Photo by Bilinda Coyne

Counterstrike! Songwriter Eugene Coyne on magic and London puggery

in London/Magick/Music

Eugene Coyne in interview with Jude Cowan Montague for the Sunday Tribune.

TST: The album cover is elegant but gives nothing away. It’s classic and classical. Beautiful red interior. Minimalistic. Striking. What is the relationship of the cover to the music? What about the title, Counterstrike?

EC: The cover features an etching of a favourite sculpture, Lord Leighton’s ‘An Athlete Wrestling With A Python’ (1877). Here’s some nice pictures of it: https://clareflourish.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/an-athlete-wrestling-with-a-python/ I was at school at Pimlico Comprehensive in London, and the Tate Gallery was very close… I used to see it there and it obviously made an impression. Counterstrike is hard-edged, and a recurring theme is retaliation, fighting back… the athlete wrestling with a snake seemed to fit like a glove. I also felt that I was making a rock record, and working within a classical rock discipline… so the statue is a nod to that. The font is futuristic – for contrast with the statue and because I feel the album’s sound is futuristic. I’m looking forwards, not backwards. It’s a minimal sleeve, but it felt right. My last album’s (Castle Coyne) cover was lush and green – the black and white cover and the red interior of Counterstrike feel simple, clean and forceful.

TST: Did you have a concept for the audio sound of the album. It’s harsher and rockier – with more than a nod to the 1970s era of rock guitar.

EC: The sound was very organic – it gradually evolved. I found an electric guitar and amp being thrown away when I was out walking the dog, and I started to play. Previously I just played acoustically. I found I could play a lot of things I couldn’t previously, and that was fun. I started to write riffs, and to experiment with lots of different guitar pedals. As I played and wrote things became clearer. I wanted to make an electric record, a kind of pop metal album – something like Dressed to Kill by KISS, with heavy, needle-y James Williamson Raw Power-style solos that leap out the mix at you. I wanted to foreground another side of myself. The last album had no electric guitars. This album has lots.

TST: What kind of distortion did you go for? Did you have a particular pedal that was giving? What technology did you use? Where did you record?

EC: Everything on Counterstrike was recorded that way – the guitars on the album weren’t recorded clean, and then treated… they just went through a handful of pedals. Originally, when I started playing solo acoustic shows a couple of years ago, I was looking for something to broaden the sound, to make it move, so I was experimenting with phase and flange… a bit of tremolo too. I have a few pedals, but they’re all pretty cheap… the main guitar sound is something I stumbled on and liked a lot. I’m a big fan of Chrome and Helios Creed’s guitar, and it reminded me a little of that – very fat and viscous and futuristic. We recorded at Jon Clayton’s OneCat Studio in Brixton. All my albums have been recorded there with him, and he has a good set up. Because of the way I work – I don’t have a full band – we recorded the guitar and drums first, recording the eleven songs in the order they are on the album (we later dropped one, and I added the closing song ‘Battle Ready’). Once they were in place I could start adding vocals, overdubbing guitars, etc. There were a couple of happy accidents, but things were pretty straightforward. All the basic tracks were recorded in a few hours.

TST: Did you incorporate ideas of magic and wizardry? Are you interested in the histories of British magic and wizards. In particular Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare or are they not of interest to you?

EC: I’m curious about magic, but I’ve never studied it or knowingly used it. It’s a metaphor for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the ideas behind it, or artists who believe in it. As a child I was fascinated by Houdini and magic tricks, and that continues, along with an interest in fairy stories, folk tales and things like that. Over time these things have become part of my creative vocabulary, and become part of my way of seeing the world. I’m not so interested in Aleister Crowley, but Austin Osman Spare seems intriguing… probably because I know less about him. As you mentioned Aleister Crowley, I should add that I really love Kenneth Anger’s films, especially Puce Moment, Rabbit’s Moon and Eaux d’Artifice.

TST: You’re launching the album with a favourite film Viy, Spirit of Evil (1967) at Deptford Cinema. Tell me about why you think that film goes with this album, and what seduces you about this rare film.

EC: It was never really the idea to launch the album with the film, but the timing of its release might make it seem that way. What I really wanted to do was fulfil a longstanding ambition to play before a film I really love, and introduce it to a new audience – which is what happened on the night. That said, a lot of the music I make has similar themes to those of Viy, so it wasn’t a stretch to play music that complemented it. As for Viy itself, it’s a film I came across a few years ago. I’m a lifelong film fan, and I really love horror films, and I think as I was casting the net wider and exploring Eastern European films I came across it, probably about the same time as I saw Finnish horror film The White Reindeer (1952) and things like Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970)… It’s just a wonderful film, beautifully shot, full of knockabout humour and fantastic special effects, with a plot that you can enjoy on many different levels. And it was such a surprise to me. I’d recommend any potential viewer reads nothing about it and talks to no one of it. And definitely doesn’t search for trailers or stills.

TST: Tell me about the other musicians on the record, what are their strengths that you chose to draw on for the album?

EC: There are three other musicians on the album. I’ve been playing with Dan Meier for a while, and he is a fantastic drummer. He’s young, and really likes listening to all kinds of music – which a lot of musicians don’t (there are plenty who don’t seem to really like music at all…). We play together as a duo live, with me playing electric guitar, and it’s always a pleasure… it feels very free and spontaneous, with lots of room to experiment with how we play the songs. He’s a good listener. Hugo Martin I’ve known for years. He plays lead guitar and some of the rhythm guitar, most notably on ‘Horrible Tattoos’. I love his playing, but it had been a while since I’d heard him play… I’d forgotten how good he was, but I soon remembered. I had songs in mind for him to play on (he doesn’t play on everything) and he came to the studio one day and played brilliantly. I love what he did. Jon Clayton I’ve known for ages now. As well as owning OneCat Studio where the album was recorded, he currently plays drums with a band called Hurtling. On this album, as on my previous ones, he plays bass and synthesiser. He’s a really good musician, and very creative. He’s great at making sense of and executing my ideas, and also brings lots of great ideas of his own to the album. He’s also a great engineer, fantastic at fixing my mistakes and very patient as I work through the music… I don’t demo anything at home, and I’m liable to change the lyrics and experiment with all kinds of things as I record. Which makes the process longer, but works well in the end. All three brought something special to Counterstrike. I’m grateful for all their fantastic musicianship, love and support.

TST: How do you feel this record fits into your work, past and future?

EC: I don’t know. It’s another building block in the world I’m making. It foregrounds the part of me that loves hard rock, punk rock, the Stooges, Nuggets, whatever… but only time will tell if it lasts. I think it’s strong and purposeful, full of great songs. But others may disagree. Playing solo, it would probably have been more practical to write an album more like my last one. Not everyone can immediately see how the songs can be performed solo on an acoustic guitar, but they work well. What I do know is that it has already started to influence the new songs I’m writing. Peering into my crystal ball, I see songs that are a mixture of acoustic and electric guitar, lots of 12 string guitar, and simple haiku-like lyrics… but the ball grows cloudy, and the picture fades.You have a famous musical dad, Kevin Coyne. Matt Armstrong and I have been huge fans of his for a long time now. Is there any way in which his work relates to this album you’ve made, who are your influences and why?

TST: You have a famous musical dad, Kevin Coyne. Matt Armstrong and I have been huge fans of his for a long time now. Is there any way in which his work relates to this album you’ve made, who are your influences and why?

EC: My dad was a big influence. He’d listen to anything and everything, and that has definitely rubbed off on me. He also worked very quickly, and I’ve always tried to do the same. He was very creative, and worked constantly, and I think the idea of doing the work and moving on – not getting stuck, and revisiting the song too much – is something that I try to do, with varying degrees of success. But I do try to be aware that this is the best work that I can make in the moment, and to have faith that more good work will come. I would add though, that my mum is very musical too, and I think as time goes by I appreciate that more. As young children my brother Rob and I would sing as she played piano – songs like Who Killed Cock Robin? and The Ballad of Jesse James. Cock Robin especially would make us cry, and while I’m not sure who chose it – probably us – I’ve always loved it. Thinking of it now, I can see a connection to some of the words I write. Both my parents were very supportive of us musically, and I’m very grateful for that.

I should add…

Counterstrike is available as a limited edition CD from my website at https://www.eugenecoyne.co.uk

There are no plans to release the album as a download yet. It’s a beautiful object, and I like the idea of holding and owning it. The music is important, but so is the artwork that surrounds it.

My other albums are available though, if anyone wants to download them:

https://eugenecoyne.bandcamp.com

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