Combination of progressive rock and elements of electronics. That’s in short a life path of a British band called Pure Reason Revolution, which is returning to the scene after ten years. Their new album Eupnea might not be coming out in an ideal period, but they were always good in facing challenges. At the same time they finally released an album, which is fully defining their identity and has a potential to become one of the most respected albums of 2020. With band’s mastermind Jon Courtney we had a great chat in the early April.
Photos credit: Enrico Policardo
For the start, I naturally have to ask, how were you affected by the current situation regarding worldwide pandemic? Luckily you managed to plan a tour with Norwegian band Gazpacho in October…
You know, our new album is coming out in the middle of the pandemic. Therefore it’s hard to say what effect it will have really have. People mainly listen to music through streaming platforms anyway and they order albums through post. Touring wise, we are really happy we planned the tour with Gazpacho for fall, but there are two summer festival shows this summer at risk: Night Of The Prog Festival in Germany and British Ramblin’ Man Fair. At the same time, I was planning a trip to United States by the end of April to see our guitarist Greg Jong, so we can work on new tracks. However, we are all trying to stay positive.
I discovered Pure Reason Revolution about ten years ago, during a time of Hammer and Anvil (2010). To be honest, I considered it as a great underground discovery and till this day I believe you guys deserved much bigger position on the music scene. I would say the break didn’t help much in that sense as well. However, when I listened to Bullet Height’s album No Atonement album, the break is well understandable.
Thank you. (Laugh) I would say the main reason for the break was to pursue new projects. I pushed it even further by moving to Berlin, where I started working on a debut album of Bullet Height. We even supported it by a couple of shows. Natural follow up would be working on another album, but I felt I needed a break from music. When I finally came back to the studio after a couple of months, my new ideas didn’t sound as Bullet Height, but more like Pure Reason Revolution. But before it could happen, I needed Chloë on board. Therefore I sent her a message: „I will be in London in a few weeks. Come and meet up, I have something to ask you.“ I played her a couple of demos and asked her, if she would like to work with me again. Luckily she agreed. Regarding a success level of Pure Reason Revolution, I have a feeling we definitely confused people with our albums. Our debut The Dark Third (2006) got us lashed into a progressive rock audience. With the next albums Amor Vincit Omnia (2009) and Hammer and Anvil (2010), we slightly exploded our audience by making a departure from progressive rock sound. At the same time, I don’t think we managed to find a new audience with the new records. That sort of left us somewhere in between area.
I have a feeling we definitely confused people with our albums in the past.
New life in Berlin
What effect is Berlin having on you? In the last couple of years, it became a location for me to attend concerts of my favorite artists, which would unfortunately skip Czech Republic. Berlin seems as organic, yet mystical place.
I moved to Berlin with my wife, as London was insanely expensive. I was coming to Berlin regularly over the time and we both fell in love with the city. We love local cafés, venues and city’s character. As well as the fact, it’s much cheaper here, even though it’s a capital city. We couldn’t believe it at first. You know, we came there in a philosophy: “Now or never!” We got a sublevel apartment and after three months we found our own place. I also found a small music studio and it all worked. I used to pay 500 Pounds a month for a studio space. And here I pay 120 Euro for the same space. (Laugh) If you want to stay creative, go to a place, which is affordable. Berlin has massive creative vibe and you can move into number of districts. But as well, within twenty minutes by train, you can swim in the lake. However, I don’t know if living here, made my music more industrial.
You were expecting that question, right?
Yeah. (Laugh) I am still analyzing what effect this city is having on me. I would say my creativity works very naturally lately.
Therefore, I am really interested to know, how you spent that time, when took a break from Bullet Height to adjust your priorities. I believe there were numerous trips to lakes a mountains. For me it’s an ideal package including running, swimming and morning meditation.
Around that time I wanted to take a break from music and just see where I want things to go. I just didn’t want to push it and be in a pressured environment again. I started a new training and did a course to teach English. When came back to a studio, I was really glad to have this balance of not doing music all the time and be creative every day. I love teaching in the morning and it makes the studio time more special. Next to it I am a big runner. Over the last couple of years, I did number of half-marathons. I am very grateful for having a big park next to my house. It really clears my head, as well as meditation, which is a big thing for me as well.
When we are talking about balance, I can feel it from the tracks as well. If I would have to pick one example, I would go for Silent Genesis. Even though there are couple of tracks with a length over eight minutes, blocks of each track are connected very naturally.
This one is a good example of me and Greg, our previous guitarist, finding our good old chemistry. We were not cooperating for number of years, but I only had to show him couple of my ideas, to make the creative machine working. He came to Berlin for approximately two weeks. Silent Genesis was a second track we worked on and it was a one we built from a scratch. We didn’t have any clear idea what the song is going to be. Just a good old interaction between a keyboard and a guitar. We were just building one section after another. Chemistry really erupted and it was like back in the university days in 2003, when we did the The Bright Ambassadors of Morning. The main motivation was to have fun making music. With these long tracks it is naturally a long process. If you are lucky, you get inspired by the previous section and get new ideas to move further.
What approach did you take within a production? Album has modern, epic sound, yet balanced and natural.
We always want to make records which sound “now”. Naturally you can feel there our main inspirations as Pink Floyd, Smashing Pumpkins or Massive Attack. We don’t want to sound as them, but we are incorporating some of their elements and creating our 2020 sound. For the mix we had a guy called Daniel Bergstrand from Sweden. By the time the production got to the level: “I don’t know how much further I can take this,” I didn’t have a motivation or drive to try to mix it myself. Therefore it was really useful to hand it over to somebody else and say: „Ok, I have done my bit. Now, you do your specialist thing.” (Laugh)
What were some of the items from your gear you relied on during songwriting and recording?
Recording wise I use Logic Pro, where I sit with my guitar and old processor Line 6 POD 2.0. Generally I love a mix of the guitars and back it up with a Marshall or Boss amp. Pedals wise, I have big number of pedals, but I do use a lot one pedal for rocking sounds. There is an old pedal which I bought when I was about twelve years old. It’s called Coron DC-809 Super Distortion and I bought it in a second hand shop in Sheffield, UK. It’s got this horrible distortion which on its self sounds awful, but if you put it in a blend with some other better recorded sounds, it sounds really good. Guitars wise I’ve got couple of Fenders, including Telecaster Thinline and Jazzmaster. Keyboards wise I have Korg MS2000, which gets a lot of use, as well as Roland Alpha Juno 2.
If you want to stay creative, go to a place, which is affordable.
Back to the start
For the end, I would love to get back to the beginning and the album Hammer And Anvil. It means a lot to me and I am very interested to know how let say Over The Top was made?
I did a very rough demo of this track at home. It was purely electronics. I didn’t have any guitars on this track. I was working on this track with Tom Bellamy and I was sending him regularly bunch of ideas. Thanks to his talent, it was a very fast and fruitful cooperation. In one day we were done. Some tracks come to life quickly, but there are of course those who you have to wrestle into shape. It’s like blood, sweat and tears to make it right. But it’s worth it. (Laugh)
Are you also considering to update a presentation of these older tracks? I was always a bit sad this track is on YouTube under numerous profiles, with very low quality graphics, compared to very professional presentation of the new tracks through InsideOut.
That’s a good idea actually. Thanks for your honesty. They truly deserve better sound quality and visuals. I will talk about this with the label this afternoon. But something is happening. We are re-issuing the albums and Hammer And Anvil and Amor Vincit Omnia will come out on vinyl this year.