How did Coil form ?
COlL Jim Thirwell and I were invited to do the Equinox Event in 1981. We were going to do an installation that blew up hot air, a la Marilyn Monroe, as you walked across it. We never did it, that was officially Coil's first incarnation. After that it was me, John Gosling, with Sleazy engineering. We did a couple of cassettes as Zoskia and Coil. They were practically the same group then, as we played the same songs. Sleezy and I decided to carry it on. This was parallel with the early Psychic TV days. I can't remember the dates. We did our first piece the one sided 12 inch Album "How to Destroy Angels" in 1984.
FIST How did you meet up ?
COIL How did Sleazy and I meet ? I was a groupie. I used to write to Throbbing Gristle, a week after "The Second Annual Report". I regularly corresponded with Gen and Cosy. They used to phone me up at Boarding School. I'd be in prep and the phone would ring and they would go "It's Genesis P. Orridge for you on the phone". I'd be there for an hour because if he talked to you, he would be ages. I was his corrupted little schoolboy, I think. I was invited to "The Heathen Earth" Recording and I met Sleazy for the first time. I didn't say anything. I was there as jailbait I think for Sleaz. We met again later when I was living in Brighton. Eventually I moved up here.
FIST What were the initial ideas behind the group ?
COIL Youthful nihilism, we use to do posters stating that we were the "Archangels of Chaos" and "Dream Cycles in Perpetual Motion". Looking back on it some of the wordplay was clever, brutal poetry. A lot of people at the time said it inspired them It was raw poetics. The whole scene was very nihilistic with Zoskia and Crystal, who is Steve Stapleton's partner, and AKE who became members of Skullflower. There was a Death Trip type scene that was very creative. It was the same time the club, "Skin Two", started. My membership number was twelve. That's where the whole scene operated from. It was very "Acid Speed", with seriously weird people running around. Nurse With Wound grew out of that scene and Jim Foetus fell into it but it wasn't a very sociable circle.
FIST Does your interest in magic predate that time ?
COIL Yes, when I was at school I wrote to Alex Sanders known as the "King of the Witches". He was in "The News of The World ". He said you can join, but you've got to wait until you are eighteen, so write back in two years time. I was very much into Crowley then. I knew a teacher who taught in another School. He showed me how to do Astral Projection. I learnt that and Hypnosis, which I did on the other people at school. The authorities eventually found out and I got into a lot of trouble. The teacher lost his job. I have a letter somewhere saying that "Geoffrey has an unhealthy interest in the Occult". The School claimed that I was Astral Projecting into other peoples' heads, stating this was unhealthy...it was all totally insane. (LAUGHS). David Tomlinson who is the father in "Mary Poppins", his son went to school with me. We became involved in an unsavoury (occult) scandal. (In reality it did not exist). David Tomlinson came to the school in this big black limousine, bundling me out of the school into this car. He then demanded all these love letters written between this guy and his son. It was all in his imagination. He got this guy sacked. The authorities clamped down and I was wasn't allowed any of my Occult books. For six years it was all put on hold.
FIST How did that interest come about ?
COIL It runs in families, hereditary.
FIST From this interest comes the symbolism that you use in your work ?
COIL Artists always use symbols don't they ?
FIST Well some people use them without having the knowledge behind them, then they are meaningless.
COIL Unfortunately we have this problem where people ask about the
meaning behind the symbols. They are there and we use them. We are not
here to explain it to every body else.
FIST Symbols can be interpreted in any manner though.
COIL Yes but that is not our problem. The fact is that we are using them correctly for the right purpose. Our magic is for us and channelled
through the music.
FIST Do you have much contact with your audience ?
COIL I don't know who it is. We have a hell of a lot of people writing to us. After an album we receive about a hundred letters a week. It is difficult because you start answering them and then they answer back. You get further and further and then you realise that you haven't enough time for doing what is important. We like to keep a distance. We have to keep a certain distance.
FIST Do you have people looking for you as some sort of guidance ?
COIL We give them a booklist or some thing and show them the library. We
are not here to teach. If you start a dialogue then people send you reams
of poems and it can go on for ever. It doesn't matter how good they are.
I don't want that to be our role.
FIST How did the interest in the symbolism of The Black Sun come about ?
COIL Originally we chose it as a Coil Symbol from a Crowley book. After that it kept coming back at us. It seems to be getting bigger. It's what I decided to call a Millennium Emblem. It's rooted in Alchemy, and as a symbol of Nihilism, sado-surrealism.
FIST Why do you think others have picked up on it ?
COIL Because it is a good a symbol. It's not negative solar energy but the other side, Dream Energy.
FIST You have mentioned previously that "All About Eve " used it.
COIL All the single covers of the Shamen have had that spiky ball thing.
It's another manifestation. The guy who does the graphics for them knows
Coil's work from a long time ago. I'm not saying they have stolen it but
it is the current of now. I'm trying to reclaim it. I want to do a book
of the Black Sun so that we can have it all in there, as we opened the
door for it.
FIST You mentioned Alchemy earlier. How would you define it ?
COIL The transmutation of matter into something else, hopefully of a higher frequency.
FIST Can you have "Alchemy of Sound " ?
COIL Yes absolutely. That is what we work with. We don't deal with
physical materials. Sound is sometimes a physical thing.
FIST You mention rituals often. How important do you think they are ?
COIL The parameters shift all the time. I don't know what I mean by it, other than as a deliberate act which goes go against normal instincts to make a new set of circumstances. Alternatively helping oneself create a new place...a new mental space. You have to break the confines of the modern world, such as shopping and cleaning. They are not rituals in themselves but you can create rituals out of them. The intention is that you must want to create something new, which make your actions a ritual. That is where magic comes in, you do, what to anybody's naked eye are bizarre archaic absurd hand gestures and guttural vocalisations. Yet for you internally it creates a new space, allowing you to move forward. In that sense it is a private act.
FIST In another sense it can be like "Trooping the Colour". It's a different ritual from what you are articulating though ?
COIL For some people "Trooping the Colour" is an important mainstay of their life. I'm not interested in it. Saying a prayer before dinner may makes it sacred, for some people that is important. I can go along with that in a way, everything should be sacred.
FIST Sometimes Rituals are like those portrayed in the film "The Last Emperor".
COIL To the Westerner they could be seen as that ?
FIST I meant in terms of the economics. The rituals kept a system going that was oppressive.
COIL I don't know if they are rituals then, maybe they are just for bad. They don't have to serve the good of the self.
FIST What do the rituals do ?
COIL Whatever you want, you have to be more specific.
FIST You spoke earlier about breaking down the norm in terms of shopping.
COIL You have to break out of the norm and then you'll do something different, like carving a new mannerism.
FIST That could just be a coping mechanism ?
COIL Of course it can. Everything in the world is a mental construct. Rituals should stand out as being above and beyond the normal mental constructs you make to survive going to Sainsbury's. (LAUGHS).
FIST I notice you have a Colin Wilson book.
COIL I'm going to throw that out. I don't like him at all.
FIST He makes the point about hidden human faculties which he terms Factor X.
COIL He's a cut and paste journalist.
FIST He makes the important point though of altering your consciousness.
COIL It's just a different mindset. There are individual ones and groups. We went to Guy Fawkes Day in Lewes where they have a major Fire Ceremony which has become an Anti Papal Event now. They have effigies of the Pope and the Police. It's brilliant. You can see the primal energy coming through and it transfigured us. We came back vibrant thinking this is good why don't they have this everywhere. Even there the police are trying to put an end to it because it is so anarchic. People roll barrels of Tar down the main High St. It's well worth a visit. A mass ritual, I don't know what the purpose is, just to break out of the mundane.
FIST There is that differentiation between those practices that uphold the State and those that break it.
COIL There are as many types of Ritual as there are people in the world. There are those designs to keep you in your place and those that allow you to break out. That is where magic comes in because it allows you to transcend, or side step logical configurations of living.
FIST How though ?
COIL That's where Coil, Clock DVA, Surrealism, DaDa came in.
FIST It is difficult, I suppose it would have do with the puncturing of the norm.
COIL The Surrealists only punctured the bourgeoisie. They were aiming at a very refined art market. People went along wanting to buy some wonderful fin de siecle art and got a urinal instead, or a picture of a young girl licking a pebble, which they weren't into. It only worked at a targeted market. We can't expect to do much more than that. We are not mass media terrorists and we're not going to be in this State.
FIST Why ?
COIL Because I don't want to be a martyr. I've come close to it a few
times. I'll stand up for what I believe in but I don't want to go out on
a limb just to prove a point. Maybe I will but I'm not going to say it
now, otherwise it'll forewarn them. (LAUGHS)
FIST Stardom beckoned.
COIL They became stars, but it's a nice thing to be paid for your dreams. That's also when it's ferocious importance disappeared. You just become products, a commodity, however strange or offbeat it is. It becomes perceived like that. Maybe that has happened to us ?
FIST Do you think you've escaped that ?
COIL To some extent because we've never sold that much. We are borderline, outside of the mainstream. We still have an insidious quality, because we are still fresh to people. We aren't over exposed. That is always a danger.
FIST You don't seem to get much press at all.
COIL (LAUGHS) That's another way of looking at it. They won't talk to us. I think we're too strong a meat. We'll do interviews. Four years ago we did a Halloween special where our feature was to be the main one, with Jack Barron interviewing us. We stayed up till two in the morning, doing Ghost Photos here. They went away saying it was brilliant, but Danny Kelly the editor of the time, said that they couldn't put the article in because it was too strong, too real. That's the case we've had all along. We're too direct. They want Billy Bragg in New Orleans, getting drunk and talking about seeing a chicken being decapitated, tourism. They can deal with that, or they have a feature on Kirsty McColls' Granny, who reads tea leaves. It's my mistake to think they were interested. It's just crap. In that sense we'll always be outside the media. It's unfortunate for us.
FIST Is it self censorship on their part then ?
COIL They're just not interested. Why should they be, and go out on a limb to take a risk. They're not on our frequency. People such as Diamanda Galas, Mark Stewart and Philip Glass are. They very rarely say it, only to us when we meet them, but not in inter views, maybe because they realise it is futile (LAUGHS). I often get paranoid about that. I see a list of records that people like and I often think that the journalists crossed out Coil. We don't fit into what they are normal and happy with.
FIST Are you more acclaimed in other countries ?
COIL Yes, in Holland. Journalists have flown over to see us. On the West Coast of America we even get recognised. This even happened when some guy was serving us breakfast.
FIST Do you get more exposure in those places ?
COIL I think so, we are more on their frequency.
FIST How important is your sexuality to the music ?
COIL It's important when it becomes so. I don't set out to write "ram 'em down you throat" songs or anything. Pardon the pun. I can't really answer that. We are aiming an effort to do some sexually confrontational type songs We have neglected that, it hasn't been that important. If people ask, we tell them. I don't volunteer my sexual habits to people.
FIST I wasn't thinking in terms of gossip. There is a stereotype of gay music based on high energy disco ?
COIL Yes exactly, Jimmy Somerville is the fairy on top of the cake. I'm not interested in that. Maybe it's his particular flaunting of it. It's the same with Andy Bell (of Erasure) I dislike their all pervading obviousness and the homogeneity that their music causes. It's the safe alternative. It's just put to music, a safe soundtrack for shopping to. Being politically correct I shouldn't, because theyUre seen by teenage boys in Humberside as role models, thereby allowing them the strength to come out. I'm not interested in those performers.
FIST They are stereotypes ?
COIL They are, but that is sometimes useful. They serve a purpose, but it doesn't mean I should get on with them. I'd prefer some ambiguity, mystery and subtlety in my sexuality. It's bound to influence you to a certain extent, because it is who you are. It's only a small part of you.
SLEAZY I think that anyone who uses a stereotype...it's the same as someone who uses a cliche in writing, for me, it's laziness, just for convenience. I don't think that people ought to do that. They ought to be more creative... more themselves. On the other side of the coin I think that there are a lot of people in the music business who are gay, and it is well known that they are, who hold back from acting as role models to hundreds of people.
JB You're talking role models are you ?
SLEAZY Yes, absolutely.
JB If they came out as gay, it would be more beneficial for pansexuality. If everyone found out that half the people in the charts were queer then a lot of defences would crumble. I remember when I was at school and I told this rugger bugger that Elton John was a homosexual. He punched me in the face and stomach, then pissed on my bed. It devastated him. If all the gay people came out there'd be bit of violence buy they'd realise they're fighting an illusion.
SLEAZY That's what I'm trying to say.
JB You don't have to be such an obvious role model, just be honest. Role models are one step down from that. Jimmy Somerville is one and I don't like the style of it.
FIST Mind you, the person who hit you, their behaviour was bizarre.
COIL Coming to terms with Elton John being gay, as if anyone didn't know anyway. I'm more embarrassed by the fact that he didn't notice. (LAUGHS)
FIST So you've attempted to break that stereotype then ?
COIL Not at all, we've just been very honest to the point of transparency. It's so obvious what we are that people can see clear through it. You have to say "I am Gay", on your photos or T-Shirts, otherwise people don't realise. I mean, Slur from Horse Rotovator is all 'bout me being rogered on the outskirts of Marrakech whilst being stoned on majoun. Anal Staircase is all about Alchemy, Anal Sex and stuff. Enough people have picked up on it for us. We don't have pink triangles tattooed on our foreheads or any thing.
FIST From the people who like you, is the response mixed ?
COIL Certain people don't care what you are.
FIST In reference to cut up techniques how do you differentiate the work that you do from what happens in the commercial arena
COIL Although I feel spiritually indebted to cut ups I think that the mythology of the cut up is lazy and inaccurate, shallowly observed. It's a trend now and it should be fresh and revolutionary. Brion Gysin said, when you see things, you see it as a cut up. Saying Gysin invented the cut up and Burroughs developed it, is crap. DaDa did cut up collages. Once someone has validated those ideas as art, which happened with DaDa, then the fragmentation of imagery was allowed. Before that you had to paint a "proper picture." If it wasn't, then it was seen as incomplete. Once it was validated as Art, it entered the mainstream. Now it is every where. In adverts you don't have a picture that makes sense, you have a barrage of images. This is supposed to reflect the turmoil of the modern world. It is a cut up without meaning. The original intentions of cut ups were, if we go back to Burroughs and Gysin, to allow the future to leak through. They were spells, rituals and magical maps with which to break up reality. That was their intention and their result. On "Loves Secret Domain" we made a deliberate attempt to get back to magical cut ups. We chose from carefully selected sources, transferring them onto a quarter inch tape. We then pieced them together as a Chaos Generator.
FIST How do you work on your song structure ?
COIL That is an infinite question.
FlST There is no particular way. We don't jam in the studio very often but stuff like "At the Heart of It All" on "Scatology" was. There were no overdubs. I have tons of lyrics. Sleezy does the rhythm tracks, the ground work. I come along and say, "that's crap, do it again." This happens for six months, then we quickly go into the studio and make a song about it. That is why we can't play live, because it is made in the studio. We can't rehearse it and we can't reproduce it. There is surprisingly little wastage from what we do, mainly because we can't afford to.
FIST Do you work from an idea before hand ?
COIL Yes, that is always the first thing. I have titles and ideas. I say I want to do a song about so and so, then we do it. I'm obsessed with trees at the moment. I'm sick of humanity and what it has built, especially cars. By now we should have thought of another alternative. I want trams and horses back, or bicycles. Society is in such a decline I am willing to opt out if I can. Burroughs lives in a small bungalow in Kansas. He doesn't cycle because he'd fall off, but he has his cats and he does anti hunting stuff. Even though he has guns he doesn't go hunting with them. He cares about trees and nature. You find people like Manson saying exactly the same thing. We should have clean rivers and air and not so many kids. When I turn on the telly it's full of programmes about problems with blocked fallopian tubes, cot deaths and babies. There are very few shows that talk about contraception. I've thought about going onto one of those programmes and saying that you should keep the kid you have and care for it. Don't have anymore and tell you're friends the same thing. This is why I think Gays and Lesbians are radical as they don't have kids. They've opted out of that genetic trap. People think, if you don't have kids then you don't believe in human life or whatever. It's totally the wrong way round. They do care so much, they've decided not to have children.
FIST Are you misanthropic ?
COIL Not really, because the people who are here, I care about. I just don't want anymore. This is where I start getting cranky. I think that a tree has just as much as right to be here as a person. I think if someone kills a Dolphin then they should be on a murder charge. I do however eat meat, it's because I'm fucked up. Ideally I know I shouldn't. When I went to America I couldn't get over how the country is one slab of flesh. We went to one restaurant which had Cows horns on the door. It resembled some charnel house, Auschwitz, the stench of flesh, with these people eating huge twenty five pounders. Their guts must've been solid. They'll end up with Mad Cows Disease, the whole planet will be foaming at the mouth. Then Nature will have it's revenge. I can't get into hating everybody, it takes too much energy but I'll give as good as I get on a good day.
FIST That seems to balanced out by your involvement with ACT UP ?
COlL I laid on the floor and I was arrested. It was the least I could do.
FIST Have any of those ideas found their way into your music ?
COIL We're going to do a queer disco record. We've got William Burroughs to work on it with us.
FIST How did you rope him in then ?
COIL We didn't rope him for anything, he's a friend of ours. We got him to speak some words to do a magical cut up.
FIST How come there was a gap between albums ? Is it because you had a mental block ?
COIL Mental breakdown more like. I haven't been very well up top really. I had what I'd call a shamanic experience. I've been out of circulation since November, coming to terms with it. There's no point going back when you do something that drastic to yourself using hallucinogens.
FIST Did you try to bring it on ?
COIL I did yes. I realised it the other day. In October 92 we had this phrase "God Please Fuck My Mind for Good", which was going to be our album title. I realise now I was doing that, I'm demonised. I can see them everywhere. It's the same phenomena as Austin Spare, the Artist. He said he could see the dead all the time. I know what he means. It's just the ancestors, they are in the fabric, all the time. I'm coming to terms with the fact that they are not hostile and to use them for my good.
FIST So you are coming to terms with another reality ?
COIL Which I let flood in. It happened to me before when I was at school. I remember seeing all sorts of shit then.
FIST The same concept as doing alchemy isn't it ?
COIL Of a sort, so long as it transmutes in the right direction.
FIST Do you do much stuff outside of Coil ? I know that Peter does.
COIL I do as much as I'm asked. I do scripts for Sleazy but it bores me doing Video Stuff now.
FIST Why ?
COIL I'm just not interested in people filming saying "OK lovey get that spot over there." Or band members getting nervous so they put make up on for three hours and snort their coke. We did the Gavin Friday Video, "Falling Off the Edge of the World". That was brilliant, also the William Burroughs one with Ministry.
FIST What you're saying is that you enjoy it more if the people are on your frequency .
FIST You spoke earlier how the media had ignored you. Have you ever been outrightly censored ?
COIL With the NME article, yes, but it's more behind the scenes censorship, which is worse, because it never comes out that you were censored. It's great to be banned for sales and publicity.
FIST I suppose it happened to you with the music for "Hellraiser".
COIL Yes, we weren't deemed suitable. It's a fine line because it's not censorship as such. It wasn't as if they were saying we must stop this filth.
FIST If they had have done then you could have received the publicity from it.
COlL The "Unreleased Hellraiser Theme" is good enough. Clive Barker has to autograph them at his signing sessions.(LAUGHS)
FIST What are your future developments ?
COlL The next album will be called "International Dark Skies". There is a campaign by Astronomers, Mystics and Philosophers to have light pollution reduced so we can see the Stars again.
FIST I suppose psychologically it makes people more inward looking ?
COIL Yes if you can't see, there will be a huge loss of spirituality. It's our right to see the stars, whatever you make out of them. Street lights should have a lid on them to beam the light down. It's a waste. It's alright people saying that they need it otherwise they'll get raped. It's not going to happen mid air, at tree level. If you beam it down it is more effective anyway.