By the end of last year, the Nephs were challenging bands like the Sisters and The Mission for the goth crown. Now, in typically perverse fashion, the band have released the uncommercial epic 'Psychonaut', which should see them scaling even grander heights before their UK tour. Carol Clerk discovers why singer Carl McCoy believes in the Occult and the age of chaos and destruction.
The thing I most enjoy about Carl McCoy is his refusal to jump through the traditional music industry hoops.
The man who is happy to slag off the single he's supposed to be promoting in this interview, who insists at regular intervals that he can't sing, has no time at all for the whims and fancies, the duties and indulgences, that are eagerly embraced by so many of his contemporaries.
Carl McCoy has no enthusiasm for anything other than his days in the studio and his one and a half hours onstage. I'm amazed he bothers to do interviews these days.
"I don't know why I agree to do them," he sighs. "Everybody tells me it will do the band good.
"When you're put on a platform for the public to view, I don't like it. I was put on 'Night Network' once to judge videos, and it was totally the wrong move. I felt terrible sitting there saying, 'I don't like it, I don't like it'. In the end I was saying 'Oh, this is quite good', when it was crap and I didn't like it. You've gotta try and get on with people. I can be very obnoxious. I try not to be."
McCoy is equally disenchanted with another obligation of the successful recording band: the tour.
"I don't actually enjoy the process of touring," he declares, only a couple of weeks before the start of the Fields of The Nephilim British tour at the end of this month. "You'd get completely different opinions from everyone else in the band, but I feel like I've done enough. I want to do something else now.
"The actual hour and a half is good - I love it, I need it , otherwise I get very frustrated at times I need to get rid of this excess energy. There are a few special events in the list of gigs, like London and Liverpool, certain ones you look forward to, but I don't like the routine night after night.
"We are old. We are. It's good to be in a band when you're 18 or 19, but I'm 26 and I feel miles too old for it now. I don't think you're ever too old for music. Writing and recording it is one thing, but you've gotta draw the line with touring when you get a bit old. I feel I'm too old to be touring. But I've got no choice, they make me do it."
"I'm 27, 28 soon," says Tony Pettit, Nephs' bassist. "I feel as if I could play in a band for a few years yet. When Carl's 29, we're going to nail him to the stage and shoot him through his head."
"I'd be up for that, " retorts Carl. "It would save me doing it."
"In my lifetime, I set out to do what I'm doing now, but my goals have already been achieved. I wanted to be in a band to be myself and write about my subjects, musically to trigger emotion, to make music that takes me when I shut me eyes. I wanted to become a cult band and get a nice tight following, and I've got that.
"I've got a lot of goals that I do want to achieve, and should be achieving, and the music is all part of that. I don't feel like going onstage touring all my life is gonna give me what I want. It's too easy. And when it's easy it becomes boring.
"As we mature as a band, I feel we'll start writing some real music, and I believe we will outgrow touring. We'll always be able to perform live, but I don't think doing it for the sake of earning your money will be dominant. We'll be doing what we wanna do later on. I think we've done it for the sake of it in the past."
At least Carl should find the venues on the forthcoming tour to his satisfaction.
"I have to be part of the atmosphere of the building," he volunteers. "In a lot of places you can't become that. When you can become part of the surroundings, that's great."
"We tried to chose gigs on this tour which are really old buildings, like the Liverpool Royal Court," says Tony.
"When we did the tour last year, we did city halls instead of newer public buildings," adds guitarist Pete Yates. "We don't like playing in discos and clubs.
"We once did this club in Atlanta where the bar staff carried guns. The barman was showing his mate how his gun worked and he shot himself in the foot. Our manager is going, 'Don't go downstairs, someone's just been shot.' And, of course we all ran down to see what was going on.
The Wright brothers, Paul and Nod (guitar and drums) are playing pool round the corner in this pub in Waterloo. Carl McCoy is drinking at a table with Pete, Tony and myself, and at the same time he is alone. Quite alone.
It's not that his normal workaday views are so regularly at odd with the rest of the Nephs'. They never had a party line anyway.
It's more that he lives in another world, the one he refuses to share, the one that the others in the band have accepted but never to any real degree understood.
Carl is preoccupied, clearly by such things as the mind, the spirit and some or all of the supernatural, magical and mystical elements of the occult. And although many journalists have tried to penetrate this territory, to discover its precise significance in his life and, particularly, his lyrics, they have tried in vain.
He will not spill the beans.
This man is a nosey-parker's nightmare. He will refer to his great secret only as "my interests" or "the subject". He will talk about his music but not at any length about his words. He will not speak in detail. But I believe he wants to.
After four hours of conversation, I am certain that Carl McCoy is not quite the character he is assumed to be by the journalists he infuriates, the image-builder who is purely concerned with the maintenance and enhancement of his own enigma and the mysterious atmosphere that surrounds Fields Of The Nephilim.
McCoy gives glimpses, tantalising glimpses, lots of them. He continually starts something he later decides he can't finish, seems almost frustrated to have to utter the three words that generally close the subject: "But that's personal."
He searches distractedly for ways of describing what has already been deemed unmentionable, is almost apologetic, half embarrassed, about his own reluctance.
True, he will excuse his unhelpfulness with the defences we've heard umpteen times before, each with its own validity, suppose, but none which, separately or together, seem substantially convincing.
There is, remember, the idea that the lyrics are there for people to interpret in whatever way they wish, that those who instinctively understand them need no further elaboration anyway, that to offer explanation is to dictate and also insult the fans' intelligence, that listeners should be encourage to think for themselves, that to be explicit is to defeat the purpose and atmosphere of the songs, that no lyricist should have to justify his writing etc.
But McCoy also tells me this: "There are a lot I should say but I feel I can't because I'm not allowed to say it."
Who doesn't allow you?
"Just a minority of people who are involved. The people I represent. The things I represent. I just wanna protect the freedom of the people that are involved. I ain't really worried about myself. There's a few people I do care about, not many, and that's it."
Later on, he comments: "If you want to start getting into that (lyrical content), it should be my interview. If I explain, which I will do when I write my book, it will be on my own head. Every one of us in this band has different beliefs."
"If Carl did explain everything, it would put the whole thing of his belief into the whole band," says Tony. "At the end of the day, Carl's the only one who knows about everything he writes. I ask him about it, and it gets talked about between the five of us, but we just skim the surface, whereas Carl knows the total ins and outs of the thing. He's bothered to learn."
"It's a personal thing to Carl," says Pete, guitarist. "We don't have any say in the lyrics. He's a lyricist."
"I can only write about things that are real and close to me," says Carl. "They reflect on everyone's lives and reality. I don't write fantasy I think that's what people are frightened of."
"If I explained it would offend a lot of people. I don't want to bring all that stuff into the world. I don't want al that publicity. I don't need that grief. I'm out on my own and I like that. The rest of the band are not in tune with what I write, but they can sense and feel it...
"There are certain things I've accepted into my life and I have based my life on them. They seem to make it right for me. But they wouldn't make it right for every person as an individual. That's why I feel a lot of the subjects I'm interested in shouldn't be brought out into the open. Some of them could be harmful to people. And also those things could be used against me."
And the band.
"I feel like we're in the middle ages all over again. It's terrible. In a modern age like this, people are saying they've got open minds ... I'm really proud of all my interest and I'm really proud o the people involved, but there are dickheads in all walks of life and society. It happens in occultism as well, you know.
"The worst thing happens is that people perceive things differently. They explain them from their own interpretation, and it's different and it's harmful. If I explained it now and your interpretation was wrong, it would be dangerous. It would affect me. So I'd rather not talk about it at all.
"My philosophy is I'm still learning. Until I've reached a level that I feel like I've really discovered something people should know about and is important, I just keep it to myself, and if it helps my life, that's great."
Many bands say it and few of them mean it. They say that money is not the object, that artistic satisfaction is the goal, and if a hit record does happen to come out of it, then that's a bonus. They say it, and they put out a record that's tailor-made for the chart.
Fields Of The Nephilim say the same thing, and they put out the most unlikely chart record in the history rock. "Psychonaut", released this week, is an epic, a wildly over-the-top nine-minute melodrama, a thoroughly outrageous, mind-boggling 12-inch that incorporates everything from church organs to choirs to flickers of dance and a pounding of hard rock too, and then there's the trippy instrumental experiments. You can almost smell the dry ice.
Even the first half of the composition (I hesitate to call it a song), which will shortly be released as the seven-inch version, is not perhaps the sort of stuff you'd whistle on a sunny morning on the way to the bus stop.
I find it gloriously audacious that a band who have been on "Top Of The Pops" should come back to woo us with this. And all with the approval of their record company, Beggars Banquet.
"We generally write songs around the 10-minute mark anyway," says Carl. "So we thought we'd put the full version down for a change. Originally, we were hoping to do a 20-minute version, but there was no way we could have done it for a single. Singles are funny things. You know that you're really restricted straight away."
"If it was on an album, it would have been the whole first side and we would have taken it much further," adds Pete. "It's the most flexible approach we've had yet in the studio. It's probably an indication of the way things are moving musically."
"It's quite a dramatic-sounding single, I suppose," concedes Carl. "I don't think that was intentional. I think at heart we prefer to keep things quite smooth and subtle. But this one sounds more dramatic than it actually is.
"I think it triggers a lot of different emotions. It becomes very intense in places. I think it's almost on the edge. It's quite dangerous in places, but it becomes really uplifting. It's a strong song in contents and lyrics.
"But I think the short version, the first half of the 12-inch, doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't even start as far as I'm concerned. I think it's been really cramped in for the sake of being able to edit it down for a seven-inch single. Even the nine-minute version sounds very cramped."
"It took about three weeks in the studio," says Tony.
"Longer than the first album," chips in Pete.
"But at the end of the day," continues Tony, "we were happy with what we came out with."
"I'm not 100 percent convinced at all," says Carl, abruptly. "I've put up with it, but I'm not happy with it. I just don't think it's up to our standard, that's all. I think it's a very impressive first listen, it's quite striking, it sounds nice, but I don't think that's the answer at all. I don't think that's what makes a good single. But there you go. It cost a lot of money."
"It cost more than the first album," says Pete.
"It cost too much", says Carl. "See, I feel that the lyrics are quite important, but I don't think that they work with this tune. Sometimes we have to compromise amongst ourselves."
Hopefully he'll be happier with the video which should be finished by the time you read this. "We're going to have some ugly people - freaks - in the video, hopefully," says Pete enthusiastically. "That's just to get a bit of extremism and disturbance in there."
Carl: " That's just to remind people that the world is full of these people. It's nice to give them a chance to perform in our video. I suppose, perhaps, the video's going to be pretty strong and might not be seen anyway. We haven't planned on getting it banned, but you know what they're like.
"I just love the Psychic TV videos. They're just brilliant. They're real. They do them themselves, which is most important. Most people now just promote themselves, not promote what the songs about.
"People just try to make themselves look as tasty and glamorous as possible for the cameras, which is bullshit. People are people. There are some ugly people. Look, at Wayne Hussey. He's ugly isn't he?"
Our old chum, Wayne, it turns out, is not one of Carl McCoy's favorite characters.
"It's great when The Mission or the Sisters go in the charts, but at the same time, I feel what they're contributing is sort of conforming," he sniffs.
"I think The Mission are more of a real band than the Sisters," says a diplomatic Tony.
"I've got a lot of things against them," argues Carl. "I think these people love themselves. They do all the benefit gigs and all these things that they don't really believe in, but the record company told them to do it. That's bollocks."
"At the same time, we're still following in their footsteps. Our single doesn't sound like Led Zeppelin at all. Pity. We could sell it to The Mission and they could do a cover of it and make lots of money.
"I don't hate them. I think they're funny. They can do what they want. They're worlds away from us anyway. They are what everyone wants and we are what everyone dreads."
Pete jumps in: "I read that Wayne Hussey gets a good book of poetry and underlines in red words that sound good, and uses them. What a cop-out."
"That's bad news, that is," nods Carl. "You've gotta realize that there's a difference between us and these bands we're mentioning. We're reality. We're real. They're entertainment. And I don't think entertainment comes into our ideas when we write."
"I don't think we can slag these bands off," ventures Tony.
"I'll slag anyone off," says McCoy.
"They're actually into the entertainment side," continues Tony. "The rock'n'roll, the drinking, the sex and the drugs."
"The sex is alright," says Carl. "It depends what you use it for. Sex is my little out-of-body expedition. But that's personal."
It would be. And in case you're wondering, he thinks The Cult's new stuff is "terrible."
We managed to ascertain, in the end, that a "Psychonaut" is "the same as a shaman, the sorceror, a person that explores the inner universe."
And Carl eventually did make some efforts towards explaining the lyrical intentions of the single.
"It's basically about the changing human consciousness," says Carl. "Everyone is just destined and heading for chaos. It's always been there. We are approaching the age of chaos, and I don't think there's anything anyone can do about it. We're just reminding people, I suppose, what they f***ed up.
"Chaos effects everything. Chaos has no flow. It has no order. The nearest thing to describe it is in the principles of quantum physics, I suppose. You can't deal with chaos. You can't put it in order 'cos there's no order in the first place. You have to go with the disorder.
"I think we're going to witness some real changes. I think we already have. Since man's been on the earth, we've come through different phases of human consciousness. Now we're in an age of atheism. People generally don't believe in anything apart from what they can feel and see. I'm not saying everybody. You must have noticed the increased interest in occultism. People have found for themselves that there's more than what you see in your everyday waking life. There's the whole inner universe of everybody.
"I find most of my inspiration and ideas, feelings and thoughts are very close to death. It's just that I have more fascination for death than I have for life. I have more respect for it. It's the only time you're free. I just feel like we're all prisoners of life, I really do."
There's that line about the reincarnation of the sun. Is that 'sun' or 'son'?
"It doesn't matter. It means the same. I believe that we're going to see mass destruction on this earth in our lifetimes."
"That mass destruction is the chaos anyway," says Tony, helpfully. "That's when it comes."
"I don't think man is gonna destroy the earth anyway," says Carl. "I think nature will deal with it. It generally does."
"We're just accelerating it," says Tony.
This is a slightly different pronouncement from the Nephs, more often associated with prophesying the man-made holocaust. Too late to talk about it, though. Pete is already galloping off at another angle.
"It's funny and sad how you get rock celebrities like Sting or whatever jumping onto very worthy causes, but they're 500 years too late."
"Everything's too late," says Carl. "We're on our way down. It's amazing, really, how science has developed in the last 100 years, how far advanced we've become. I think science is changing again, it's becoming more of an occult science now, which is a natural science, natural to man, but it's a bit late.
"I know in America the police force are using psychics in the pursuit of solving crime, more so than before."
Is that good or bad?
"I don't know, there are no good signs. People are getting involved in areas they shouldn't be getting involved in when they don't understand their own minds. I mean, science, and this advanced kind of society in general, computers building computers. People just take things for granted. They don't even know their own minds. They don't realise that all these things are controlling them. They don't have any control these days."
The conversation becomes "too personal" to continue before I can find out exactly how all of these theories fit together in the lyrical scheme of "Psychonaut."
From the fragments he has offered, Carl might be telling me that the ideas of chaos and subsequent mass destruction are inextricably linked to a general inability to "explore the inner universe" which would give back some understanding and control.
Then again, of course, I could be horribly wrong. Anyone with any better ideas should send them on a postcard, please to King's Reach Tower. Best entry wins a game of pool with Nod and Paul.
We return to pollution, the ozone layer, the rain forests and ... Sting.
"One person can change a lot of things," decides Tony, in a debate on the effectiveness of one person working for the good of many.
"Girlfriends normally affect people's lives," says Carl. "Everyone that I met before they had girlfriends, that changed their lives. Bad news."
"You can get an individual like Hitler or the Ayatollah that can change masses of peoples lives," continues Tony. "One person, working not for the good at all.
"I think someone like Hitler probably did it for the worse."
"To some people, maybe," replies Carl. "To some people, maybe not. He didn't fulfill his role as the Anti-christ."
"Sting saving rainforests," says Pete. "You can't knock it, no matter what you think of his ulterior motives. He sacrificed his career for it. He made a record and it sold about 5,000 copies. On a superficial level, I really do think they're doing it for genuine reasons."
"To get themselves really well-known and become a politician," says McCoy. "That's all Sting's doing it for. In this day and age, it all connects. Sting will be a politician."
Despite their suspicion of the computer age, despite the problems of recording the single due to malfunctioning technological equipment, Fields Of The Nephilim intend to carry on experimenting when they come to record the album after the tour.
"I feel you have to take advantage of the technology," says Carl. "You can't just say, 'We're a rock'n'roll band'. I feel like it's an advantage and you should use it to it's full capacity. The mistake is when people using it produce music which sounds very robotic.
"They're computer programmers, not musicians. When musicians understand computers, then that's brilliant. A lot of our experimental music is quite spontaneous and because of that, it's real. I like the emotion at the time. There' something to be said for experimenting."
"We've got a lot of the heads-down rock'n'roll out of us now," says Tony. "We're looking for other things."
"We've got about 100 hours of ambient music," says Carl. "But what are we going to do with it? It would be great to meditate to it, but I don't know about the record sales..."
"The word 'personal' really bugs me," says Carl, after using it for the 50th time. "I've gotta think of a new word."
How about exclusive?
"If I say 'personal', it means that I want to keep it to myself. Exclusive is quite a good word, actually. It makes it sound a little bit special."
We drained the last liquid inch from our glasses. And the Nephs were gone, with one final, non personal, non exclusive message for the world.
"We want to challenge The Cure to a hot curry competition and a game of snooker."