Interview Final Coil
By: Miguel Ribeiro
This interview was originally published in Portuguese, courtesy of the excellent Hintf Webzine – check out the original here.
Hintf: Thank you for answering this interview! What were your expectations when all began?
Hi there, thank you for so much for taking the time to send us these questions! This is Phil (Vocals & guitar) answering.
In all honesty, when we started out, there were no expectations. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve always had a firm idea of what we want to happen in terms of reviews, live shows and so on, but we’re also very aware that the music industry is a merciless one that is guided as much by luck and timing as it is by any objective measures. If you place your expectations on a particular review or a particular sales figure, unless you are extremely lucky, you are almost certainly doomed to failure. And indeed, we’ve seen bands split up who have not managed to meet their own expectations in this regard.
So, instead of placing expectations on elements that we can’t control, we focus solely on making the music that we want to make (and, by extension, listen to). I very much felt that, as long as we met our own expectations, then in some sense the album would be a success regardless of how it was met by the outside world. You know, I’ve seen interviews where artists modestly say that they never listen to the music that they make, and I struggle to understand that. I make the music that I want to listen to, I always have done, and I truly believe that as long as Final Coil continues to make the albums that we want to listen to, then we will have fulfilled all the expectations that matter. Anything else is a massive bonus… and don’t think for a second that we haven’t been absolutely floored by the amazing response to Persistence of Memory. We simply never dared to hope for, or to expect, such a response.
Hintf: Who are Final Coil?
We’re a four-piece band, all of whom live in or around Leicester in the United Kingdom. My name’s Phil Stiles and I am the band’s lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. I formed the band and I also write the bulk of the songs.
The longest-serving (or is that suffering?) member of the band is Richard Awdry. He’s been in Final Coil since pretty much the beginning, and he is the lead guitarist and vocalist. I think the interplay between myself and Richard is one of the things that makes Final Coil special (at least for me). We’ve always worked closely together and it’s a pleasure to spend a few hours messing around with him in our home studio, getting the demos up to scratch for potential recording.
Our bassist is Jola Stiles, and she has a long background in music. She is a very talented flautist and she has played music in one form or another for many years. She’s also a capable artist and she has had a hand in a good deal of our artwork, although not the latest album which was produced by the wonderful Andy Pilkington of VeryMetalArt.
Last, but most certainly not least, is Tony ‘Ches’ Hughes, who joined the band as our drummer back in 2014. He’s an excellent player with a great deal of experience, and he’s very much helped to push the band forward. He’s always open to new ideas and that encourages me to be more adventurous in my writing.
It’s hard to pinpoint what it is in a band’s chemistry that just works, but after a few years of working with various musicians, I can comfortably say that there is something in this iteration of Final Coil that was previously lacking. We’ve achieved an awful lot since Ches joined, and we have a good deal more planned for the future.
Hintf: What are the main differences from now to when you guys began?
Definitely I’ve matured as a song writer. Our early efforts were very basic and, in a number of places, generic. That’s not to say that I’m not proud of what we did, but it’s certainly true that we play very few of those early songs now. I think Richard and I have a very intuitive way of playing together that can only come from countless hours of playing and recording together and I also think that the band as a whole; now that we’ve done our debut; are a much more coherent unit than we were at the start. Being in a band, in many senses, is like being in a relationship in that you have to learn where one another’s boundaries are, you have to learn to listen and you have to learn to compromise if you are to achieve your best work. The dynamic is always evolving, of course, but I think that the time we spent crafting the first album was also time spent crafting the band, and I believe that, on the next record, we’ll be pushing to make something that is even better.
Hintf: What influences your music?
Well, we all have eclectic tastes in the band, but broadly speaking; Richard comes from a more indie / alternative background whereas I come from a more alternative / metal background. Where we meet in the middle is where the band’s key influences lie, so I’d say Tool, Alice in Chains, Ulver, Katatonia, and Pink Floyd are the artists closest to our collective heart. However, although those bands are a good frame of reference, I don’t think that you can easily point to a song and say: “it sounds like…” Normally, we’re more influenced by a vibe or a method of arrangement than by a whole sound, which makes for a record which transcends its influences… or at least I hope it does!
Lyrically, I take influence from literature, life experiences, politics, history… I’m an avid reader and I have a very vivid imagination, so it’s quite often the case that I’ll be struck by a story or incident and that then becomes the background for a lyric. It’s rare I’ll take an overt influence from one place, but I was really taken with Hemingway’s ‘for whom the bell tolls’ and that explicitly influenced the track ‘alone’ on the album. More often than not, it’ll be a vibe that fires my imagination and the lyrics go from there. I have whole notebooks filled with scribbles, but usually it’s the case that I know pretty much immediately if a lyric’s any good or not. The main thing is to try to take your influences and make them universal – I don’t want to write songs that are kind of roped up in my own psyche – I want people to be able to relate to the themes and ideas.
Hintf: Progressive,grunge why?
I know it sounds like a somewhat incongruous mix of genres, but the term progressive has always appealed to me. It’s unfortunate, but I think in recent years, the term has come to define a specific sound for some people, but, in my opinion, it was never meant to do that. To be progressive means to push beyond existing, preconceived boundaries and to make something new in the process. Pink Floyd, Genesis, King Crimson… these bands weren’t trying to copy anything that had gone before them – they were trying to pioneer their own sounds, and that’s what I hope I do when I’m writing songs for Final Coil.
That’s not to say there aren’t influences. As I said in the previous question, I am influenced by the music that I grew up with – Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Tool, Pink Floyd, Soundgarden – it’s just that I don’t want to be straightjacketed by genre conformity. So, you’ll find huge riffs and you’ll find periods of calm; you’ll hear lengthy solos and you’ll hear songs that don’t really have a chorus (at least not in the traditional sense); you’ll hear electronic influences creep in, and you’ll hear stripped-down acoustic tracks… as long as the elements fit the song then nothing is off-limits.
That, to me, is the notion behind progressive grunge. We’re trying to be more just a carbon copy of one set of influences and I would like to think that, despite the clear elements of grunge, prog and metal in our music, it’s arranged in a way that, perhaps, people haven’t heard before.
Hintf: Tell us more about your album Persistence of Memory…
Well, the album took two years, more or less, from the moment we agreed to work with WormHoleDeath (our wonderful label), to the moment that it came out in September last year. It was a labour of love for the whole band, and it was a wonderfully exciting record to make.
We originally had about twelve songs for the record and the label made us write another eight over the course of about six months. I’m glad that that they did because, although the bulk of the record comprises the first batch of tracks, songs like ‘Moths to the flame’ (which is a fabulous track that Richard came up with), ‘In silent Reproach’ and ‘Lost Hope’ all came together in the later batch and they really add something to the atmosphere of the record. After that, we had a lot of rehearsals to hone the material before we shipped out to Italy to record at Real Sound Studios with Wahoomi Corvi.
We talked earlier about expectations, and I have to tell you, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to spend twenty days at a studio from which, on a good day, you could see the Alps. I’m totally in love with the recording process, so to be in such a beautiful town, heading to the studio every day to make our debut album, it was like a dream and I will treasure my memories of that experience for the rest of my life. We worked hard on the record every day, tracking for about thirteen days, and then the rest of the time was taken up with mixing. It’s amazing working on mixing, because you can feel the songs taking shape as you add and refine each element. I guess it’s the same way an artist feels as they see the image that they’ve held in their mind for so long finally gain form on the canvass and it is tremendously exciting.
In terms of lyrical themes, the album is not a concept album as such, in that there’s no central narrative running across the whole record, but it does have a loose conceptual theme revolving around the decay of society in the face of rampant modernity. Within that, the lyrics deal with loss of the self in the face of an increasingly digital society, the breakdown of the family unit as a result of the social forces that tear us apart and the impact of deceit upon families and friends. It is a dark record, but not, I think, without hope, particularly in songs such as ‘Failed Light’, which offer a glimmer of future redemption.
Hintf: How the media and the fans received it?
To be honest, it has had an amazing reaction.
I said at the outset that we had no expectations, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t incredibly nervous when it finally came to the time to send this record off to websites and magazines. On the whole, the response we have received has been so positive, detailed and supportive, which is just amazing to me. The fact that I am answering these questions for a webzine form Portugal for example… it’s just remarkable to me.
You know, it’s a very odd feeling when you put so much of your heart and your emotions on public display, and I’m just so grateful and happy that the press and the fans have taken the time to really listen to the album and to let it take them on the journey that we mapped out with it.
Of course, not all the reviews were positive, and we have seen a few that were less than flattering, but you know what? It’s the nature of this thing. We don’t take it personally, and of course we understand that our music is not for everyone. But, on the whole, we’ve had a lot of great reviews and we’ve also seen some well-written and constructive criticism that we’ll gladly take on board for the next record. It’s been truly humbling to have received such a welcome.
Hintf: How it is the music scene in Leicester? Easy to have a band like yours?
Well there’s a very good scene in Leicester and some really exceptional bands, but it’s not always easy because we don’t readily fit into any one niche. That said, the metal community in particular have been incredibly gracious and accepting of us, which just goes to show how open minded and friendly a scene it is. We’ve played with a number of fantastic bands with a considerably heavier sound, and they’ve been nothing but supportive of the music we make. It helps, of course, that our live show is considerably more visceral than what you hear on record.
More to the point, I’m not sure that any band finds it easy. I know a large number of the bands here in Leicester and I know that, no matter how easy they might make it look on stage, behind the scenes they are working incredibly hard, so perhaps it’s not so different for us after all. Ultimately, if you want to be in a band that aims to grow beyond the hobby stage, then you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of time, money… even holidays if you are to make it work. The trade-off is a tough one, but it’s worth it!
Hintf: What are your plans for the future?
Well, I am currently writing new music and I believe that we’ll be making some announcements with regard to our future plans very soon. Speaking broadly, I can tell you that there will, for 100%, be a second album and that we very much hope to take that out on the road. It is my dream to visit mainland Europe, because I’ve always loved the atmosphere of concerts in places like Poland (my second home) and I really want the opportunity to travel and play around southern Europe, even if it’s just for a few days.
Hintf: Please define Final Coil in only one word…
Hintf: What you guys know about Portugal?
Well, although I’ve never been to Portugal, I actually teach elements of European history, so I’m well aware of Portugal’s rich and varied history as one of Europe’s oldest nation-states and as an imperial power. I don’t know too much about Portugal’s music scene, I’m afraid, although Moonspell are a band that both Jola and I admire and Crossfaith are also Portuguese, I think.
Hintf: Some final words to your fans in Portugal…
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking the time and trouble to listen to us. When we started out, we never thought we would be doing an interview for a Portuguese webzine and the thought that people in Portugal may have come across our album is just amazing to me. I very much hope that we can find a way to play some dates in your beautiful country, and a trip to Europe is very much on the cards for the future.
Thanks for your time and for the excellent questions.