In a world were there are so many bands to keep track of I want to bring my two cents in presenting you to this interview with FINAL COIL. Anders Ekdahl ©2019
Let’s start with your previous album. What kind of responses have you had to it? How do you view it in hindsight? What are you satisfied with and what not?
-I think that Persistence of Memory was a great starting point for us and we’re still very proud of that record. When it was released, we really didn’t know how it would be received because it has a very dreamy feel to it (despite the heavy riffs peppered throughout), and we really weren’t expecting the level of support that we got from pretty much across the board.
Releasing an album is always a difficult thing, because you’re putting something, on which you’ve worked incredibly hard, out into the public domain and you never know how a reviewer will take to it… so, you’re waiting with baited breath and literally every review you get, you open it up with a sense of trepidation because you’re so close to this thing and, of course, it’s hard to take criticism however well intentioned. Anyhow, we were blown away by how many people really dug into it and it was great to see that a lot of reviewers got quite animated in describing it. One of my favourite reviews said something like: “with Final Coil in the player…the view from the car window becomes a view into another world…” and I was so grateful for that, because that articulated very nicely what we had wanted to achieve.
As for us, it’s hard to say what we’re satisfied with and what not, because each of us has our own take on the record and our own views on what might have been done differently or better. I think it’s inevitable, as you hone your skills, that you become tempted to look back and say “oh, I could have done…” but the problem with the human memory is that you can look back and see multiple paths open to you in the light of your present experience whereas, at the time you couldn’t have done any differently.
So, whilst I do see some flaws at various points of persistence of memory, I can honestly say that with the skills, mindset and time that we had available to us, we couldn’t have done it any differently and, as such, I have no regrets about that album. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to make it and to share that time with the creative team who helped us and I think it’s a wonderful snapshot of Final Coil in 2016.
You have a new album coming out now. What can we expect from this one?
-Well, the new album is definitely a progression from Persistence of Memory. That album contained songs that were thematically linked but written over a fairly lengthy period of time, whereas The World We Left Behind For Others was written from scratch as a concept record and, therefore, has an ebb and a flow to it that I think was hinted at in Persistence, but which is much more effectively done here.
It’s very much the case that the narrative dictated how the album sounded and, although I think that ethereal quality is still there, the album has a greater sense of dynamic. Definitely, the heavy tracks are quite a bit heavier than on the previous album, whilst there’s also scope for different ideas and elements in the mix. With the strong socio-political undercurrents and the reoccurrence of musical motifs it’s a nuanced, coherent album for people who like music to take them on a journey.
I am not a song writer but had I been I would have felt some pressure in coming up with new and better songs. How do you know if the songs you write now are better than the ones you have written in the past?
-I think that a sense of pressure very much depends on why you’re writing songs in the first place. I didn’t consciously set out to better the songs on the first album, although I would hope that my experiences since the first record would allow for different approaches and better musicianship. Similarly, I don’t write according to the reviews we received or commercial expectations but according to how I feel at a given time. So, if there is pressure, it’s an internal pressure to meet my own expectations, not an external pressure to meet somebody else’s.
I think that approach is crucial, too, because you can never tell what people are going to enjoy. What worked once, may not work again and you have to give the listener credit for being a complex individual who will react to the music according to their own lives and experiences at the point at which they hear it.
So, to answer your question, I don’t know if the songs are better (or even if there is an objective criteria by which that could be measured). I simply write what I feel to be right for me and what I feel to be right for the band. If other people connect with that then, of course, I’m delighted, but I would never try to pre-guess what the listener’s reaction might be – that can only lead to disappointment.
Could you explain the meaning of the new album title “The World We Left Behind For Others”?
-The record is a concept album that looks at some of the social changes that have occurred across the West (and particularly in the UK) since World War 2. It is rooted in the experience of my Grandmother (who sadly passed away shortly before I started writing the album) and much of it is seen through her eyes.
Each track is a vignette related either to the experiences of her or my Grandfather, and each one details their reactions to the fast-paced changes taking place around them. They end up with starkly opposed viewpoints despite having ostensibly been witness to the same happenings and, as such, they’re left to ruminate upon the divided world they have left behind for the following generation.
Although I have used figures from real life, the record attempts to draw a wider parallel, trying to come to grips with how society (especially given the current debate on EU membership in this country) has become so viciously bifurcated. It’s a story with which I think a lot of people can relate and I think it’s particularly pertinent right now.
It also ties in with the themes of persistence of memory because one of the central conceits of that album is that much of what we’re seeing now can be put down to a simple failure to communicate effectively. We seem to live in a world dominated by pithy soundbites – whether we’re looking at UK politicians, the media or even someone like Trump – whereas what we need, now more than ever, is rational debate.
How important is it to have a message? Is having a message a necessary thing today? Do people even care about you having a message today?
-I don’t think it’s important for every band to have a message. I love a lot of bands who play for the love of playing and there’s no message involved at all. There’s a fine tradition in rock ‘n’ roll of singing about nothing more than rock itself – AC/DC and Kiss, for example, have pretty much made a career out of it – and that’s cool. I think people need escapism and, in the same way that you can choose to watch or complex drama that makes you think or an action movie that just allows you to suspend your disbelief for a time, I think music can do the same thing. So, a message is not necessarily important to music, no.
That said, for me there does need to be a message. There has to be a meaning behind what I sing. It’s like Henry Rollins said: “there’s nothing wrong with bands that sing “woah, hey, yeah baby tonight!” – I dig a lot of that stuff – but it just isn’t me!” So, for me, there has to be a message and a meaning in what I sing, because it gives emotional weight to the music and it is the way that I have always expressed myself. I don’t think that makes what we do better or worse than music that does not have a message, it’s just different, is all.
As for whether people care, I’m not sure that’s the point. It’s quite possible to listen to music with a message and overlook it, either because you don’t care or because you don’t like the message the music conveys. For example, it’s stretching credulity to imagine that everyone who bought Rage against the Machine’s music had the same political sympathies as the band… Music is a deeply personal experience and how a person approaches it is very unique to them. If a fan listens to a song like empty handed and all they hear is a cool riff, that’s fine with me. If they want to dig into the lyrics and come to their own conclusions about what that track means, that’s fine with me too; and, of course, if people want to dig into my intended meaning, then I’m happy to chat about it. Certainly there are some fans out there who do care, because they have been kind enough to write and tell me, but I would never take it for granted that people approach our music in a certain way. I just write the way I do because that’s the only way I know how to write.
When I look back I get a feeling that today everybody are so afraid to offend anybody, both musically as well as lyrically, that we only get watered down versions of what could have been great. Has the world gone too PC?
-That’s such a tough question because it totally depends on what you mean by ‘being PC’. Is freedom of expression more important than freedom from tyranny? Is my right to say exactly what I feel greater than another person’s right to feel safe and comfortable in their environment? Given that a great number of societies around the world have failed to solve this problem, I’m not sure that I can! Nonetheless, language, for all that we try to brush it off, matters. The person bullied in the playground can grow up to be a traumatized adult and those scars can be carried for life. It’s very easy for one person to pick on another because of their age, weight, colour, sex or preferences and it’s very hard to accept that you may have gone too far in what you’ve said – better just to brush it off as “it’s just a joke” and carry on, completely unaware that your behavior, your words and your prejudices could be destroying someone’s life… So, from that perspective, I would argue that it is not a weakness to bite your tongue, to consider what you’re about to say and the effects it may have; and it is not weakness to point out that something has offended you. So, if we’re talking about lyrics that vilify a particular group of people or lyrics that incite racial hatred, then no, we haven’t become ‘too PC’ and I don’t think it’s a problem to complain or to show your dislike of such lyrics – essentially it’s the flip side of the freedom of speech coin. If someone says something hateful, then you should have the power to call them on it.
That said, I don’t think that banning free speech is the way to go about making societal change. In many ways it’s good to have freedom of speech because it’s better to force people’s views out into the light than allow them to flourish in darkness. It’s my view that people need to be educated to have compassion and empathy. No one’s mind was ever changed by being forced to state things in a certain way (if anything it merely entrenches viewpoints), but people can be educated and they can be helped to have compassion for those around them. So, in that sense, it is better that people say what they truly think because then we can try to understand it and overcome it. Let’s take a politician like Anne Widdecombe here in the UK. She’s an odious individual and her comments regarding science gaining the power to “cure homosexuality” demonstrate an ingrained ignorance that is overwhelming. However, I’d rather know that that’s what she thinks than have her voice it behind closed doors and tacitly act upon it from her position of responsibility. Let’s face it, no amount of education will overcome someone like that, but in understanding her view, we might be able to unpick the prejudices of those people who follow her.
As for fantasy and humour, I think it’s important to note that context is everything. Where ‘being PC’ definitely goes too far is where you get stuff like the PMRC trying to ban Twisted Sister or people getting offended by the obviously-over-the-top lyrics of a band like Cannibal Corpse. If you go looking for offense in stuff like that then sure, you’re going to find it and you’re probably also pretty stupid! I mean seriously, people who go out of their way to be offended, frankly, are as ignorant and dangerous as those who espouse prejudices and division.
So, it’s a tough question. I don’t think people should be divorced from their freedom to express themselves artistically, but I think that artists should be aware that their words come with consequences and that what they say matters, potentially to a great many people. I personally wouldn’t want artists looking over their own shoulders while writing songs, but I do think they should take responsibility for what they write and do. So, if they do choose to specifically incite hatred or violence (say some sort of NSBM) then they should be prepared to be called out for it and to take the consequences of their own hateful ignorance… but I don’t think that driving it out of sight makes it go away – in fact the movements that tend to flourish the most are the ones that are hidden from view.
I want to discuss the art-work for this new album. What does it symbolize? How are we to react to it?
-That’s an interesting question. I don’t think there is a correct way to react to the art, because art (like music) is open to individual interpretation. I’d like to think it stimulates people’s imagination, but I wouldn’t dare stipulate in what way. For me, the artwork (which was created by the excellent Andy Pilkington of Very Metal Art) helps to give clues as the lyrical content of the record (or at least Andy’s interpretation of it) without explicitly giving away too much. I prefer things to be oblique because we live in an age where everybody expects everything to be laid out for them, and I think that it is so much sweeter to arrive at your own understanding of something – that’s what makes it yours.
Back in the day bands played live to sell more records. Today I get a feeling that bands play live to survive financially, or at least to makes some money. Where do you see the issues of digital streaming end and how do you turn jt back so that bands start to earn money again?
-Well, the problem of digital streaming is that, as with everything else, the corporations have moved in and created a structure that works entirely in their favour. The only difference is that, unlike with CDs, the corporations have found a way to make money for themselves whilst providing listeners with something they want (namely, a huge library of music for a fraction of what it would have cost in the days of physical media) all at the expense of the artist. It is unsustainable.
When you think about the big acts of the past – the Metallicas and Pink Floyds, they grew organically, developing their sound, their career and a live show that matched the scale of the environment in which they were performing (which, in turn, was largely driven by CD sales). What artists can afford to do that now? A niche independent band, say a band like Mogwai or the Delgados, could draw in enough money to sustain a modest growth (for example the ability to record in better studios, tour or produce better videos), but that’s not possible now because most of the music is being streamed and there is no budget for promotion or growth. Certainly, in Final Coil, we rely on fans buying our physical media through bandcamp or at live shows because streaming offers us so little. Fortunately, our fans seem to appreciate the attention to detail that we have with artwork and we’ve been lucky that a number of them seem to prefer having the album than simply streaming it, but it is still a monumental challenge.
To change the system, we need to change the mindset of the corporations and to show them that, if they continue to grind artists into the dirt in the name of ever-increasing profits then there is no art. There is a tendency to blame the listener, but I don’t subscribe to that view because listeners are only taking advantage of what has been made available to them, and why shouldn’t they? If, as a young person, I had limited money available to me, then I would want to stretch that as far as it would go; so of course I’d probably favour streaming millions of songs over buying an album with only ten… it’s logical and I assign no blame to anyone who goes that route because it’s something that was offered to them.
What I would like to see is labels making an effort to make physical products attractive and worthwhile. Make the physical available first, for example, or offer exclusives not available with the digital – basically do what independent bands are already doing and prioritize the art. Then listeners could choose. They could stream (and, if that’s a band of which they’re not a great fan, why not?) but the physical option would still be attractive because you could get it early or it would offer some sort of bonus. That would certainly help to put the art first… but I suspect that corporations and particularly the marketing people, who see nothing but dollar signs (check out Bill Hicks on that subject), care not a jot for art. So, in that sense, perhaps the only way for it to change, in any meaningful sense, is for listeners to vote with their feet and, as far as possible, buy direct from bands through bandcamp or live shows… it makes a huge difference, but it’s a responsibility that the listener shouldn’t have to shoulder.
What lies in the future?
-We’re already working on a new album, the third part of the trilogy that began with Persistence of Memory, and it is a progression once again. I don’t want to say too much about it, suffice it to say that, as a band, we love being creative, we love the challenge of writing new music and, for me personally, it’s something that I find incredibly exciting. I can’t imagine not writing, and I started putting pieces together within a day or two of getting back from the studio.
Aside from that, we’ve had a slow start to the year in terms of live work because our drummer has been quite ill, so the latter half of the year is going to be about making up for lost time and we’ll be looking for gigs. As of now, we do have two cracking dates: one supporting the legendary Shonen Knife in Camden (July 18th) and the other playing Ragefest in Nottingham (November 10th), so our aim is to take these songs out on the road as far as possible. Watch this space!