Since the invention of the Long Player there has been a steady evolution and battle for the heart and soul of the concept album. From Woody Guthrie’s themed Americana through Sinatra’s tales of broken hearts and whisky, the concept album has been through many changes and stages of public acceptance. Dylan, The Beach Boys and The Beatles claimed it for their own as a mark of high art expression. Then European bands came and did it cooler (like they often tend to do) and the clutch of famed German bands that spewed forth a brand new musical dialogue took the ideal of a high concept and turned it into some of the most progressive and influential music that has ever been recorded. This influence seeped into the minds of our own innovators who then hung songs together in a way that from start to finish you got the sensation of a tale being told. Bowie, who himself had been no stranger to the idea of concept records in the early 70s, took that European ideal and hung the thread of narrative and of feel over his acclaimed album Low (in this case the theme being the start and end point of a man suffering post-traumatic stress from cocaine addiction, divorce and the break up of a professional relationship). Bowie was aided by Brian Eno who was another important step in the journey of the concept album before it got bloated and old. Drunk on its own ego particularly here in the UK and the States via the over indulgence of Prog bands which is a story you have heard a million times so lets not pull at that thread again.
A resurgence of concept albums and a reclaiming it from the capes and trapped arms in alien pods begins with the birth of both dance music and hip-hop. Once these genres got established and the creators started painting pictures over more than just 12″ singles then the art of the concept album breathed once again. From Doggystyle to A Grand Don’t Come For Free via Timeless and Fear of a Black Planet the concept album has evolved to survive. Skip forward to 2021 and we now find ourselves in a place where artists are unashamed to aim for the grand idea…for the essence of ‘concept’ to be returned to its home of Prog and leading the charge we have Antoni Maiovvi, ANTA and John Reppion who with ‘Church Of The Second Sun’ have not only created a proudly Progressive and Psych-Rock album, they have written around the story created by Reppion in his micro-novel that accompanies the release. As grand concepts go this is up there and it is a pleasure to hear artists unlocking any invisible shackles created by the reputation of the past and just aiming for the BIG IDEA. So when was this whole concept born?
Antoni Maiovvi “Initially the music came from two ideas. 1) to write an album for other musicians to play slash using a pre-existing band as my “orchestra” and 2) After watching the Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary and finding out about the missing Magma ‘House Harkonnen’ soundtrack I started wondering what that might have sounded like. I don’t particularly think this album sounds like Magma, but that was the seed of the music. When I run with an idea I try not to force it too much and hopefully just let it be what it wants to be. It became important to us as we rehearsed the material with the band that it have its own identity, and so Alex from ANTA had the idea of bringing John on board to tie all of the work together once we had the first mixes.
I’ve known ANTA for many many years, James, Joe and I all played for Rose Kemp’s live band back in the 00s and toured together. Alex and I also toured together around that time as solo acts. The Bristol music scene is (or was) pretty small so we’d always be seeing each other at shows and the like.”
John Reppion: “The whole thing was already written and recorded before I got involved, so I had a rough mix of the album to work from. The kind of story which went with that music was immediately apparent, so it was a case of following along with the tracks and transcribing what they made me see in my head.”
LTW: How did you decide who to work with on this project? Have you all known each other for a while?
JR: “I’ve known Alex from ANTA for a good few years just through online stuff and when I used to write music reviews regularly. I’ve been a fan of Anton’s work since I first heard Shadow Of The Bloodstained Kiss ten years or so ago. So, being asked to work with ANTA and Anton was something I was completely up for even before I heard the tracks.”
LTW: When and where did you record the album?
AM: “First rehearsals began in August 2015 at Joe’s Studio (Joe’s Garage) in Bristol. Recording took place in 2016 and mixing was done a couple of years later. As you can imagine the project was quite ambitious and we all had work and life related things slowing the process. I moved countries a few times for example. But as I mentioned, I’m always happy to let a project be what it wants to be and thankfully we didn’t abandon it which I think says a lot as to our faith in it.”
LTW: Grand conceptual pieces like this went through a time of being derided in the late 70s yet there seems to be a resurgence in artists using the LP format to tell a full narrative. Why do you think this is especially as we now live in the age of Spotify and playlists where like the 50s and early 60s the single is the dominant force.
AM: “I’m not an expert in what is popular by any stretch of the imagination but from what I see and hear a lot of it is very surface level and to a certain extent I can understand the need for that sugar fix and even the desire for things to be simple, but I’m sure also that there must be the desire for something deeper that people can sink their teeth into. For example I used to only find time to read when I was on the road, but in the last few years, mostly born of frustration from all those prestige TV shows that simply do not fucking end, I decided I would read more at home and watch more strange films and once I started doing that I definitely began feeling a lot more satisfied from my media consumption. I can only assume I’m not the only one who has this need for something more.”
JR: “Because the record was always very much a soundtrack in everyone’s head, there was already this understanding that there was a narrative running through the whole thing. We were all always looking at the album as a whole from day one, but that never really felt like a High Concept thing; it was just the way it was. Then each track being a chapter in a story just made sense to us all.I love listening to soundtracks by Steve Moore, Goblin, Carpenter … all the usual suspects when I’m writing, but I don’t have to watch the films at the same time to enjoy them. All we’ve done with Church of the Second Sun is reverse the normal order of things: its not the music from the Motion Picture, its the story from the music. You can enjoy them separately if you choose, but that’s the whole package we’ve put together. That’s how it all fits together.”
LTW: Science Fiction has often been a way of telling current social and sociopolitical stories with themes and points of view often hidden in plain sight. Are there any floating under the surface here? I seemed to spot a environmental theme.
JR: “Since the novelette is only 8,000 words long I don’t want to give too much away, but yeah, the future that’s portrayed in the story has all of its roots firmly planted in where we are now.”
LTW: They way you’ve managed to sync up the emotional elements of the story with the music is wonderful, there were moments when I was reading / listening where I was getting really stressed on behalf of the characters, was that a hard thing to get right? It must have been a fine balancing act to get the two mediums (story / music) as synced as they are?
JR: “It wasn’t planned that the story would literally sync up with the music originally, but it just started to happen because of the way I was writing it. I sat and made notes about when each of the changes occurred in the music, writing down the times each section began and ended and noting what kind of mood those changes had. Soon I realized that, to make the changes happen in the text at roughly the correct times, I’d have to work out how fast people were supposed to be reading. When I realized that 33.3 words per minute worked really well I thought “that’s just too perfect, I’m going to have to fully commit to this now”. So I drove myself a bit mad after that. I’ve got a couple of notebooks full of second by second annotations of the tracks which I worked from. Once you’ve got the speed right and you’re reading along there’s a real sense of propulsion, which I really like. You’re interacting with the music because you’re effectively performing your own scripted part of it to yourself and, in the same way as if you were playing an instrument, you can’t stop. You’ve just got to keep going. It’s relentless.”
LTW: How do you see this project connecting with people? What do you hope an audience get from it?
AM: “With all my albums I hope that it fires off something in their imagination and they go on a weird trip to a place they hadn’t dared go before.”
LTW: The album / book is being released by Death Waltz who are known for their brilliant soundtrack releases. Was it important for you to work with a label predominantly known for those kind of releases? I guess by doing so you can move people away from any lazy assumptions/preconceptions. Is that fair to say?
AM:”I’ve been working with Death Waltz since 2012 over various releases. They understand my ideas and allow me to release unusual projects. Given the scope of this release it would have been almost impossible to have done it without them. And for that I am eternally grateful.
LTW: Any future plans for the project?
AM: “We discussed at length doing a joint tour with us performing some of the tracks from the album together at one point, but as you can imagine Covid put a stop to that. Never say never though, we could always revisit this in a few years. I’m very curious as to how the album-tour cycle will look like in the next few years.”
And then they were gone…
In a time of circling tension and a constant drip feed of anxiety escapism to a mythical future is most welcome and with Church of the Second Sun Antoni Maiovvi, ANTA and John Reppion have laid down a path for our minds to travel away from the real and in to the land of sci-fi and the fantastical. Its grand scheme is to be celebrated and enjoyed so don your capes and drop your preconceptions…enjoy the ride.
Church of the Second Sun is now available via Mondo Death Waltz
John Reppion can be found via Twitter @johnreppion