From The Vault > Coil

Interview by Alexavier S. Strangerz

AUGUST9TH 2001-The Warwick Hotel

A forward:

The world was a different place in 2001. Not only was it pre 9-11, but it was a world where the presence of a magical British band, COIL, had been felt for nearly 20 years! Having been an influence on myself since I was a teenager, I couldn't resist traveling to New York City for the 'gothic' convention Convergence7, where promised was the first U.S. appearance of Coil! Turns out the man responsible for booking the illusive act was an old San Francisco colleague of mine author/magician Joseph Max555, so I was on the inside track to meet with them.

I saw an opportunity to share my experience with the world, and more importantly with the coil (e-mail) list where I was a regular participator! Many of my questions for the band members came from that list, but I have a more conversational interview style, and had some things as well that I wanted to learn from such masters of chaos! So even though now we live in a world post 9-11, and post Coil (as the helmsman Jon Balance died in 2004), it's a new decade; and with it comes new things, new opportunities, but there never will be another COIL. So I offer this interview to the worthy people of, and through them to the world and into the annals of history. Any questions or comments regarding this write up can be sent to me:

Thanks and enjoy!

The interview begins with just Alexavier and Sleazy (Peter Christopherson)

ALEX: Joining us soon will be Jon Balance, in a seemingly balanced mood these days.

SLEAZY: Not hardly.
(we both laugh)

So are you enjoying being brought to America?

SLEAZY: Yes, very much. I like New York, it’s a fantastic place to visit.

I heard a rumor that you actually didn't want to come to America?

SLEAZY: Well, we did take a 20 year hiatus from playing live anywhere, and it's just recently we've started playing live again.

Just a short break, eh?

SLEAZY: Yeah, something like that.

You did perform live before that break?

SLEAZY: Yeah, once or twice at the very beginning of our existence.

(then, as if reading my mind or anticipating my next question...)

SLEAZY: The reason we’ve begun to start playing now is that technology has advanced to the point where we can make enough of the sounds live without a million synthesizers working together to make the noise that we make now… and also the video technology is that to where we can make specific video edits that last throughout the whole program very in sync with the music, and different from visuals being produced now which is just eye candy. We can now really sync the audio/visual experience. We don't want our videos to be just eye candy, they should correspond to what the audio is about.

Well I can assure you that from center stage last night the visuals where amazing!

SLEAZY: Still, they could be even better than that. There was trouble with the audio sync last night!

ahh a little touch of chaos?

SLEAZY: There's always some room for maneuverability and flexibility.

So that's good then, live everything audio and visual.


I want to take this opportunity to ask you about an impressive device I read about from back in the Throbbing Gristle days. It somehow involved tape loops and a triggering system.

SLEAZY: Right! I used to have a system not unlike a melotron that works from a system of tapes and keys, but also the tapes were continuous as it triggered from banks of cassette machines as a source so it wouldn't be just a string sound or something - it could be a radio broadcast, or a quotation from something else, or a kind of noise that varied, so there was an element of randomness, but you could also sequence the keys so that it would produce sequences of notes in such a way as you would not know what sounds the notes were made from. They could be made of anything.

Enter Jon Balance.

JON: They would trigger samples, didn't it.

SLEAZY: No, they weren't samples!

SLEAZY: You know it always seemed to me that one of the things that's disappointing about sampling, or the way samples have become so much a part of music today, is that 99% of the time they just play from the beginning of a sound each time so that your always hearing the same sound. Maybe re-pitched or expressed in a different way, but it’s always the same thing being repeated. It makes the music a more narrow band of interest or potentially more boring.

Whereas if you could set some of the sounds, or maybe all of them to where you could pick up where you left off, then it would create more interesting music.

SLEAZY: Right.

Maybe music that's less 4/4 in tempo and arrangement?

JON: I always thought it was a type of William Burroughs cut-up but using sound.

SLEAZY: Yeah, William Burroughs did some experiments in the 60's of cutting up tapes, especially tapes that were recorded live at different settings, and then playing those tapes back in those settings to create...

JON: Chaos!

(we all laugh)

SLEAZY: They would create different types of social engineering, and William before he died he was kind of a friend of ours said we were carrying on in his footsteps.

JON: More so than anyone he cared to mention.

Wow! That's great. I always considered Burroughs to be a mentor to my mentors, kind of a double edged sword. Very cool being handed that torch by William himself. But on the other hand, it's not like you can just quit being that it is also a continuation of the work of one of your own mentors.

SLEAZY: Well you know he had a big influence on me being a child and reading his books.

JON: We always have this thing we say if we have any doubt carrying on doing what we do. We think of the impact that Burroughs had on us when we were young and how there was someone thinking outside the normal channels of what you were supposed to, and it showed us different worlds. We were like, “oh my God! There's someone thinking like I do."

Sorta’ outside the box?

JON: So in our small way we hope we are doing the same for a younger generation.

SLEAZY: (overlapping) Or anyone who comes across us.

JON: It's sorta’ like carrying on the great work. The great work is to reveal magic to the masses, and how there are different or infinite possibilities in the universe.

That's sorta’ like Edward Ka-Spell’s philosophy, amongst many others. (Sleazy and Jon nodding in agreement). It’s an old alchemical idea the great work, whether it be transforming media or tapes of music you have to transform. The mundane lead into the philosophical gold!

JON: Yes, but that's quite a mission statement, isn't it?


JON: Kinda’ hard to live up to.

And then you have the music industry to contend with. Could be frustrating to try and do such work through the various channels and labels. Tell me, are there any frustrations with your current label? [Nothing Records].

SLEAZY: We haven't got any frustrations with Nothing.

JON: No.

SLEAZY: I’m sure they have more frustrations with us!

JON: I'm certain they have more reason to have frustrations with us!

Wow! There are some people on (the Coil) list who are going to be surprised by that fact.

JON: Trent (Reznor) and John Malm, they have had nothing but infinite patience with us.


JON: They've been very supportive.

SLEAZY: Supportive in all sorts of ways.

Well that's good to hear. From the outside looking in you can see delays, hear of changing plans. It's easy to make assumptions, and hard to know what's really going on.

SLEAZY: It's mostly us being obscure, and the fact that the album isn't done yet, it's nearly done.

JON: It's nearly 7 years now, I think.

SLEAZY: It's been 10 years all together, really.

In the meantime, how many things have come out? Mostly amazing releases at that.

SLEAZY: Well, it’s mostly when you have a magnum opus type of thing. It's weird but the longer you leave it, the more responsibility that it be a great thing; whereas some of the things that we've put out in the intervening years have only taken a month or two to put out. But because of that, they have a certain spontaneity that certainly has been refreshing in a way to us.

JON: It's a bit like giving birth to a wildebeest or something. It's sorta’ grown inside us and now it can't get out. We might have to cut it up into little bits.

SLEAZY: Well, also we have decided that it's o.k. to have sections of [our work] that are spontaneous and representative of the now, and not really worry too much about the past. And, like anybody, we do sorta’ get bored with what can be considered mainstream Coil things, and that's why we do things like Time Machines or Black Light District or any of those other sort of side projects. We do things in a different way, and therefore it's more interesting somehow.

JON: It sorta’ side-steps any creative blocks that we might have. We've been going for 20 years now. Coil does have a longevity, but it's also a sort of an albatross.

JON: We like putting on different ideas or mindsets on to ourselves just to see what happens.

And then there was the invitation of different entities like ELpH!

JON: I wish that would come back again. We considered writing to Stockhausen and asking him to make a mandala or a sort of drawing to sort of help invite it back again so we can do another album.

So ElpH (Coil vs ELpH) was just for a random time frame?

JON: It was like, honestly, like transmissions from another planet or something and we made the album in about a week solid. All the way through, we were like we’ve gotta’ get this down, we gotta’ get this down! And then there was like nothing!

So those are the higher beings that command?

JON: Yea, sure.

SLEAZY: Among others.

Yesterday I overheard you talking with a girl about ghosts. Would you care to talk about you’re encounters with the spirit world?

SLEAZY: Everybody has some contact with the spirit world, just some are more in tune with it.

Well maybe she was referring to your 'ghost boy' song, “Where Are You?”

JON: She had some romantic visions of ghosts sort of drifting around in gelatinous veils. Where I actually think that when you pass over to wherever, there are energies that become a part of the building blocks that are now, and that if you tap into it, it can be overwhelming. There’s such emotional energy and stuff that’s residual, and if you pick up on that – which I can do – that’s what’s overwhelming.

It seemed onstage that you were overwhelmed by something. pacing around and anxious. Are you trying to allow energy to come through without being too controlled by it?

JON: Yeah. Yeah. I do loose it. I just don't know what I'm doing onstage sometimes.

SLEAZY: The way that our performances work are strange because there are a portion of the show that is planned and tightly structured, and a portion that's not really improvised, but allowing for space for things to come through at the time. I certainly have very little recollection of what has happened onstage. I mean certainly if the venue had collapsed or something then I'd remember it, but very generally I don't!

SLEAZY: It's not like you go into a trance or something.

JON: No, it is! It is like you go into a trance! It's like a different realm, not the realm of entertainment, but a semi-shamanic space.

Yeah, Blixa Bargeld [Einstürzende Neubauten] has said the same thing in a trance to the point where halfway through a song they noticed a band-member was missing off-stage due to an injury.

SLEAZY: Jon always asks me how was that bit and how was that bit. And, I honestly have to say. I have no idea.

So Jon, you do more in the studio than just sing then, right?

JON: Yeah, I’m ideas.

SLEAZY: He's sort of the helmsman of things, and I'm a bit more of the technical side.

JON: I'm the captain, and that's another thing that's a bit of a shock! Trying to figure out who's doing what? Where's every one at?

SLEAZY: I have a difficult time figuring that out too!

JON: It's a difficult production to see who's tweaking this or that.

JON: I'm the uberlord, nothing gets past without me saying usually, but I've been a bit freer with that lately because I respect who were working with so much that I say “o.k. I trust what’s going on so let's just let it flow through."

JON: I'm also with my own performance. I've sort of loosened up. I used to have huge notebooks with tiny writings and crossed-out lists and stuff. Now I just sort of feel it. But it’s true. Actually some of the lyrics from Musick To Play In The Dark Volume One and Two were done straight on the take with no rehearsal, so they came straight in to me. I try to do that onstage, but when it’s live and we have an audience and the energy’s higher, it’s sort of brutalized.

SLEAZY: When what you’re playing is an analog synthesizer it's not like playing a part on a keyboard, there's nothing that tells you where a certain knob needs to be at a certain time. It's a sort of mental state you have to be in.

JON: It's like a technical telepathy happens, you know on a good concert. I saw a bit of it last night but I'm not sure how it translated over. It's sort of like huge noises and then gaps, and somehow it all meshes together.

Yes, it seemed meshed. The last song caught me in a trance quickly (“Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil”).

JON: That's the one that's reduced to its most primal basics.

SLEAZY: Yes, very primal!

JON: Unfortunately, I broke the microphone by banging it on my head!

It sounded great though. I have the last thing, because I know you got to get going. So what do you think of the [Coil List] idea of having a contest to have someone spend 24 hours with Coil? It seems that there are many on list who just can't imagine little details about you, like what do you have for breakfast or what a day with the members of Coil would be like!

SLEAZY: Well, we're very normal people, really. We were just interviewed on TV in England as artists.

JON: They wanted baddies like Aleister Crowley, who are outside the status quo.

SLEAZY: He said it was like visiting two friendly Aunties.

JON: Next time he won't be so lucky!

So, are you going to rough up some of the press tomorrow just to prove a point?

SLEAZY: Eh, no!

JON: Maybe, who knows?

SLEAZY: Yeah, life with Coil. Sometimes it’s extremely normal!

SLEAZY: If we did have a contest like that it would have to depend on what day they got us, what they would experience. Many days we get up on the morning, have our organic orange juice, eat well, and start the day. Then there are times we might not sleep for a couple of days!

Getting some work done?

JON: Not necessarily. We may have just gotten tired of waking up at 5:30 every day for awhile.

I’m going to make a parallel here. Having spent time with Genesis P-Orridge who is well known for doing bizarre and different things on-stage, but who, and he has said this himself, is really still sort of fighting his own proper British upbringing.

JON: Gen has a very deep seated domestic streak in the best of ways. It's sorta’ what attracted me to Throbbing Gristle. He was all about cups of tea and English breakfast, and this sort of routine of being an English person. Which I found very appealing in him!

But then you go and make music and present ideas that want to destroy that?

JON: Well, destroy all rational thought, but leave my breakfast alone. You don't want to destroy your breakfast now do you?

Well, no! Do you have a busy day ahead of you?

SLEAZY: We have some friends to go see, yeah.

JON: Tomorrow is more interviews and press.

Well, in that case it's time to say “thank you to Jon Balance, and as always Peter (Sleazy) Christopherson.

SLEAZY: Well, actually, we did a bit of press recently with a Russian website in preparation of our concert there. We are playing Moscow in September, and due to a loss in translation I was dubbed as 'Slimey', which I took as a compliment. And what else did they say?

JON: That we were radical homosexuals, such helpless drug addicts that we refused treatment or medicine of any kind.

JON: (continues) We liked staring into the eyes of opiated teenagers. Young Jon Balance prefers sailors.

JON: There was more. Something about using the menstral blood from the used knickers of prostitutes.

SLEAZY: And all of this is considered positive Russian press.

Really! I have no idea what's considered positive or negative in Russia, then.

SLEAZY: Yeah, neither do I. We're kind of afraid of what sort of crowd this particular press might bring!

Thighpaulsandra takes a sabbatical from Coil soon, doesn't he?

SLEAZY: September 24th.

So he does get to play Moscow?


And meanwhile, back here in America, there was a significant number of people who scoffed at the idea of Coil playing a 'Gothic' event, that maybe feel that Coil is beyond 'Goth', or maybe ‘Goth’ is beyond Coil? What do you think of that?

SLEAZY: I think that pigeon-holing is a convenience that mainly the press uses, and sometimes people pigeonhole themselves by following a very strict dress code. I don't think it's necessary to be that stern. You can be interested in one particular type of thing and still be interested in others. There are lots of things about the ‘Goth’ lifestyle that are of an interest to me, but I don’t always dress in black. I don't think it's that big of a contradiction playing a 'gothic' concert. We played in front of 18,000 Goths in Germany (Leipzig).

So on behalf of myself and whoever publishes this interview, thank you gentlemen!

JON & SLEAZY: No, thank you!

And thus ends an 'angelic' conversation with Jon and Sleazy of Coil.