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John Brenner (Revelation)

Interview with John Brenner from Revelation
by Maria Voutiriadou at 08 April 2010, 7:04 PM

Making an interview with a Doom Metal legend is quite complimentary for the interviewer at least, especially if you are a die-hard fan of this genre. John Brenner of REVELATION and AGAINST NATURE accepted METAL TEMPLE's invitation to answer a few questions about REVELATION's new album and future plans and solve the mystery of the thin red line that separates the two bands. So, with "For The Sake Of No One" as sonic background read the following conversation… Enjoy!

Hello John, congrats on the new album. Are you satisfied with the release? This is a cliche question but I always think that an artist can never be fully satisfied.
Thank you! And thank you for the chance to do this interview. I do appreciate the time it took you to think of these questions and to tolerate my answers. I guess we're satisfied as much as we can be with the new record. There are aspects of the record that could have been improved. But we don't want to release a record every 5 years, so there's a point at which we just have to let it go. I do like the songs and the performances. I think "For the Sake of No One" is at least as good as anything we've done before. Maybe I won't ever be 'fully satisfied'. But I'm not the type of musician who says he hates his music or never listens to it. I constantly listen to my music because I do like it a lot. It pleases me to hear it, just as it pleases me to hang my paintings on my walls where I can see them. My only real concern, musically or artistically, is to satisfy myself as best I can at the moment. I have to learn to be honest with myself and know myself.

How come you released a new album one year after the previous one? Did you have that many of unreleased material or "For The Sake Of No One" contains new music?
All the songs on the new record were written specifically for it. We usually set up a sort of timetable, and we decided we wanted a new REVELATION record to be released late last year. So I wrote the songs in the summer and we began recording them. Our plan is probably to release a new REVELATION record every year or so. We put most of our writing energy into AGAINST NATURE, so REVELATION records will come less frequently, for us.




Taking into consideration the short time you had after the release of "Release", how long did it take you to write/record the new album?
We recorded all the basic tracks in the summer of 2009, but I wasn't happy with the way they turned out—the performances and arrangements were off. So we started over at the end of the summer. That's a luxury we have, since we record all the music at my house and don't use someone else's studio. From start to finish, the record took a few months to complete. That's about as long as "Release" took, too.

What are the differences between those two albums from your own perspective?
Hmm… sometimes I think "FTSONO" is a continuation of "Release", that they are Part 1 and Part 2 of something. The guitar and bass tones are a bit different, but the production on both is similar. Maybe the new one is a bit more rhythmically varied? It's hard for me to tell because I'm so close to the music and recordings; I'm inside it and not above it. My perspective isn't wide enough to know the difference with any honesty.

What about the lyrical content of the album; is there a concept story behind it?
There's no conscious effort at a story or unified concept behind they lyrics to "FTSONO". Maybe some words and images occur in several songs, and these act as a kind of thread among them; sometimes that's conscious and sometimes it just happens. I never try to tell a narrative or some story that moves through time. And it's difficult for me to analyze my own words; that's probably best left to others, if they're interested enough. Often, the words are taken from other sources and quoted, misquoted, taken out of context, jumbled together, or changed to create something new. I guess I'm more interested in creating a set of images or feelings in a lyric. I like to mix words and phrases to see what new associations and relations they created when placed together. I'd rather evoke some feeling or image by association instead of with narrative. And on another level, the lyrics have personal meanings to me: they involve specific, private images, people, or events in my recent life.

Do you believe that a band should always evolve or it should stick to its guns and follow an already successful recipe?
I can speak only for myself. If we ever begin to think in terms of 'evolving', that we're on some kind of trajectory with a history and a future, then I think we've lost sight of the creative process. Thinking of one's artistic evolution is too self-conscious. I'd never get anything done if I thought like that! So we just write and play whatever makes us happy at the moment and not worry if it's a step forward or backward. We're not worried about progressing or evolving or any of that: we're just making music and always trying to give our best. I'd rather be an active participant in my own life and in my music, and not merely a spectator. Only spectators can see evolution. Evolution has a goal, too. I don't know where we're going. We're just going!

Expanding the above question, do you think of the fans when you write new music?
With REVELATION, at least, we try to use the same language, so to speak, with the music. You can say many interesting things in one language. We've also been lucky in that people (I think!) have come to expect us to try different things, so when we do experiment a little, no one is too upset. We want to find the balance between pandering to people might expect and what we really want to do. Whatever it is that people like in REVELATION, we'll try not to stop doing that. Now, if I could only figure out what that is…





While I was listening to "A Matter Of Days" for first time, I noticed strong BLACK SABBATH influences that were not that common in your previous works; did it happen intentionally or it just happen in the studio?
I did make a small conscious effort to look to the first two TROUBLE albums for inspiration for some songs, including the first two on "FTSONO". Of course, those TROUBLE records looked to BLACK SABBATH; so, there's an indirect influence in "A Matter of Days". I think all of REVELATION's music comes from SABBATH or RUSH, ultimately, whether directly or indirectly. That's always been our goal: to smash "Volume 4" together with "Permanent Waves" and see what happens. If we're going to play Doom Metal, I don't see how we can do much that doesn't originate with SABBATH, and that's ok with me. Whenever people who don't know our music ask me what we sound like, I usually just say 'like BLACK SABBATH'. It's as good a description as any.

I found your sound with some progressive elements and not just pure Doom; what do you think about this? Do you have a specific music style in your mind before start writing your music or it just comes during the writing process?
We've been fans of progressive music for many years, especially fans of RUSH's music of the 70s and early 80s. Bert is a lifelong YES fan, too. So we can't help but work some of those things into our music. We never wanted to be just a kind of SABBATH 'tribute band'. We like a lot of different music from the entire tradition of rock, jazz, and blues. Interesting things can happen when you try to combine things that don't necessarily go together, such as RUSH and SABBATH. For REVELATION, I just write songs. If what comes out seems like a REVELATION song, then it becomes one. But maybe you're right: I probably have in my mind and hands and ears what makes a song a REVELATION song, but it's just a sign pointing in a direction and not the destination itself…if that makes any sense.

REVELATION has been around from 1991; what are the things that you believe have changed in the band?
We actually formed in 1986 and released a bunch of cassette demos before the release of "Salvation's Answer" on Rise Above Records in 1991. So many things have changed since then, good and bad! The best change is probably the way people find out and communicate about music with the internet. It's so easy to tell people about things, to ask questions, to share music. I don't think we'd still be recording and releasing music today if it weren't for the internet. The worst change is probably how the meanings of 'Heavy Metal' and 'Doom Metal' have changed. Everyone has his personal definition of those terms these days. I never know what to tell people who have never heard of us when they ask 'what kind of music do you play?' I can't say 'Heavy Metal' because they think we're some aggressive, modern band. I can't say 'Doom Metal' because they think we're a slow Death Metal band. So I usually answer 'we sound like BLACK SABBATH', as I mentioned earlier.

Within the band, I think we're not afraid to fail anymore. Each record doesn't have to be the 'heaviest, slowest' or whatever thing out there. We just do our best each time. We also rely a lot more on improvising and getting songs recorded while they're fresh. In the past, we would endlessly rehearse the songs until they became almost boring to play. Today, we feel for the right time to record and often make up arrangements and riffs on the spot. I think this new approach keeps the music looser than it was before. A lot more music has passed through our ears since then, too, and that has had an effect on us.

What about AGAINST NATURE; this band has the same members as REVELATION. What need does this act serve? Is there something that AGAINST NATURE can do that REVELATION cannot? Can you spot the differences between them?
When Bert, Steve and I started playing again in 2004, REVELATION was still Steve, Dennis and Jim. So we chose a new name. We wanted something new anyway, something interesting for us. But we also didn't want to break the connection with our old days. We chose the REVELATION song "Against Nature" for our name because it kept this connection intact. Eventually, after talking to Dennis and Jim about it, we resurrected the REVELATION name as well. With REVELATION as the vehicle for whatever Doom Metal we wanted to play, we were free to do whatever we wanted as AGAINST NATURE. So in AGAINST NATURE, we've gotten away from the heavier music, and we're playing more like 70s classic rock, heavy rock, or even prog rock with the last few releases.

It's great to be able to do anything we want like this. I mean, nothing really stops any band from doing whatever they want (except for egos or business decisions, I guess), but there's nothing for stake for us as musicians with AGAINST NATURE. We just write and record whatever we're feeling at the moment. We have a lot of plans for future music, a lot of things to try out and explore. As time goes on, the differences between REVELATION and AGAINST NATURE have become wider; for example, just compare "For The Sake Of No One" to "Chasing Eagles" or "Action At A Distance". I don't know. Maybe it makes no sense to have two bands with the same people. But we're kind of stuck with it for now, maybe forever. It's ok with me.




What is the meaning behind the AGAINST NATURE name? Who is against nature other than humanity?
In English, the word 'against' is a little ambiguous because it can also have the sense of 'touching' or 'next to', as in 'put this against the wall'. It also means, more straightforwardly, 'opposed to' or 'opposite to'. So, I like how the phrase 'against nature' is open to interpretation. The word 'nature' itself is interesting: What is nature? What is natural? Is there a human nature? If so, what is it? Are we a part of nature? What does it mean to be natural? Can we be against our own nature or even nature itself? I'd like to know the answers to these questions. The song title, from the REVELATION record "Never Comes Silence", originally came from JK Huysmann's 19th century novel "A Rebours", which can also be translated as "Against The Grain". I like that title, too, and all its connotations!

There is an enhanced activity in the Doom scene with many new bands; can Doom be another trend like other Metal genres?
It is already, isn't it? It has been a trend since the early 90s, when the number of bands who claimed to play 'Doom Metal' tripled or quadrupled. There's not even a consensus on what the term 'Doom Metal' means anymore, it's so widely entered into the lingo. But maybe it's not such a passing trend, because bands like SOLITUDE AETURNUS, IRON MAN and many others who began in the late 80s, are still playing their kind of music. We're still playing it. New bands want to play it. I don't think it's going to end any time soon.

Do you believe that trends can destroy music?
I don't know. I don't think I really worry about it. We just do what we want. If people like it, then we're happy because we want to share what we do. But not everyone will like what we do; most don't like our music. I can't see REVELATION or AGAINST NATURE ever becoming trendy. And if we did, the trend wouldn't kill what we do. Trends come and go. If we play, as musicians, what's in our hearts and minds, then we're doing everything we can to stay beyond passing fashions. You can't kill music if it's an expression of something deeper than trends or marketing or business.

Taking into consideration that economical crisis all around what do you believe is the future of music? Can you make a living by writing/playing music?
Absolutely not. And honestly, I don't want to make a living from it, because if music was a business and not our passion, we would have to make many compromises. Maybe that's an old-fashioned, almost sentimentally romantic way of seeing things, but I think it's true. I'd probably come to hate playing music if I were forced to do it like a job. And I have too many other interests. I wonder what would happen if no one ever made money from playing music. Would the music die? I don't think it would.

Many consider Doom as a way of life; how important is this music genre for you?
I don't buy into any idea that claims a type of music is a 'lifestyle'. That sounds like marketing, like someone wants to sell me something. It rings of a television commercial or magazine advertisement. I don't 'live Doom Metal', whatever that means. I don't even 'live music'. I just live, and music is a part of that living, of living artistically, of living for the act of creation and sharing. Is Doom Metal a genre? If it is, I don't want anything to do with it. There are no rules for music. People should play whatever they want and be honest about it. Trends don't kill music, genres do.

Can you spot the very first moment you thought that you should form a Doom band?
It was probably when I first heard TROUBLE's first record in 1984 or so, and then "The Skull". REVELATION never really wanted to sound like SABBATH, although we've played their songs since we were kids. We wanted to sound like TROUBLE. When I played in the band HAVE MERCY, the slow heavy parts, the TROUBLE-influenced parts, were what I like most. I started writing songs that reflected this influence toward the end of my time with them (they were huge TROUBLE fans, too). I don't know if I can account for the decision. Something about TROUBLE moved me. I haven't stopped moving since.

What are the band's touring plans? Can you name two bands that would be ideal to tour with?
I'd love to tour with OGRE, our great friends, but they've disbanded. I'd also love to tour with ORODRUIN and ARGUS. Touring, for us, is like a vacation, so as long as we toured with friends, everything would be great. We don't have any tour plans for 2010 right now, although we keep working on getting back to Europe. We probably won't do anything in the US except festivals and local shows. That's ok with me- this gives us more time to concentrate on making music.

Ok, John these were my questions. Please add anything you think that was not covered in this interview. I wish you the best for REVELATION.
I think I've already worn out my welcome! So thank you once again, Maria, for the chance to answer your questions, and thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this or to listen to our music.



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