Interview: The Coral
It’s an enviable career trajectory: Merseyside psychedelic rock band the Coral landed a record deal when their youngest member was just 16, scored a Mercury Prize nomination for their 2002 debut, and went on to produce a further three U.K. Top 5 albums. They toured excessively and smoked lots of weed. No surprise that they were exhausted by 2005.
Things threatened to implode when their guitarist, Bill Ryder-Jones, quit touring, and the band put things on hold before returning with Roots & Echoes — another chart success, but tinged with sadness. When Ryder-Jones left for good and they released their greatest hits, it signaled the end of an era. A new chapter begins with the group’s sixth album, Butterfly House, with producer John Leckie bringing out the psychedelia and folkiness in the group’s songs, and continues to make the five-piece one of the most consistent bands of our time.
eMusic’s Elisa Bray talks new beginnings with frontman James Skelly.
The departure of your guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones in 2008 after 12 years together must have really affected the band.
Massively. He left, so it completely changes the dynamics of the whole thing. But it’s all about pulling together as one, which Bill understood as well, and when he felt he couldn’t do it any more he left. So, in a way, we got back something that we had especially on the first album when we were all one. We all had to pull together and we all had to step up, because you all know that you’re on the same page. It took us a bit to find our way but hopefully now we can push on from strength the strength. It was a relief in a way when it happened.
How do you feel you’ve developed musically with this album, and which song best represents this development?
I think you could play the whole album on acoustic guitar and it would stand up. “Walking in the Winter” is a personal favourite. We did something I’ve always wanted to do there, in a way. I love the music of Phil Spector, the Beatles, the Beach Boys. Then, I like Kris Kristofferson — that personal type of thing. I wrote one of those sort of smaller songs, but gave it a widescreen backdrop, like Phil Spector or the Beach Boys. I’d got my favourite two types of music, and I’ve always wanted to do that, but we’d never quite done it in my eyes.
What is the Butterfly House?
It’s where you catch everything, where you catch ideas, the songs, that magic, whatever is floating around. It’s the place where you go. It’s in your mind, in a way. It’s where you go in your dreams. Everyone goes there — sometimes when you wake up you can sort of control your dreams. It’s a bit like that.
You’re constantly writing new songs. What keeps your inspiration flowing?
People, life, places you go, things you see, photographs. We went to the Isle of Wight and were in this weird little maritime museum and there was a picture of this man looking out to the cove. Things like that end up in the songs. That character ended up in “North Parade.” We were walking round Coney Island — we went there when it was snowing and all of it looked broken down in a way. This great place that was left to rot, and left behind. You’ve got to break down the barriers for people, that’s what I’ve always got from music. You pick up different stuff as you go around, like a scrapbook.
There’s a lot of recurring nature imagery. Where did you pick that up?
There’s a writer called Alan Moore. I love his comics, especially Swamp Thing — a creature that is [made of] earth and greenery. He used it to get his views across, but in a way that I understood more than I ever have watching Question Time. So a lot of the songs like “Green is the Colour” were influenced by that — on face value, it’s about a girl lost in the forest, but the idea was that it is about greed and jealousy. That was the theme of it, that greed’s becoming an epidemic in the world now.
I watch Bill Hicks’s stuff, too. I relate to it. He’s one of the best artists of all time. I just think he’s honest. I sort of like how pissed off he’s been with the greed in humanity. I don’t understand the difference between 10 million and 20 million if you’re a millionaire. I’m not educating anybody by saying it, but if people weren’t so greedy there’d be a lot more for everyone to go round. In the music industry it’s all about greed and numbers, that’s the way it’s always been.
Have you always been a fan of comics?
My brother’s always collected them, but over the past few years I’ve really got into them. I like the Hellblazer ones — it’s about a psychic detective from Liverpool. And, obviously, Watchmen.
I saw the film. What did you think of it?
Pointless. It’s one of the most pointless things that I’ve ever seen. Hollywood got involved. It’s just a disgrace, especially the ending.
Tell me one thing that happened to the band since the last album.
We soundproofed the practice room. [We used to share the building with] a brothel and they accepted it and we accepted them. It was very liberal. But then someone else moved in and they’ve twisted the whole plan, but it’s all sorted now, you’ll be pleased to hear.
This is your sixth album. How many more do you have in you?
We want to be like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, putting out great music for 30 years. That’s the aim. Once you get your creative world, and once people can get into it, it’s endless. We’ve come this far now, we may as well see it through.