The Coral’s Ian Skelly Talks To Louder Than War About His New Album
Ian Skelly has been improving as a musician throughout his career & he has just produced one of the finest British psychedelia album releases to date. Released last December ‘Cut from a Star’ is the best invite to ‘Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream’ that we’ve had for a long time. Louder Than War recently got the opportunity to put a set of questions to the man himself, taking us through the album’s production, his songwriting inspirations, how he brought ‘Cut From a Star’ to life as well as his future label and producing plans
Cut from a Star is a real journey in sound and mind which Skelly creates with a delicate, sometimes dark and very beautiful song writing style, matched with an understanding and love for original psych recording techniques. The album tips it’s hat to the late 60’s psychedelic masters with an honesty and integrity which is showcased in the time-wary strum of ‘Nickel and a Dime’ or the dreamy ‘Caterpillar’.
‘I See You’ is another great track and a perfect introduction to the album for any Coral fan, however it’s Skelly’s ‘trippy’ windswept soundscape and velvet lined vocals which provide the magic on this track & make it different to anything The Coral released. Same again with another favourite ‘Paper Sky’ which is almost hypnotic. It’s a joy to just sit back and soak it up, all wrapped up in Ian Skelly’s warm / lucid wall of sound which cleverly taps into that same spirit of early Floyd or a tripped out Lennon so well. The melodies, delightful mix of instruments and fine song writing and vocals, its all there.
‘Paper Sky’ ‘I See You’, ‘ Caterpillar’ and ‘Nickel and Dime’ are some of the other songs that go to make up the psych sound experience you get listening to ‘Cut From a Star’, a wonderful album which is both moving and magic.
First off Ian, what has the response to album been like?
Good, from the things I’ve heard and that its all been quite positive.
…and of course all produced by your good-self.
Yeah its all me, its better being at the wheel now, you know rather than trying and translate your ideas through someone else. Taking control of the paint brush instead of telling someone else where to paint…its good to be able to do it yourself.
‘Cut from a Star’ is a fantastic piece of work with some real wonderful tunes on there, ‘I see you’, ‘Caterpillar’ are a just a couple of stand outs on there, the actual song ‘Cut from a Star’ was actually written some time back wasn’t it, did you always intend to go back and record it then?
Well Cut from a Star was a Coral song from the album ‘Invisible Invasion’, the album we did with Jeff and Adrian from Portishead which was around then that our guitarist left the band (Bill Ryder Jones). So we started working on an album without him, which was pretty dark. At the time I was doing a lot of recording around my mates place, recording the Coral’s demos on just an 8-track and its then that I got really attached to the album. It was called ‘ The Curse of Love’ but it was decided we’d shelve the album due to deciding it just wasn’t the right record to be made at the time for the band, but I loved all the tracks off that album. So a few years later when we were making the Butterfly House I started demoing some of the tunes from it and I was like ‘we should record that one’ and so I decided to a version of it myself and get it how I wanted it, because I thought we didn’t really do it justice the first time around so I just recorded it and it went from there. ‘Cut from a Star’ sort of made the blue-print for my album in a sort of way.
I really like the lyrics and sound of the vocals on tracks like ‘Paper Sky’, what was the inspiration behind those words and ideas?
A lot its inspired from dreams and the space between space, other dimensions, parallel universes, legends and ancient religions and civilisations, Babylonia and all those type of things. A lot of it comes from a lot of the books I was reading at the time, the album wasn’t just based on psychedelic ideas but also ancient/spiritual ideas as well.
It’s the darker side of psychedelia, the undercurrent of it all. Sometimes when groups try to play psychedelia it can come off sounding a bit Austin Powers because its not so much a stylised theme but more of a spiritual reality isn’t it.
…and other tunes on the album, where they from?
The first two songs on the album, ‘Nickel and a Dime’ and ‘Caterpillar’ were recorded at home in my flat, they were like the two songs I had hanging around the longest off the album. I had those songs since the first Coral album. It annoyed me a bit that I couldn’t do anything with them but had all the drum arrangements and bass parts sorted in my head, if you know what I mean. So I couldn’t really move on or write any new songs until I’d got them down just how I wanted them to sound and completed them.
There’s a great spread of artists on there as well isn’t there, including many of The Coral.
Yeah all of The Coral band member are on the album, there’s other people on there too like Liam from ‘By the Sea’, another Liverpool group who are on the ending of ‘Cut from a Star’ playing the duel guitars. It happened simply by him turning up at the studio one night to pick an amp up and I just asked him if he could get these guitar line’s down for the song. The Wirral 5 piece The Sundowners are on there as well doing backing vocals on few tracks through out the album with the track ‘I see You’ the only one they rehearsed
Tell me about your recording techniques, like the Tascam machine you used on the album.
A Tascam recording machine is what they brought out in the 90’s when that whole bedroom scene was taking off and people were making their own sounds at home. Its just like a little cassette with 8 channels on it and 3 bands like the stereos you have at home; treble, bass and middle, so it’s user friendly you know, not like when you go into a studio which is something I always loved them from back when we were younger putting the Coral demo’s together, it kind of compresses it in a way and make it warm sounding.
Would you say you prefer the older recording techniques then Ian, more suited to your style and sound?
Well it was more than just a technical thing, more of a creative idea as well. Same as I mentioned before about taking control of the paint brush, because the drums are on 1 track and not 10. So it’s a bit like ‘put the drums over there and the bass here’ you know. With it being easier to use in one sense gives you more control over the music. In a way its old school like the Beatles on 8 tracks or 4, not 20 channels for each instrument so for me that makes the process more artistic, when your in any standard studio it can be….a bit normal, and not as inspiring as it could be, technically its just a bit too kind sometimes. Its those techniques and old records that I really like,..but in a way they’re kinda wrong…technically speaking, and that to me makes them more artistic and freer, its the limitations that kinda made them the great records they are. Don’t get me wrong I like well produced albums in studios where they’ve got amazing drums sounds and that but I like the other side as well and feel it suites what I do a lot better- into a more Low-Fi approach which sometimes captures more magic.
Because when I originally put a lot of the songs down they were just me on an acoustic, I hadn’t even played them with a band, it was just me acoustically with a live vocal so then I’m thinking ‘what am I going to do with it’. So I jumped on the drum kit, played a part and put it down and worked like that. It was a band but in a completely different shape so that way I just had to take the performance of what I did on that day, I suppose a bit like an actor knowing all his lines for a scene compared to another actor improvising, you know what what I mean.
The album artwork’s quite striking as well, an image which reflects the sound and feel of the album wouldn’t you say, where did it come from?
If I’m going to be honest with you the cover artwork was really last minute because I originally had a photo which I was going to use but I felt it needed something more. So me and my girlfriend whose an artist did the cover that night,she took some photos and we just put it together there and then, we really didn’t have that much time to analyse or think about it, we just did it and thought it looked good so that was it.
I had been creating collages during the making of the album using some images and posters I had but I hadn’t intended on using them for this particular album. However after creating the cover I thought they were really strong images and represented the album, I didn’t know why I didn’t think of it before it was just at that moment the penny dropped.
usually the best way when your under a bit of pressure
Psychedelia seems to be something you have a pretty deep understanding and appreciation for, the album pays testament to the fact…so whats your thoughts about psychedelia becoming quite popular again, with groups like Tame Impala who’s music is even used on TV ads and commercial TV?
I Think it always has been to be honest, there were a few bands around the 90’s doing it in way, I just think those 60’s and 70’s albums and the guitar bands there’s so much to get from them, so much inspiration that I’d say that’s the catalyst behind it. I wouldn’t say there’s some kind of zeitgeist thing at the moment where everybody is turned on to psychedelia I just think if you’re a musician then those records are just great, aren’t they, there’s a freedom in them. I think it just comes through artists and musicians wanting to be artistic and creative without some record company demanding it.
Like the Tame Impala album was made in the guys house, that type of thing was commercially acceptable back in the 60’s and 70’s but wasn’t the thing to be done in the 90’s and it’s only now that you can record in your house if you want to, so maybe that’s why those records are starting to come out more.
How have the live shows gone up to now, and who is in the live group?
We played a couple weeks back, they’ve been great shows. The songs actually came across heavier, or maybe just more electric played live. But you can still hear all the albums weird sounds and effects coming through.
Playing with me live is Paul from the Coral on Bass, Nick from the Coral on keyboards and our James playing rhythm guitar. Then I’ve got a couple of young lads in the band, Phil and Danny Murphy, two brothers who are on guitar and drums plus jack Prince on percussion .
The two girls from The Sundowners Fiona Skelly and Niamh Rowe singing with us too so its a 9-piece band.
Do you find the Coral fan base getting on ‘Cut from a Star’?
Yeah, the response to the album and the support from The Coral fans has been great.
Do the lads from The Coral enjoy this different direction too, playing these songs live?
Yeah we love playing live together we are starting up a band called Serpent Power, which is the name of the band backing me live. We are starting work on a new record so we are writing for that at the moment. James is also bringing out a solo album which he’s just finished recording and mixing it and will be out 11.03.2013 so I’ll be drumming for him this summer.
So would you eventually like to follow up on ‘Cut from a Star’ with another album in the future?
Yeah, the new record that I’m working on as Serpent Power will hopefully get off the ground soon once the touring for Cut From A Star And James album slows down.
I’m also working on a record label at the moment, It’s just starting to take off. We want it as a real haven for young bands to come round, and be creative. We have groups like The Sundowners and the Circles, two bands We’ve already started recording with. Its all about using the experience we’ve gained over the years and passing that on
Live dates, where can we see you this summer playing songs from album?
Nothing’s confirmed yet but there will be dates over the summer. As I’ve got loads of tour dates coming up with James Skelly & The Intenders I have to wait for the all dates to come through. I’ve also got a lot of studio work and producing coming up with a few bands but I’ll know in the next month and I’ll get back out on the road again.
Fair to say your quite a busy guy hey Ian…?
I am a bit of a workaholic , but there’s a fine balance.