- 10 Apr 01
Brendan Tallon, guitarist and singer with No Disco darlings Revelino, talks to Patrick Brennan about his early struggle with the music biz that stopped his previous incarnation, The Coletranes, dead in its tracks, and the creative process behind the craft of song-writing that makes his new album, Revelino, one of the year’s essential purchases.
My first ever feature article for Hot Press was a piece on a band called The Coletranes roughly four years ago. I travelled around with them on three dates up North when they played in Belfast, Portrush and Donegal.
At the time they were on a nationwide tour. The Coletranes jingle-jangly pop music, which wore its musical influences on its sleeve – which they distilled with consummate skill and finesse – was generating the right kind of excitement both here and abroad. Everything seemed set for The Big Time. It didn’t happen. Too quickly, the initial buzz was superseded by an ominous silence. Now, a couple of years later, a band called Revelino have just released an exceptional debut album, simply called, surprise surprise, Revelino.
As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, Revelino are the new reincarnation of that promising Coletrane embryo. Three out of the five Revelino members made up three quarters of The Coletranes. There are similarities between the two bands. Even one or two of the old songs have survived to tell the tale. Revelino are different – yet still an undoubted maturation of all that The Coletranes were attempting to do. The question of whatever happened to The Coletranes still seems shrouded in mystery nonetheless. Which is why it was the opening topic of discussion when I spoke to Brendan Tallon, lead singer and main songwriter of Revelino, late last Thursday evening, downstairs in Bewley’s, as a thick fog descended on the city outside.
“We still are The Coletranes really,” Brendan reflects. “The change of the name was more strategic than anything else but what happened was that we were involved with an American company, and after we signed up, we did absolutely nothing in Ireland. We were told it’d be better if we didn’t because it was going to happen very soon, or whatever. But months went passed and still there was no news. Eventually, they made one phonecall and said we’re making a break, it’s not going to happen.
“So we were sitting there a year after. We’d stopped playing our gigs and we’d released a single which I really don’t want to talk about.”
Why is that?
“Ah we were coerced by outside forces into doing a single that none of us really liked, you know. It wasn’t the forces that upset me, it was how easily we were coerced into actually doing it. I don’t really know whether I want to talk about The Coletranes too much as a part of Revelino, especially not the single and all that. Part of the reason we changed the name was to make a break with that past.
“Not that I’m ashamed of it or anything,” he adds. “I thought that we had some great songs. I just think it’s an awful pity The Coletranes didn’t get a chance to put down all those songs that we had into something definitive. But we didn’t because of this bad luck with the American company. And that’s that.
“Anyway when this news came through we got a bit of a shock. So we took a kind of a rest period and sat around and did nothing. Then I wrote a load of songs, even though we had no plans to gig or record or anything. And I said let’s go into the practice room and see how it turns out. So we went into the practice room on a Monday and we worked out six of the songs in one day and it just felt so good, really fresh. They were a change from The Coletranes but still the same guitars, melodies and harmonies. So we decided we can’t let these songs go without being recorded like all the others. On our own backs we determined we’d go straight into the studio. We borrowed some money and went down the country to Carlow, and spent a month down there.
“When we got back we listened to the tapes and they sounded like they had been recorded over a month, if you know what I mean. There just wasn’t enough urgency. We did some sessions in the front room and you just can’t capture what happened between dinner and tea. That was the vibe we were trying to chase down in Carlow. It didn’t work because I think we just had too much time for takes. We did some sessions in The Factory with just some mikes around the place and even today they’re still some of my favourite recordings of stuff we’d done.
“Then we met up with a producer called Paul Thomas and he listened to the tapes and said exactly the same thing – that the stuff was great but that the recordings lacked urgency. So why don’t we book ourselves into a studio for ten days and ten nights and do the whole thing again? Recorded, mixed, everything. Finished. So we just went in and basically worked for ten days, twenty-four hours a day. Although it was tough we actually drank a lot and smoked a lot and had great fun.
“What I’m most happy about is that it’s done. The songs are down and the band can now move on. The second album is already written. The band is developing even at this stage. The next LP is already changing even though there’s the same use of lyrics and melodies. Actually, one of the things I was happy about with the Colm O’Hare review of the record [in Hot Press] was that he mentioned that the complicated structures of the songs were done with no nonsense because that was something I tried to do with the songs.”
Eagerness to impress can overload a virginal long player and
give it a rather uneven texture. Usually, fledgling bands want to include all their favourites at the expense of the type of more thoughtful approach that might lend the record a less disjointed feel. One of the striking things, however, about Revelino’s debut disc is that it does sound like a fully-fledged album, rather than just a hotch potch of the best songs.
“We had a huge batch of songs to choose from for this album,” explains Brendan. “But the songs we’d done on that Monday, and a few other songs we did the next day, came together literally so fast that they were calling out to be recorded. We did also want to keep the sound fairly consistent and it was a big consideration with us when we chose the rest of the songs. I think the album is still very varied but we tried to hone it down.
“We took one or two songs from our older repertoire but basically they were all new songs so that also helped to give a more thematic sound to the end result. The basic ingredients of guitars, melodies and a certain kind of lyric are still probably the same as they were in The Coletranes, though.”
What about that certain kind of lyric? Just what preoccupies Brendan Tallon where his lyric writing is concerned?
“I always feel that each word has a musical note. When I’m writing songs the music, not dictates, but almost suggests words. I never sit down and write a load of lyrics and then apply the music to it because I think people can hear that. It makes for great story songs sometimes, but the stuff that I really like is when the lyric line has a musical phrasing as well that can’t be separated from the chord change or the way the melody goes. Certainly, sometimes I pick up the guitar and the whole lot comes out in one batch and maybe I have to work on one or two of the lines, or rewrite them because they’re not quite right meaning-wise. That’s what I’m really after with music.
“I don’t want to make it sound as if the lyrics and the music are two separate entities that I do on different days. They actually do come out at the same time. And oftentimes I have to work out the meaning later. So they do contain a meaning that is apparent to me but sometimes only when I listen again to the song, later.
“What I do is I switch on the tape recorder and I sing whatever ideas come into my head. Then, later on that night or the next day, I’ll switch on the tape recorder and listen to the songs again and pick out stuff from the ideas that I like. So the lyrics are already there almost, I wouldn’t say subconscious because when I sit down and have to work out the rest of the lyrics I’m always conscious of having a guitar in my hand and, you know, an e-minor suggests certain words.
“I don’t think the songs become too vague as a result of that. I don’t want to become too vague. I don’t want to become too impressionistic with the lyrics, so that in the end they’re just a landscape or a picture. I want them to be solid but not too story-like. To me a chord change is as much a sentence as a sentence is a chord change.
“There are things which I write about and which I come back to again and again in my songs; how would I explain what they are? I don’t actually like talking about the themes because that’s what the songs are for. It’s weird because the reason you write songs is so that you don’t have to explain and if you do explain them, it’s almost as though you’re defeating the purpose of the song.
“I also find that when I do talk about the themes they sound more pretentious or something than they actually are. Music is there probably to give ordinary everyday occurrences that extraordinary quality which they actually have but people don’t always notice it. That’s what music, and the other art forms are for, I think. Though I don’t think that music is a particularly high art form.
“I have a funny kind of feeling when I talk about music as an art form because really at the end of the day it is a primally exciting thing. It excites me on a different level. It’s more fun than that – though I’m not saying that art can’t be fun. This is probably a controversial thing to say, but I think the higher art forms are something that have to be worked, with a craft on. I think modern art forms and the way modern people interpret art forms is becoming less that work ethic and more transient and more total inspiration.
“The higher art forms for me try to suggest a real divinity that we should all strive for and actually be subservient to. But these days our art forms celebrate ourselves rather than seeking something higher and I think rock music is a phenomenon of that. I think in a way we’ve evolved into this. The dark ages of a Christian type divinity are over but I’m not saying that one is better than the other – though I do feel we have to pay a price for the democratic distribution of divinity.
“Life is lighter than it used to be. It’s more transient. If it becomes democratic it also becomes disposable. A Coca-Cola culture. I think there’s a question of whoever patronises the art often dictates what the art is like. For a long time God patronised the arts so he had to be the subject. These days, we, as in everybody, patronises the arts, especially music, and rock music is patronised by ordinary people. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing but I do think there is a price to pay when that happens.
One thing is for certain, you won’t find direct political-cum
social statements in the lyrics of Revelino. A fact for which Brendan Tallon is unapologetic.
“Definitely not. But it depends on whether you mean political on a social level or personal politics. The reason that I don’t write songs about social politics is not that it doesn’t concern me but it doesn’t concern me on a creative level. Like everybody, I love a good political discussion but I feel in a position to write songs in the first person because that’s the thing I really know. I feel uneasy trying to write songs about those grand subjects. I might have a discussion about football or about politics but its a matter of opinion. But when I have a discussion about music it’s what I do. I make music. I’m not a politician. It’s a huge argument because some people feel that music is the perfect vehicle for voicing your politics but I think it’s a better vehicle for stepping over politics and stepping outside the limits of politics.
“Social orders sometimes behave like people but I prefer to talk about the conditions and the directions that affect me personally. I don’t personally sit down with my guitar to write political statements. I sit down to write about more personal concerns. I almost subject myself to music. A chord change whether it’s pleasant or sad. Politics is actually more fickle than music. That’s the problem with singing about politics.
“I wouldn’t feel easy about writing a song about the North because I only know about it through a medium I don’t trust. The only medium that I do trust is my own experience. I don’t put down people who do use music their for political ends but it just doesn’t suit my songwriting. I find with myself and other people that when they start talking bout politics they become very cynical and being cynical is the thing that I hate most about myself.
“I don’t like becoming cynical about bands or about politicians. It betrays a lot about my mood when I’m cynical. The two great battles I find are fighting off boredom and cynicism. It’s so easy for the two of them to take over your day. I think taking out my Rickenbacker and hearing that sound is what counters those feelings for me.”
Would you say you’re addicted to music?
“I would actually say I’m addicted to that thrill, yeah. It’s more than addiction though. It’s what I do. I am a songwriter. I am a musician. It dictates my life. I don’t sit around waiting for the guitar to come on to me. I actively play guitar everyday. I write everyday. All the time. I think all the time about music. About what is the best way to do a song or what’s the best lyric or whether a song works or not. I’m constantly thinking about that. It’s not my spare time. It is my time.”
With dedication like that it’s difficult to see how Revelino can be anything but even bigger than they are at the moment. It looks very much, too, like Brendan Tallon and Revelino’s time has come at last. Very soon their time will be your time as well. Mark my words.