aBOUT THE BAND
aBOUT THE BAND
To really grasp the concept of BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS – Warmrain’s debut album – it’s important to understand Leon J Russell’s philosophy on life.
“I believe that we all come from a source energy and that source energy has a frequency of vibration,” the multi-instrumentalist explains. “As you grow older, that vibration becomes affected – distorted – by life and by circumstances. As a child, your feelings, your thoughts, these are the real you: they are you before you get influenced by your family, by society, by teachers, and before everything gets shaped, clipped off, inhibited, and so on. There then becomes a void, as people start to live vicariously through their heroes; attention is focussed outside of themselves. What you need is a reconnection with the child within, a means to shift your perception back inside yourself and reconnect with the core aspect of your being which you’ve not really had a dialogue with for years. So the irony within BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS is that the man should be the stronger character, and the child should be protected by the man; but in terms of this story it’s the other way round, and this brings about a process of healing and thereby self-fulfilment.”
WARMRAIN originally came to the fore in 2011 with an EP called ABSENT FRIENDS and a debut gig at the High Voltage festival in Victoria Park, London. Described in Prog magazine as “a thoughtful calling card… A stately affair that shows some Floyd influences,” ABSENT FRIENDS featured three songs (‘Flying Dreams’, ‘Good To Belong’ and ‘Run To The Sun’) alongside the title track and was recorded by guitarist Matthew Lerwill, bassist Simon Bradshaw and drummer Steve Beatty, with Russell undertaking guitar and vocal duties. An interview in Prog magazine in December 2011 noted that “there’s been some pressure building on them to complete their first full-length record, a concept album to be called BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS next year,” although Russell pointed out in the feature that it wouldn’t be finished until it was ready. “Taking enough time is important,” he noted. “All that urgency and desperation you experience as a twenty-one-year-old has gone.” That said, even he probably didn’t think it would take this long to complete the album.
“For me, BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS is a healing tool. Every single person can relate to this – there isn’t one single person who doesn’t know what it feels like to experience loss."
“I think it’s just life,” he explains. “Firstly, we’re all older, so the people around us are all older too, and we’re dealing with something of such a sensitive nature. During the process of making the record both of my parents got cancer, Matt’s dad died, Simon’s mum and dad died, so we’ve all had life-changing experiences, and you can’t then just say ‘hey, do you fancy going back into the studio and cracking on with that record that’s about heart-breaking loss?’ So it was put on the back burner in certain respects. To my mind there’s a lot of benefit in putting something down for a while and coming back to it. There’s some stuff I’m doing in the studio that I haven’t listened to for a week or so; I’ve put it back on now and I immediately know what to do with it next: change this, drop that in there, move that, and so on. So it is very much part of the way I work to take a breather from stuff and let it re-present itself, and listen to it with fresh ears. That gives you a fresh perspective. So that, coupled with the tragedies around us, has lengthened the process somewhat.
“I’ve actually just tracked the second album,” he continues. “It’s all ready, I’ve recorded the demos and I was listening to the songs one day and I realised that there’s a story there: if I shuffle that bit around, and then I put that there, a theme presented itself to me. And that’s exactly what happened with BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS. For twenty-odd years I’ve always had a concept album on the go and it’s morphed from one thing to another without me being happy with either the musical content or subject matter or something that prevented me from bringing it to fruition. I started a batch of songs, and as I started to go through them I began this process of moving things around and came up with the album. I reckon it took about eight or ten years in total.”
"that’s what this is about: it’s trying to help people, it’s more than just the music"
It hasn’t been time wasted. Recorded by the same line-up as the EP with the exception of Russell playing the drums as well ("Steve has far too much else to do," he explains) BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS is a huge, intense piece of work, a 90 minute double album of uplifting beauty. Asked to describe it in one sentence, Russell suggests: “The documentation of one person’s journey back to themselves, triggered by the catalyst of heart-breaking loss.” Russell says that the album is based on a true story, “adapted to appeal to everyone.” In many ways there is an element of autobiography, although he is quick to point out that it’s “a bit of a fabrication” to see it as purely autobiographical.
“For me, BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS is a healing tool. Every single person can relate to this – there isn’t one single person who doesn’t know what it feels like to experience loss. It’s massive, and it’s a game changer. Some part, some spark, is suddenly gone, and you need to find a way to deal with that. And that’s what this is about: it’s trying to help people. And it’s more than just the music. It’s my vision to release this as almost a universal healing aid by putting together a trans-media project whereby the story is told by different media; what I want to do is allocate an interpretation of the concept to different social media platforms, seeing the people who use those platforms as separate communities who can then be led from whichever platform to a hub site where maybe they will like or engage with the music. And even if they don’t like the music – it won’t be everyone’s taste – the subject matter will still resonate with them and perhaps they will engage instead with the photographs or the text or the infographics. It’s more about trying to reach as many people as possible because I feel that people can benefit from this, and maybe not feel so alone. The working title I have for this is A Polymorphic Luminosity Project.”
"It’s more about trying to reach as many people as possible because I feel that people can benefit from this, and maybe not feel so alone."
Although there is a fixed story running through the album there is what Russell calls “an elasticity to the way that you would perceive the time-line. The person who lived through this kept a series of journals and each day documented the thoughts and feelings he was experiencing, and the concept is that all the songs are extracts from the journals – someone has gone through them all and cherry-picked the most poignant and articulate moments that capture the shifts between this person’s feelings and emotions. However, the opening song ‘Fading Star’ is Friday 13th and the following track is ‘Absent Friends’, Thursday 9th. But at no point does it say what month or year; and by not specifying the exact date it leaves it to the listener to decide how long it took this person to get to the end of this process.”
Two songs from the first WARMRAIN EP ‘Absent Friends’ and ‘Flying Dreams’ both make a fresh appearance on BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS, although they are, in Russell’s words, “presented very differently. We only had a short time in the studio when we recorded ABSENT FRIENDS so we didn’t get to do a lot of stuff on the EP, production-wise, which we would have liked. Obviously when we did the album we could rectify this and take more time to create more feeling. Between the first and the second disc of BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS, because the person reaches a point of resolution by the end of the first disc, there’s a lot of tension that’s gone from them – both in the character and the music. So when we start the second disc it’s coming from a place of, well, not complete peace yet but it’s less tense. So with the new version of ‘Flying Dreams’ I put a lot more atmospherics into it and a lot more layers… I was very conscious of presenting the songs differently this time around without ‘invalidating’ the EP. I didn’t want people thinking ‘oh, not this one again’!” he laughs.
"I fell in love with the sound immediately – beautifully crafted songs that put me in the mind of all my Seventies’ rock heroes."
Although the material was conceived and written by Russell, he freely admits that without his collaborators WARMRAIN would not exist. His friendship and working relationship with bassist Simon Bradshaw goes back over twenty-five years. At the beginning of WARMRAIN Bradshaw chose to take a step back from the equal partnership that they had shared in previous bands in order to facilitate and support Russell’s evolution as a songwriter. Instead, he built a home studio (Studio B) and it was there that the band’s material came together. Similarly, Russell and previous drummer Steve Beatty have been close friends for over twenty years. “We went to see a performance of ‘Quadrophenia’ in Brighton by the amazing tribute band ‘Who’s Who’ and afterwards Steve asked me what I was doing musically,” remembers Russell. “So I played him the track ‘Absent Friends’ and he was totally blown away. He asked if he could play the drums and our unnamed duo instantly became an unnamed three-piece!” It was Beatty who then introduced Matthew Lerwill to the band.
“I’ve known Leon for about twenty years, and we had a mutual friend in Steve Beatty,” recalls Lerwill. “I’d played in a couple of bands with Steve and he told me about Leon’s project, and that he may be looking for a guitarist. I’ve always known Leon from a heavier background as we played in metal bands; however, Steve knew how much I like the sort of thing that Leon had been putting together so he put my interest forward and had Leon send me some stuff. I received the demo of ‘Absent Friends’ first off which was pretty comprehensive as it had strings and keyboards and backing vocals and sounded great. I fell in love with the sound immediately – beautifully crafted songs that put me in the mind of all my Seventies’ rock heroes. There were also some acoustic demos that were more bare-boned.”
“Matt’s contribution to the band was immediate and profound”
Having recently had an operation on his hand, Lerwill was in no position to play immediately, but agreed to meet up. “I loved the sound and the idea, and knew I could deliver what was being asked of me, which as I understood it was being a ‘hook man’. The songs did not require blistering lead breaks and slashing volume and speed, just gentle polishing in the form of the occasional simple hook. I’ve always had a respect for the simple hook creators, and have always been able to identify a hook within and find its ideal placement, so went back to Leon with some lead guitar ideas that didn’t require the material to be transformed too much – just something to complement what he already had. Leon liked these and offered me more and more material, and we continued this process and became very comfortable playing together. Then I realised I was in the band!”
“Matt’s contribution to the band was immediate and profound,” says Russell. “The ‘Absent Friends’ demo came in at just over four minutes, and Simon had laid down a basic, short guitar solo. Matt’s approach to the electric guitar and melodies and hooks influenced and soon shaped the song beyond recognition to the point where it now weighs in at eight minutes with a four-minute solo and very much set the precedent for things to come. Admittedly, some of the other tracks were already a similar length, but the tone had been set for the music to be allowed the platform to breathe and for the soundscapes to play out without being against the clock. Matt is uber-protective of the origins of the songs and never allows the core of the song to be drowned out during the overlaying of the added elements that follow the initial conception.”
"What warm rain symbolises to me is nature’s baptism, the feeling of the warmth of the sun while being rained upon – the combination of those two wonderful elements from the natural world."
“I guess I’m just always mindful of how things come across the first time,” explains Lerwill. “The first time I heard ‘Absent Friends’ I was blown away. I didn't think ‘OK, it just needs this and that and re-jigging and then it will be perfect’ – I believe things can be perfect or near as dammit in their original conception. If you have an idea that can benefit from expansion or change then fine, but in changing something for the sake of it when you almost have it perfect would rob people of the way I felt when I first heard it, and, given the way I felt on hearing the demos of the tracks, I would want people to experience what I experienced, as it was quite moving. So, when it comes time to expand on any original ideas it’s done with great attention from me and however good those additional ideas may be, I think it’s understood that if it detracts from the original magic then we strip back to find the route of that magic and try to expand on it appropriately, or not at all.”
WARMRAIN also have Steve Beatty to thank for naming the band. “The sixth song on the record is called ‘New Dawn’, although it was originally ‘Warm Rain’. What warm rain symbolises to me is nature’s baptism, the feeling of the warmth of the sun while being rained upon – the combination of those two wonderful elements from the natural world. Anyway, Steve saw the song title and said ‘that’s the band name’ and that was that, really. I think people like Motörhead can get away with tracks having the same name as the band, but I just didn’t feel that worked for me, so when the title was chosen for the band I just waited for the right title for the song to present itself to me, and so the song eventually became ‘New Dawn’.”
HERE COMES THE RAIN AGAIN EP
An EP featuring a sublime interpretation of Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain Again will precede the album on 17 May. This non-album edit of the song features guest musicians Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett) on drums and mixer and co-producer John Mitchell playing keyboards, and will be accompanied by a sumptuous 4K video, shot at Dorchester Abbey on 20 February.
The EP is completed by three non-album tracks Shadow-Line Paradigm, Keep Going and Clock Watching Pt.1, Pt.2 & Pt.3 written specifically for the release and these feature WARMRAIN’s new line-up with bassist Dom Ladd and drummer Jon McSwiney lining up alongside Russell and Lerwill. The full seven-minute version of Here Comes The Rain Again will be included on BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS as a bonus track.
"it took me twenty-five emails to eventually convince the people at the Abbey that nothing Satanic was going to happen!"
“The video was great fun to shoot,” recalls Russell. “It was very grand, the director and crew were excellent and the people at Dorchester Abbey were very helpful indeed. The director put a loose narrative together based upon his storyboarding – a storm builds outside, lightning hits the abbey roof and a hole in the roof causes the rain to fall onto the band as the song reaches its crescendo.
“It’s a stunning setting, truly epic,” he continues, “but it took me twenty-five emails to eventually convince the people at the Abbey that nothing Satanic was going to happen, nothing irreverent, we wouldn’t be sacrificing a goat at any point!” – another laugh – “even to the point that the arch deacon was concerned that the lyrics ‘I want to dive into your ocean’ might have sexual connotations. I think that after a few emails many people might have given up. But I stick at things. That’s what I do. I see things through to the end. And twenty-five emails later we got an amazing venue to shoot the video in.”
"I stick at things. That’s what I do. I see things through to the end"
And thanks to Russell’s persistence, WARMRAIN also have an amazing album to showcase.
Here Comes The Rain Again is set for release on 17 May on Rain Recordings [RAIN001MCD], distributed by Plastic Head, with BACK ABOVE THE CLOUDS [RAIN002CD] following on 7 June. A vinyl version of the double CD will be made available later in the year, as will a re-issue of the band’s original ABSENT FRIENDS EP.
John Tucker March 2019