A deep dive with James Skelly and Nick Power
Cai Trefor
13:45 14th September 2018

We were told we were sub-La’s. We were like, what? Isn’t that a good thing? But then James wrote 'Skeleton Key' and things started to take off, says Ian Skelly, talking about the length of time it took the band to get their first break. The Coral needed a good few years before said song gave them the sound they needed, forming in 1996 and properly breaking through in 2002.

The Coral's favourite music, books + film

2002's The Skeleton Key EP saw The Coral predicted by NME as having a Super Furry Animals type career. This was a great bit of foresight, as they're in the midst of a glistening run, with a back catalogue and live reputation that makes them one of the most esteemed, consistent bands of the century. The Coral achieved this despite the challenge of losing Bill-Ryder Jones from their line-up in 2008, and replacement guitarist Lee Southall leaving to make way for former Zuton Paul Molloy in 2015.

The rest of the band line-up remains unchanged. They’re still based in New Brighton on the Wirral peninsula where they grew up, and it's an area they effortlessly romanticise: "Most our stuff is set in the faded glory of a North West seaside resort," says Nick Power. By keeping close to their roots, the band’s closeness as friends - and family - shines through when Gigwise meets the whole band in a Soho boozer to talk about the new album.

Drummer Ian Skelly, guitarist Paul Molloy, and bassist Paul Duffy have all arrived earlier than singer James Skelly and keyboardist Nick Power. Ian Skelly gets the round in, which is lager mostly. Wrapping up our conversation with Ian about the band’s roots, plus the cost saving tactics of not having a nightliner for touring because "that’s early 00s", James Skelly and Nick Power soon arrive. The others opt to stay drinking and smoking on the street, giving James and Nick the spotlight. Nick chooses a pint, but James keeps a bottle of water close. Two greying gentleman sit opposite and don’t appear phased by The Coral’s presence in the pub, either unaware of the band or too cool to flinch.

Line-up change enters the chat briefly, and the relatively new guitarist Paul Molloy’s contribution is praised by Nick and James. You can hear how brilliant Paul is on piano during ‘Eyes Of The Moon’ and the incredible lead part on ‘Stranger In The Hollow’ is his. He’s had a hand in melody writing in general, we're told. Rather than feeling like they are giving up too much, there is a distinct lack of ego from them behind the scenes. There is joy in being collaborative. James calls this: "What's best about the band now…There is no fighting about who is having the solo."

"Yeah you have a much better time when there’s less for you to do it’s well more fun live," teases Nick.

Evidently in good stead and buoyant after completing a focused time recording at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool - where James also produced a number one album with Blossoms - we get down to talking about the album in depth:

Gigwise: Let’s start with talking about the first track, ‘Eyes Like Pearls’. Where did the inspiration for that title come from?

James Skelly: I remember reading in a dentist five years ago about the most expensive pearls from the deepest sea. It was the ultimate gift you could give someone. These divers dive right down for them. I just wondered why five years later it came back to me.

And then I had this idea that […] it’s like the world’s on fire. There's so much bad news all the time. Sometimes when you have a moment where you feel good you almost feel guilty about it in a way. Is it a thing of Western guilt? But then if you can’t have those moments, what use are you to anyone? I had these ideas and then started singing the chorus without a guitar into my phone. Then I had to work backwards from that because it was such a pure melody.

GW: It seems to me there’s not overtly political lyrics on the album yet it feels very relevant to the here and now still. You seem to be talking about this alienation people feel despite supposedly being more connected than ever.

JS: That's the basic idea of it. It's hard to grab hold of anything or find something real. It’s so digital now. And also the way it's become so polarised. ‘Reaching Out For Friend' is about searching for common ground. Now, it seems speaking face to face in good faith with any civility is a lost art.

GW: Do you think you’re writing in a way that’s trying to galvanise people into veering away from the internet?

JS: Not really. It’s just making sense of it in your own mind.

Nick Power: If you’re going to sum anything up about our music it’s human and not so digital.

JS: It’s sort of philosophical but philosophy has been politicised. If the philosophy is you should find common ground, then we’re losing that as it’s so polarised. There is things like that within the album but not on a cliché level. I think it’s come to the point where old systems and old ways of thinking maybe don’t work anymore with the internet. It’s new. It’s massive corporations that are all working together that now no one can get a grip of. People now don’t know what it is so libertarianism doesn’t fit with that, the old left wing doesn’t fit with that. It’s a whole new thing no one knows what’s going on and I think we’re right in the middle of the new age. So within that there’s an element of trying to hold something that’s real because that’s all you’ve got.

GW: ‘Stormbreaker’ is a great opportunity to hear Molloy soloing and it’s a big alt-rock wig-out but it finishes abruptly when it could easily have carried on. I wondered if that was an intentional point made toward bands like War On Drugs? I agree with your statement in the press release that they have many overly long songs.

NP: We know how to do it. It seems to me it's hard to get something down to two minutes and distill everything into that. I think it's the hardest thing to do. It’s one of our best aspects.

JS: Yeah the American alt rock bands… I really like them but then there's some of the singles where you think, does your shortest song have to be 6 minutes? Why can't it be one that's 4 minutes, one that's 3 minutes and another one that's 4 minutes and then the rest can be as long as they want. Just give us a few. It's a really good song just condense it for us.

GW: Was it on purpose to show the other bands?

JS: No we just didn't have an ending.

GW: There’s some great string sounds. Are they live strings or?

NP: It’s mellotron

JS: But everyone's got the mellotron sampler so we make it our own. So we just got a space echo and keep putting it on that until the echo goes into it. Because that's moving and every time it moves differently, it only happens in that moment. So it's not just midi. And then you put it back on again and it goes on top and you get all this hiss. It ends up sounding like the old 1930s strings you get in Disney.

GW: I suppose strings can sound grandiose so it’s challenge to make it sounds more in the band.

NP: Yeah sometimes they do. Heavy Britpop strings, you don’t want that.

JS: They sound like insurance adverts don’t they.

NP: You want them to be like Joe Meek, Walt Disney or some weird cassette tape.

JS: We get them and make them sound like an old cartoon or the beginning of Citizen Kane.

GW: So the space echo achieves that?

JS: We get the take clean and the part really good and layer it up and then bounce it all to one track and put it all to a tape machine. Then we put it back through space echo again then record it out and it'll just be stereo. They’ll even move differently so they’ll phase. That’s the idea so it’s meant to be like an old film.

GW: ‘Love Or Solution’ feels like the most pop song on the record. The melody is stuck in my head still . How did it come together?

JS: I had a riff, like Beatles or Byrds type riff. When I was recording Blossoms, I was just playing this riff and one of them was like that's good. I shrugged it off then forgot about it. And I had a song called ‘Love Or Solution’ that was like The Doors that we recorded years ago. Then it was like, 'Shit we're going in to record soon we need another song.' So I remembered that riff and wanted to use the title and sort of wrote it to order. It was Nick’s idea to have the chords more open then Molloy made all these riffs up within it. Me, Nick and Molloy are all playing the same riffs throughout it. I’m strumming it, Nick on keyboards and Molloy on a 12-string, then we all played that twice. We had never done anything where we went high on the chorus so it was different to anything else we’ve ever done.

GW: Yeah I guess that's why it stood out.

NP: Yeah it’s a bit like something off The Beatles’ Revolver album, ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ or something.

JS: This song’s probably the most related to the production ideas I took from producing Blossoms.

GW: Eyes On The Moon’ is different. It has quite an offbeat thing going on. A bit of a festival song.

NP: Yeah that’s our rhythm as well.

JS: It’s like country

NP: It’s like psychedelic country. Like ‘I Wasn’t Born To Follow’ by The Byrds. We’re the only people who can play that rhythm now. It’s really hard to do, it’s a lost art.
JS: We were trying to get it like when The Wrecking Crew play stuff with Lee Hazlewood. Have you heard Wolf King of LA?

GW: I haven’t no.

JS: It's that type of thing. But then it kind of turned out quite British and Joe Meek as well.

GW: Is there woodwind thing going on there in the track?

NP: No but loads of our favourite records are by Joe Meek. He had this genre called spook rock and it'd always be about losing your girlfriend and being haunted by a ghost. It always had these high vocals. There is a flute in it, that’s a mellotron flute. But then there's this high vocal that we call 'aqua marina'.

JS: There's a mellotron lady choir and Neve from The Sundowners can sing really high, so she did the haunted vocal and put this mellotron one behind it. It ended up with this spooky feel.

GW: The vocal take on ‘Undercover of the Night’ astounds me…

NP: Yeah it's great.

JS: Yeah, it's inspired by really early Bob Marley stuff, Mink DeVille and Van Morrison.

I did that vocal about ten times. I just couldn't get it. I knew how I wanted it to be and I did a really good demo when I first wrote it. But I could never get it because all the words weren’t right. Then my mate’s kid - who is only about 16 or 17 and was coming to along to the sessions - helped. I said I couldn’t get the chorus and he said: 'Why don’t you sing: Call out for everyone, made to hide.' I was like, 'that’s it!' You’re not getting any royalties but that’s it. I sung that I got the vocal then as soon as I had the words.

NP: Yeah it's like the first thing he said.

JS: He hadn't spoken for two weeks never eaten an apple or orange. By the end of it he'd written lyrics, eaten an apple, eaten an orange, he was flying.

GW: Some of the songs were written a long time ago and most of them are new. Are you conscious of trying to make things fit to a theme when they’re from different periods?

JS: The lyrics are all written for the album. For instance, ‘The Stranger In The Hollow was the first one when I got the idea and this album. But it comes originally from when we were doing the other album - it had different lyrics.

The Stranger in the hollow is like what we are. The hollow is the internet and we're all strangers in the hollow. People say, 'oh my friend.' Have you ever met them? No. You could be horrible to someone and if you're horrible to someone and everyone laughs, it feels quite good until you see the person you’ve upset. You don't get that on the internet, so what effect does that have on society? That was the idea and it went from there really.

‘Love or Solution’ again, is like is it real? Are you feeling this? Or is it just numbing you and getting you through it? Which is valid, if that's what you want, so long as you admit the truth.

GW: Are there themes going alongside this central one we’ve talked about?

JS: Yeah but they're all real. I think pain is in nearly every tune […] Just the word pain, it's real isn’t it? You can't avoid it. I think a lot of people want to go through their lives without feeling pain. But if you don't, how do you know what it feels like when you feel great?

GW: That reminds me, ‘Outside My Window’ feels like one of the most overtly dark on the album. Is it a personal song?

JS: Yeah in a way. The idea for ‘Outside My Window’ was as you get older you deal with your demons but if you forget they’re outside your window, that’s when they get you. You can't take it for granted, you do become better at dealing with it. But I think you've got to acknowledge the idea.

GW: There’s a song, ‘Sweet Release’ that connects to that for me. You talk about glazing over and finding joy in hiding away. Are you looking through the consequence of escapism?

JS: Yeah. You have got to acknowledge that in a way you’re most vulnerable when you think you’re on top. Whenever I wake up I sit on my couch sometimes and look out of the window. It's the first thing I do, think about what’s outside my window and then take the day from there. I think everyone has their own shit don’t they. The idea is you have to acknowledge it.

GW: Are those quiet moments really important?

JS: Yeah. There is a theme running through the album talking about how everyone’s trying to be perfect, you see that with the Internet and Instagram. But it’s when someone shows you their pain that’s when you do fall in love with something or someone. No one can relate to perfect. So it's this idea that runs through a few tunes, It's in 'Stormbreaker', ‘Eyes On The Moon'.

GW: What about the sonics, are they connected to a theme?

JS: We had this idea of this mythical 80s album, that a band from the 60s made, that you wish existed. Like The Beach Boys made an album in the 80s with Jeff Lynne and it was brilliant, but it doesn’t exist. I wish it existed so we had to make it. So that was the idea. Then you pull everything into that. And to other people they're like 'oh that just sounds like a good song,' but we have a language between us. One that has to be like, The Walker Brothers doing disco. And you're like, 'I know what that is.' Or Jeff Lynne producing Beach Boys in the 80s and everyone knows what that is. So we have our own musical language in a way.

NP: Yeah.

GW: Each reference was a 60s and an 80s across all of it?

JS: Kind of a lot of it yeah… Del Shannon did an album with Jeff Lynne in the 80s but no one knows. Or The Byrds get back together in the 80s and go in the studio with Jeff Lynne in the 80s. The Beach Boys go into the studio in the 80s NP: But in Llandudno.

JS: With Tom Petty and it would all be recorded in Llandudno and that was the idea. It doesn't mean anything to anyone else but to us it made perfect sense. That helps us go where we needed the cover to be like, the stupidest cover. NP: The Japanese bootleg from the 80s.

JS: It's like The Beach Boys saying we need to be of the time, we need to be cool guys.

NP: But it's like a terrible move. It's niche, like.

JS: We're trying to make an art-form of when bands go shit.

NP: (laughs)

JS: So when bands go shit we're trying to turn that into something good.

NP: Do you know what, we've been trying to nail that for weeks. That's it isn't it!

JS: It's like, listen we’ve gone shit, we need to blag everyone that it's art and see if we get away with it.

GW: Thanks for your time, it's a great album.
The Coral album Move Through The Dawn is out now. Stream or buy here. The Coral tour dates with support from She Drew The Gun below:

3 Oct - Newcastle, Riverside
5 Oct - Birmingham, O2 Institute
6 Oct - Leeds, Beckett Students’ Union
7 Oct - Sheffield, Leadmill
9 Oct - Bristol, SWXS
11 Oct - London, KOKO
12 Oct - Liverpool, University The Mountford Hall
13 Oct - Manchester, Albert Hall

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