The Coral's James Skelly: 'I don't get hung up on what format people are listening to music on'

The Coral's James Skelly: 'I don't get hung up on what format people are listening to music on'

"I’m confident about this album,” says The Coral’s James Skelly of the band’s forthcoming release Distance Inbetween. “In a way it feels like a better climate for us than when we released [The Coral’s last album] Butterfly House,” he adds. “I think it is totally on its own and in its own world. I think this album can maybe sit next to other things we did. It’s still The Coral.”

Released in 2010, sixth album Butterfly House peaked at No.16 in the UK Album Chart, selling just under 35,000 copies - a significant decline in sales and chart standing compared to their first five albums which all made it into the Top 10. It would also become the band’s last album before going on an indefinite hiatus in 2012 and the last to be released by their original label, Deltasonic.

“It’s six years since their last full studio album,” says John Leahy, director of the band’s new home at Ignition Records, “so I would hope that with the new record, we will bring The Coral back to the forefront of people’s attention and that they will enjoy a bit of a renaissance. They’re an important UK band and I think their career reflects that. They’ve had some fantastic records and singles.”

In 2002, their debut, self-titled album peaked at No.5 in the UK Album Chart on around 380,000 sales, with follow up Magic And Medicine making it to the No.1 spot in 2003 on 286,000. The band’s second highest album chart placing was achieved with 2005’s The Invisible Invasion, which sold just under 105,000 to reach No.3.
“With the new album we want to remind people how fantastic The Coral are,” adds Leahy. “They’re going to tour the album extensively, so it’ll be great for people to get out and see them playing live again. And also introducing them to a slightly new audience.

“We’ve got three singles from the album, so we expect to work it all the way through 2016. In terms of marketing the record, we do a lot socially online. We do a lot in terms of above the line advertising, print, radio and maybe some TV if we can get around to that as well. And maybe some outdoor. And we’ll make the most out of all the live profile they will enjoy as and when they’re touring.”

Tickets for the live dates are selling very, very well, according to Conrad Murray, the band’s manager at SJM. “Sales are the best I can remember them being,” he says. “Everyone seems really excited to have them back. They are a classic English guitar band.”

Skelly tells Music Week that “there was interest from a fair few [labels],” for the new album, but the band decided to sign with Ignition, because, “they just spoke the most sense and they had a plan”.

“Our manager had a good relationship with them anyway,” he adds. “You’re always going to listen to your manager and people who know more about the the business than you do. We kind of went with our manager, but we’ve definitely been impressed by what they’ve done so far.” Murray says that [Ignition] was his label partner of choice because they’re “really into their music, but also really on top of everything”. “There’s a lot of love there for The Coral at the label, which the band really appreciate,” he adds.

The three singles that have been selected from Distance Inbetween are Chasing The Tail Of A Dream which was released as a free download on Boxing Day, 2015, Miss Fortune, which was debuted on radio in January and lastly, Holy Revelation. “We’ve made a video for it,” says Skelly. “So unless the band changes its mind, it’s looking like that one.”

There’s at least some justification to Skelly’s suggestion that the current music industry climate may be better for The Coral now than it was in 2010 when they released Butterfly House. The market has undergone two notable shifts since then. The first is of course what can now be argued as the mass adoption of streaming services. The second is the booming vinyl trade, which reached a 21-year high in 2015, with 2.1 million LPs purchased.

“The market has changed an awful lot in the years since their last studio album,” admits Leahy. “We’re mindful of that and they are mindful of that, but I think what we want to do is put in place a thorough campaign that’s respectful of the record and gets it to old fans and new fans alike.

“But we’re very proud to be working with the band. We’re very happy that they chose to work with Ignition. We knew that there was a lot of interest from other record labels, so we’ll invest a lot of time and resource and everything we have to make sure that this record is successful.”

Ignition has had its fair share of recent successes, especially in the vinyl market. Label mate Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds commanded the Top 4 7” vinyl singles in 2015, with The Dying Of The Light, Riverman, Lock All The Doors and Ballad Of The Mighty I claiming the No.1, No.2, No.3 and No.4 spots respectively. And Gallagher’s LP Chasing Yesterday was the No.8 highest selling vinyl album overall.

“It’s a market that we are very active in and I think we do really well in it,” says Leahy. “I think we’ll do the same [as Noel Gallagher] again with The Coral this year. No doubt about it. The vinyl is looking great and the artwork is brilliant. It’s all come from the band themselves. Creatively they provide most of the assets, which is important because there’s a homogenous look to everything that they do. It looks fitting and in keeping with who The Coral are.”

Another older format that the band have decided to revisit for this album is the cassette, which celebrates its 54th anniversary this year. The Coral have launched what they call their Cassette Tape Amnesty, by which they have invited fans to send in old mixtapes, which they will overwrite with the new album. “In 1998 when we first started getting really serious about it, everything we did and all the bands we knew would be on an eight-track cassette tape,” explains Skelly.

“We were sort of inspired by all of that for the new album, for the sound of it.  “We wanted to do something to give a little kick back to that format in a way. So we came up with this idea. Any bad mixtapes that you’ve ever made or received, we’ll cleanse them of their sins and tape  over them with our album. The 50 best stories will get listened to and then, if they’re bad enough, you’ll get it back with a little cover and stuff.”

In spite of Skelly’s love of older formats, he also has a positive view of streaming, because, he explains, more people get to hear his music, although he argues that artists don’t get paid enough from it. “If you think about it, it gets more people to your gigs, because they’ve heard your tunes,” he says. “I only got into [music] really to start off with, because it was about people hearing your songs. If somebody buys a CD, every time they play it, you don’t get anything each time it’s played, do you?

“At least you get something from streaming every time it gets played. So hopefully it will [pay] a bit more in the future. I think it should be more. I don’t think artists get enough.

“But I don’t really focus on it. If you start focusing on, It’s better how it used to be, it just becomes boring. What kid wants to hear some plus 30-year-old going on about how it used to be better? I just think it is what it is. You do it, you adapt. It’s about your tunes anyway. I don’t get hung up on whatever format people are listening to the music on. I don’t really care.”

During the band’s hiatus, in 2014, The Coral released an album called The Curse Of Love, which is technically their seventh full-length release chronologically. But it comprised recordings from 2006, and was put out via their own Skeleton Key Records, run by Neville, Ian and James Skelly.

The label counts Sundowners and Serpent Power amongst its roster of acts, and until last year, the hotly-tipped Blossoms, whose single At Most A Kiss has been making the rounds on 6 Music and Radio X this month. The band signed to Virgin EMI in August. “I co-produced them,” says Skelly. “I think Tom [Ogden] is a brilliant songwriter.” Manager Conrad Murray compliments Skelly on his production work and says “he’s been contacted by labels on an almost daily basis now” following Blossoms’ success.  “He’s being approached by everyone to work with him at the moment but he’s really particular about [who he works with],” he says.

Releasing the new Coral LP via Skeleton Key wasn’t an option though, says Skelly -  for the simple reason that the label’s resources need to be invested in the other acts, but he doesn’t reject the idea of self-releasing further down the line. “We couldn’t back the new record. We don’t have enough money on our label,” he says. “We’re still building it. We did The Curse Of Love because we knew what it was. It was only limited edition, so we could sell it out. And it wasn’t something that we needed a radio plugger for. We weren’t taking anything to radio.

“We had Blossoms on the label but then they signed to Virgin EMI. But we’ve got loads of other good bands, so we have to put our money into them. We’ve signed them and promised that we’ll do what we said we’re going to do. But we didn’t have the money to back a Coral album. Hopefully in the future we will.”

As a label owner, Skelly has been able to capitalise on his success as an artist, drawing from his varied experiences to offer the best deals for his signings. “We do everything for them really,” he says. “We get them an agent and manage it as far as we can. And we guarantee that a record will get done. I’ll produce the record usually, or exec produce it and then get the record out.” 

He believes that artists prefer signing with other artists rather than “lazy” A&R men who “haven’t got a clue” about songwriting or producing.

“You can see it going that way,” he says. “You have the sort of gravitas of the artist pulling the bands in. So who are you going to sign to? ‘Quentin’, or Jack White? You know what I mean?

“[Artists] know that you’ve been on both sides of it and that you understand how to coax the songs out of them, because you know how songwriting works. I can’t imagine many A&R men know how to do that.

“For most A&R men, the ones I’ve been around, I find them to be lazy. I think in 10-15 years, they won’t exist. If you can’t produce, and you can’t do it, then you’ll be gone. There’s just too much fear in that model. They can’t make decisions because they are scared that little Duncan will lose his school fees.”

In spite of his outspoken views on the traditional A&R model, Skelly does admit that he didn’t have to deal with unknowledgeable execs on his previous label and that working with Virgin EMI was a particularly good experience.

“When we were on Deltasonic we didn’t really have to deal with it, but I see it all the time. And to be fair, when I’ve [worked with] Blossoms, Virgin have been great – they’ve just let us get on with it. So it’s not all bad, but I just think that whole [model] is almost the last thing left of the ‘90s.”

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