Live4ever Interview: The Coral’s Ian Skelly talks new solo album Drifters Skyline

By Live4ever - Posted on 11 Aug 2020 at 9:57am

Ian Skelly

For his day job, Ian Skelly drums and writes for Liverpudlian garage rock legends The Coral. His last solo album Cut From A Star was released eight years ago. Now back with Drifters Skyline, we talk to him about the inspirations for this heady mix of psychedelia, and seventies kitsch, the breakneck pace of recording it and how singing one way and feeling another inspired its contrasting moods.

Where are you this afternoon?

I’m in West Kirby, by the beach, having a coffee and soaking up the sun.

It’s great to be getting out more. It’s over now, but how did you spend lockdown?

I think like everybody I was thinking, ‘What’s happening, what does the future hold…what’ve I done with my life’. A lot of people have had time to reflect on things, but although I said I’d read those books, or watch that TV series, I found it really hard to concentrate on anything. It was like there was this elephant in the room all the while.

Did you write any songs, or record at home?

I spent the first couple of weeks running on adrenaline. I’d almost finished the album, but I had an extra track that I wanted to do, so I booked into the studio the day before lockdown started and we did Captain Caveman, which is the opening track, on that day.

Some would say it’s not an ideal time to release an album. How did you feel about it?

Yeah, I’m not sure if putting it out now is a great thing or a bad thing. Back then I thought optimistically, ‘Three months, it’ll all be back to normal’, but it’s not worked out that way. I was in a bit of a bind with it to be honest, because The Coral are looking at doing something next year and I didn’t want to have anything out at the same time.

Was the process for this one any simpler than for Cut From A Star?

I had a follow-up album recorded already, which I’d done myself in The Coral’s rehearsal rooms, that sounded quite lo-fi, and I sent it to a friend of mine Phil McKinell. He really encouraged me to get out to Berlin and do something new instead. Our approach was not to think too much about it – the main thing for us was to make music but also have some fun doing so. We were only there for two-and-a-half days but we got nine tracks done in that time.

Why Berlin? Had you recorded there before?

No – Phil knew a guy called Paul Pilot, who was involved with the recent Laurel Canyon TV show, and he has a place so as well as borrowing the studio Paul then ended up doing keyboards on the album.

Sounds like a really productive session. So you just rocked up, no demos, straight to tape?

I was only going to go over and do two or three tracks, but we were enjoying it so much we ended up doing those nine. It worked: everything you can hear on the album is pretty much first take, and Paul added his stuff later.

How does that compare to The Coral?

It’s pretty much the same. We don’t really demo any more, everyone in the band is good enough to bring a really good part with them to the studio. And the first thing you come up with is usually the right thing.

Musically, Drifters Skyline is pretty rich in terms of influences. We were hearing Gram Parsons, The Beach Boys, The Yardbirds…

Not consciously, but yeah, people like that are just in there, like in a library in your brain. I didn’t have the time to think, ‘I’ll make a record that sounds like Gram Parsons’, because in the studio there was so much cool gear we were like kids in a candy store. It was like ‘grab that lap steel, play that!’, which I think is what gave it a country sound on songs like Jokerman. Then we moved on to the next instrument.

The lyrics seem often to be coming from quite a personal space.

I’d written all the songs in just a week, so I was still trying to figure what the words meant when we were in the studio. I realised that next year it’s 20 years since The Coral’s first release and I wanted a killer opening to the album so those opening lines, ‘Morning comes/And I go tripping with my friends/It’s so easy to pretend/That this dream will never end’, relates to that, being in a band with your mates and it feeling so great. Then I had the idea of Drifters Skyline as a place in the mind, somewhere you could go and just be free.

Some of the songs, like Travelling Mind, sound so simple, going back to a different time.

When I released the album I thought there are so many troubles in the world, should I be singing about them? But really these songs are more about my experiences than anything else.

There’s also a definite contrast between light and dark moods.

That’s a conscious thing. My favourite songs have happy melodies but dark lyrics. On Jokerman for instance, it’s a bit tears of a clown. It’s about me, being positive in public when you’ve got other things going on in life. We’ll leave it there, otherwise it becomes therapy!

Any advice for people coming across the album?

I’ve tracklisted it to be a journey, the tunes with the major chords at the start, and very much with a Side A/Side B way of thinking in terms of sequencing. Also, it really does sound great on vinyl because of the way we recorded it, as we came up with such a rich, organic sound.

I’d recommend anyone to try and find a copy if you can.

Andy Peterson

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