> AN INTERVIEW WITH COIL (Harvest History Month Pt. I)
Harvest History Month
Regardless of how far we’ve come since re-opening our doors in the late Spring of 2011, we can never truly tear away from our roots. There are many reasons why we decided to keep the Heathen Harvest name alive instead of starting our own journalistic endeavor, but in the end, the fact remains that we collectively owe a massive debt of gratitude to the original Heathen Harvest for opening our eyes, or ears, our hearts and our minds. Most writers from the early days will tell you how much the website, and coincidentally being exposed to the vastly diverse array of dark music featured within it, changed us; it helped our artistic interests evolve far beyond those that we had when we arrived, and in my case in particular, it helped me survive an era of my life that I can only hope to never have to revisit — surely my darkest days.
Unfortunately, last year, the original website went offline, taking with it the vast majority of content that had accumulated over its seven-year run. There is still a “test shell” of a portion of the website connected to the forum, but it is buggy and was never meant for public visibility; it is likely to go offline in the short-term future. For that reason, and with the blessing of the original owner Malahki Thorn, we are declaring February our Harvest History Month this year, and we will be revamping, re-editing, and republishing a new collection of our most important articles every day throughout the month.
We are opening the month with an artist that really shouldn’t surprise anyone, as those familiar with our humble beginnings should know all too well how much Jhonn Balance, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, and their host of friends that ranged from Thighpaulsandra to Black Sun Productions’ Massimo & Pierce, influenced our creation. Coil is the very reason that we ever had a reason to exist at all, and with the following interview, it will go without saying how much the project influenced Malahki in particular as an openly gay man from his teenage years to this day. They are the reason for our “anti-censorship” core value, and they have been the engine that has driven our motivation and inspiration from the first day.
This interview was among the first articles to be featured on Heathen Harvest, and you’ll notice that it occurred only seven short months before Jhonn Balance was taken from this world. Now with Sleazy gone as well, we’ll never have another chance to see, speak to, interview, or otherwise interact with Coil as a physical manifestation. For all of these reasons and more, this is easily the most important article that we have ever — and are likely to ever — publish(ed). Included with the interview, you will find the few Coil reviews that we were able to write up in our time with the original. Each consecutive article will follow this format until the end on February 28th. Following February will be another month of remembrance and celebration for another, yet to be announced, important piece of our collective experience within the post-industrial underground. Enjoy, and thank you all for a decade of readership and support.
–Sage L. Weatherford
Heathen Harvest 1.0 PR Representative (2006-2010); Heathen Harvest Periodical (2.0/2.1) Co-founder (2011-)
Conducted by Malahki Thorn
(Originally published Thursday, April 1st, 2004 @ 07:44 AM PST)
Heathen Harvest: Coil has now been making music for two decades. Has the band met or exceeded your previous expectations? Did you ever expect that you would last this long and have such an impact on the music scene and its listeners?
Peter Christopherson: I don’t think I had ANY expectations — Coil was just something Jhonn (Balance) asked me to help with and was fun, so our success and longevity has definitely exceeded them!
HH: I recently visited the Black Sun Productions website where Massimo & Pierce have posted a “Coil” link that describes their relationship with both of you. In this information, they discuss what a deep influence the music of Coil had on their lives as young gay men. Does Coil realize the impact they have had on queer youth in “the scene?”
PC: I do think it’s incredibly important for young gay TEENS to have the chance to discover for themselves that the world is NOT the way their parents and school are telling them.
Jhonn Balance: That opportunity for me came when I found a copy of William Burroughs‘ The Naked Lunch in WH Smith’s in Pontefract, on a Saturday afternoon-release from boarding school. I must have been 14. Standing in the deserted book section at the back of the shop, Burroughs’ drug-crazed, gorgeously-crude words burned into me, and for the first time I KNEW somebody else felt and saw the world the way I did. Hopefully you know what I’m talking about ‘cos it has already happened to you — it is a fantastic, life-changing moment.
If Coil have had that same impact on anyone else’s life, I feel honored and humble.
Pierce and Massimo are sweet, talented (and handsome!) and if what they say is true then I am delighted to have sleazily affected their development.
PC: Seriously — Most of us are not likely ever to have the responsibility of helping our own kids grow up and make their way into the world, but I think we owe it to the fledglings who will come after us — our gay children if you like — to make sure that clues to the nature of the real world are out there; to give them the keys to release themselves from the ill-fitting box their parents put them in; to let them know they are not alone. That’s more than enough reason for Coil (and any honest artistic gay venture) to exist.
JB: Again it was experiences such as bunking off from school and going to watch Pasolini‘s SALO with my friend Tom all on our own in a cinema in Oxford, or again, like Peter, discovering William Burroughs books (picked up in cheap paperback editions at jumble sales, the thrill and subversion of being sold these wonderful culture-bombs by the wife of the local vicar — one of her friends — making the exchange all the more enchanting). I was hugely and powerfully and completely overwhelmed and willingly succumbed and seduced and led astray, most joyfully seduced and enticed and molded and influenced and bent and shaped by these powers of transformation, information, inflammation and illumination. Dark angels whose shadows shine brightly still. I am aware that we can have an influence on people, especially those isolated by parents, or location, situation, orientation — those who feel they are drowning in the heavy tide of contemporaneous neglect, shallowness and inverted social values — If we can provide any kind of help, proof of survival, a glimmer of hope, a shock of recognition of the nude, by the very nature of our mere existence, then it more than justifies us having existed, been seen to exist, or created any work of art at all. When we play live, people demonstratively explain how we have changed their lives, and letters and emails occasionally and powerfully do the same. We do what we do — we would do it anyway. Having chosen to deviate we have no choice.
HH: Coil has been unflinching in drawing inspiration from the band members’ sexuality. Many songs, album titles, etc. deal with concepts of homosexuality and homoerotic spirituality. Have either of you ever felt a resistance from your audience when exploring such intimate themes?
PC: Fortunately there is some quality of music as an art form that does not engender resistance — if people feel uncomfortable, they just move in a different direction — Coil is certainly for the few rather than the many. We have occasionally had problems with “fans”, but generally they were people who felt “too much” empathy, rather than not enough.
JB: We may be “for the few”, but there’s more than quite a few of us. There have been a few occasions when I’ve noticed when I personally may have transgressed even the transgressive mindset, for instance when talking about eating human afterbirth.
HH: At one point in the band’s not too distant past, the lineup was stated as being comprised exclusively of homosexuals. I believe this was around the time Thighpaulsandra joined Coil’s ranks. How did such an exclusively queer lineup affect Coil, its music, and the intent of the band?
PC: I don’t feel there is any reason why Coil should be comprised exclusively of members of the same sexual persuasion — often it is not.
Maybe when it is, the tour bus leans dangerously the same way when we pass someone cute — that’s about it. Spiritual or philosophical empathy is more important to me in who I work with, than who you want to sniff.
HH: Coil invited Black Sun Productions on tour with the band during the recent blitz of concerts. Black Sun, Pierce, and Massimo are known for their live gay sex performances. Coil obviously ignored the controversy surrounding these artists and chose to work intimately with them. Can you tell us about Coil’s relationship with Black Sun?
PC: Pierce had been writing to us for years — since he was an underage prostitute in the some dark middle-European alleyway — that’s why we love him! To be honest, I was not particularly aware of any controversy.
Jhonn and I just knew from their letters that they were starting to make performance pieces together and invited them to come to our show at the Gotik-Treffen Festival in Leipzig. As soon as we met it was clear we all wanted to do things together… public and private.
HH: What role did Pierce and Massimo play in the recent concerts?
PC: The COIL LIVE experience constantly mutates — Jhonn and I have a very low threshold of boredom — so to have two naked Mohicans on stage with us was obviously an attractive proposition. We left what they did on stage up to them (with a few guidelines from Jhonn) and it seemed like a natural and beautiful accompaniment to the sound we were making.
HH: Coil was once known for never appearing live. In the last couple of years, the band has released a barrage of live concerts on CD. What changes brought about Coil’s recent tours?
PC: Thighpaulsandra, who we met in the late 90′s, suggested that we should play live again — If left to our own devices we probably would be far too reclusive for our own good — out of shyness and laziness mostly. He overcame the objections we had to the potential traumas of playing in front of an audience and to the rigors of travel. As it happened, computer technology had, at the same time, reached the stage where we could play our sort of music freshly each time, rather than repeat the same show over and over.
HH: I want to go back just a bit in time to discuss Jhonn’s struggle with alcohol and the move to the country. Many of our readers either live in large cities or have sought back to the land living as a remedy to big city gay life. Jhonn’s recovery from alcoholism and the move to the country seemed to coincide. Was his battle with alcoholism and his city life related? How has moving to the country affected his recovery?
Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson
PC: I will leave Jhonn to answer that as, ironically, he is currently enjoying living in London again, with artist Ian Johnstone. For myself, I had mixed feelings when we first moved out of the big city — as a kid, it had represented opportunity (for sex as much as anything), but having made the break, I now hate to go back. In the city, I feel pressure to achieve, and to console myself for the unpleasantness of being there, whereas in the quiet of the country I can get on with the things I enjoy (work included) without worrying… I don’t think my own particular addictive behaviors are affected by location one way or the other.
HH: Coil is known for their collaborations with queer artists such as William Burroughs, Derek Jarmen, Marc Almond and many others. It would seem as if Coil has interacted with every queer luminary in the underground. Have these colorations been intentional collaborations with other queer artists or coincidence?
PC: Obviously when you love someone’s work, as we do the artists you mention, you try to show your appreciation and to share you own work with them — sometimes this results in meetings, friendship, collaboration, sometimes not. Who can say how coincidence works?
HH: Has Coil ever felt acknowledged or accepted by the larger mainstream queer community?
HH: Can you give us a look into you crystal ball? Are there any new releases on the horizon Coil fans should be anticipating?
PC: The ANS box set will be out soon as well as LIVEDVDS. We will be working on new material soon. Some people have speculated that since Jhonn and I are no longer “boyfriends” and have been quoted in public as wanting to live at some distance (him in London and Cumbria — me in the Far East), that this may affect the future of Coil — well it obviously will in ways yet to be determined, but we have no plans for a Coil split and we continue to find stimulation and excitement in what we both bring to our musical collaboration, so don’t worry on that account. Coil endures.
HH: Can we ever expect Coil to embark on a North American or US tour?
PC: Having spent so much energy on touring this side of the world in the past few years, it seems unlikely that we will be embarking on any new major tours soon, although we are always open to special and individual invitations. Both of us love the American landscape and have many American friends, but from the perspective of here, it seems like the US, as a whole, is following a particularly non-Coil path right now, but who knows? Elections change things, people change things, things change.
HH: Lastly, I would like to invite you to come anonymously to one of our many Radical Faerie gatherings. It is a magical experience to join in spirit and autonomous community with like-minded queers. Check out the Euro Faeries at: Radical Faeries. We are used to celebrities in our ranks.
PC: Thank you, I’d like that!
In the past I have felt a very English Outsider reluctance to join in with any group or community, especially one with any kind of an “agenda”. Fortunately, the recent time that I have spent in the East has brought me to a place where I can now appreciate how important (and beneficial to me as well as others) sharing, encouraging like-minded souls can be.
Do you have a branch in Thailand yet? Maybe I can start one!