Revelation Interview with John Brenner: A Guided Tour of the Inner Harbor

Their third new studio album since getting back together as Revelation and issuing 2008’s Release on Leaf HoundInner Harbor is an album that bleeds authenticity. After a while and the work that the Baltimore trio of John Brenner (guitar/vocals), Bert Hall, Jr. (bass) and Steve Branagan (drums) have also done as the concurrent act Against Nature, one almost comes to expect a level of musical humanity in the sound, but Inner Harbor (review here) takes the unpretentious progressive elements in Revelation‘s approach and pushes them further, evoking the melancholy in which they’ve always trafficked without sounding like a put-on or over-the-top in any sense that might apply.

Yet I wouldn’t call Inner Harbor reserved. In the interview that follows, Brenner talks about the process of paring down the six tracks to fit them on the LP version of the album (released by Pariah Child Records, as opposed to the CD on Shadow Kingdom or the free download available through the band’s own Bland Hand imprint), and it seems like a process involving little if any restraint, resulting in an album that went from 60 minutes to 35. Tracks like “Jones Falls” and “Terribilita” aren’t likely to overwhelm with a sonic assault, but both convey effectively the raw emotional aspect that’s at the heart of classic doom.

Because Revelation are a constantly evolving process, however,that emotionality comes with some stylistic shifts that anyone who heard either Release or 2009’s follow-up, For the Sake of No One (or the earlier records, for that matter), could be easily surprised by — most notably the extensive incorporation of progressive synth alongside the guitar, bass and drums. Revelation have never been about expansive arrangements or overly indulgent explorations, instead finding effective conveyance through relatively simple, traditional means and tones, but on a song like the closing “An Allegory of Want” or “Rebecca at the Well,” they’re showing more of a classic prog influence — i.e. Rush — and making it work within the context of their long-since-proven ability for songcraft.

The changes might not be so devastating for anyone who’s followed Revelation since they got back or Branagan, Hall and Brenner‘s work in Against Nature, but the Rush influence was something I specifically wanted to explore in the back and forth with Brenner, along with the evolution of their self-recording process and the differences that have emerged between Against Nature and Revelation over the last few years. Brenner, an admitted introvert but no less sincere in his answers than he is in the music he writes, was especially poignant in discussing the meaning behind the title Inner Harbor, and how important the interpretations of individual words is to him both in the band and in general.

And maybe those parts are specifically worth a look, but honestly, the whole thing makes for a good read. You’ll find the complete 5,500-word Q&A after the jump.

Please enjoy:

Three years was kind of a long split between records for Revelation since you got going again. When did you start writing for Inner Harbor, and did you know going into writing these songs that you wanted to try something new stylistically?

We didn’t start writing for IH until 2011, I think. The first song was “Eve Separated”; we were practicing that for a while whenever we held Revelation rehearsals. Bert and Steve had a hard time following the arrangement, so Steve brought out a whiteboard, and Bert wrote out the arrangement on it: AABACABDEEAABA or something like that. (We usually talk about arrangements in those terms.) But then we took some time away from writing and rehearsing and they both forgot the arrangement. Ha.

We had perhaps five songs at the time that we were considering for a new album, had rehearsed them relatively well, and had begun recording them for the album. But I didn’t like any of it — the tempos, the arrangements, the performances were all wrong or crappy. (I just stopped writing to listen to those recordings, and they’re awful.) So we just stopped with the recording, and I took more time to write and arrange the songs, including new ones. “Eve Separated” and “Jones Falls” were the only songs to survive. I brought more riffs and song ideas to rehearsal, and Bert began to contribute riffs, too, so I incorporated them into songs like “Inner Harbor” and “An Allegory of Want.” The songs kept evolving, and we refined them for months. Then I made some necessary, and liberal, edits to the songs as I was mixing them. All this contributed stylistically to the outcome.

I listened to lots of Trouble, The Obsessed, and Pentagram to “prime” myself to get ready for the record because I wanted to get more of the feel that inspired us to start this band back in the ‘80s. But I also told Bert and Steve from the start that I going to, “fill the damned record with Moogs and Mellotrons.” I really wanted to merge the sound of those bands with Rush this time, to create some hybrid that might be interesting. They probably didn’t think too much about it. But then when they heard the early mixes they realized what was going on and were completely into it.

So we took our time and wouldn’t settle for anything less than a fully realized vision for this album, a vision that changed as we went along, but that still came out the way I wanted.

How would you characterize the shift in approach between For the Sake of No One and Inner Harbor? Do you think about Revelation on that kind of level, or are you ever surprised with how a collection of songs turns out?

We jammed on the songs and rehearsed IH a bit more than we did with FTSONO. We also kept a few things looser in the arrangements, with lots of extended parts on the original versions of the songs. And Bert’s contribution of several riffs and ideas was a different approach because I had always written 98 percent of everything. Bert even wrote lyrics for the song “Terribilita,” which I modified for the recording of the song, as well as the vocal melody. But otherwise we had no conscious approach to the basics of how we write and record. Bert and Steve probably think more about the “history” or “trajectory” of what we’re doing, how it will be seen, where it fits into what we’ve done. I don’t think about it at all because I don’t care about that shit. I just do whatever I feel like doing at the time. I don’t think IH was a surprise to me (though it might have been to Bert and Steve) when it was done — it’s close to what I heard from the start. Maybe the cohesiveness of the songs as a whole surprised me a little; the album seemed more like a loose collection of songs at first, and I was a little concerned that a song like “Jones Falls” didn’t quite fit. But I think it turned out ok.

Tell me about Rush.

Oh, boy. Everyone knows I’m an ass when it comes to Rush because I refuse to recognize anything they’ve done since 1982 and Signals. That was their final album for me. Sure, it’s pigheaded and narrow-minded, but I’ve been listening to them since 1978 and I feel I have the right to my attitude! It’s fun to joke about, too, but I don’t like anything they did after Signals, and on a good day I like only half that album. Ha.

Rush, Queen, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath were the first heavy bands I listened to as a kid, maybe 10-11 years old. I’ve been living with Rush’s albums my whole life, returning to them, learning from them, simply enjoying them. I just didn’t follow them into that ridiculous New Wave period they went with in the ‘80s, and I’d lost interest in what they were doing after that because I knew they’d never return to the ‘70s prog style I loved so much. That fine — they’re great musicians, with a dedication unrivaled in music, and they’ve made their fortunes without compromising. They became even more popular and respected as they evolved. I still have the old albums they’ve given us, and I don’t need what they’ve done since 1982 to nurture my soul. That’s just it — their music of the past 30 years doesn’t interest me, doesn’t nurture me, doesn’t teach me what I need to learn. That’s fine, too! It’s their music and not mine. There’s enough in “Caress of Steel” or “Permanent Waves” to keep me busy forever. That’s funny: I’m good with their first 10 years but not with their past 30. But Sabbath is the same for me, so at least I’m consistent. “Jack relax. Get busy with the facts.”

Anyway, from the beginning of forming Revelation, particularly once Bert joined in 1988, we’ve wanted to wed Black Sabbath to Rush to see what happens. We’ve tried in many ways to do that. Just this time, for IH, I used keyboards to further that aim. I’ve always tried to play guitar in Revelation like a combination of Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, and Dale Flood, and Bert can channel Geddy Lee at will. Rush is so much a part of our musical identities that they inform almost everything we hear or play. We call certain chords “Alex chords,” and I often ask Bert for a “Geddy run.” WWGD? I find their modern records unlistenable: terrible tones, squashed, too-loud mastering, high-gain guitars, weird sounding bass, awful drums. But the tones on those early records are sublime, every aspect of every instrument. I guess you gotta get old eventually; at least they are aging gracefully… just not making music that speaks to me. I have a lot to do that doesn’t involve arguing about music.

Crash all that old Rush into doom metal and Sabbath and Trouble, and we hope something interesting is a result. If there’s anything original about Revelation, it comes from our being such poor interpreters of Sabbath and Rush. Some bands strive to interpret (or imitate or pay homage or copy or whatever) their favorite bands closely, meticulously. We try, too, but we just aren’t good at it. We play what we think is something that sounds like Rush or Sabbath or whomever, but we’re not even close. But that’s why it’s interesting, I feel — it’s that shitty, off-base, poor interpreting that allows us to do something we can call our own.

Why Inner Harbor? Is there something particular about Baltimore you’re evoking with the record, that you knew that had to be the title? How do you feel that landscape fits into Revelation’s music and especially into these songs?

Danny Angus (Pariah Child Records) and I talked about this quite a lot when we first agreed to release IH on vinyl. I hope you don’t mind if I just ramble about it for a bit.

Baltimore has always been our home; but at the same time it’s our worst enemy, musically. We talk like Baltimore, we think like Baltimore, we’ve lived here our entire lives, everything about us is centered here. Yet everyone here has ignored us or dismissed us since the beginning. We’ve never had a mention or review in the City Paper or any other publication. The only reason there was any mention of the three excellent festivals we hosted here a few years was that The Sidebar ran its usual ad. When we play shows here, five people show up. I’m not exaggerating — our last show in Baltimore saw five people in the bar, and that included the owner, on a Saturday night at a festival. No one cares about Revelation (or Against Nature) here, not even our friends. I don’t think there’s even another doom metal from Baltimore, yet people around the world know who we are, but at home… we’re invisible. So there’s a bit of irony in the title Inner Harbor. Maybe I harbor a bit of resentment that Baltimore has always been too hip for us. There’s something odd about this, too, because Baltimore was always known as such a blue-collar city, full of dock workers, factory workers (like my dad), hard-working people. We related to Black Sabbath and Judas Priest because we heard they were from a working class city like Baltimore. The music and arts scene here is nothing but hipsters. Maybe it’s like that everywhere, I don’t know. Even when we were young, we were never hip, never a part of that scene. We chose not to be, not to be included with the bar cover bands, the hair bands; we wanted to create our own scene, or at least we thought people would become interested and include us once they’d heard us. That never happened. And now we’re just some old guys playing music nobody likes. At least I understand that.

Then there’s that literal meaning of Inner Harbor. Since the early ‘80s and the development of Harborplace, the Inner Harbor has been the visible face of Baltimore. A harbor is a safe place, in this case an “inner harbor,” so a safe place inside oneself, a refuge no one can enter, that musical and artistic place where one can experience music and art alone (the only way to experience it, I’d say).

Baltimore’s identity comes from its harbor (and always has, historically), and I think mine has from my “harbor,” too. But harbors do welcome the outside, so they’re not hermetically sealed against the world. Much of the life and activity is around Baltimore’s literal harbor; it’s the first place outsiders and tourists see. I think I’m like that, too — the things (music, books, art, life experiences) that feed my soul are in my inner harbor, and that activity is what people often first encounter about me (how many people do I know just because of music?), and I really do try to invite people in and share that inner place.

Maybe the harbor engulfs us and hides us, protects us too much. Maybe we’re not exposed enough. Maybe it’s my fault for not socializing more, for exposing us more, for staying in the inner harbor too much, for not networking more with bands and clubs. I’ve always played the outsider. The only time Steve was ever an “insider” musically was during my time away from music in the ‘90s. Then I come back and we implode again!

Our songs have Baltimore all over them: references in the lyrics and titles, our accents and slang, private jokes we’ve shared forever, images and evocations of so many things here we’ve grown up with. I chose an aerial view of Baltimore for the cover of IH because there’s also a sense of detachment, of rising above, of trying to see the big picture. And then I noticed how phallic or how jagged the lines of the harbor look, potent and dangerous, a feminine harbor with peninsulas. That’s a bit too Freudian, right? But it all seems connected, a way of understanding, even if I don’t fully understand. Sometimes I’m just interested in exploring these ideas, see where they lead, see what I can learn about myself and our music.

The Inner Harbor used to be called The Basin. There’s another evocative word; I love the sound of the word “basin.”  Steve and I grew up in a waterfront neighborhood, spent a lot of our time on the then-crumbling, then-abandoned industrial waterfront, kids playing, teenagers getting into trouble. A lot of my youth was spent near the waterfront…and yet I’ve never learned to swim. More irony, I guess. The Jones Falls is one of the two big waterways in the city (the other is the Gywnn Falls), now mostly covered with a highway. There some kind of metaphor in there, too; maybe I’ll find it one day. Wait, what was the question again?

Tell me about writing “Jones Falls,” musically and lyrically. Where did that synth part come from?

The middle synth parts? That’s a virtual Moog sequencer, just a short pulse I wrote that (poorly) imitates the sequences in Rush’s “Vital Signs” and “The Spirit of Radio.” We tried several arrangements of those sections, with driving drums, simpler percussion, heavy guitars, all sorts of things. Eventually, I just told Steve to lay out during those parts and that I had an idea. Bert’s bass there is the same as it always was, however. I was just tired of doing the same old things; we’ve done that kind of section with the usual trio instrumentation many times already. I wanted a section with some movement in it, with that pulse, and the sequencer was an interesting solution. There’s a 12-string electric guitar and a six-string in there, too, as well as the bass drum and the higher Moog melody above everything.

Lyrically… I don’t know. When I write lyrics, I stay away from narrative or even what writers might call “intention.” I’m more interested in the surprise meanings that arise when you combine words and phrases in near-unconscious ways. It’s all done by “feel.” I don’t really know how to articulate the meaning of how I write lyrics. The methods of it are easier to explain: I steal things I’ve read, heard, written in other contexts, and then combine them in not-fully-aware ways. Design by accident. There is an intention, I suppose — to make lyrics that cohere for me. And I choose material (and change it when needed) that resonates in me, reminds me of something, refers to something personal, and sometimes just sounds good. I love the sound of words. When it comes time sing them, I’m more comfortable with certain sounds than with others, so I’ll change the words just based on my limitations as a singer (and there are many).

I never sit down and write “lyrics,” as I guess most people do. It’s a cut and paste process for me. I’ll organize the material into groups of phrases that seem to cohere, but when I go to record the vocals, I often have to change everything, so I’ll borrow wholesale from other lyrics I’ve prepared. It’s anything goes, anything that helps me achieve my goal. What is that goal? I don’t know. To produce something that just “feels right.” I paint and draw like this, too, sometimes starting with little in mind, sometimes with a design planned out, just throwing materials and colors together until something interesting, something “right” just happens, and then modifying and adjusting until everything works. It’s only later that I can look back and try to interpret what I’ve done (lyrics and art, I mean). I want the lyrics to mean 10 things at once, maybe something different to each reader or listener, and sometimes to mean nothing at all and just sound right.

“Jones Falls” has a word I’m obsessed with, “falls.” Actually, obsession is a good word to describe the process, or maybe “compulsion.” I’m compelled to adjust things until they’re right, until they feel right. “Falls” has so many meanings, rings in so many ways: autumn, waterways, the act of falling literally and metaphorically. Falling, descending, going from high to low naturally, compelled by gravity, conscience, mistakes. The literal Jones Falls winds its way from the north through central Baltimore and empties into the harbor. Then there’s “Jones,” the average guy (“keep up with the Joneses”), slang for wanting or yearning (“a jones for candy,” “highway jones”). Combined, those words send out waves of meanings for me. Covered with a highway, covering the falls — the words are like a bell that vibrates through so many resonating frequencies. I don’t mean some hippie shit! I just don’t know how else to articulate what I mean. I probably would rather not try and just let the words ring and hope someone is listening.

Then again, the lyrics are full of personal evocations and images and meanings, literal things I’d rather not talk about. In that sense, one layer of meaning in the words is for me alone; it’s in the inner harbor and I’m covering it, engulfing it. So much is about protecting oneself, keeping oneself safe and sheltered. Maybe the opposite would mean being more fully alive, leaving the harbor, facing fears and dangers, surviving them to become a better person. Maybe that’s what I should have done my entire life but have always been afraid to, always retreated to the harbor. Harbors are dangerous in this way, another irony.

A lot of these things I’m writing about are deeply connected with ideas in Homer’s Odyssey. I’ve talked to Danny a little about this, too. To see art and life connected in such ways… maybe this is dangerous too. Maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about.

How has the process of self-recording changed for you over the last couple years, or has it?

I’ve been using more analog gear lately and more combinations of analog and digital. When I first started with my own recordings, in the ‘80s, all I had were cheap, borrowed mics and a Fostex 4-track cassette deck. When we started Revelation again, I used only a digital recorder and the computer, for example, on the early Against Nature records and the two recent Revelation records. Lately, I’ve been using 1/4” and 1/2” tape, cassette multi-tracks, tube preamps, combinations of solid state and tube amps, the computer for mixing and production and some plugins, a few good (but still mostly cheap) mics. I’ve learned more about not being so precise and obsessive about mic placement — just throw up the damned mics, change them if it sounds like shit, and move on; keep the drum mics to three or four, work with sounds at the source and in the mix. It takes me forever to finish a mix; I probably change it — this is no lie — 100 times during the course of recording and mixing, always adjusting, trying to achieve what I want, sometimes not knowing what I want until I hear it. It’s that compulsion adjusting again until everything feels right.

I abhor everything about “modern” mixing and mastering: the too-wide, artificial stereo field, stereo bass guitar, other stereo tricks, the over-compressed and perfect everything, the annoying sub-bass frequencies, the brittle highs. That computer generated perfection… Leave the mistakes there if the feel is good! We’re humans. We fuck up. And it doesn’t matter. Humans fuck up, musicians fuck up. Anything else is artificial. Monks used to leave imperfections in their calligraphy to avoid the hubris of perfection. It’s not the hubris that bothers me, it’s the sound of “perfection.” Let me be imperfect in a way that reveals something about the process, about human nature, about me, about the sound. I want a balance between the inherent artificiality of recording and the naturalness of playing real instruments in real time. I want a warm, intimate sound, unselfconscious and sincere, more ‘70s than anything, but still DIY, self-made. I want drums that sound like drums, “acoustic instruments with help,” if that makes sense. I don’t want anyone else’s hands on our music but me. Fuck loud, squashed, unlistenable (and what so many think of as “heavy”) productions. You can always turn up the volume, you know? The music needs to breathe, needs some dynamics, even if it is mostly loud guitars and drums.

Every time we record, I try to learn more, to experiment more, to take more chances. Yet I think I’m getting more conservative with recording. Maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just trying to make records that sound the way I want, whatever that happens to be at time.

Inner Harbor is the shortest Revelation album to date at 35 minutes. Were you specifically thinking of the vinyl release in that, or perhaps saying something about modern attention spans?

Well, both maybe? (There’s a private joke in band. Whenever we have to make a choice, like is it A or B?, we laugh and yell “Both!”) The record had to be short because I want good sounding vinyl, and it’s difficult to master a record cheaply and well if it’s longer than about 20 minutes a side. It can be done, but we don’t have the money or interest to pay someone to do it. Danny is taking a big financial risk pressing records, and I’d hate to see him spend money on achieving something that’s unnecessary (a long record). 18 minutes a side was my goal so the vinyl mastering engineer wouldn’t have a lot trouble cutting the disc. And I like short albums. How much punch can you get into 36 minutes? How much of what we do is repetitive crap anyway? How much can I cut away and make the song better? You can’t be married to things the way they are — cut that shit if it helps the song. There has to be a mean between saying what you need to say and saying it concisely. I’d rather pack a lot of interest into a short space and let listeners unfold it themselves rather than lay it all out there explicitly.

The original version of IH was about 60 minutes as we recorded it. I made a lot of edits to the arrangements and to the actual tape and files to get the record down to the length I wanted. I think it was the best thing that could have happened. Why make a 60-minute record when half that length says what we want? Maybe it’s my attention span that’s growing short. I have much less tolerance these days for needlessly sprawling songs, for needless repetition. Limits forced me to think carefully about arrangements, like producers needed to do in the ‘70s with vinyl limits. CDs really changed the way we think about music: Hey, I can put 80 minutes on a record now! Maybe every band needs to make an 80-minute record once, as a catharsis or as a real artistic expression, but not every record. I don’t know. Let others do what they want; I don’t have to like it. Right now, I’m happy with aiming for greater concision in our music. Instead of exhausting people, I want our music to be just right.

How has the working relationship with Bert and Steve changed over the years? You’ve put out so much music together and become an influential band on your own terms, and on stage the chemistry seems fluid and friendly and engaged. Should I assume all the married-couple-style bickering happens behind closed doors?

Sometimes it spills out to dressing rooms or hotel rooms or cramped rental cars! Any trouble is usually between Bert and me. We’re like brothers — he knows what buttons to push in me, and I know just how to get his goat. Steve wisely ignores us. He’s the even-keeled, level-headed, reliable one. As we work together musically, we too often fall into stereotyping each other. Oh, that’s a Bert part, or yeah, that’s a John part or a Steve roll. I try so hard for us not to think that way, to be open to everything, to realize that even after all this time, our musical vocabulary and approach can expand, can grow. We actually do like each other, band or no, so when we play shows we’re happy to be there and happy to be playing together. “Fluid.” What a great word! I want us to sound and feel like mercury when we play.

Our music is filled with so many little details, so many references and allusions, accidental or purposeful, but I don’t think many people notice. (“People,” hmm. Sometimes I feel like a restaurant owner on Kitchen Nightmares. The owner always says something like “people love my cooking.” And Ramsay looks around and yells, “What people?”) Some of those details come from in jokes, some from conscious parodies or references or homage, some because we can’t help but put details in that add to the interest, for us anyway. Not all of that is good and I wish we could get rid of it. For example, I too often fall back on the same clichéd lead guitar licks I’ve been playing since I was in Have Mercy, Bert will fall into his “Steve Harris mode” when it isn’t appropriate, Steve will play some shitty Lars Ulrich thing that’s rotting on the shelf. We have to remain diligent to rid our music of clichés and stock expression, and that causes friction sometimes because we’ve been together so long. Bert and I can be smartasses about it, too. “Alright, Mr. Harris, put the bass down.” Right before a recent Against Nature gig, Bert said to me on the stage, “Start the song, Kossoff.” Haha. I thought it was a compliment or at least just an observation about the music, but maybe he was being snarky. Who knows? It’s still funny. Some of our rehearsals unfold like the Let it Be movie, with Paul and George getting pissy with each other, while Ringo sits behind his kit just wanting to play.

We also know a lot about each other’s limitations having worked together for so long. We’ve found ways around them, ways to work within them, ways to work to our strengths. It never comes easy. We labor over some things in rehearsal and know when to walk away from obstacles and return to them later when maybe a solution will be found.

Over the last couple years especially, it seems like Against Nature and Revelation are more and more becoming separate entities. What are the differences between the two projects for you at this point, and how do you see each band continuing to develop?

Against Nature has become the vehicle to get all the ‘70s-inspired hard rock out of us. I keep dragging us into different directions with it. At first, it was more like doom metal, then it became more progressive and hard rock, and now it’s 100 percent hard rock. Maybe it’s all been done already, and by better bands than us, but it’s fun. It’s like talking about our youth but interpreting it as adults. There are more directions for Against Nature we haven’t explored yet. We’ll probably get some different people involved with upcoming records, especially because of my limits as a singer. I do what I do and try to find ways to become better, but sometimes it’s better to get someone who can bring something new or something that fits better. That’s one reason we got Ron McGinnis to sing on the last AN album; he already had something I heard for the music. We’ll work with him more in the future, too, because he’s such a good guy. And because good guys get screwed, he has a lot to bring to us! We’d like to make another keyboard prog record like Action at a Distance sometime soon, maybe something more like Camel or Gentle Giant this time. I already have a few albums’ worth of riffs and ideas to use for some Humble Pie, ZZ Top, and Free-flavored music.

In Revelation, I don’t feel obligated anymore to play anything that fits comfortably into a genre, into doom metal or whatever. We’re going to keep it heavy, whatever we think that means at the time. It evolves. I do have enough songs for another Revelation record — it will probably be titled Eastern Shore (ha) — but we’re not ready to think about that yet. I keep saying the same thing, I guess: we’ll get to it when we get to it. The path isn’t clear (sorry, Milly), and I’m not concerned about where it will lead. I do feel like we’re running out of time, sometimes, so there’s a necessity to keep working while we can, keep making and making and dipping into the well until it runs dry. We’re not musicians if we aren’t making music. And there’s a hellhound on my trail.

It does still seem necessary to keep two separate bands at the moment; maybe that will change one day, too. We’re not getting younger, that’s for damned sure. We’re too old to worry about what music we’ll make. We’ll just keep making it.

What’s next? Revelation seems to have picked up more live shows, at least at fests, over the last couple years. Is that something you want to focus more on? What’s the status of the next Against Nature release?

It pains me to admit that even in our own circles, we aren’t popular. But it’s the truth. Our last two AN and REV shows… 10 people were watching combined. I can’t play the hype game everyone plays so easily, screaming about how we “destroy” places and all that bullshit. Maybe that would help, but I’m not capable of it. Steve isn’t interested in it either and just goes with whatever is happening. But it’s damned frustrating. We put so much into our music and into preparing for shows. We rehearse our asses off and make big sacrifices, only to play for the bar staff. Am I deluded? Are we just not that good? It’s so easy to be filled with self-doubt when these things keep happening.

Do I need to be the Big Facebook Promoter of my bands and annoy everyone? (It annoys me to see it, anyway.) Does that even work? Locally, we have a hard time getting shows, and of course it’s because no one comes to hear us. It’s also because we’ve made a choice to distance ourselves from some things, and we don’t have the time we’d like to make more useful local connections. We’re incredibly fortunate to have friends around the country and around the world who like our music and put us on festival bills or arrange shows for us, sometimes even headlining a night. Every time we headline somewhere I think, oh fuck, everyone’s going to leave again before we play, and our friends’ faith in us will prove to be misguided. And it happens, too. It’s embarrassing and frustrating. We should be hired to clear bars after last call; we’d make a fortune. I think we’re good; I know we don’t suck, at least. We play the kind of music I’d like to hear, anyway. I listen to our music all time; I’m not the kind of person who says he hates his own music. We love to play gigs, love to turn everything all the way up and get that feeling. I want others to share that feeling with us, that’s all.

At least I’m under no illusions that a few hundred Facebook fans means we’re superstars or something. Fuck that. We don’t have the ability to tour and “build a following” either because music isn’t the only thing we do. It’s vital, but it’s not the only thing. Some people do like our music and do listen carefully and support what we do. We’re respected by people and bands that matter to us. That’s enough for me. We’ll play anywhere anyone wants us to play, for whatever they’ll give us. We can’t do this forever, and it’s too late in the game to stuff our pants and play rock star and make demands on people. Let other people worry about the “music business” and “guarantees” and all that. It’s not for me. Just let us bring our amps and drums and turn them up loud and share some music for an hour or so with friends. We’ll keep playing shows wherever and whenever we can, as long as we’re able.

We started recording the new AN release, but it sounded like shit, so we’re going to start over. I imagine it will be done early next year. And then the next, and the next…

Revelation’s download page at Bland Hand Records

Shadow Kingdom Records

Pariah Child Records


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6 Responses to “Revelation Interview with John Brenner: A Guided Tour of the Inner Harbor”

  1. H. H. Word says:

    Love Revelation and glad to hear that John isn’t completely discouraged by the lack of attention his bands get. This summer, I proudly left an Iron Maiden show halfway through to drive to Frederick to see Against Nature play to 15 people, perhaps a 1000 to 1 discrepancy compared to the show I left. The Against Nature show was amazing and I didn’t regret leaving Maiden for a second.

    Greatest appreciation and respect for John, Bert, Steve, Revelation and Against Nature!!!

  2. Peter Dlugosinski says:

    Great interview. I totally agree with everything John says about Rush. Can’t wait to get album.

  3. Kimi Kärki says:

    Great read, thank you! Remember Europe, brothers!

    Jaw-dropping music all the way.

  4. Jay says:

    Great interview JJ! I love reading John’s interviews; he makes awesome music, and he’s not afraid to tell it like it.

  5. JP Jakonen says:

    Good stuff. Just getting into this after a reviewer made comparisons with our stuff to John Brenner’s. High compliment!

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