The Coral

The Coral has become one of the quality UK bands of the past five years. They
have released four albums in the past four years. They mix garage rock with
psychedelic music in a very original way. Their singer, James Skelly, is a very
unique vocalist. At their recent LA show, luminaries such as Morrissey and PJ
Harvey were in attendance. Afterwards they were telling me, they were
upstairs in the dressing room, saying: “There’s Morrissey, there’s Sting, there’s
Bono.” It was like every other person was some pop star. Early in the day, I
was watching them do their soundcheck at The Troubadour. It took about two

It all started for The Coral in Hoylake, Merseyside, which is outside
Liverpool. They started their own label called Deltasonic. They released an EP in
2001. The amazing thing is that this seven-member band is all under 24 years old.
They released their first album The Coral (2002) and were soon featured on
Top of The Pops. Next came Magic & Medicine (2003). That album was re-released
later with a second disc called Night Freak & The Sons of Becker (2004). Now
comes the new one The Invisible Invasion (2005). Already praised in England, it
comes out August 30th in the States. The band has been constantly inspired and
been equally prolific. Their recent shows in America display their need to
road test some songs to new listeners. So far the reaction is good.

The band is James Skelly (guitar/Vocals), and brother Ian Skelly (drums),
Nick Power (organ), Bill Ryder-Jones (guitar), Lee Southall (guitar), Paul Duffy
(bass guitar), and John Duffy (percussion). I spoke to Paul, John and Lee
during this interview. The Coral have an accent that it’s really hard to pick out
who is who. So I made their answers as a group for the sake of this interview.
We had a lunch together down the road from the Troubadour. Some guy from
Queer Eye for The Straight Guy was sitting nearby. It was very informal. The Coral
seemed like down to earth guys. The Coral will return in August and September
for a proper American tour.

AL: What are you going to order?
The Coral: Just checking it out.

AL: Has the new album been released in the UK?
The Coral: Yeah. It’s been out about three months. It’s doing really well.
Much better than expected.

AL: You did the first two albums. We didn’t see much of the third album here
in the States.
The Coral: It came free with the second album. It was a mini-album. It was us
having some fun and letting go. We were messing around in the studio really.

AL: You have seven members so it seems like you can have a bunch of
influences and take the music in several directions.
The Coral: We have written a lot of songs. We try to do as much as we can.
Some of the stuff becomes b-sides. All that is taken care of. When we get to the
studio we never know what we are going to do. We obviously want to do
something each time that is going to be an album. We want to make money and play
songs. Recently a bunch of our songs have come to us while we were in the studio.
But James is always writing new songs. He is writing all the time. I think he
has the next album ready to go. It is hard to write songs on the road. We
don’t bring the guitars with us in the hotel rooms.

AL: When you did the first album it was nominated for The Mercury Prize. Then
you had a Top Ten single soon after and were on Top of The Pops. The Coral
has a popular audience then it is also a more serious album oriented group.
The Coral: Yeah. That’s how it happens. You release a single and it does
well. There are not a lot of music programs in the UK. There is Top of The Pops,
CD UK, and Jools Holland, and that’s it. There is only one that you can play
live on. When you have a song in the top twenty, you get invited to play on
those shows.

AL: You played every time you got invited?
The Coral: Yeah. It’s free publicity. Loads of kids watch it. It’s corny but
it is an established show. So you play it, don’t you?

AL: MTV over here shows “reality shows” now. There is very little new music
or interesting music on it.
The Coral: That’s all it is now. You might get four videos in the space of an
hour. It’s mostly R. Kelly.

AL: So when you do an album it’s like a snapshot of that time?
The Coral: That’s it. It's all about what music you were into at that time.

AL: What was your inspiration to make this new album, The Invisible Invasion?
The Coral: There was nothing to do. We were bored.

AL: Did you have new gear on this album?
The Coral: Yeah. There were new guitars that we wanted to try out. That is
what is good about studios. You can get your hands on so much different
equipment. We were working with new producers this time. We had a year off so we were
eager to get back in the studio. We had more time to write the songs. We
didn’t rush through like we did with the other albums.

AL: There is a distinct “Coral” sound. You heard that organ and you know who
it is. Do you have that organ on every song?
The Coral: Well, yeah. We have got a keyboardist. He plays piano. He just
bought a new keyboard today. Everything is a part in our music. Everything is
meant to be in our songs. It’s not because of there is a keyboard in the songs.

AL: You worked with different producers. There was Ian Broudie.
The Coral: We worked with Ian Broudie on the first two albums. He was well
sound. He was the first guy to say, “I’ll produce you. I know what to do with
you.” We were getting all these names. It was like “Try this, and this.” We
knew about that song he did for the England football team. We didn’t know much
about the Lightning Seeds. They have got some good tunes. He was a dead nice
fellow. He was interested in producing us.

AL: Was the early stuff all live takes?
The Coral: Pretty much. The bass and drums were done first a live takes. I
played along with rhythm guitar. We would overdub the guitars and keyboards.
That was the first album. Only “Night Freak” was done totally live. We were all
in the room.

AL: When you did the new album with Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley (of
Portishead) how was it different?
The Coral: We started in the same way with bass and drums.

AL: You would think that with the Portishead guys it would be more computers.
The Coral: No. Not at all. I never heard their music before when I met them.
I heard some of their singles. They would let us do what we do in the studio.
They would know what grooves and sounds to go for. They knew how to get a real
good live sound with the music. They had only produced their own band at that
point. It was a challenge for them to work with another band. They were well
off for it. He said once “All I have to do is put yous down on tape.” There
is not much difference. They know what speakers and what frequencies to use.
They know about sound and the dynamics of the studio.

AL: Did you go down to Bristol?
The Coral: Yeah, we demo-ed in Bristol, in Geoff’s studio. We got along.
Sometimes there is some animosity with Londoners. He came down to see us in the
practice room. He watched us rehearse and watched how we play. We recorded the
whole thing in Monmouth.

AL: Portishead takes about ten years to do an album.
The Coral: They are working on one now. They have one or two ideas.

AL: Did you hear any of the new stuff?
The Coral: We heard about half a tune. It sounded good. A week later he
didn’t like it so he scrapped it.

AL: How do you write songs in The Coral?
The Coral: It’s mostly James who starts it off. He writes the lyrics, and
records his voice and guitar. We’ll go to each other’s houses and work on songs.
James always has ideas and songs and stories. The songs are often about
fictional stuff or books he’s reading. Sometimes there is a film he likes. It’s
not a song about his personal life. There might be like two lines about his life
in a song. James will get obsessed with something like tennis. He likes the
speed of tennis. He is the worst tennis player ever.

AL: Are you reading any books now?
The Coral: I am reading a book about Deadwood.

AL: You guys live near Liverpool. Do you like the football team there?
The Coral: He likes Liverpool, and I like Manchester City. Liverpool won the
Champions League.

AL: Was that a bigger achievement than winning the league?
The Coral: Yeah. It is a bigger scale, because you are the champion of all

AL: How have the tours been this year?
The Coral: Very easy. We have only played like fifty shows. We have played
the UK, and have went to France and Germany. We did some radio shows. It’s been

AL: Do you have stalkers?
The Coral: Yeah. But it’s not young people. It’s like weird fat fellows who
seem to like us. They have every album, every single, and every poster. They
make us sign everything. They fool us into thinking that we are signing all
this stuff for the children’s hospital. We ask them “Where did you get all that
stuff then?” And they say, “Oh, I rang up Sony.” That is very scary. We are
not cool enough to have proper stalkers.

AL: Are you playing some festivals this year?
The Coral: Yeah. We are doing all of them. We are playing the main stage at
Glastonbury. We go on before New Order.

AL: Are you going to do a Joy Division cover song right before they come on?
The Coral: Nah. We are not going to take the piss. They will just batter us.

AL: Have you played recently with any cool bands?
The Coral: We played with The Gorky’s from Wales. We played about four shows
with them last year. The girl who plays violin played on our record, Magic &
Medicine. The first time we came to American we toured with Supergrass. We
played with Blur.

AL: Any bands you look forward to playing with?
The Coral: Yeah. We are playing with Oasis. That band is why we started doing
music. We are also playing with Beck. Those shows are in Italy.

AL: What countries do you like to go to?
The Coral: France and Italy.

AL: You guys listen to a lot of records?
The Coral: Yeah, loads. We went to Amoeba Records the other day and spent two
hundred dollars.

AL: Anything inspire you lately?
The Coral: Mostly old ones by Frank Sinatra, Lee Hazelwood, and Lee Scratch
Perry. The only new one I got was The Beta Band. I heard the new one by The
White Stripes. I heard the new one by Beck.

AL: What should people expect to hear when you play this summer?
The Coral: New stuff. We will play a few singles and a few favorites of ours.