About The Coral
When you almost lose everything, you don’t take it for granted any more, says The Coral’s frontman James Skelly. “That’s why this record feels like a new start. And I also think that’s why it’s so good. We’ve had to prove ourselves. We’ve got the hunger back.”
‘Roots & Echoes’ is the record to remind you what a brilliant and unique band The Coral are. Its songs glow with warmth and heart, musicality and melody. Where previous Coral albums would descend into frantic jams, this one is less Beefheart and more Bacharach. “We’ve become better songwriters,” says Skelly. “So we don’t have to hide behind the weird stuff as much. I think that suited us when we first started, but we wanted to be able to play every song on this album on an acoustic and know it’d stand up as a good song.”
Sure enough, this is the strongest, most consistent collection of songs the band have made. From the harmony-drenched northern soul stomp of opening track and first single ‘Who’s Gonna Find Me?’ right up until the dreamy strings and minor key sighs of closer ‘Music At Night’, the album bursts with quality. It’s a record of sumptuous hooks, intricate arrangements and lush, swooning melodies, topped off by Skelly’s rich, vocals. “We were looking for something timeless. It’s definitely our most soulful record.”
It’s also their most open. “We’ve been through a bit more in our lives now,” says Skelly. “When you’re young, you have to invent characters, but every song on this album is about experiences.” There are songs about Skelly’s grandmother, songs about loving from afar, songs about dealing with loneliness, and songs about knowing when a relationship is worth saving. Turns out The Coral aren’t just good at making up ditties about their mates turning into pot plants.
But hang on, what was that about The Coral almost losing everything? Well, towards the end of the touring for the band’s last album, 2005’s ‘The Invisible Invasion’, sizeable cracks were appearing. Their fourth Top 5 album in under three years had spawned the band’s most successful single yet, ‘In The Morning’ (the second most-played song on UK radio that year). But the seven lads from Hoylake weren’t enjoying life in The Coral nearly as much as they had been.
“It was really hard when Bill wasn’t there,” says Skelly. Guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones had quit touring with the band in the summer of 2005 to deal with some personal problems. The Coral toured on with a mate, Macca, on guitar, but it wasn’t the same. “If you take one person out of The Coral, it’s just not The Coral any more,” shrugs Skelly. This is a band who formed in 1996 as young teenagers; there is no tighter knit gang in British music. With Bill gone, the rest of them weren’t happy. “We definitely didn’t enjoy it for a while,” says Skelly. “By the end of the last tour, we were falling apart really. There was too much weed being smoked and I think we all lost it a bit.”
For four amazing years, The Coral had re-shaped British music with their thrilling mix of rock, country, psychedelia, folk and the odd sea shanty breakdown or cossack wig out. Without ever really looking like they wanted to, they’d wowed the critics, conquered the charts, bagged the Brits and Mercury nominations, toured the world and influenced many an aspiring band (not least the Arctic Monkeys). But now The Coral had hit a brick wall. So they went back to Hoylake and started again.
“We finally had the chance to stop and remember who we are,” says Skelly. “When you’re on tour you don’t live a normal life and you don’t do normal things. We’d been at it full-tilt for four years without a proper break, since we were dead young. So we went home and became normal people again. Right from the release of our first single, we were suddenly the main attraction. I think we had to make ourselves under-dogs again.”
With far less weed being smoked and a rejuvenated Bill back onboard, the band did what they’d done before they even had a deal, spending ages playing together and working on new songs, just for the (enormous) fun of it. Eventually they were ready to start recording the new tunes. Except that presented a problem in itself.
“There’s nowhere in Liverpool that’s got all the vintage gear we wanted,” says Skelly. “But cos there are seven of us, it’s almost unfeasible for us to do it outside of Liverpool, because of the expense involved. We went away with Ian Broudie and recorded two tracks, which was great, but it was just costing too much. It was really difficult. And then Noel said we could come and use his studio for nothing.”
‘Noel’ being Noel Gallagher. A huge Coral fan who’s often taken the band on tour with Oasis. He offered the band free reign of their Wheeler End Studio. “He’s got all the best gear there,” says Skelly. “Oasis were off on tour and he was like, ‘What’s the point of me having all that stuff if it’s not getting used?’ He’s sound.”
Most of the album was recorded in Noel’s barn, with producer Craig Silvey. “We just set up, started playing and took our time. As much of it as possible was recorded live. I’m not sure how many other bands could do that, but when we lock together in a room or on a stage, you can’t beat it. I honestly think we’re as good as The Doors when we’re right on it like that.”
Progress was slow but steady. “I like having time to make mistakes and we haven’t had as much time to work on an album since the first one,” says Skelly. “I think that’s a big part of why it all fits together so well. In the studio, we were all relaxed and on the same wavelength in a way we hadn’t been since we started. The only difference is that we’re much better players now than we were then.”
It seems daft to use the word “mature” for a band whose oldest member, Skelly, is still just 26, but there’s no doubt that The Coral sound older and wiser on ‘Roots & Echoes’. Not in a fusty way, but in the sense that they’ve come back from the brink, having learned some hard lessons, and made the record they always seemed capable of. And now they’re busting to get out there and take it to the people.
“We’re ready to enjoy ourselves this time around,” says Skelly. “It’s all about the future for us now. We feel like a new band and I think we’ve made a boss record. I’m made up about things, to be honest.”
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