LAST EXIT FOR THE LOST
Fields Of The Nephilim are set to release their second album, 'Nephilim' (What else?). Chris Roberts meets the flour children and discovers how they've migrated from the Goth ghetto to the Top 40.
So let's start with the end.
"I'd like to see another war I would," says Carl McCoy in all seriousness, (though he wields marginally more irony than you might imagine). "I'll be glad when another war happens, man. Be really glad. We've been brought up in the worst times you could be brought up in, really it's just... peaking, y'know? It's gonna overflow soon and personally I'd be glad to see another war."
Even if it meant personal grief?
Another member of Fields of The Nephilim, Britain's fastest-rising cult rock group mutters, "Ooh, I dunno about this?"
What if you lost and arm or a leg, Carl?
I like the way he said that.
"I wouldn't. Everybody'd die basically. I think most people deserve to, I know I'd die as well but I'd be quite happy as long as everybody else died with me. I know that's slightly off-the-cuff here but if I explained why it'd take hours and I can't get into all those subjects again. "
"I can see your reasoning," says Tony Pettit. "Up to a point."
"Yeah," says Carl, "but you know me a bit better than him, like, y'know?"
Er... has that got anything to do with it?
"But myself personally," says Tony, "I wouldn't like to get blown to kingdom come tomorrow."
"No," says Carl, "and I wouldn't walk down the road and get blown up now. But I'd be happy to be the person that said, 'Right. We all die," And then everybody dies. And I die. I'd be well happy. That'd please me. Man's made too many mistakes and the majority don't deserve to be alive because they've fucked it up so much for everybody else. So I'd like to see them pay the price, and I'd be happy to go with them."
Yeah, that sounds fair enough, fair enough. (I can't think what to say). I mean, the way we treat seals and whales and stuff is pretty bad... (pathetic).
"I'm not a real animal lover or anything but it's a part of it yeah. I agree with you. See we went forward then we went back. We went forward from Stone Age man or whatever, the mind got cleverer. And now 'cos technology has taken over and made it all easier, the mind's gone lazy. It's gone well lazy."
Too much comfort?
"That's what'll destroy us anyway."
If we had to wrestle a sabre-toothed tiger right now, we'd get hep into action.
"The psychic powers have become really dormant in most people's minds. I just think man in general has become ignorant over the years. Evolution and computers have changed us drastically. My main interest lies in the mind. There are a lot of dormant muscles in the brain which people have learned to survive without using. If you can stimulate them - not everybody can - you can learn to use, like, higher levels of consciousness, and other consciousness levels. Do you find our music depressing?"
Oh no, I find it highly reassuring, like rain in August. On a normal weekday I've gobbled up futility and angst before 10.30. Then I start getting intense.
"It's only doom-laden for people who don't understand it, who don't realise their position in life. We're all dead and gone. Everyone living their life should know what to expect, what's gonna happen in the end."
But if it had really sunk in, you wouldn't get up tomorrow...
"Depends how far away it was. If it was 20 years away you probably wouldn't worry for another 15 years, then you'd start getting your shit together. If it was tomorrow you'd panic."
I am suddenly gripped by an overwhelming and uncharacteristic urge to sing, "I've Got A Brand New Combine Harvester" by The Wurzels. We have a bit of a laugh and a bit of a sob tonight, The Nephs and me.
It's all essentially ludicrous, not least when we leave to discover their van has been towed away by earthly forces in blue.
As previous interviews have revealed, Carl prefers not to reveal much. The band don't want to be seen as a bunch of muso's with a poet stuck on top. With all due respect there's no real danger of that. Where Fields Of The Nephilim come in surging and effective is in what they suggest, what they evoke, when viewed from the midst of their devoted multitude of followers. I'd dismissed their 'Dawnrazor' efforts as run-of-the-mill third-generation goth tosh until one night I was found superconciously surrounded by the most enthusiastically perverse and indisputably 'alternative' audience I'd been drowned by in years.
There and then I was instinctively converted, and would have had no respect for anyone who wasn't. And if we go on telling ourselves that thing's happen in rock music, that vibration waves still come up and confound expectations, then we ignore the very tangible nuance of Fields Of The Nephilim at our peril. People need to recognise the rhythm before they'll embrace an exterior notion of chaos. The academics demand unlistenable "originality". But "the kids" - and here's the point and a surprise - do still exist. And the kids are having a ball at Nephilim gigs. Such a ball that they flicked the "Moonchild" single, almost nonchantly into the top 40 net.
Fields Of The Nephilim are about to release their second album, "The Nephilim". Next to it, "Macbeth" is light relief. Sometimes it's Marillion, this record, sometimes Motorhead, mostly dutifully pompous goth. They are also, after the Reading Festival, setting off on a huge national tour under the banner, "Precious To The Lost".
So what's precious Carl, and who are the lost?
"Aw, well, this is the old conversation. What it means is quite personal to me. I don't think it's a good thing to try to convince people, they'll either laugh or be offended. Those that understand will know anyway."
And so on. But do you elucidate in private? Do you talk about it with people who are close to you?
"I think everyone in the band understands, cos they know me. But I don't feel any reason to... put it across. Not at the moment anyway. Later on, in the future, I'll give an interpretation... in the form of writing, a book or something.
"I'm not hiding it from people. I'm not scared of people finding out or anything. But at the moment I don't think the lyrics are the main attraction of the band. I don't like to encourage people to say 'we're doing this so this is right'..."
But the lyrics are there anyway, Carl. So the damage, if you like, is done...
"Yes, yes, but if they understand it if their beliefs are the same as mine, then they are gonna follow me, which is great. That's how I prefer it. But they've got to have the understanding born into them or find out by their own methods. With a lot of the subjects I'm into, I could quite easily try and preach to people, to convince and encourage them. Especially the younger ones. But I'm not gonna try to do that."
Still, Al, I mean Carl, with a song like "Last Exit For The Lost", you're putting ideas into their heads...
"I think open their minds up and inevitably do 'em a lot of good. If they actually manage to work out what's going on I show 'em a lot of what nobody else would explain to them."
What nobody else would explain to them is, I presume, that life is not always a bed of roses. The new 23-Enveloped long-player (and by God it is long), which they are more pleased with than its predecessor swoops through a side of absurd Celebrate, Love Under Will, Last Exit and along the way we get copious lashings of pain and death and posturing. It is completely dependent on the listener's willing suspension of disbelief. Call me a tart. I enjoy It's frightening as hell if you turn the lights out.
"Yeah, if you understand it or get the general vibe of it it's quite scary, yeah."
"The monks and the women crying," adds Tony helpfully. "Stuff like that."
Along with Carl and Tony (bass), the Nephs are Peter Yates and Paul Wright (guitars) and Nod Wright (drums). Peter is the soft-spoken sincere one and Paul is the rabbiter. Hailing from Stevenage, they avoid clubs and gossip columns and are "pretty anonymous compared to a lot of people in bands."
And I thought you'd be parting the seas amid clouds billowing smoke! But you're normal blokes stealing all my Rothmans in the pub!
"Of course we are," says Peter. "We don't spend 100 per cent of our time playing in the band, so how can anyone expect us to be like that part of us all the time? We've got a sense of humour, obviously."
"To be honest," Carl admits, "I prefer an easy life. When I'm at home I can do what I want - sit there, read, write whatever, I'm not a party-goer. But when you're talking to people, you have to talk to them. Otherwise you just piss everyone off. So I try to make it easy for myself. At home or onstage I can do exactly what I wanna do. But in the meantime I have to try to get on with people, else they say you're stuck-up, but most of the time I avoid them if I can"
Doesn't the worship go to your heads?
Carl: "We don't see a lot of it. I don't sit there reading through the fanmail."
Really? I imagined you'd be the kind of band who received lots of poems of greatly varying quality...
"A lot of them send you explanations, reckon they've got you sussed out when they've got it completely wrong, I find less people speak to me and more people speak about me. You can hear it going on."
So they think you're untouchable?
"It isn't intentional. But I don't mind it. Cos I'm that sort of person anyway."
But when you sing something like "Last Exit For The Lost", aren't you practically crying out for letters saying "Oh thank-you so much, hearing that record stopped me committing suicide?"
"It works both ways. A lot of people say our music pisses them off and makes them want to commit suicide. To me, those people deserve to die. Whereas those who it cheers up have got a better understanding. It's probably selfish people who say it depresses them..."
But you're always saying how depressed you are, how little you care for life...
"Well, obviously I'm still very young, so... I'm trying to find out why. I'm finding life more interesting as I find out what other exits there are. Why I'm still in a physical state, if you like. But - it's a long subject.
"No, I'm not a depressing person. Not to me. Only from other people's point of view. But they don't understand my way of thinking. There are different sides to everybody, and it's just a matter of struggling to find out for yourself what you're like."
Peter: "Every now and then you have to take time out, think what you're doing. I don't believe anyone who says they're happy with their lot - you're always looking for other things."
Carl: "With me, the problem is, no matter how big the band is, how much money I have (I mean I can see I could get quite well known, achieve some money, settle down, buy a nice place) - that's not, to be honest, what I want. Or - not everything I want. The things I do want are not material. That's why I find being here frustrating sometimes."
Do you imagine you'll find these vague elusive things you seek?
"Should think so."
Love and happiness?
"I'm not a lovey sort of person. I'm a bit more out on my own. Into myself a bit too much sometimes."
Everytime you label Carl as indulgent, which his avoidances are, he snaps back with something so self-aware you have to forgive him. He fully realises that as many people think he's a prat as think he's a hero. One should prefer prats to bores anyway. "Love songs," opines Tony, "have been a major infatuation of the record business since the year dot. They don't really mean anything to anybody anymore, no matter how sad the story. It doesn't put a lump in your throat anymore."
"They seem to be full of self-pity," mumbles Carl.
"Terrible. It's very boring anyway. Boring physical relationships are just part of normal life; everyone goes through that anyway. Why make more of it? There's no need."
Fields Of The Nephilim have not, to date, covered any Marvin Gaye songs.
AND WE'RE GETTING CLOSER
For some reason I forward the suggestion that their audience, much as I would dearly love to sleep with each and every one of them (twice), even though they're so thick they send me hate-mail even after rabidly rave reviews, have an army mentality, need to "belong" and are weak on individuality...
Carl: "Me, I like individuals, characters, people with ambition."
Peter: "There is a certain safety in going against the grain knowing a lot of others are going with you at the same time."
And don't you, wittingly or otherwise, encourage this?
Carl: "I know what you mean."
Tony: "I know what you mean too."
I'm glad everyone knows what I mean.
Carl: "Thing is, a lot of them are individuals anyway. If I was put in that crowd I'd look the same too. But to myself I feel like an individual. Like, I've got my own mind, know exactly what I wanna do, what I'm capable of and where I'm going. Not necessarily telling everybody, but..."
Ha, ha. Shall we agree that half of them are truly devoted and the other half are along for the crack?
Peter: "That's not fair. The other half who are latching on, maybe they're trying something, moving away from what they don't like. You can't knock them. They're saying: 'What else is there?' When we were 16 or 17 we were trying other things out.."
Why is it that the devoted are so devoted?
Carl: "Most of it is to do with the music."
That's what you have to say. Of course. But those people - if you tapped them on the shoulder and told them their houses were on fire, they'd tell you to shut up until the show was over."
Peter: "Cos it's that good. There aren't many bands that can give you that feeling."
Carl: "It also depends on their frame of mind. Cos I don't think you get many completely straight people at our gigs. I don't mean a drug audience, I mean... a late evening drink. That helps. If you listen to our music after you've come out of the pub, when you've been drinking, it works, it draws you in, it hold you. It's not the same for all music. I find it very easy to get into that frame of mind anyway, without drink and that."
Fields Of The Nephilim, as you can see, refuse to glorify their own mystique by means of verbiage. In fact, the more they speak the more they dilute it. But they are hardly alone in this. Perhaps they even know it, and adapt accordingly.
Carl: "It's not an intention to be 'dramatic'. It's not choreographed or anything. Each night we just do what we want to do. But the expectations of the audience set you off, the lights, the heat, the smell..."
Ah, the roar of the greasepaint, or rather, flour...
"We just thought we looked too clean, like everyone else..."
Paul: "And there's the ulterior motive. You start lobbing flour around and the dressing room is immediately clear. You get five minutes peace and quiet cos the cliques stay out of it. That was an afterthought but a good one."
But this whole image thing wasn't an accident of fate?
"Oh if anything it was an accident of fate, that was. It's just what we're happy with."
Carl: "We didn't just turn up one day with all these new clothes on. Gradually everyone was wearing similar things."
Peter: "We'd laugh at each other if we thought someone was wearing something stupid."
Goth was all about not feeling sorry for yourself even though you were so incredibly switched on and tuned in that you knew all mortal effort was futile. The spirit of Nero. It was about celebrating your own imminent demise as glamorously as Garbo. That it became a massive cult, exploited and abused and cheapened, remains possibly the most undervalued miracle in pop culture's local history. In theory, it's aesthetically at least as valid as any other genre, certainly more beguiling than crew cuts and jumpers. The Nephilim, who once and for all take their name from the Old Testament giants who were a bit apart and a bit mysterious ("but it may come across as a bit long-winded in print") are, along with The Mission sector, the current pre-eminent torch bearers. It's not a golden age for goth. Not at all. To which the Nephs would reply, "but we're not goths." As so many do.
It's a confusing time. Anti-Top shop kids consider the options and plump for the most exotic, the most brooding, the one with the most glaciers cruising through the icebox. They are right to choose this. They have no way of knowing that what walks like a God often talks like Pontius Pilate.
And if the Nephilim's plain white surge is often as inarticulate as an invasion of scoop trucks, this more freely allows the projection of individual fantasies. You don't have to, cannot, "relate" to Carl McCoy like you have to wash your grey smalls the same minute as Morrissey. Nephilim are about the rock monster as backdrop for emotions. Heartily sick of poor poetry being heralded as visionary, I can only applaud this return to mute majesty. Tread water by walking on it, until the yuppie generation power-move to another area and the Ovids and Kerouacs hop out afresh from prettier stones. Reviled as they are by both the stern and the silly rockabillies, the Nephs are glorious entertainment, swirling theatre.
THE EARTH IS GOOD
Peter: "If you don't wanna do what every other bugger does, stand in a factory bunging out bits and pieces, you've got to express yourself somehow. And music is what we thought we could do."
Carl: "A lot of musicians think they're worth more than other people. That they're special. I was a motor mechanic when I left school but I had a lot of ambition; that was the only difference."
The Nephs agree they're very English, and when they last toured America, "it was horrible being treated like rock'n'roll stars, like being wrapped in cotton wool all the time." They're so disappointed their videos have turned out so blatant. "It's a shame these huge mistakes are captured forever. We'd like them to be disturbing without the shock horror blood'n'guts visuals. More like the song." A live video of the band at the Town & Country Club emerges soon. I wonder if you're on it.
Are you even remotely 'rebellious'?
Tony: "More than a lot of bands. The whole 'rebellion' sketch is a saleable product now anyway. So you might as well just be yourself."
Do you affect anything? Change anything?
Carl: "Not yet."
Do you intend to?
"Yeah, I reckon so."
"I think in the long run we'll give the music industry a good kick up the arse. We haven't the power yet."
Peter: "We're still a bit cult, but when you break through to the day-job Public Joes... oh, sounds really condescending, doesn't it? But that's when you make your mark."
But how? In what way?
Carl: " A lot of people around the world will find us offensive because we haven't conformed to make their daily routine happy, by blasting out of the usual wireless. But we're there, giving them the other side of life, the more realistic side."
Realistic? The Nephilim?
"Yeah, Reminding them of all the things they didn't wanna be reminded of."
Yes, I begin to see. Good. Very good.
"It needs the back-up of a lot of other bands to open people's eyes up. It's still got to happen. But if it don't then there'll be World War Three anyway so it don't matter."
I still think saying "We're gonna depress you now," at your last gig was gratuitous. We didn't want to be told.
"Um - I'm just not very good speaking to people. Honestly, I should really have said 'Hello Chicago'."
Paul: "I'd like to depress the whole of Boston right now. I'd like to jobby on the tape and send it to them."
Carl: "There's a lot of ignorant people who wouldn't bother to take the time of day to listen to my ideas and my way of thinking. They're the only ones I'd slag off, the one's who'd just say, 'You're a dick, you don't know what you're talking about."
Peter: "People will always take the easiest option, they'll say, 'That'll do me, I won't look any further.' That's why The Sun sells."
Carl: "Everyone's brainwashed at some point in their life and it's whether they've got the strength to overcome it. Religion, things like that."
Nod: " There's so much to see and do. You ain't gotta live and die where you are. There's so much to conquer."
Describing their music, the Nephs say things like "It's strange" and "We don't have no formula" and "All of a sudden it explodes". "Endemoniada", by the way, is the Spanish for 'possessed'. Being facetious about the Nephs is about as difficult as kicking a cripple. Watch those skinheads kick...
But why? Why? Why are the Nephs the Nephs?
Peter: "It's our machine brain. That's our little joke. It covers a lot of ground."
If someone said I'd got a machine brain, matey, I'd be well and truly insulted.
"It's not a bad thing. Don't you like technology?"
It doesn't like nuance. I hate it a little.
Carl: "People are going too far; not understanding the potential of their own brains."
Peter: "You could never stick your dreams or thought on a tape. I'd really like a machine that could."
Tony: "But these days you've got computers designing computers designing computers, and some things work and nobody knows why. That's getting well dangerous."
Carl: "It is. For a start, going to the moon is a bad thing. They're entering spheres they don't understand. And it's gonna affect us all without some of us even realising; that's the trouble."
Going to the moon increases the options.
"But I don't think they realise the damage they're doing. In 20 years time where else will they be going? They just won't accept we have to understand our own minds first. We only use a tiny bit of our brains and it's well dangerous. With the latent side of your brain you can tune into a lot of different periods in history as well. But this is another subject that can get really long and complicated and it can take hours to talk about...
Yeah, Carl, tell us about it...
Tony: "Under hypnosis they can get people to remember dreams. Once you've had a dream it's there, isn't it? It's always there. And they can pinpoint it and bring it out of you..."
Well readers that's as near a definition of the appeal of The Nephilim as we're going to get today.
Peter: "However boring you are as a person you can still have crackling dreams."
And, did those Fields in ancient times? The brilliantly amusing irrelevance and acute reverence of Fields Of The Nephilim's is a long subject, we could talk for hours... hey boys, they love you. The kids. The kids love you. And just maybe they would like to know what it all means...
"I like that," says Carl. "I think that's quite funny really."
He's got it! By Jove I think he's got!
"There's nothing wrong with that. They should just like us cos of the music and what we look like; it's when you start delving into bands that you find a lot of... shadows. At the moment it'd do more harm than good for them to come out."
Perhaps you're just worried about being called "pretentious"?
"Oh I've heard it said, about me and my lyrics. They say, 'Well he doesn't talk like that, so why does he sing and write like that? I don't think it's pretentious, it's just the way I can express myself. More so than I could playing the superstar down the pub. I'm don't really care what people assume about me.
"I think in the future there's gonna be a lot of people who'll hate me for a lot of different reasons. And there's gonna be an equal amount that love me. We've always said the band will be loved or loathed. That seems a good way of doing it; we're not forgotten. I'm honest enough not to try and trick people into liking me. They can hate me for what I'm about, that's alright, that's fine."
Peter: "If everything became primeval again tomorrow, it'd be interesting to see who survived."
Tony: "Tell you what, you'd be surprised at who came through and who didn't. You'd be well shocked. Some people shine."
Fields of The Nephilim. Precious? In a sense, this innocence. But it's a long subject, we could talk for hours... the lost emperors? Lost in music?
Paul: "Hey I got my guitar from the bloke out of Hanoi Rocks."
Mother them or smother them, they're out of your hands, across the hills, and on your side.