INTO THE MYSTIC
The new Nephs LP, 'Elizium', will shock even their most committed fans by the scale of it's ambition and music. It's a concept album for a start, and it tackles all the big themes - life, death, resurrection, reality, the transportation of souls, you know that sort of thing. Carol Clerk reports.
The rendezvous is a car park in Letchworth. From here, we are to drive in convoy to a former corset factory, for photographs, and then to a pub called the Pig And Whistle in Stevenage.
To encounter the world's most mysterious band in such unremarkable surroundings on a Tuesday lunchtime, to view the enigmatic Mr Carl McCoy behind the wheel of something so ordinary as a car, is perversely thrilling, and a hint of things to come.
When we last met, at the time of the very great "Psychonaut" single, Carl seemed remote, unhappy, worried about misinterpretation to the point where he would deflect any detailed line of questioning with an impenetrable "that's personal."
"I probably didn't like me that day," grins Carl, lenses shining a brilliant blue across the table.
Today, Carl is cheery, chatty, delighted to volunteer any personal detail you could wish to know, from the contents of his kitchen to the temperature of his blood. He's just as willing to open the door into that other world of his, the one he lives in, the one where the powers of mystic, magic and the mind combine to create a condition under which "everything is possible".
Fields Of The Nephilim occupy most of the space this cosy little bar has to offer, and that's without the presence of guitarist Paul Wright who has reported sick.
We're informed by his brother, Nod, that Paul has gone down with food poisoning. We're then informed by the landlord, in a wonderful piece of timing, that Paul was so incapably drunk last night he was asked to leave the pub.
Whatever sort of poisoning he had, it must have been a bad dose. Paul wouldn't usually miss a drink. The rest of the group are in excellent spirits, having recently decided in the studio to throw caution to the wind, to please themselves, and "sod everyone else".
The results of their endeavours will send waves of shock, outrage and awe reverberating across the land: the new Nephs album, "Elizium," is a monster, the one they've been dying to make all along, the answer for all of us who wondered what could possible follow "Psychonaut". I love it.
Officially, it offers seven "songs", although the band prefer to count four. Really, though, "Elizium" is one long and experimental piece of music - no joins! - composed of various dramatically contrasting "movements", by turns aggressive, manic, disturbed, inquiring and, finally, tranquil.
The guitars play passages, not solos, and the sound of the Nephs at work with their "new toys", a battery of technological devices, sends them hurtling, in a whirl of spacey sound effects, into another dimension altogether.
This group, clearly, have got more to do with Pink Floyd than with punk rock, and, just to prove it, they collaborated on the production with the mighty Floyd's own engineer.
"We chose the sounds we wanted, and he helped us to find them and fit them into the music," they say of his influence.
Bassist Tony Pettit goes on further: "I think we've have been a great band to have around in the late sixties..."
Oh, and while we're on the subject, the LP title "Elizium", refers to a recurring theme. People are going to scream from the rooftops, you know: concept album!
"Sorry, we can't write short songs," retorts Carl. "That's the way it is. We filled the album musically, and I always felt that's what albums were for."
So what do you hope that people will glean from it all?
"It plays on the emotions and I should think people will sense which ones should be working and which ones shouldn't. It goes from one extreme to another. It contains the original spark; it makes me feel the way I was feeling when the ideas were conceived, which is not so nice sometimes.
"The music can be reassuring if you're calm and comfortable, but if you're feeling pissed off, it enhances that as well."
What pisses you off?
"The reality of life, the old stupid big questions. What do you want out of life? If you reach your ultimate goal or dream, what is there else to live for? What is the dream? The dream is maybe death. What's the point of waiting 80 years when you know you can get to your goal a bit quicker?
So you're not going to be too disappointed if you don't make your telegram from the Queen?
"It wouldn't make any difference."
"You're wearing nappies, you've got no teeth, you're bald and you're being fed," observes Tony. "You've done the cycle".
Carl McCoy seems endlessly preoccupied with his search for the meaning of life and death, all the time at the mercy of "the gods and demons who make up the personality of my psyche", I wonder if he ever finds a moment's peace.
"I can be content if I escape from reality," he declares. "I'm never really happy during the daytime. I can't relax. I'll stamp around and pace up and down, waiting for the evening. There are fewer distractions then.
"I live in a quite busy area, and what I want to do is move away to somewhere a little bit more peaceful."
"When we go on tour in Scotland we take an hour out in the hill, and it seems a lot more Nephilim than Stevenage ever would be," agrees guitarist Peter Yates, who has already moved to the leafy London suburb of Ealing.
"I stayed in nearly all last year," carries on Carl, a man who, commendably does not sunbathe and has never heard of The Stone Roses.
"I spent the year playing around with the eight track, working on bits of lyrics, bits of artwork, reading, getting information.
"Everyone goes through life trying to find that perfect balance, trying to find out what makes them content, and that's what I tried to do.
"I turned my life upside down. I stopped drinking alcohol, I stopped smoking cigarettes. I went to a homeopath and I ate completely different things.
"I used to get up in the mornings and have lots and lots of sugar in my tea to fire me up. I stopped that lot. I stopped everything that I had before, fried foods and particularly hot spicy foods, Indian takeaways last thing every night.
"I had blood tests not long ago, and they said, 'Your blood's really hot'. It was the chilli. At one point, Tony and I couldn't go to the supermarket without eating a few chilli peppers on the way round.
"I started having just raw vegetables. I hate vegetables, and I had to do a few force feeds on myself, but I felt really healthy. I'm still basically keeping it up, although I've been on chicken and fish."
The alcohol and the fags are back on he menu too, although not too wildly, just the odd Silk Cut and a half of shandy: "I get on my nerves when I'm pissed."
And suddenly he's serious again. Well, sort of. "I've still not found out what I want. So I'll change my life round again, and keep changing it. Maybe I should change my clothes..."
Intriguingly, "Elizium" concerns itself with Carl's attempts to "see beyond the veil of reality".
He explains: "I'm exploring my own mind my own heaven and hell, achieving higher levels of consciousness. They are ways of doing this, based on a couple of rituals. They're all feints at death, getting to a point just like when you pass out. What you get are glimpses of death. It's a completely different state of mind, a perception, and people have used it for all sorts of purposes. "'Elizium' is a Greek word for the place where the soul descends after parting from life. It's like an eternal life, and it's final."
So what is Sumerland, as referred to in the track of that name?
"It's a place where the souls lie sleeping, waiting for their reincarnation. I've always been interested in the journey-of-the-soul kinda stuff. It comes back to shamanism.
"Sumerland is a belief of the Sumerians who were the first known civilisation. They were rediscovered 100 years ago, and their stone tablets are still being translated. Sumerian people were really in touch with the natural sources.
"That's where The Nephilim came from. They were a superior race of beings from another plant in the solar system who came to earth and created the human being. There are areas of genetic engineering here.
"The Nephilim were the deity of the Sumerians, the gods.
"But what's important in all the things I believe is that I've tried not to use the original symbolism, the magical formulae. I've tried to bring them up to date.
"People pick up a lot of these old magical books and say it's mumbo jumbo, and most of it is in today's context. People in those days wanted to make their crops grow. I don't want to know all that. I just want a good balance. And I think you have to look beyond life."
Are you optimistic about finding what you want?
"I just feel like I'm waiting. Waiting for something. The big change. But maybe it's just this time of life..."
By now, we're in a car. Much to my disappointment, we've left the ever-adorable Nod behind in Stevenage, and Tony is driving Carl, Pete and myself to the BSB studios in London for a Nephilim interview.
As we travel, we talk about Carl McCoy's role in the Richard Stanley-directed film "Hardware", his first attempt at acting since the school play, which is due for general release shortly.
Stanley, who was responsible for the first two Nephs videos, is "very interested in Shamanism" and has become a good friend of Carl, who agreed to play a character much like himself.
"If I hadn't, they'd have dressed someone up like me and stuck them out in the desert," says Carl. "I have to wander around this wasteland, digging up the remains of a military experiment, this android called Mark 13. The Bible chapter of Mark 13 is about all flesh passing away, so that fitted quite nicely. I'm supposed to be like a messenger, an angel bringing doom."
The film was shot partly on location in Morocco, which has left some vivid impressions on Carl McCoy: the storms; the rainbow in the Sahara desert; the sun rising over miles of red dunes; the dirty fingers of the people who served the food - which remained untouched; the police who demanded money for permitting the entourage to leave the country; the tourist who had a heart attack in a narrow street in Fez.
What on earth did you do when you saw that?
"I had a joint and watched."
The BSB presenter, a jolly soul called Jonathon Coleman, is quite incapable of taking himself or anyone else seriously, and for this alone, he does the impossible: he makes Carl McCoy giggle. On television. Which strikes me at the time as another little symbol of the new era dawning.
Meanwhile my own love affair with Fields Of The Nephilim tumbles uncontrollably on, from here to Elizium. Via Brixton Academy.
"Elizium" is released on September 24 on Situation Two through Beggars Banquet.