“Sermon is an anonymous musical force, dedicated to preaching the concept of spiritual and theological balance. In a world of divisive opinion and reckless faith, their output aims to craft a thoughtful intersection for all beliefs.” This is what the information on the London, UK-based band Sermon‘s debut album ‘Birth of the Marvellous‘ reads.
The concept release was launched in March 2019 via Prosthetic Records. Read more what it took to write the release in the interview below.
Describe the musical vision propelling your album Birth of the Marvellous.
I’ve always written and recorded music, probably since I was about 16/17. Birth of the Marvellous was actually written about 6-7 years ago when I was 24 and had just been sitting there while I mustered the money to try and record it properly. I think the vision itself, was really just to record a body of work that I’d solely made, recorded properly and not in my bedroom.
What made this the right time to pursue that vision?
My father became terminally ill, and this album is a cathartic response to that. I owe this album quite a lot as it saw my through intense grief. I’m also quite proud that for me it became proof of something very sad eventually forming into a positive.
Tell me about what you’re communicating with the album cover.
I saw this as a wanderer blindly following faith, but internally has sight. Like most things, he just needed to take a journey to realise it.
What was the creative process for Birth of the Marvellous like?
It’s quite a blur now, but I believe it didn’t take more than a year. It did however sit there for years. As I’m not really a pro-musician, it’s quite difficult to convince people (even when you’re willing to pay) to commit to recording something like this. It didn’t have a name or a look and feel, it took quite a lot of discussion to get the wheels to turn.
To someone who hasn’t heard the album, what can he or she expect from Birth of the Marvellous?
I’d say it’s quite heavy, but remains listenable at the same time. I hadn’t envisioned it to be a ‘prog’ album. It doesn’t have guitar solos, frivolous time-signature jumping or mind-bending polyrhythms probably so it won’t do much for those looking for an exercise in technicality (except maybe drummers, the drumming is extraordinarily difficult). I just like mellotrons and song’s that flow one to the next.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on the album?
Actually getting it done properly was tough. Beyond that, musically I would say vocals was hard. I’m not a born singer, I just didn’t know anyone else who could do it. So I had to learn on the spot, and Scott Atkins, the producer, held my hand throughout. While the demos of the album sound similar, this album would not be the same without him.
Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process?
In terms of musical discovery, not really. The past few years I’ve struggled to enjoy or find new things that I’m really passionate about. It’s been odd, as when I was younger I was obsessed with scouring the depths of a sub-genre, and then feeling proud of myself for knowing of something someone else didn’t. Now, my tastes have become more basic or based on things I love from the past. I can only put this down to working life being quite tiring on the brain and a lack of free-time and patience for trying to find a new thing.
In terms of discovery of the self, I would say I take writing as now something I’m responsible for and also taking singing as a more serious part of my life. It’s still hard. It’s not like picking up a guitar, when your body doesn’t work the way you hope, it feels like a personal failure, rather than just breaking a string.
Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?
I am terrified of stagnation, but equally terrified of creating something that doesn’t fit within the Sermon ‘world’. It’s finding a way to marry the two. I want the next record to just ‘sound’ different in some way, and I’ve got some ideas on how to achieve that next time.
Tell me about the complexities of creating this album.
I guess the hardest part was me recording all the parts (except the drums, as handled by James Stewart), as I’ve said, I’m not a great musician. I can play enough to convince people I can play, so it’s quite easy to feel like a fraud.
What types of change do you feel this music can initiate?
It’s tough to speak on behalf of anyone else, but it’s opened up an entirely new world of existence for me.
Did the environment in any way influence the vibe the album transcends?
The physical environment no, but my emotional ‘environment’ yes. This album is quite morose, sad and occasionally angry. It’s a cliche for sure, but it’s a direct reflection of how I felt at the time. I am currently writing the new one over the past year and I had been quite angry with some things that happened in my personal life. Again, the music sounds quite angry comparatively to this one.
Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece?
I do have a tendency to build and build a core melody throughout a song into a climax. It all tends to ascend gradually. From a listener point of view, I feel like this just makes it worth getting to the end of a song. Nothing lazier than an automated song fade-out in my opinion.
What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?
I think this is answered in the other questions. I’m seemingly an emotionally repressed person except when writing music.
What kind of gear do you use for recording your music?
I’m not a gear guy really so I may get some of this wrong. I have a PRS Custom 24 that I’ve had for 15 years. But other than that I don’t even have an amp. In the studio, we just used one of Scott’s amps, which was a Peavy 5150. I leave it to Scott, he knows his gear. I know we used a Dark Glass bass pedal that really fattened up the bass and also G-Force M-tron for the Mellotrons on the record. I would like to in future make a more discerning effort to find a real Mellotron and some different organs.
Overall, I just tend to fiddle and listen to whatever is in front of me and make the best of it. I’m too impatient to obsess over the details. In song writing I think it’s much more useful to have a good general impression of the song, rather than weep over amp frequencies.
What is your view on technology in music?
It’s made it simple for someone like me, who is really just a nobody in his bedroom just enjoying writing songs, to take it to the next level. However, it’s a double-edged sword because in many ways technology (in all industries) has increased accessibility for everyone to have a go, but at the same time, it makes a market more saturated. Ultimately this means industry business models struggle to keep up with the innovation, leading to an often bottom-heavy pyramid, making it difficult for anyone to make any money from it.
This is my first dip into the music industry and I can tell you from looking at sales-statements and talking to musicians, that it feels very much like being in a pyramid scheme.
You are scheduled to play at this year’s Prognosis festival in Eindhoven. What can lovers of prog and beyond expect from your set?
Something grand and majestic I would hope. That does sound a little overboard, especially as it’s the second show we’ve ever done, so let’s see if we can live up to it.
What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?
Cheesy and obvious, but I would say do it out of love. Don’t let a small thing like bad reviews or failure stop you from doing a thing you enjoy. That is the only thing that can keep you going with it, as money sure won’t.
Practically speaking, I made sure that we didn’t release anything until I had some A&R people had heard it first. It’s incredibly valuable having a finished product that no one else has access to, and I wanted to ensure that a label had the opportunity to do what they wanted with it. Make sure you have an PDF electronic press kit good to go, with a description of the band, pay a designer/photographer etc to get a strong identity to match your music. I see it so often that underground bands are so in a rush for the world to hear their music, that they forget the visual representation needs to be as thoughtfully crafted as the music. It’s another cost sure, but the big boys take it seriously, and you should too.