Final Coil‘s is one of the best kept tresures from Britain’s alternative/progressive scene and their sophomore album, “The World We Left Behind For Others” is a great introduction to their sound and also an album that brings a lot more depth conceptwise that one might expect. World Of Metal talked with Phil Stiles, lead vocals, guitars and overall mastermind of Final Coil. – By Fernando Ferreira
Hello Phil and welcome our World Of Metal. Your sound is quite diverse so… how does it feel to you getting interest from the metal comunity?
Hi there, thank you so much for your questions and your support – we’re very happy to have this chance to have a chat with you. It’s an interesting point you raise, because we’re often asked about genre and we’re never really sure how to answer. In various reviews we’ve been called progressive metal, post-rock, stoner, doom, grunge… the list goes on, and we’re very pleased with that because it implies that people take away from our music what they want. From my perspective, I never really think about genre, because it implies adhering to a particular sound, whereas I prefer to focus on writing songs that reflect the subject matter at hand without worrying about whether it fits a particular musical ethos.
With regards to the metal community, I’ve said many times over that metal fans are some of the most open-minded and accepting fans on the planet. Although we juxtapose clean vocals with heavy guitars, there’s plenty of precedent for that in metal, with bands like Anathema, Katatonia and Alcest; not to mention Tool and Alice in Chains; all a key part of metal’s great narrative. There’s something about metal, too, that visceral reaction a person has to a really great riff, that I hope can be found in our music. Certainly live, when we drop into something like the last battle, I see the audience come alive so, of course, we’re delighted that metal fans have been willing to open themselves to our music because there’s no better community of which to be a part.
“The World We Left Behind For Others” is a huge album where you present your unique sound that has all these different genres and influences and bring it to a new level. After a great debut album, how much difficult was to reach to “The World We Left Behind For Others”
Well, firstly, thank you very much indeed! It’s really cool for us when people say we have a unique sound, because it’s not something that we consciously planned, it’s more a result of the myriad influences that can be found within the band.
In terms of writing the record, it didn’t feel difficult as such because the songs flowed once the initial concept was decided. Certainly there was no sense of pressure to better the last album and, in some senses, it was more a case of not focusing on what had gone before and just doing our level best to treat a challening concept with the respect, dignity and intelligence it needed. That said, for me, there is a desire to evolve in line with my own changing abilities (and those of the band), so whilst I wouldn’t say that there was a conscious decision to “outdo” the first album, obviously I would hope that the listener can see that there are differences and that we have grown, both as musicians and as human beings.
The biggest challenge in this band, I think, is taking the ideas from the demo stage to the studio because, inevitably, we have to work out how to arrange the songs for performance as a four-piece whereas, when demoing, I’ll throw in all sorts of elements that you wouldn’t necessarily want or need to replicate live. Also, because I do try to push the boundaries of what we, as a band, can do, it’s often the case that there’s a fairly steep learning curve. Something like keeping going, for example, on this album, has a really awkward rhythmic pattern that is at odds with what I’m singing, and it took a little bit of practice and a little bit of discipline to get it right.
Did you have a clear intention on what kind of influences or sound would come up on this new album or your writing process a whole lot more spontaneous?
As I said earlier, I rarely (if ever) think about genre or influences when I’m writing because the effect of that would inevitably be to constrain the sound, wheras I’d like to think that, within the band, we’re open to pretty much anything as long as it flows and feels natural to the mood we’re trying to convey.
On this album, in particular, where the narrative is central to the record, the aim was to support the themes within the song. So, for example, the last battle is bombastic and laced with super heavy riffs to reflect the wartime theme, whereas the moody convicted of the right had to reflect a very different experience – the creeping, insidious nature of indoctrination – and I hope that the music in that piece reflects that idea.
So, yeah, the narrative dictated the music and there was never a case where I was sat there thinking “oh, we need another heavy song” or “this track should sound like band X” – everything had to serve the story and provide an ebb and flow that would take the listener on a journey.
The title of the album is pretty thought provoking. Is the lyrical content so important as the music?
Yes, very much so. Different bands, of course, approach their lyric writing in different ways, and I don’t think there’s any one approach that is better than another. But, for me, I have to sing about something that matters to me, so I try always to imbue the lyrics with meaning, even if the meaning is sometimes rather oblique.
In this particular case, the lyrics are especially important because it is a concept album and I spent a lot of time getting the lyrics to say what I wanted them to say without being too obvious or didactic. The narrative itself is based, predominantly in fact, around the experiences of my grandparents living in post-war Britain. Their experiences and the way they had to deal with the prevailing social attitudes of the time, especially that “stiff upper lip” mentality that meant veterans could never really speak about what they had been through, helped to shape their world view and the album is, essentially, their reflections upon the world they left behind for others.
In a sense, it’s an attempt to examine how society became so divided in the wake of that terrible conflict and, looking around today at the rise of the far right, I think it’s important to understand from where these attitudes originate because, in understanding, we can start to create change.
Can we talk of a concept, in terms of message in this album?
As I said above, the theme of the album is predominantly a discussion about how we arrived at this point in time, socially, politically and culturally. It looks at the experiences of the older generation, it looks at the ways that they were led into a particular mindset of national exceptionalism (one that seems particularly dominant in the West right now) and it tries to see the world through their eyes.
You know, I never thought for a second, when I was growing up in the 1990s, that we’d see such a loss of compassion within society. It is truly remarkable that now, in the twenty-first century, with all the technology at our disposal and all the possibilities for education that there’s a wilful ignorance and a desire to return to segregation and isolation. It is horrifying to me that it is possible to look at another human being and see them in any other light and yet, throughout history, the struggle for sovereignty has been a struggle to jealously guard power, wealth and cultural achievement from ‘others’.
Now, I hope and believe that this can change. Already, it seems, that the younger generations are far more aware of the need for compassion and understanding around the world, but (and I feel very strongly about this), it’s not enough to tell people that their view of society or culture is wrong. It’s not acceptable to simply ban what we would consider hateful speech, because those who use it will still harbour those thoughts in their hearts. We have to try to understand why certain people within society feel so threatened by change. We have to understand how someone can look at a migrant and see an enemy, and then we need to try to engage in discussion and change that viewpoint. It’s a slow process, but historically, social and cultural evolution has always been more successful than social and cultural revolution.
So, this album explores some of those themes. I’m not trying to tell people how to think, but I am trying to get people to explore why they think a certain way; to consider what stresses caused those ideas to form in the first place and, hopefully, to engage in discussion and rational debate rather than pithy soundbites.
What kind of feedback you’ve getting with this new album?
Absolutely astounding and we didn’t expect it at all. You know, for an independent band to put out a concept album, it’s a really risky move because it kind of flies in the face of contemporary music listening habits. This is very much an album and it’s designed to be heard in that way and, although you can listen to it as separate tracks of course, it doesn’t have the same impact, not least because the songs (in many places) flow into one another.
So, we were kind of expecting that there’d be a mixed reaction and that people would be ambivalent about the concept but, to our surprise and very great delight, almost all of the outlets that have been kind enough to do a review have really got behind the concept and dug into the themes, both musical and lyrical. It means the world to me because it seems that, for whatever reason, the concept has resonated with listeners and, although I very much hoped that would be the case, I didn’t dare believe that it would be.
Sometimes, one difficulty some bands that has lots of different influences and mix sound genres like you have is getting people don’t liking it because it isn’t melodic enough or because is not heavy enough. Did you ever felt that or had that impression and if you did, does that gives you some kind of pressure?
Well, you’re right and there is a sense, sometimes, that people aren’t quite sure what we are or where we fit. When we did the first album, people seemed a little hesitant because, although we have these huge riffs, the vocals are very melodic and we wanted this very ethereal atmosphere – almost dreamlike – and there were certainly some reviewers who just didn’t get the intention behind it at all (although comparatively few it has to be said).
But, you know what, that’s fine with me. It doesn’t create a sense of pressure because, in my view, you can never second-guess what the listener wants and I think it’s far more important to write music that honestly reflects who you are as a writer and a musican. Anything else would be a compromise and we have never compromised yet – the music that you’ve heard from Final Coil, for better or for worse, is exactly the music that we wanted to make at that time. So, to that end, the only person’s expectations I ever have to live up to are my own.
What you have to remember is that it takes a lot of time (and a lot of money) to make an album – I want to be able to put our records on in ten, twenty or even thirty years time and I want to hear the passion and the honesty of expression that we had, not some half-hearted compromise based around what I thought our listeners wanted. I think that would be the worst of all worlds. What I write is the most honest representation that I can muster and, although I very much hope that it will resonate with listeners, I know that I can never, ever guarantee that it will.
How about live activity, can we expect some outside the U.K.?
Now that’s a good question. As you get older, you do find it gets harder to organise such endeavours because of work or family commitments. However, we managed to get three weeks to record in Italy and it is my absolute dream to bring our music over to mainland Europe and spend some time exploring the continent. We shall have to see – our record label (WormHoleDeath) is Italian, so I’m hoping that we can make it happen soon.
In the meantime, we have some great UK shows lined up, the most exciting being a support slot with the legendary Shonen Knife. I can’t tell you how excited we are to be playing with so influential a band. It’s at the Camden Underworld on July 18th and we can’t wait.
What would be your greatest achievement in this stage of your career?
Right now, it’s this album. For years, all I dreamed of was to release an album and, with persistence of memory, that dream finally came true. I never thought that I’d get the chance to have a shot at a second album or that, if I did, it would be so well received. It’s amazing to me and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunities that I’ve had. Our label, our producers (Wao Corvi and Jonny Mazzeo), our photographer (the wonderful Ester Segarra), our PR people (at Imperative), our artist (Andy Pilkington), Magnus Lindberg (who mastered our first record)… these are professionals who live in this world and they have willingly shared their time and talents with us and helped us to make our two records to date. I have no idea what will come next, but to have been able to do these things is a dream come true and I am stunned by the reception this album has had.
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