with the following, albeit in no particular order.

Pink Floyd – definitely one of my favourite bands of all time and how can you argue with that body of work? You’ve got proto-metal (the Nile song), crazed psychedelia (Astronomy domine), huge conceptual works (the wall / DSOTM) and one of the greatest guitar solos of all time (comfortably numb). Even if you aren’t a rabid fan of their whole back catalogue (I am), their work is so innovative that they stand as one of the great bands.

Nine Inch Nails – Trent Reznor is an absolute genius. His studio work is impeccable, his live performances mesmerizing. I thinkevery fan has their own favourite NIN album, but for me it’s undoubtedly the fragile, a masterpiece and one of my favourite albums of all time. It doesn’t sound like anything else out there and even today there are bands still trying (and failing) to follow in its footsteps.

Pearl Jam – A lot of people derided them when they came out with ten, although that album is rightly feted now, but it’s what came next that really showed what the band were made of. They challenged (and continue to challenge) people’s preconceptions and, in Eddie Vedder, they have one of the great front men. Not only does he have an amazing voice, but he comes across as a genuine and passionate artist and he has always followed through on the statements he’s made on stage. As for their music, there are so many great records, but I always loved Vitalogy. It was seen as something of a difficult album, but it has so much passion and power and it showed the band weren’t afraid to play with a formula that any, more commercially-minded band, would have stuck to like glue.

Sonic Youth – I don’t think I’ve managed to quite track down everything they’ve done, but I’m pretty damn close. Sonic Youth are the ultimate innovators and their approach to making music is just unassailably cool. I love the way they experimented so freely with form and tuning, and their albums, although arty, are surprisingly accessible (sonic death notwithstanding). The first album I heard of theirs, and it remains a favourite to this day, was washing machine. I couldn’t quite get it at first – you’ve got some defiantly odd tracks on there (panty lies), but then you’ve got the diamond sea which might just be one of the greatest songs ever written. I was gutted when the band split, although I can understand the reasons, but on the plus side, the various members have all been making amazing music and Lee Ranaldo’sElectric Trim is a particular highlight that any sonic youth fan should waste no time in tracking down.

Neil Young – The guy has the most amazing ethos when it comes to music. He has no qualms about changing himself as he sees fit, but it’s always according to his muse and never according to the musical climate. He seems to go in and out of fashion as people catch up with him rather than the other way around, and his guitar work is just astonishing. He’s not the fastest player, and he rarely plays the same thing the same way twice, but he plays with such depth of feeling that it’s impossible to tear your eyes from him. He’s a true artist and I think that his back catalogue probably represents the largest number of albums I own by any single band or artist (eclipsing even Sonic Youth!) The first album of his that I owned was sleeping with angels and it was the perfect introduction for me (although something like rust never sleeps would probably be a better primer for most) because it has the epic change your mind on it. You never know what you’re going to get with Neil, but whatever it is, it’ll be form the heart and that’s essential.

Alice in Chains – Those harmonies. No one could touch them when the band first appeared in the 90s and no one can touch them still. I was too young to see them with Layne, and that still galls me, but I have been lucky enough to see them with William and I am so glad that the band were able to find someone with whom they could work and continue to create. I have no idea (and hope I’ll never know) how hard it must have been for them to see their good friend slip away, so the fact that they found someone who could help them continue their artistic journey and, through black gives way to blue, to heal, is just remarkable and one of the great rock and roll stories.  Their music never grows stale and it doesn’t matter how many times I listen to dirt, facelift, their self-titled album or any of their other records, I still find myself absorbed by them. And, of course, it’s not just the vocals. Jerry Cantrell is an exceptionally gifted guitarist (his solo work comes hugely recommended) and Sean Kinney is a massively underappreciated drummer – just listen to his work on no excuses and you realise just how far ahead of the curve he really is.

Tool – Another band who are a perfect example of how fame can be achieved on exceptionally narrow terms, Tool have carved out their own narrative in popular music and, in spite of releasing comparatively few albums, they have managed to gain a loyal and devoted fan base. Their oblique lyrics, the remarkably dense and hypnotic music and the overwhelming power of their live show… they are genuinely progressive and whether or not a new album is forthcoming, lateralus will remain one of my favourite albums of all time.

Faith No More / Mike Patton – Mike Patton is, without doubt, one of the most interesting, talented and artistically-motivated musicians out there. His work with Faith No More, of course, was my starting point and I love their work. My personal favourite is king for a day… fool for a lifetime because it is so diverse and its high points are many, but you could pretty much put on any FnMalbum and have my undivided attention. However, despite the huge success they achieved, Mike has never been one to stay still and his subsequent achievements are many. He’s another artist of whose work I have a great deal, but my favourites are Lovage (a project he did with Dan the Automator), the work he did with Kaada (bacteria cult is a work of abstract genius), Peeping Tom and Fantomas. It’s such an amazing body of work, and he never tires of exploring new forms. He has one of the best voices that I’ve ever heard, but it’s his artistic integrity that has kept me following all these years.

Paradise Lost – You can probably see from the list that a great deal of my favourite music emerged from the alternative rock scene, but Paradise Lost were one of the first bands to draw me towards metal in general and doom in particular. It was through them that I discovered Anathema and My Dying Bride, both artists that I greatly admire, but it was Paradise Lost that came first. Like many people who were getting heavily into music in the 90s, my first album was Draconian Times and, if that were the sum total of their achievements, it might justify their place here. However, what I really admire about the band is the way that they rebelled against their own fame to follow their own interests. Rather than make draconian times 2 or whatever, they delved deep into electronica and, although I guess it’s not fashionable to say it, I absolutely love both one second and host, partly because it’s great music and partly because it’s a perfect example of an artist following their muse rather than commerce.  Since then, Paradise Lost have rarely faltered. Their move back to heavier music felt entirely organic, and the run of albums that started with Faith divides us, death unites us was practically flawless. A fantastic band.

Nirvana – It seems, with that reticence of changing fashions, that it’s fashionable now to critique Nirvana, but I imagine that there are more than a few people who started out their musical journey through this band. In all honesty I don’t listen to them as much as I once did, and other bands (Soundgarden, Tad, Mudhoney) have perhaps more prominence in my collection, but without Nirvana my musical journey may well have been a very different one. They were the band that bridged the gap between the likes of Sonic Youth, Mudhoney and their ilk and the mainstream and they did it on their terms. Nevermind was never my favourite album, in fact it took milk it from in utero to drag me away from Guns ‘n’ roses, but their body of work, whilst tragically truncated, remains impressive. For every smells like teen spirit there was an aero zeppelin or an aneurysm waiting in the wings and to dismiss Kurt’s songwriting as simplistic is to miss the point. He played with a fire and a fury that few match and, to this day, I still feel that surge of adrenalin when the band plunge into school or negative creep and it is that standard that is always in my mind when we play live.

What is your fave music era and the favourite albums so far?

Looking at the list I provided above, I would say that my favourite era was the mid-90s because the possibilities seemed endless. Beyond the bands I have mentioned, the likes of Manic Street Preachers, Garbage, Beck, Butthole Surfers, Pixies, Veruca Salt, Prodigy, Massive attack and Monster Magnet all emerged in the 90s. There was a feeling at shows and festivals that you could cross-pollinate genres at will and that anyone was welcome at the ensuing party. My favourite albums from that era are many and varied – The Holy Bible, from the Manics; Fat of the land (Prodigy); Odelay – Beck; Mezzanine – Massive Attack; Aenima – Tool and those are just a few not listed above. I am going to have to stop there, otherwise you’re going to end up with an endless interview.

All that said, one of the great joys of music, for me, is both looking back to the past to discover the antecedents of the music I like as well as keeping up with what is currently being created. There are so much great music and you can always learn from it and evolve with it. Creativity should never be allowed to run stale and, by only listening to the music of the 90s, inevitably I’d struggle to move beyond it, so it is important to me to listen to new things and to continue that journey that I started as a young boy, wide-eyed at the sound of Queen and Iron Maiden, through to this present day.

Which are your advices for the new musicians?

The best advice I can give is to never care what anyone else is doing. It doesn’t matter what successes or failures other bands have, or whether you think they deserve it, because somehow they have worked for it and, if you’re spending your time with one eye on the competition you’ll never be satisfied with your own art.

So, ignore the other bands out there (don’t even think of them as competition) and do what you want to do to the best of your ability. If you’re lucky, you’ll capture someone’s attention and you’ll grow. If not, then you’ll always have the fact that you created a piece of art that meant something to you. That, at the end of it all, is a far greater success than subverting your own interests for a few fleeting minutes of adulation.

Beyond that, there are no shortcuts, so love what you do, seek advice when you feel you need it, but never lose sight of the fact that, if you’re doing it right, it is the creation that is fun, not the attention it gains you.

Who were your childhood heroes?

Well, I grew up in the 1980s, and I distinctly remember loving Queen and thinking that Freddy Mercury was just a god walking the earth. They showed the Wembley show on TV and it was everything that a young boy could want of a rock show back then. So, queen were definitely heroes of mine, and Freddy in particular. Like most kids of my generation, I thought that the A team were amazing, and I was also a fan of star trek, so, in terms of fictional heroes, they were important, as was Sherlock Holmes, whom I admired for his analytical powers as well as his occasional bursts of action. The character has been portrayed many times, but none have done it better than Jeremy Brett, and it was his rendering of the great detective that I grew up with. His command of English was exemplary, and I still love watching those shows to this day.

Any cool new bands you want to mention..What are you listen to lately? How is the rock scene in the U.K?

How much time do you have?! The rock scene in the UK is huge and there are a number of different elements depending on where you live and what music you’re in to. One of the great UK bands at the moment is OHHMS, whose album the fool is an absolute masterpiece. There’s also Boss keloid, whom I greatly admire, Sumer, Ramage Inc. Red Spektor, ballsdeep, Left for red, Slabdragger and Sgt Thunderhoof.

On a more local note, we are really lucky to have access to some fantastic bands – Internal Conflict, Third Angle Projection, Resin (who have just released a great new album), Scriptures, Beckon Lane, Matt Steady, Mage, This Elegant Chaos and Blood Oath all spring immediately to mind. You can hunt all these bands down via Facebook / Bandcamp(and all the usual outlets) and I’d recommend you do – there’s so much great stuff out there, you just need to know where to look!

What do you think of the demise of the legendary Chris Cornell?

Oh god, I was heart-broken. I remember when Layne Staley died and that hit hard but, at the same time, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. It was no secret that Layne had been troubled for many years, and so when he finally passed away, there was a great sadness (because there was always hope), but there wasn’t the same sense of absolute shock that I felt when Chris passed away. He was a sublime vocalist, an extremely talented artist and it’s just so tragic that someone with so much still to offer could be so troubled and yet hide it so well. My heart went out to his family and to his band, who must have been absolutely devastated by the news, and I think that the sense of shock that travelled through the community was also incredibly powerful. I don’t know that it’s possible to take anything positive from it all, but just maybe, if people could see the need to communicate their sense of distress to others before it becomes too late (and there does seem to be a move in that direction), then perhaps we can make something good out of so terrible a loss.

Which are the things that made you proud through your music career?

The most obvious moment would be when we signed to WormHoleDeath to release our debut album, persistence of memory. We worked so hard on that record and, when we finally had it in our hands (with the amazing artwork that Andy Pilkington did), there was a brief feeling of having really achieved something that we never really thought we would. You know, when I formed Final Coil, it was simply to make the music that I wanted to hear and it never occurred to me that people would be willing to come along for the ride. The fact that WHD put their faith in us (and they’ve been so supportive) and that the album has been well-received, really has been amazing for me and I don’t know if I’m proud so much as incredibly grateful for the support that people have given us. Making music is such a huge part of who I am, and for it to have the opportunity to reach a global audience is just brilliant. Really. I couldn’t ask for more and I’m so thankful to everyone who has bought a copy of the album or checked us out in some way. 

Money or Fame?

Neither. We live in a world now that is absolutely obsessed with transitory glory and the material. I would much rather our music reached few people, but had some meaning for them and some longevity, than reached a million in a blaze of well-placed advertising and airplay. If you look at the bands I listed in the first question, the majority of them gained fame in spite of themselves rather than because they were fighting to reach the top of the heap. Now don’t get me wrong, of course all artists want their work to reach as many people as possible – I have no desire to be willfully obscure – but… but fame (and money, for that matter) should come through merit and be a corollary to the art, not the anticipated result. I would love it if Final Coil would pay the bills, that would be amazing, but if it never made a cent, I’d still be making the same music with the same people and the same passion.

Vinyl Cd or Pc?

CD is the most convenient, and my collection is predominantly CD (not just for storage but also for cost purposes), but vinyl is my favourite format and if there’s a record I particularly like, then I will hunt down a vinyl copy. However, for a vinyl copy to be worthwhile, it has to be mastered right (NIN are particularly good for this), not just a flat rip from digital files. Also, the artwork has to be worthwhile. I have all the pink Floyd albums, because that artwork is just awesome, a lot of Pearl Jam, Tool, Nirvana and Alice in Chains and here’s nothing better than coming home and placing a really good album onto the turntable. It’s a massive part of the playing experience and it’s an experience that Peral Jam neatly summed up on spin the black circle. As for PC, no, it doesn’t work for me. It feels too ephemeral, the idea that you can download anything and then dismiss it with equal ease. When I think about some of my favourite albums, they weren’t records that I immediately loved (indeed, a number of records I thought were great form the outset are now near the bottom of the pile), but, with work, they were records that became a part of who I am. I’m thinking particularly of Screaming Trees’ dust, a remarkable album which, upon release I just didn’t really get. Now it’s one of my favourite albums, but if I’d just listened for a couple of minutes on Spotify or whatever, it would have totally passed me by. One of the themes of persistence of memory is the transitory nature of society and I truly believe that music is an art form deserving of so much more. 

Tell us stories from the road and the bands you liked the most sharing the stage with.

Well, we recently played a show with a Nottingham-based band called Scriptures and a local singer-songwriter called Matt Steady and they are some of the nicest people (not to mention talented musicians) with whom you could share a stage, and I hope that your readers will check them out and give them a listen. Matt did a great set, playing solo but with backing tracks and a whole range of different instruments, so that was cool, and Scriptures played an electrifying set which made us gulp a little bit. So anyway, on we go, smoke machine on stand-by, and the damn thing sets off the fire alarm. Now this probably wouldn’t have been too bad, but the bar had had a fire a few days previously, so they were a little gun shy, and we were playing so damn loud we couldn’t hear it anyway, so the sound guy (tired of frantically trying to signal us),tried to unplug the smoke machine but, in the darkness, managed to shut off my amp; cue much red-faced rushing around trying to rescue it before Rich’s solo ended. We got through it OK, but the rest of the set was just that little bit more aggressive for the intervention!

Another gig we played (with the awesome Stonepit Drive) was at a pub with, I kid you not, an L-shaped stage. So, there we are, out front, playing the songs and, behind a wall, our drummer was desperately trying to hear enough (of course there were no monitors) just to keep the right beat! In the end, I had to run to the back of the stage every time I wasn’t actually singing to keep count with him and give him signals when the changes were coming. I got my exercise that night! Still, it wasn’t as bad as the stage where, every time we jumped, the power cut off (we worked it out the second time around); and there was another gig where I ended up on my ass (still playing) when I jumped onto a pile of cables. Still, it’s like the liner notes of the Hype soundtrack say – if cables don’t get unplugged and pedals don’t get kicked across the stage, it’s not a rock ‘n’ roll show, and I’d much rather end up on my ass having jumped around, than stand stock still and look like a wax work!

As to bands we most like sharing the stage with, Mage are absolute gentlemen (and a great band), we always have a lot of fun when we share a bill with Temple of Lies and we also love playing with Third Angle Projection and This Elegant Chaos. They’re quite a bit heavier than us, but we’ve played a fair few times with Blood Oath, who are cool and Monachopsis are a great bunch too. Last, but by no means least, I can’t leave out the brilliant Beckon Lane, from Nottingham, who are musically brilliant and a great band with whom to share a bill. I’ve probably missed out quite a few folk and, to be honest, we’re lucky because it’s rare these days that we share a stage with a band who aren’t cool, but your readers should definitely get their Google on and check out the bands I’ve listed because there’s some great stuff going off in the Midlands right now.

Photo credit: Ester Segarra


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