It is my belief that if you want to comprehend and get inside Carl McCoy, you only need to watch him live
The Quietus interviewed Carl in 2012 and it is the one interview that appears to come closest to explaining his interest in occult imagery, mythology, spirituality and mysticism.
Another thing that runs through your work, and seems very important, is the occult imagery and mythology. To some extent you seem to take that quite seriously, but on the other hand you seem to have a self-aware sense of humour, and speaking to you now you seem like a pretty down-to-earth guy. So what is the balance of that?
CM: It’s just kind of the way I was brought up. I know everything, that’s how I’ve always been. That symbolism, and studying when I was a child, right through a religious upbringing, it just goes hand in hand with the person I am. So it’s all integrated into my whole thought chain, really. I’ve used it, because that’s what I know. It speaks to me. I don’t really do it for art’s sake – you know, that’s a nice symbol. There’s always a method, and a lot of it can be personal, it doesn’t really need explaining. But I think integrating the words, the music… you can’t really take one away from the other. But there’s a real personal, deep level to that. I am quite serious about that side of it – to me – but that’s as far as it needs to go, really.
What was the nature of your religious upbringing?
CM: It was through my mother’s side. She was a very strict Christian, some sort of spin-off group, I don’t want to say too much about it, but yeah, very strict. Very, very strict. But that’s just the way things are sometimes. It’s probably helped me find my feet, ‘cos I’m very grounded, and I think it’s helped me achieve what I’m doing now, as an artist. To have some sort of experience or understanding which is quite different from other people. It’s made me quite spiritually aware, I think, which is not a bad thing.
So still within a Christian framework, but in a kind of gnostic way?
CM: I suppose so.
I know that you maybe don’t want to give too much away, but it does seem a very important part of the imagery and the lyrics and the whole mythology of the band, so it’s hard to ignore.
CM: Yeah, but it’s quite an individualistic approach I’ve got. It’s not something I inflict on other people so much, and say, this is right. I keep my opinions to myself, but I’ll suggest, through what I do, my thoughts, and people can paint their own picture and make their own mind up. That’s what it’s about really, inspiration.
Would you say it’s spiritual rather than magical? Are you a practitioner of magick at all, or is it just a philosophy?
CM: Magick is a philosophy, but the spiritual side of it is more practised, and the ritual side of it comes in many ways, doesn’t it? I mean, you could look at a live performance as ritualistic, and I do feel that; I go on stage and I pretty much empty my mind. If you asked me one of my lyrics before I walked on stage, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I go on completely straight, and I’ve always felt like I’m kind of channelling. I don’t know what you’d say that is, but that’s how it works for me, it’s the only way I can do what I do. It’s not something I have to practise.
In my mind, I always associated Fields of the Nephilim with Chaos Magick, partly because you were both coming into public consciousness at about the same time, in the mid-to-late eighties, but also in the way that you seemed to borrow from all different sources and belief systems, in the sense of whatever works for you at any given moment; whether it’s Enochian magic or Crowley or even something from HP Lovecraft or a horror movie…
CM: Yeah. Well I think that’s how it should work really. As you say, everyone can obtain what they want for themselves, and create their own philosophy, and their own way. Especially with Chaos Magick and that, it’s all about the individual. I wouldn’t ever say this way is great; you’ve just got to derive your own snippets, and choose what works for you. But that’s a completely different subject to talk about, really.
So you’ve never had the attitude of someone like Genesis P Orridge, with Psychic TV and Thee Temple ov Psychic Youth, which did provide a lot of reading lists and point people in specific directions, saying if you’re interested, these are people you might want to investigate. For you, it’s more of a personal thing.
CM: I would say so, yeah. I’ve got a bit older now and your understanding changes; you’re not so innocent and not so blind. Everything comes in cycles, and it changes for me all the time.
Philosophically some black metal bands seem to be taking a more negative approach; using similar occult imagery to the Nephilim, but with a more negative, consciously evil, Satanist approach. Some of them have quite dodgy far-right politics as well.
CM: Yeah, I see that. I don’t know how serious some of that is, or whether it’s intended to provoke a reaction. I think you’ve got to have a balance; you can’t have one without the other. My philosophy is… I dunno, I think it’ll change. You can’t have one without the other. They’re allowed to do it though, in the end they can do what they want, can’t they?
Can you see someone getting into that as a first step to a more serious understanding of the occult?
CM: I don’t really see it like that, ‘cos I think it’s the wrong way to deliver it. Anything magickal and violent, it’s too strong. It’s quite a different delivery to something that would work seriously.
It’s a very different approach to yours; it’s a lot more dogmatic and definite, almost propagandising, or preaching…
CM: Yeah, and that would turn me off. I think you can’t just put thoughts into peoples’ heads; you’ve got to get into their subconscious, and let them become their thoughts.
To what end? Just to make them into Fields of the Nephilim fans?
CM: Well, why not? That’s what I say, I’m here to inspire. If you ask me about that, then who’s going to say it shouldn’t be good for us? But at the same time, if you’re projecting loads of negative energy, that’s going to come back on you too.