Fields of the Nephilim photo © Tess Donohoe.
In December 2014 Fields of the Nephilim played two shows at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire to celebrate three decades of the band in all its various versions. Before the second gig (from which our review is here) frontman Carl McCoy and bassist Tony Pettitt gave an exclusive interview to Louder Than War, discussing memories, movies, music and much more.
As typical Saturday shopping traffic circles to and from the monstrously vast Westfield shopping mall a huddle of black-clad folk try to keep warm on the steps of the Empire theatre. Though it is several hours before the doors open they are waiting patiently in the cold winter sunshine to secure a front row spot for the second part of a very special event in the rock calendar.
Meanwhile inside the building, Fields of the Nephilim are preparing to put on a sold out show for fans who have travelled from across from Canada, USA, Europe, Australia… and Dorset. It is well known the band’s singer Carl McCoy is not keen on interviews but today he seems relaxed. This may be at least partly thanks to the presence of his old friend and fellow founding member Tony Pettitt, who resumed bass duty in 2013.
The frontman is already decked out in trademark leathers and hat, his eyes hidden by a pair of reflective wrap-around shades an ’80s American wrestler would have been proud of. But there is no feeling of stepping into the ring. In fact, the atmosphere in the tiny room, with McCoy and Pettit squashed into a small leather couch, is easy-going and humorous. The referee, as it were, is band manager and Transcend Music boss Rob Ferguson, who is present throughout and occasionally joins in.
How did the two of you meet and how did the band form?
TP: We grew up in the same area.
CM: We happened to be living in a similar area at the time, didn’t we really?
TP: Yeah, that’s right. You obviously moved there, didn’t you?
CM: I had nowhere to live! (laughs)
TP: Yeah, it was through a mutual friend that I met Carl and literally within a week or so he’d moved into the flat that we shared with (future FOTN guitarist) Paul (Wright). I think within a week we had decided to get this band together.
CM: We were all in other bands at the time as well, but we just hit it off. It started from there. Everything else just went out the window and we carried on doing what we were doing to form this band.
TP: I jacked in my job. Everyone decided we were gonna go for it. We got a kind of makeshift little studio together and we were down there every day. “Dawnrazor” (debut album, 1987) came out of that. We were really dedicated from the word go really.
CM: We were pretty ambitious and pretty rebellious. Attitude and opinionated about everything, especially musically. We had the drive, a reason for being out there. There was a big void for the kind of sound we were making together. I think the sound came about as a chemical reaction between our various influences and who we were. It wasn’t like an effort.
TP: I think we were quite against the grain, especially in the ’80s. Everything had started getting really sort of crisp and shiny. Primary colours and this and that. We went really against that grain, especially being all dusty and dirty and a grainy sound. We wanted to go against all that ’80s pristine-ness. I’m not being funny, there was some great music, underground music, in the ’80s, but what was going on above ground was something to rebel against I think. Punk did a good job but it didn’t last long, so I think we kind of carried on from where that left off in a way.
TP: That (Eden House) is purely a collective. It’s different to actually being in a band. I consider being back doing stuff with Carl as being a member of a full band. In the Eden House we have two core members and everyone else comes and goes.
CM: People change, your attitudes change and to develop…I don’t like to be held back on creativity by being restricted with what you’ve got. If everyone’s not seeing eye-to-eye then you’ve got to something about it, change it. I think that’s what came about the first time. But we had other things causing typical problems like every other band does. Management, record labels and all that toss! I think I was also a bit afraid of us getting kind of too popular and mainstream.
So you had no ambition to play sports stadiums around the world, as The Mission did with U2?
CM: No no no! (laughs) No, that was definitely not what we were about. It wasn’t all the members of the band, but it could easily have gone in that direction. Then I could see we would have lost completely what we were about. I had other ideas of what I wanted to do. You’re not married are you, y’ know?
A sense of freedom was always important then?
CM: Yeah, I wanted to explore music. Also you’ve got to remember we’d been travelling round the bloody world touring for like months and months and months. If we’d have had a decent manager at the time he’d have probably said, “What you need, lads, is a break”. But no, the greedy fucker kept us working! (laughs)
TP: (laughs) I think the proof is in if you like what you do. Carl carried on in his direction, I carried on doing music. I will always carry on doing music and some of the other guys just let it be. We’ve come around a couple of times where the time’s been for me and Carl to do whatever. I think it’s if you’ve got the passion still.
CM: Yeah, that doesn’t go away.
TP: If you’ve got the same sort of idea of where you wanna go then it’s time to do stuff together again. Right now it feels better than it ever has.
TP: It really does.
What are your proudest or favourite memories from the early years?
TP: It’s funny ’cause early doors I remember when we got to play the Clarendon, which was a thousand people. I can remember feeling, “This is fantastic! We’re actually playing to a thousand people!”
CM: And The Marquee down on Wardour Street and all of that era.
TP: I think you set a goal and then you reach that goal and set the next one almost. Them early days were really exciting. And we did Reading Festival. Then we went over to Germany to these massive festivals. There’s so many little things that you remember and people probably wouldn’t think that’s the pinnacle of your career, but it meant a lot to me and us.
CM: I think “The Nephilim” (1988) album was kind of when we really found our feet.
TP: Yeah, we were really going for it at that point.
CM: That was kind of the beginning of where we are now really.
TP: Carl’s steered the band ’cause people have come and gone, but he’s kept it in the right sort of ways like the idea was in the beginning.
You got some stick from the press back in the day, didn’t you? The “Nod” cartoon and stuff like that. (Now-defunct weekly paper Melody Maker ran a regular strip poking fun at FOTN, particularly original drummer “Nod” Wright)
TP: Yeah. I think originally, back in the days of the NME and Melody Maker, they were sort of taking the piss out of us really, to be honest. There was a slap in the face one year for Melody Maker because their readers voted us their favourite band! All of a sudden it was like they started to take us a little bit more seriously. I think in retrospect people have taken a look back at us more seriously and realised what we were doing. Some of those journos were so far up their own arses!
The Ceremonies concerts in 2008 and the eventual live CD/DVD package released in 2012 really seemed like the close of a chapter, didn’t it?
CM: It kind of marks that, I believe. I know it was a little while ago now (laughs), but we have long endings! Like the songs! Yeah, it does represent that to me. I believe it wrapped that cycle up and that was quite significant for me. It showed the band where it was at that point and it was good marker showing how far we’d come, bringing the past and the later stuff all into one. The release as a live record represents us quite well as a live band. So it was quite an important move for me. It felt good to get that captured.
CM: Are we? Tony will tell you about it! (laughs) Ahhh yeah! Got it now. I think they respect our band. I think that’s why they approached us, knowing that we were maybe playing the main festival anyway. Then it seemed to make more sense for us to do that as well (play two shows). It’s kind of an interesting kind of concept I think.
What does it feel like when the younger generations of bands say FOTN is an influence on them?
CM: It’s a massive compliment isn’t it? When they are honest enough to say that and admit that. We kind of forget how long we’ve been around, although now we can’t with this 30-year thing! (laughs) Then there’s this young band, HIM, y’ know? (laughs) It’s a massive compliment. There’s many bands we bump into and you can only think that we’ve done something right.
You’re also already booked for a show billed as “The Return” to Yorkshire’s Bram Stoker Film Festival. Presumably it was good, but how was it different from a music festival?
CM: I think it was a new venture for the film festival, to have music at it. Obviously from our point of view it’s a fairly small venue but the attraction, more than anything, was nice location. The whole film aspect side of it was different. I think if we get invited to do something different, something a bit off-the-wall like that, then why not? I like to try stuff like that and it was well organised.
TP: The vibe was really good. Previous to that I’ve played the normal Whitby festival with other bands. This was so different. The amount of venues there and obviously you’ve got a lot of like-minded people who are there for the films. It just felt really good to do.
CM: It’s something that I could see really growing because they seem to have their shit together.
TP: They do. It was really well organised.
CM: There’s lots of attractions there as well. A lot of horror film buffs there, it was very creative. A lot of showcasing movies, I knew some of the directors showcasing their movies. It was great.
RF (band manager): The funny thing was it wasn’t run by music people, it was run by film people so it was a completely different experience as a band. So we went into that environment and it was actually really good, really well run. A pretty slick operation.
CM: I think they’ve chosen us as they’re soundtrack for every year! (laughs)
RF: House band! (laughs)
CM: It’s well worth keeping your eye on.
Carl starred in “Hardware” back in the ’80s and obviously has strong visual interests with his design company Sheerfaith. Is it possible there could be a venture into film with FOTN or otherwise?
CM: I’ve touched on it so many times and things I’ve started for personal interest, but I’ve never finished anything. I think it is a big possibility going forward. I just need something I can get my teeth into. I’ll be trying to mainly concentrate on the band, the live stuff, while we can. I still think it’s a fresh beginning for us. That’s my main aim now and in the recent past but I think going forward there’s lots and lots of areas I’d like to explore and that maybe one of them.
TP: It’s a whole creative process and there’s lots of elements that are interesting about that (film-making).
Might crowd-funding be worth considering, bearing in mind FOTN’s fiercely loyal fan-base?
CM: I’ve not really thought about it. I like the idea of stuff like that. It’s all quite new to me to be honest. I’ve not actually explored it for any reason yet but it has been mentioned. I have been looking at it a bit because I know a few other artists who’ve been using that.
TP: It does give people a stake in it, doesn’t it?
CM: Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I just haven’t got as far as thinking that far yet to be honest. Just as long as I keep away from all the fucking corporates this time! (laughs) I have got my eye on it (crowdfunding).
There are a couple of new tunes in the setlist. Does that mean a new album is on the cards?
CM: Might be! (laughs) We’ve got lots of new material kicking around. We’ve been working, writing, recording for a long time.
TP: It’s all work in progress.
CM: We will just try and dig some bits and pieces out for our own sake really.
TP: We realised years ago we could work new songs in going outlive but these days it’s like you work a new song in and all of sudden ten thousand people have heard it online. Whereas you used to be able to sort of hone it and stuff years ago. The only people that got to hear it were the people at the gig, or maybe the occasional bootlegger. So it’s a bit different now trying to work stuff in live. We’ve got a couple that we’ve played.
CM: They’re kind of like sections of what we’re doing, but they probably won’t ever get released like that in their entirety. We do have plans. We have some plans, but just leave us alone and let us play around! (laughs)
When might it be released?
CM: It’s gonna come up quick. We’ll tell you after it’s out! (laughs)
With that it looks like somebody is ready to challenge the indoor smoking ban. Fields of the Nephilim have made a career of doing things on their own terms and it sure doesn’t look like that is going to change. The mood in the camp seems genuinely enthusiastic and a decade after the release of FOTN’s last studio album, “Mourning Sun”, it is time for the next chapter to unfold.