Entering a More Pleasant Domain
Alternative Press issue 38, 1991

by Marlena Sonn

Everybody wants to feel good these days, from EMF and their escapist beat to Spaceman 3 with their chemical nirvana. Even aural terrorists like Coil are having fun. But Coil has a good reason to celebrate. They've gone through a particularly rough time in their lives and musical careers, and have weathered it well. Known for their openly homosexual preferences, the band was hit hard with the spread of AIDS, and Horse Rotorvator, their last album, was a graceful eulogy and testimonial to their suffering. Now, four years later and wiser, Coil has produced Love's Secret Domain.

"I wouldn't say it's a party atmosphere, but it's more positive," says Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, one half of Coil's braintrust. "I think that's a reflection of our personal lives. When we were doing Horse Rotorvator, it was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and our friends were beginning to die. Some of the songs dealt with topics that might be considered morbid, coming to terms with death and what might happen after it. But now we've come to the conclusion that we might as well have a good time. There's no point in being down about it."

To the inattentive, this attitude may seem incongruous with the dark image Sleazy and John Balance have cultivated for the last nine years. But Coil's music has always had a delicacy, an almost innocent joy, that its brutish, obsessive passion could not crush. It's rather surprising, considering their debauched, albeit well-educated, past. Born amidst the ashes of Throbbing Gristle in the early eighties, Coil has consistently outstripped the Gothic disco of fellow TG offspring Chris & Cosey, and the meanderings of Psychic TV with their own brand of elegantly disturbing music. Along the way, their interest in scatology, ritual, magic, surrealism, mind-altering substances has been well established.

Despite the fact that Coil have been called enthusiasts of the works of Aleister Crowley, Sleazy shies away from any associations with formal religious systems, pagan or otherwise.

"We don't follow any particular religious dogma," stresses Sleazy. "In fact, quite the reverse, we tend do discourage the following of dogmas, or false prophets, as it were. And we don't have a very sympathetic view of Christians up to this po int. The thing we follow is our own noses; I don't mean in a chemical sense."

Although Coil's music and life-style may be considered hedonistic, Sleazy is quick to stress a more esoteric motivation for their support of various drugs.

"All kinds of chemicals have been present, but no just illegal ones. There's also various neurotropics - 'smart' drugs which were developed by the military for increasing perception, intuition, memory, and capabilities on an intellectual level. Cognitive enhancers, they're called. We try to use whatever's at our disposal to reduce the barriers between different levels of reality."

"Ketamine is an anesthetic hallucinogen," pipes John, when asked about the drugs that made his top tem list of 1990 in Alternative Press a few months back. "There's a whole subculture of Ketamine-kids; scientific power-edged people that are into hacking and cybersapce stuff use it to get in touch with extraterrestrials. A guy called Dr. John Lily who wrote lots of books on dolphin communication has done very detailed research into Ketamine. The movie Altered States is based on his life story. And Vasopressin is a drug that you can get on prescription. It clears the head; they give it to school kids in America to help then get through exams."

"I wouldn't like to say that we encourage the unrestricted taking of drugs," cautions Sleazy, "but at the same time, if you can use a thing for positive, spiritual, or artistic reasons, then I think it's good."

Although it's not to be said that Love's Secret Domain is a product of drug use, the album has an undeniable trippy feel to it. L.S.D., featuring Marc Almond, Annie Anxiety, and Rose McDowell in one altered form or another, is a myriad of exotic sounds that are as subtle as they are erotic. "Teenage Lightning II" is the most obvious case in point, with it's soft, pulsing beat and Spanish overtones.

"Electricity is the inspiration behind it," states Peter. "And it's true that there is this kind of Latin temperament to it. It's a bit more romantic and exciting. We really wanted to get away from the cold, industrial, northern European, four-beats-to-the-bar sort of feeling."

"My favorite is 'Further Back and Faster,' which was the hardest to do," interjects John. "I have to like that one! It took ages; we felt like we were on the edge of the world and back again."

The secret behind Coil's renewed appeal seems to be a technique which they've called "Deep Listening," the layering of sound upon sound that's transformed their music from songs to an aural kaleidoscope.

"We wanted to make it a lot more dense," Sleazy explains. "It's not as accessible as Horse Rotorvator. For example, a lot of the songs that seem to be instrumental actually have many different levels of vocals."

"What we hope is people can be familiar with a song, and after hearing it many times they'll hear a whole bunch of other sounds which they hadn't noticed before, to continually hear different versions of what we are saying. The result is that the album is more complicated, or more difficult, but hopefully people that know our music are prepared to listen."

Not only has 1991 seen the release of a new album, which is a rare event in itself, but Coil devotees can look forward to the release of their video package this year as well. The package is set to include "The Wheel" and the legendary "Tainted Love", the first music video to become part of the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. Three of the videos to be included were shot for songs on the new album, including "Windowpane" and "Love's Secret Domain" filmed on location in Thailand.

"It was filmed in this area called the Golden Triangle which is in the very north of Thailand," Sleazy elaborates. "In the center of the Mekong River, there's this strip of sand which is were the original Thai and Burmese drug barons used to exchange opium for gold bars with the CIA. It was on this particular bit of land that we shot the video, and John discovered while he was performing that where he was standing was quicksand! In the video you can actually see him getting deeper and deeper."

"When we showed the footage to our Thai friends afterwards, they said, 'Oh, my God, several people have actually drowned on that spot!' So that added a bit of piquancy to the whole thing."

"I was sinking up to my knees," John says, "but I just thought it was mushy sand. I didn't think it was a dangerous situation; I was just trying to coordinate my body with the music, which I could just about hear from a tape recorder, and was watching out for water buffalo and crocodiles!"

"Also, there's always the danger of the Burmese guards shooting at you," Sleazy continues. "If that's the case, you have to wave money at them. They come and get it and stop shooting, generally speaking that is. You never know!"

"Thailand, especially in the north, is someplace we feel very comfortable in because the place itself is so trippy and one is so close to other levels of existence other kinds of perception that are so alien. Even without chemical help, you can achieve some very strange things. We try to go there quite frequently. It's a good place. We recommend it!"

The other video filmed in Thailand is just as spicy, although Coil doesn't own up to any backstage shenanigans. "We shot 'Love's Secret Domain' in a go-go boy bar in Bangkok," says Sleazy, a smile flickering on his face, "with John performing onstage with about 20 or 30 dancing boys, which probably won't get played on MTV, in fact!"

Although Coil have proven to be extremely prolific this year, a tour or even sporadic shows are unlikely. "The music that we make is not really music that can be played live," explains Peter. "Although it might be enough for other bands to make do with vocals, keyboards, and have the rest coming off tapes, that's not what a live performance is about. I don't like going to concerts where that's what I'm presented with, so I don't see why we should do this to other people."

"We do have various projects that are between the studio and the drawing board which are more live-orientated. For example, there's Blacklight District, which is a project of John's that's a bit more spontaneous."

Those that have seen Coil live should count themselves fortunate. It's a very rare event, and always a memorable experience, although the band members themselves hardly seem to think so.

"We did one [show] with Marc Almond on one occasion," Sleazy says. "It's all shrouded in the grey mists of time."

"We've been chained to the same wall for a long time," John adds.

"It was great," Sleazy continues, living up to his name. "Marc Almond was reading poetry while John gave himself enemas of blood onstage. And Nick Cave walked out on us saying we were too gay!"

Live or on records, Coil seeks to stretch the limits of perception and reality. "It's to do with there being more to the music than what's on the surface," says Sleazy of Coil's intent. "So much music is just the surface, just the jangling guitar or reverb. But it's not necessary to think about our music. You can just put it on and fall asleep and have nice dreams! Or nasty ones... whatever you want."