Interview with Phil Stiles ( Final Coil )

10 Fragen / 10 Antworten

1.When and why did you become a musician ? 

That’s a good question. I was always into music in some form or other, starting with choir and the dreaded descant recorder (does everyone start on that?), then clarinet and, for my sins, oboe (although I was terrible at the latter). I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed either the clarinet or oboe but, with hindsight, I greatly appreciate having played them for the basic experience of theory they gave me and the understanding that, if you want to play any instrument, you need a certain degree of discipline.

 

I turned from being a somewhat passive practicer of music into a musician when I first experienced Nirvana. Nirvana changed my whole experience of what rock music could and should be. Until then, I’d listened to a weird array of stuff from Guns ‚n‘ Roses and Duran Duran to Queen and Meat Loaf; but they were huge, stadium-filling artists and I never felt any desire to emulate them.

 

Nirvana, though… they spoke to me. When Kurt played, it was with this blazing punk intensity. It was raw and it was rough and it didn’t matter whether it was tuned perfectly. And I could identfy with the lyrics too. Queen was pure fantasy and escapism and Guns ‚n‘ Roses… what did I know about the Sunset Strip? Kurt’s take on small town isolation and frustration, that I understood. Within six months of hearing the band, I’d picked up this battered old guitar and forced myself to practice. My mum had made this deal with me that, if I stuck with it, she’d get me a proper acoustic guitar and she held up her end of the bargain. I was hooked. I’ve never gotten past the thrill of playing music. It’s something very special to pick up an instrument and work your way towards learning something new or creating something that’s entirely your own. Along the way, I’ve picked up other instruments and, although I wouldn’t lay claim to be particularly great at any of them, I’ve learnt to play enough to translate the souds in my head, and that’s all I ever wanted to do.

2. What are your characteristics? What makes you special?

It’s interesting how you phrase that. I don’t know that anything makes me special. I simply have a passion for what I do and, if anyone else wants to come along for the ride then, of course, I’m delighted… but I don’t see myself as „special“.

In terms of my characteristics, I would say that I have a very eclectic approach to composition that comes from a lifelong love of, and passion for, music in all its forms. That said, I would say that my writing is tethered to alternative rock (albeit very loosely) because, no matter what else I may listen to, that’s where my heart lies. I think perhaps, ecclecticism can be seen as somewhat iconoclastic, because I do prefer to step away from genre labels and experiment, whereas a lot of bands tend t be somewhat purist in their approach. Perhaps that playfulness and that passion comes across in my recordings (I’d like to hope that it does) and that’s far more important to me than musicianship per se.

3. Who and what inspired you?

            This is one of those questions that I dread, not because it’s a bad question, but because it’s so hard to answer. There are so many places in which one can look for inspiration and, of course, there are different types of inspiration to be found. Certainly artists such as Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl jam, Sonic Youth and their ilk were inspirational for me musically and, I guess, philosophically. Although stylistically they’re all different, they all brought a sense of integrity to their music which appealed (and which still appeals) to me. I think there was a sense of adventurousness with those bands whereby you could pretty much do what you wanted, as long as it represented how you felt. So, for example, Sonic Youth could blaze away on Brother James or cover Madonna as Ciccone Youth; Pearl Jam could deliver the beautiful, bruised Immortality or the visceral Hail hail and, of course, Nirvana played with their hearts very much on their sleeves.

So, yeah, that musical integrity was huge for me; and it’s that integrity that you can find in the influences I found later in life such as Massive Attack, Swans, Godflesh or The Cure – I tend to gravitate towards those bands that put their heart and soul into what they do and I love the notion that you can transgress any boundary if the journey is where your heart lies.

4. How do you imagine listening to your music? Where do you like to listen?

I always like to imagine that people who listen to my music approach it in the same way I approach music – to listen to an EP or an album as a complete piece (that’s always how it is conceived) and preferably without distraction.

 

I think that one of the worst things that has happened in recent years, with regard music, is that it has been cynically promoted almost as wallpaper. Spotify, Amazon, smart speakers… these devices encourage people to listen without thought, without discretion and without interaction… How depressing.

 

It’s alien to me, to be honest. I guess it’s the same way that people started to leave the TV on, without thought as to what was on the screen; but for me, I can’t imagine having music on without having made an informed and conscious choice as to what it is I’m listening to. I’ve always believed music to be an art form. It’s still the case that a new record can take me on a journey, whilst an old favourite can instantly take me back to the time in my life when I first heard it. It can evoke joy or sadness, a sense of mystery or excitement, and I never get tired of finding new things. I guess I hope that there is someone out there who, when hearing my music for the first time, might feel the same way.

 

As for how I listen, it’s still my favourite thing to sit back, put a record (or CD) on and then work my way through the liner notes whilst listening. It’s a big part of the experience of listening to an album for me; and whether my solo work, or Final Coil, I have always put a lot of effort into the art and packaging.

5. Who are your most important role models and why?

Anyone who approaches their position with integrity and compassion, I think, can be a great role model. Whether you’re talking music, literature or poltics, it’s important to have that awareness of how your actions impact others. When I first got into music, it was Kurt Cobain taking bands like Bikini Kill and Shonen Knife out on tour – giving support to the music he loved rather than indulging in an ego fest with bands of a perceived similar commercial level. It was Pearl Jam taking on Ticketmaster and trying to give a voice to the kids who just wanted to see a gig without paying an exorbitant price; or Eddie Vedder’s vocal support for liberal causes. It was Massive Attack, Asian Dub Foundation and Dreadzone bridging the worlds of dance and rock, putting unity at their core, and it was Fugazi running and maintaining a label where the focus was always getting the music to their audience at a reasonable price…  

I don’t know, I don’t really go looking for role models, as such, but I greatly respect and admire anyone who uses their position to advance the cause of those less fortunate than themselves. It’s an increasingly rare quality, I fear, and that’s why it’s more important than ever that those in the arts lead by example.

6. What role do social media play in your career? How important is YouTube or Instagram for you?​

Social media is hugely important for a musician as it allows direct interaction with the fans and with potential audiences. These days, with so much choice and so many different channels open to people, to not utilise social media is almost akin to consigning your art to obscurity.

That said, if I’m honest, I’m not the greatest fan of social media as an individual. Increasingly, I think, we’re seeing the impact of people finding an instant outlet for their thoughts and opinions. Not that it’s a bad thing to have a greater understanding of those around us, but the incresasingly didactic way in which people put their social and political views has led to a real fracturing of society, the impact of which can be seen in the election of Trump, the rise of populist voices across Europe (most notably the odious Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage) and the United Kingdom’s fateful decision to leave the European Union.

Alongside that, anyone who truly believes that there hasn’t been a mass manipulation of the vast quantities of data people are willingly putting on line is deluding themselves. So, let’s say that I approach social media with caution and, whilst I’m gratful for the reach it offers, I fear that, for the most part, it’s a seductive illusion and those forms of art that have the greatest reach remain those with the greatest promotional investment behind them. You’ll find a good deal of these thoughts and fears within the lyrics of the EP.

7. Do you actually do anything besides the music?

Yes, most certainly. I work as a teacher in an international college, a job that I love, teaching Intercultural Studies. Working in such a field is fascinating and there’s so much inspiration to be found in the subject that I teach. I can’t imagine doing a job that I hate – I’ve taught for a number of years now, in a variety of subjects, and I’ve never felt less than fortunate to be doing it.

I also write for a webzine, writing reviews and doing interviews, and I’m an avid reader. Literature is another passion of mine, as it truly is a gateway to the imagination, and it’s a rare day when you’ll find me without a book in my hand. I also love to travel, although the opportunities are relatively few and far between, and my wife and I take every opportunity to explore new countries on our all-too-infrequent holidays.

Life is short and it’s important to take every opportunity that you can – something that I think this current pandemic has thrown into very sharp relief.  

 
 

8. What has been the best performance you’ve seen so far?

Another tough question! There are so many great performances which I’ve been lucky to attend. The first time I saw Nine Inch Nails was utterly, synapse-fryingly brilliant. Massive Attack, too, must rank up there, as does Roger Waters when he performed The Wall in its entirety. Those were big shows – spectacles – but with amazing music and a deep connection with the audience. From a different perspective, the sheer love that I felt in the audience when I saw Pearl Jam for the first time, the entire crowd (or so it felt) singing along with the band, was something that I’ll treasure. As shows go, there was nothing particularly special about the lighting or the stage – the band just know how to communicate, and it’s for that reason that I will always love Pearl Jam.

However, a performance that was truly amazing, and one of which I was reminded quite by chance today, was Spiritualized at Glastonbury Festival in 1998. Spiritualized are always a rearkable live band, but this performance… the festival was a sea of mud. It was wet everywhere, and we were standing ankle deep in mud at the second stage, four days into the festival and with the sneaking sensation we’d never be dry again. The bands across the weekend had been amazing – Sonic Youth, Tricky, Nick Cave, Blur… but then Spiritualized came on. At first it was just the band, playing the woozy introduction. It rose to a cacophony and, at the climax, a curtain dropped and, dressed in purest, shimmering white, was a gospel choir. They added such depth to the beautfiul music pouring from the stage and the whole show was transcendental. For 90, amazing minutes, I didn’t feel wet or cold. I was in thrall. It was magical, and the entire crowd felt unified in the experience.

9. Who should play you when your life is filmed?

Oh dear, well it wouldn’t be Tom Cruise, more’s the pity! I guess it’d have to be someone like Eric Stoltz who, to be fair, looked quite a lot like me when he played Lance in Pulp Fiction, or maybe Alan Tudyk (who played the Dread Pirate Steve in Dodgeball). Of course, if you can think of any other fiery red heads, I’m all ears!

10. Last question: What do you want for the next 10 years, what do you need for it?

All I’ve ever wanted to do is to have the time and space to create and that’s not changed. I don’t care over much about material wealth and, as I mentioned earlier, I’m privileged in that I love my job. However, in a perfect world, I’d have just enough of an income to be able to devote myself to writing, recording (and perhaps reviewing) music. It would be a dream to settle somewhere and set up a small recording studio that would turn over just enough money to afford me the time to also record my own music. I don’t need fame, fortune or accolades; just the time and space to make music without compromise, and to be able to work with like-minded people.

To do that…  I don’t know, it’s possible that if I continue to work at it and continue to believe in it, then it could just be achievable. The saddest thing, for anyone I think, is to let your dreams burn up on the bonfire of age.

Thank you so much for the great questions and for taking the time to speak with me.

 
 
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