ISSUE #31, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2005
INTERVIEW WITH CARL MCCOY
by Emmanuel Hennequin
In 1990, "Elizium" preceded fifteen years of impossible mourning. Fields Of The Nephilim, turned over to dust after three crucial albums in the Gothic musical genre, signed their epitaph with a monumental live recording: "Earth Inferno." What followed was a long period of desert punctuated by the stunning metal project of frontman Carl McCoy, The Nefilim, and the studio digressions of the other original members of the band: from Rubicon to Last Rites and NFD. Today, a (almost) solitary McCoy, surrounded by "phantom" musicians, gives life again to the entity known as Fields Of The Nephilim. The fourth official album announced in a very long time (and following the album of demos called "Fallen"), "Mourning Sun" dusts off the old jewelry-case. The jewel, itself, is protected. Without losing sight of the fundamental laws of previous works and the cruel destiny of the fallen angels, McCoy gives a future to his visions, and a new brightness to the original sound.
At the beginning of the year, the official site announced the release of the new album under the shortened name of "The Nephilim." However, it is clear now that it's a return of the original entity: Fields Of The Nephilim. Why?
Carl McCoy: Why? Hey, well ... Why not? Actually, I believe that the essence of the name of the band is based on the sole term of "Nephilim." It is one of the reasons which led me, following Fields Of The Nephilim, with the album "Zoon" (note: with the metal project named The Nefilim). The renaming was obviously justified by the fact that "Zoon" was something different from what Fields Of The Nephilim had realized in their own time. Today, I have blended the influences from the latter and The Nefilim. All this can be amalgamated into the service of a same goal. And the return under the name of Fields Of The Nephilim is a way of giving ahead and again this precise term: "Nephilim."
Even if something had been announced regarding a possible Nefilim reunion with Tony Pettitt, that no longer appears to be an option.
McCoy: Yes. If we did that, we would not progress. With each album, we tried to contain a new form that was very interesting to make because precisely, I did not try to repeat things. I hate this idea. The approach of "Elizium" for example had been very different from the one on the second album, "The Nephilim." And "Zoon" also varied greatly when compared to "Elizium." "Mourning Sun" obeys the same dynamic. It is not a question especially of remaking "Zoon," and it is through the choice of the titles which I operated for the album that it found its final color. We indeed accumulated much more material than what is reproduced on "Mourning Sun." We've held back some other songs, which probably follow more the metal tradition that I approached on "Zoon."
But ... have you really held back a lot of new material?
McCoy: Oh ... yes (smile). Originally, the project for Fields Of The Nephilim was to give birth to a double album instead of what has become "Mourning Sun." But I had doubts about that option. And the discussions with the band and my family gradually persuaded me that we were going in the wrong direction. There would have really been too much material to digest, and ... all the music that we have composed is very intense ... To release a double album would not have been very good, I am sure of that now. We thus prioritized the list of songs that became "Mourning Sun," in order to present "the state of art." It is really a batch of good songs but ... at the same time, I would not say that it's the best of what we've recorded. That being said, I believe that "Mourning Sun" surely represents, as accurately as possible, the Fields Of The Nephilim which I wanted to present in the year 2005. For me, it is as if this collection of different pieces of music were summarized into only one. It is a whole which precedes some other things, which are still in the process of becoming. They progress and will arrive in the world in other forms.
Are you implying that another album would be ready right now to come to the light?
McCoy: It is possible that some things take place in the next years, yes. We will see.
"Mourning Sun," according to the titles which were finally included, suggest that you have taken a relative distance from the metal sound that was developed on "Zoon". How would you describe your relation with this genre today?
McCoy: Well ... I have not really listened to music for at least three years, unless it is in the background, to create an atmosphere in a room. When I return to a process of work, I separate myself from external creation.
There appears to have been astonishing upheaval in your process of creation, in what concerns you. You never wrote as much before, whereas the information given by your label specifies that the creative process proceeded over one "relatively short" period for "Mourning Sun."
McCoy: This statement is based on the fact that I had a period of vacuum between the "Mourning Sun" demos and the final recordings you know today. I could not devote myself to this specific work anymore, during an uncertain period. And then ... I do not know ... things returned naturally, in a spontaneous and fast way, and probably much more intensely than all that had come on the creative level in my whole past. This process was an intense experience, and I believe that I keep a rather chaotic relation to time.
The wait is so long for us all, each time, Carl.
McCoy: Yes, but I believe ... finally ... I hope that we will know these kinds of problems less with the next releases of the band. We're prepared now, and better than before.
"Mourning Sun" comes fifteen years after the last official album Fields Of The Nephilim recorded. How do you relate to the idea of artistic progress?
McCoy: "Elizium" was a record that was very interesting to make, and there was a long time in which it remained my preferred work of all that's been realised by Fields Of The Nephilim. But with time, I felt a certain frustration with its content; I found weak points in it. It has a very good beginning and an interesting end, but I feel the middle of the album like a sort of depression. This is one of the factors which led me to create "Zoon," which I hoped would convey the more intense forms of my writing. "Elizium" was rather difficult to perform in concert. It was physically rather boring to stay on the scene during these long titles ... I did not really appreciate this particular aspect of things. What I wanted to do thereafter was to extract myself from that, to touch other dimensions. The problem of Fields Of The Nephilim for the period after "Elizium" was that there was not a collective entity in place able to push further the ideas which had germinated. It was a period in which we could not find ourselves anymore. What you see today better conveys this vision I wished to have happen, even more than my work with The Nefilim. It is perhaps nearer to the artistic concern as I knew it when we began Fields Of The Nephilim. At the same time, I cannot reduce "Mourning Sun" to that; it would be ridiculous.
Of course, but there are some footbridges between "Elizium" and "Mourning Sun," for example the return of the atmosphere and also among conceptual choices. On "Mourning Sun," one sees again how the songs blend from one to the next.
McCoy: Yes, but the approach of the new album was done in a very different way. First of all, "Elizium" was built by a stable and fixed line-up. And I also believe that it was a subject of compromise between all the individuals who worked above us. These "arrangements" are gone now. I have the feeling that the new Fields Of The Nephilim is not limited anymore in experimental terms. We are satisfied to complete simply what must be; the group is free. It is difficult to explain.
One of fundamentals of Fields Of The Nephilim also re-appears, this voice of yours, which at all times helped construct the band's identity. What relationship do you have with it? Is this a part of yourself which preserves its mystery, even for you?
McCoy: My vocal approach has indeed remained an enigma for me, more than anything else, to this day. The process does not obey my control. I do not sit down in front of a desk to write, to sing ... It behaves like something less controllable, more spontaneous. That occurs outside of my conscious states. I actually spend very little time working or carrying out my vocals; I am more monopolized by work on the instrumentation. Moreover, in the studio, often the first takes of the voice are the best. And if that does not work immediately, I do very quickly lose interest in this part of the work. I make a point of keeping the inherent naturalness in this approach. I always pursued my vocals in that way, and up to this point, that has functioned.
That being said, the mixes on the new album bring the vocals to the forefront. However, fans had become accustomed, in particular via "Elizium," to hearing the vocals blending into the whole. Doesn't that indicate that you are now assuming this part of work better than before?
McCoy: In the past, we used a certain type of production, but my ideas changed on this subject. That does not mean to say that I paid less attention to this aspect of the things; I am always vigilant. But on "Zoon," I started to use the voice differently. Like an instrument, through the use of the effects. On "Mourning Sun," I believe that the voice contains a more melodic direction. It was a question for me of putting it in agreement with the rhythmic movements. And all the people who invested themselves at my side on the new album asked me to push the vocals more to the front. I ended up agreeing with this proposal.
Did the writing of the new album become a completely solitary work, or did you leave a place for the musicians during this phase?
McCoy: The people who worked on the demos of "Mourning Sun" are the same musicians who played on the final recordings. They helped me to refine the writing. The tracks were very long at the beginning, and required important work on their structures and arrangements. In themselves, these things could be defended, no problem at all, but to integrate them into an album would have been too complicated. All in all, the final recordings remain rather faithful to the spirit of the first musical groundwork. And contrary to what happened with "Zoon," the sessions for "Mourning Sun" occurred very naturally.
The treatment of the drums in particular gives a mixed feeling: they are not used excessively in the mix on "Mourning Sun," and the way in which they're used creates an electronic, programmed feel.
McCoy: Some of the percussion, situated at the bottom of the mix, was indeed programmed. Other parts were played on line. But for the most part, the rhythmic ones were created by a real human being.
The way in which you present this new era for the group provides a double impression: that of a disintegration of the collective known initially as Fields Of The Nephilim, and instead a focus on the entity surrounding yourself, mainly. That corresponds finally to the image which one keeps of your requirements with respect to Fields Of The Nephilim. What share of freedom do you really grant, with respect to that, to the musicians who surround you today?
McCoy: Well ... I believe that I have a strong vision. I visualize the form; I am the guide of completion. But I wish to stress that I keep an open mind. Afterwards, I must admit that I don't like to lose control. I appreciate keeping this control on each aspect of what we do, to guide each detail. I am guided by what I do; I always was like this and I am my ideas. Only the goal and the result are important; it works, and finally I believe that the method or the people are factors of secondary importance. The goal, on each title, is to reach the most complete form possible. All arises from the vision that I have, initially. That requires that the people who work with me know me well. In a sufficiently strong way, in any case, so that they can represent what I see, and can make it shine through Fields Of The The Nephilim.
Given what we could discern from the demos on this curious album named "Fallen," it seems that your artistic visions separated at that moment from Tony Pettitt's, who is no longer involved in Fields Of The Nephilim.
McCoy: "Fallen," yes ... As regards Tony, how can I say it ... I believe that I really hold so that my vision is respected and comes across in the band's sound. I fear that this postulate means that this project cannot exist apart from me. It is something necessary, inherent to Fields Of The Nephilim. I do not really know whether Tony could appreciate this current situation since we parted ways; I know that he has joined a new group (note: NFD, with ex-Nefilim drummer Simon Rippin, and the singer of Sensorium: Peter "Bob" White), but I do not really know what they do musically. What is important to me initially, is what I have to achieve. With Tony, we finished certain things together several years ago (note: these recordings were apparently kept separate after the release of certain demo recordings on "Fallen"). But today, I do what I wish, and on his side him also perhaps, I do not know ...
"Fallen," which exposed simple, dated and scattered demos, seemed to be released without your agreement. What did this publication induce for you on an emotional and creative level?
McCoy: Frankly, that moment was synonymous with a great disappointment on my part. And the same phenomenon seems to have reproduced itself with "Mourning Sun," which was available on Internet before its release. There I had a similar feeling, in a rather sad way.
"Fallen" is the more obvious example of the problem, since after that release, Fields Of The Nephilim finished the studio sessions which we currently know only in the form of demos. Are these the same sessions that you described as being the origin of the new double-album, which fell through?
McCoy: No. We had already re-recorded these songs when "Fallen" appeared, but without the intention to use them in a direct way, because we were not satisfied enough with the final results. We then re-recorded with other musicians some of these same songs, and they currently repose somewhere ... All that was then carried out by Fields Of The Nephilim for "Mourning Sun," along with the music that will follow, by an entirely revamped line-up. They are purely new things, in fact.
"Mourning Sun" spent more time than previously envisaged to come to light. The official site announced a publication for the beginning of 2005, and here we are in November...
McCoy: We had too much music to our credit, in fact, and it took time for us to advance on all this work. Our projects followed a chaotic logic. For example, we had intended to publish a pre-release single and then reconsidered this idea. We were in fact in indecision, because we had accumulated so much material, that we asked ourselves some questions about the best manner of presenting this material. I believe that with regard to "Mourning Sun," the final decisions emerged only in August 2005.
You maintained a certain mystery around the individual participations that nourished the new album. No one knows at the moment [note: we are in November 2005] who the persons are that helped you to finalize the instrumentations of the album, and I suspect that you will not say anything on this subject, but ... a detail: does the fact that you assembled The Ice Cage (note: the name of Carl's recording studio) as a mobile studio mean that you had to travel to find these people?
McCoy: To reach some of these individuals, I indeed had to move. But essentially, it is necessary that you understand that for several years, there has been a circle of people in whose company I invested my time in the music or other projects, like the visual one in particular. I've known these people for a long time, and I know they are very capable of creating or reproducing the sound which I want to obtain. More than this, I am a also musician and did not remain the "simple singer" of Fields Of The Nephilim. All appears possible to me from now on; I feel free from all restrictions. The fact of having an open line-up, and why not a mobile one, gives me a feeling of freedom. This was not the case when the line-up was fixed because that led me to reach the limits of the collective exercise. However, over the years, I wished to propel Fields Of The Nephilim towards another thing. I visualized what had to come, and it takes some time to bring people towards what I imagined. This time I organized it so that the current configuration of the group becomes strong enough to generate something strong and fresh. Today, something has changed. Perhaps forever.
The way in which you speak about new the line-up induces another mystery, which relates to the concert experience. Fields Of The Nephilim should return to the scene in 2006, but ... will the musicians who will appear with you be the same ones as those which were involved with you on "Mourning Sun"?
McCoy: There is a strong chance that they'd be the same people, yes...
One could, however, have expected you to re-examine the people who invested themselves with you in The Nefilim, like Paul Miles (note: guitarist on "Zoon" and now with Subzeros) or Cian Houchin (bass player of The Nefilim and leader of Saints Of Eden) ... Will this be the case?
McCoy: No ... I will not pursue that option because there have been several years since I have kept in touch with them, and I think that their presence is not really necessary to defend the new album. Furthermore, I wish to reward the presence of those who were invested personally in the completion of "Mourning Sun."
Will the songs of "Zoon" be included to the future concert setlists?
McCoy: Yes, moreover ... why not? I believe that all that I contributed to create before remains valid. All of that represents me.
Will the visual aspect in your concerts know an evolution?
McCoy: Yes, definitely. I hope that Fields Of The Nephilim will reach new levels there too ... but certain fundamentals will be maintained; I will not give up the hat ...
With the distance that separates us today from the first era of Fields Of The Nephilim, what place do you think the original musicians of the group have had in the adventure?
McCoy: It was very a long time ago. I have not seen the majority of these people much in about fifteen years. I do not know, in fact ... I am happy to do what I do today and I hope, I am sure that they are happy too. They all gave us something, it is very certain, and I believe that their ambition is still there. That represents, obviously, only me; I don't wanna speak for nobody else. In what relates to me, I feel the initial process that started in the eighties with Fields Of The Nephilim has finished.
What makes you nourish the concept of Nephilim today? The reading, the journey?
McCoy: Mmmmh ... Not the books, no ... I believe just that it is my life, in fact. The Nephilim represent my absolute truth, what I say or what I feel. It is something which arises, at the same time, from the inside and the outside. There still, it is nothing that is really ... explainable, I suppose. In any case, the artistic process which results from this through Fields Of The Nephilim remains something very spontaneous. There are certain forces around me which nourish the process, and which use me, all things considered. I do not conceive my work on an album by obeying a linear progression with a beginning or an end. In substance, I leave the center and I work around it.
Certain parts of "Mourning Sun," in any case, cover a more religious aspect than the music known in the past ...
McCoy: Yes. I believe that the album is closer than ever to my design of the Nephilim. I really hoped that this recording would have a strong presence.
Along your personal evolution, how have you built your relation to the rest of Humanity?
McCoy: Mmmh ... it is difficult to answer that. In fact, I live in a way that is disconnected from the outside world. Obviously, I am there, in the world. But I do not know the meaning of that. The life that is given to us is very short. We must use it. Take it for what it is, carry it until its ends. It is difficult for me to say more.
There is, on the official site of Fields Of The Nephilim, a mysterious section dedicated to The Order Of The 24th Moment ...
McCoy: The Order is something which existed during a long period, it is a kind of memory on the way in which we see The Nephilim. I do not know yet how The Order Of The 24th Moment will develop. I have some ideas, but ... they are not developed enough yet. It is more of an engagement over time, a way of life, and it is not really a question of a "movement." It is a part of me. I do not know why, or when, only under the threat of the whip (smiles). I know the whip (laugh).
There is another short section on the official site devoted to Sheer Faith, the entity under which you create the visuals ...
McCoy: I had a great number of projects with Sheer Faith in these last years, in particular for video production. It is something which held me in life. But Fields Of The Nephilim remains for me a priority project with all that, and I see Sheer Faith more like an entity associated with this intention, at least in the immediate future.
There is already this short film presenting the group which one can see on the entry page of the official site ...
McCoy: It is an extract of something which we did in the past, with the intention to use it for the group. Finally, that did not occur, which reduced this thing to the state of pure experimentation. We never really completed the work, and I did many other things such as this in recent years. Perhaps that will come to the light soon, I don't know.
The clip supports the persona you've had since your appearance in the full-length movie "Hardware" ... For that film, did you feel like an actor or was it more simple?
McCoy: It was not so simple... if that can be simple! The director of the movie had cast me before even asking me ... It was just a question of being myself. I did not create a special persona through this experience ... He called me back again to take part again in this kind of thing in the past two years. But I refused because of the high level of my personal activity.
Before penetrating the entity which became Fields Of The Nephilim, at the beginning, how had your life been organized on the artistic level?
McCoy: I was in another band, in fact. It did not have really a name, but I already carried in spirit a concept related to The Nephilim. And it was at that time that I met Tony Pettitt and Paul Wright (note: respectively bass player and guitarist of the first line-up of Fields Of The Nephilim). We had to go in the same place together, and thus we started to work. At that time, I realized that to carry out two bands would be an impossible challenge. I stayed with Tony and Paul, and I named the band Fields Of The Nephilim.