Return of the outcasts

speaks to Nick Power of The Coral about ending a five-years hiatus

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“Early in our career, we were successful, but it was like ‘come and see this band who can play really weird music’. We never had that normal treatment most up and coming bands get today.”

It seems not much has changed for The Coral, and particularly pianist and joint lead-songwriter Nick Power, who I’m talking to today about their career, the state of the music industry and what lies in wait for the band in the future. The group from Hoylake, in Merseyside just outside of Liverpool, who Nick describes as “never having had a massively current sound”, have never quite run the normal trajectory of most bands that made it big in the noughties. They never seemed to be labelled with an easily-categorised sound or genre; they’ve been called everything from indie, to rock, to retro, to psychedelic via a catalogue of different misnomers on the way. This ambiguity in sound perhaps goes some way to explaining why the band have had a somewhat unorthodox treatment in the music industry from the very beginning; they never really fitted any sort of clearly-defined mould.

And yet, in spite of this, the band really did make it. Their first two albums, self-titled debut The Coral and barn-storming follow-up Magic and Medicine, spawned big-scale nationwide tours and garnered a plethora of awards and nominations, including a Mercury Prize nomination for the former, and a UK Number One Album status for the latter. Couple this with a bagful of Top Ten Singles and Albums, and it’s plain to see the successes of the Merseysiders.

“It was exciting” Nick concedes. “But I’m not that arsed about certifications from the likes of the BRITs and the Mercury Prize. Have you seen the kind of people they have on the judging panels for these things?”

This is in reference to the often ill-thought of decisions that prize-givers make in awarding accolades to various artists, with many feeling that judges stick to the safe-bets that top the charts throughout the year. Nick Power has a point: how else can you explain the likes of the mind-numbing Coldplay and chubby Take That dancer Robbie Williams being some of the most prolific winners at the BRIT Awards?

Admittedly, The Coral’s success seemed to gradually dwindle after their first two or three albums, something Nick is readily willing to admit.

“You never want things to go stale, which we were on the verge of” he says, “after [2010’s sixth studio album] Butterfly House, we tried to record another album, and it just wasn’t happening. It was like a case of burn-out. Things just weren’t happening anymore at that time. I’d been in the band since I was 18, and it was a similar case for the other lads. After over ten years, we needed a break.”

And said break was not a small one: the band preceded to embark on an indefinite five-year hiatus that left many fans unsure if they’d ever be returning. But it seems this hiatus only facilitated further their making of a new record, entitled Distance Inbetween, due to be released at the beginning of March this year.

A number of factors have been at play, from having a new record label (“the new label has given us so much more creative freedom”), to having the chance to hone a new sound and have something different to say once more (“that hiatus has given us the chance to experiment a bit more and develop a more out-there sound”). But another big factor at play, Nick tells me, is one much more frank and honest than we are perhaps used to hearing in the music industry.

“I have to live off it. Music is my job at the end of the day,” Nick says after I ask what keeps the band’s productivity up after such a long time in the business, that has seen The Coral release more albums even than British rock veterans and key influence, Oasis. “That financial incentive keeps the hunger up. It forces you to say something different with each album, y’know?”

And so to the new album – do they think it can compete with the success of some of their earlier releases? “Sonically, it’s a lot like [successful 2005 album] The Invisible Invasion. It’s full of like, weird ideas that have been put into four-minute pop songs.”

If they can emulate the successes of their earlier material, The Coral’s return to music is sure to be well-received – many prominent figures in the British music industry have gone on-record as being big fans, in no small-part due to the high-calibre of their early releases. These names include Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant, and Oasis’ songwriting chief Noel Gallagher, who Nick tells me “has helped out quite a lot off his own back” with the band.

In a case of the band returning to the energetic state of the younger days, the new material on forthcoming release Distance Inbetween certainly seems to have reinvigorated The Coral, even in terms of their upcoming first live performances for half-a-decade, despite the expected nerves.

“They [the nerves] will probably kick in about five minutes before we go onstage” Power says. “But the songs on this new album are so geared towards live performance that we’re just excited to get out there and play to an audience again.”

For a band that have been going since their formation in 1996, this seems a genuine movement towards breathing new life into an outfit that one might be forgiven for thinking dead and buried. But evidently not.

“You can’t fucking win in music” Nick says, “and we’ve never really been that much in fashion. But we’ve always had something, something that’s made us stand out.”

It’s rare that bands can return after such a long break and still retain a certain level of creative relevance. But Power’s confidence in The Coral’s special “something” might mean they can curb the common assumption that old bands can’t make a comeback.

And based on their current optimism, they could very well prove to be a success once more.

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