When THE CORAL emerged in 2002, British guitar music was awoken from a creative coma. They instigated, along with The Music, a rediscovery of ideas out of the prevailing post-Brit Pop banality. The early promise of Oasis’s first two LPs, The Verve, Suede, Blur, Pulp et al had been replaced by a succession of watered down imitators and stadium-sized reincarnations (Menswear and Stereophonics have much to answer for).
The Coral spearheaded a sea change and a re-thinking of what it meant to create rock music in a new millennium and, along with bands such as Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines and latter day disciples The Arctic Monkeys (admittedly with a Big Apple shaped dollop of help from across the pond courtesy of The Strokes), they set about re-shaping rock n roll. As a Merseyside publication, it’d be easy to apply too heavy an emphasis on the group’s importance, to over bloat their impact, yet, The Coral are still loved far beyond these shores and remain the eternal muso’s band.
But, it has been three years since Roots And Echoes, an age by The Coral’s standards, and during that time the group have experienced more changes than at any other point during their (almost) ten year career. Bido Lito! caught up with The Coral’s Nick Power to talk about the band’s new LP Butterfly House – released this month on Deltasonic Records – and gain an insight into what it means to be a member of still, one of the UKs most forward thinking and artistically revered groups in 2010.
“This is a new chapter and we want to set the standard for the next passage of the band…its the drawing of a new map,” Nick Power tells me outside The Coral’s practice room on a blustery July afternoon. “The Singles Collection was the ending point of that first period of the band. So much had changed. We wanted to do something different and have a new start.”
And if anything need stand as a glowing endorsement of that new start, the beginning of the new chapter, it is Butterfly House; a shimmering collection of West Coast Pop-Psychedelia, the record sees the band maneuver a change of tack more acute than at any point in their career, even eclipsing that of Nightfreak And The Son’s Of Becker’s arrival in 2004.
The record was produced by John Leckie, the man who extracted one of the seminal works of rock history from The Stone Roses, as well as producing Radiohead’s The Bends, The Verve’s classic Storm In Heaven and Spiritualized’s Ladies And Gentlemen. So, was Leckie an influential figure in the creation of the new record?
“Yeah, he definitely helped. We did some demos with Ian Broudie first, who just helped us out and steadied the ship with all the changes that were going on. Both Ian and Deltasonic suggested working with John.”
In terms of producers, John Leckie is heavyweight, having presided over some of the high watermarks in British music over three decades. So did he get the red carpet treatment over in Hoylake?
“Originally he just came down and watched us praccy, said nothing and got bevvied!” Laughs Nick, sort of hardly believing what he’s saying…the guy who recorded The Bends just sat, half-cut in your living room? “Ha! Yeah, it was a bit weird having John Leckie pissed in ours, just sat there with a case of Becks. But then he was the first to get into the studio in the morning and always the last to leave.”
It is often a trait you come across with talented producers; they’re obsessive. In the same way as a painter slaves over their art, with a disregard for the outside world and a lack of interest in concepts such as day and night or the passage of time, an affected producer moulds their creations in a closed, idiosyncratic manner.
“Thats how it was, he gave us like a schedule to work to. It was Monday to Friday, we’d be in at this time and out at that time. It was very structured and disciplined and it was really good for us. John used to be a tape op in Abbey Road and he just has this amazing work ethic. The man doesn’t stop.”
And from that work ethic has been born The Coral’s most considered work to date. The intricacies of the arrangements on songs such as the title track Butterfly House and Roving Jewel and the blissful, baking sunset harmonies evident throughout the LP, but particularly on More Than A Lover, Walking In The Winter, and Falling All Around You move The Coral into a new place. In 1000 Years, the band have crafted their most complete work yet; harmonies so warm your skin will blister, a drum sound to completely die for – especially evident when they first enter at the start of the piece – a reverb washing throughout, binding the music together sonically in a way that only Leckie knows how. The song has a melody that could have been taken straight from Brian Wilson’s scrapbook and, clocking in at two minutes and fifty one seconds, the song embodies perfect pop in a way that only The Coral know how, and so good, only The Coral can get away with.
So, in 2010, what changed with this record? “We played everything live, which was down to John as we’d been playing around with tracking various different parts,” says Nick. “He didn’t use Cubase or anything like that at all. There was a lot of attention to detail and we demo’d everything live a few times first, which we’ve not done before. It was all very deliberate.”
With the band all being ten years older than when they made their debut album, 2002’s self titled and Mercury Prize nominated The Coral, has the passage of time and experience aided them in the creation of Butterfly House? Nick thinks so,
“When you’re a bit older you can stop everything, slow down, relax and you can be a bit more patient. The change in producer helped massively, but it is also down to the attitude of the band, the standard of the writing and everybody’s individual playing. I think everybody raised their game on this record.”
Nick mentioned the changes the band have been through since their last album; behind the scenes, the set up of the band’s relationship with their label and their relocation to a new rehearsal space all being amongst the shifts, but the main difference being that Butterfly House is The Coral’s first album without founder member and guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones. It is natural, therefore, that the spotlight will fall on the differences his absence makes to the record. It would be completely fruitless to try and assert if The Coral are ‘better or worse’ without Bill and it would do the band and the man an utter disservice. But, there certainly are differences.
I’ve mentioned that this is the band’s most considered album to date, and it is in that where the distinction between the periods pre and post-Bill’s departure lie. If you listen to the guitar parts on Butterfly House and Sandhills – the later being the point on the new LP at which the ‘new’ Coral really rear their head – there is a focus on the parts arrangement and sonic context which is unique to the group thus far. This is more Knopfler than Nightfreak, more Neil Young than Bill McCai and the way that the guitar lines interweave with the arrangements – particularly on Falling All Around You, Sandhills, and Roving Jewel, the piano, organ, guitar and vocals sharing the lead motifs with a comfortable ease – gives credence to the assertion that this is The Coral’s most wholesome work to date.
On Sandhills, James Skelly’s lead vocal is almost unrecognisable from that of the youthful, energetic snarl on Dreaming Of You. Here he plays the role of balladeer; this is a Scott Walker track without the orchestra, its strings being replaced by those ever present vocal harmonies. When Nick says that everybody raised their game on this record, we agree with him, completely.
The world has changed so much since the turn of the new millennium. I’ve mentioned in previous article’s that The Coral’s first EP pre-dated the first ipod, at the time there was no myspace and bands still demo’d on Tascam tape machines. The Coral have witnessed the technological revolution and its effect on bands and the wider music industry from the coal face. “I didn’t have a mobile phone until we made the third album and computers were for those lads in school who didn’t play footy at lunch. We are living in the future now, its everything without the hover boards.” But, in terms of the way the band’s releases are structured, is todays climate much less restrictive? “When we started it was single – single – album – a collection of B sides for the singles. We came through from that change to the ‘anything goes’ kind of way it is today. Maybe we’re the last of the B side generation?…”
One thing thats not changed for The Coral is where they base themselves and the obvious affinity they have with The Wirral. The group all still live in Hoylake – well three of them do, with one in West Kirby and another in Greasby, a subtle yet important distinction for those of you who know your Wirral geography, but for those of you who don’t, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it – and their proximity to the sea remains a huge influence, “well yeah, we do live right next to it. Its hard to get away from something that big.”
And the new LP is brewing with influence from the big blue and wider mother nature, with constant lyrical themes hung around the seasons and landscape. ‘I hear her talking with the leaves in the dark / The crooked branches hanging heavy in her heart,’ sings James in Green Is The Colour, a song which starts with the sound of the sea lapping at the shore. But The Coral have always been a band in tune with their geography,
“Where we live, you walk down to the prom and if you look one way you can see Wales and the other way you can see Liverpool. When we recorded the first album the whole Welsh psych and low-fi scene was a big influence, we were well into Gorkys and Super Furry’s at the time. Mwng is my favorite Super Furry’s LP and we listened to that loads when we made the first album. You can hear those big haunted Welsh hills and feel the landscape. The scenery of the record, it all contributes. Just like you can tell a band from a city.” Like The Strokes just sound like NYC? “yeah man, and Lou Reed is the same.”
The Coral’s combination of these Welsh, brooding atmospherics, an affinity with their Wirral locality and the influence of Liverpool’s age old trick of a melody, etched with the bands deep love of the Bunnymen and Teardrop all still hold strong on the new album. But then, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, with the band all still residing on these shores. When the early records kicked off, was it not tempting to ‘do an Alex Turner’, and flit off to New York?
“Well I’d love to go and experience new places. When we started it was just complete chaos, those first three albums, I didn’t know what was going on. We were so young, maybe if we were a bit older we’d have moved away, but we’re skint now anyway! I saw that Stones in Exile film recently, now that’d be alright. Living in some big chateau in the south of France, recording your album in the basement, Jagger getting married, taking your kids to school in an Aston Martin….I’d be up for that!”
I missed my bus on St John Street a couple of weeks back and to pass the time, stumbled into The Grapes for a pint, to escape from the rain. They were hosting their usual faire of middle aged pub singer with backing tracks, busting out the Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams numbers before, after settling down with my IPA, the crooner went into a version of Pass It On. It got me thinking about where The Coral’s music is today and how far its filtered into the mainstream songbook. I wondered how that feels for the band? I once read a quote from Paul McCartney where he said that once you write a song, you give it away, you have to let it go, its not yours for keeping…
“I like it man. You do give them away and what would you do with them if you kept them and were precious anyway? Music is for sharing, I’d just like people to do it justice. I walk past Coopers by Central Station and the karaoke is going, no matter what time of the day, people singing Billy Fury, Joe Meek ‘Johnny Remember Me’, these amazing songs. It just seems to be a natural thing in this city. People criticise it and say the city should change, its too sentimental, but its just part of the place.”…as are The Coral, they are of this place and part of this place and, after almost ten years, they are just as essential as ever.