Burnt Belief is the brainchild of two exceptional musicians: guitarist/composer Jon Durant and Porcupine Tree’s bassist Colin Edwin. This post rock-meets-fusion instrumental album marks the second time the two have joined forces to create new musical landscapes. Previously they had worked together on Durant’s 2011 release Dance of the Shadow Planets. For this new collaboration the duo decided to share writing duties and record at three studios, two in the U.S. and one in the U.K. So far, the album has been praised by fans and musicians alike and has opened new stylistic paths for both musicians. In this interview, Durant tell us in detail about this new venture, its impact on their professional relationship, and why they decided to release the album using independent channels.
This album, Burnt Belief, marks the second time that the two of you have worked together. From where did the idea come of putting this album together?
Jon: We’d had a really great response to my album Dance of the Shadow Planets, and the whole ensemble really enjoyed making it. At the start of 2012, Colin and I had been discussing how much we’d like to do more work together, and he suggested I start writing. When I told him I felt like what I was writing sounded too much like “Shadow Planets Part 2” he suggested that we try writing together. So he came up with the idea of taking my “cloud guitar” textures, and running them through a slicer to create rhythmic bits out of the non-rhythmic textures. From there, he’d create the drum programs and bass parts and send them to me to generate melodic ideas.
To what does the name “Burnt Belief” refer?
Jon: Colin came up with the name, and it came from his reading of the book “When Prophecy Fails” by Leon Festinger. We’d both been very interested in belief systems, and how they can take over people’s lives and cause cognitive dissonance between what their beliefs state, and what the scientific facts are.
The album’s music is a sort of Rock/Jazz/Fusion/Electronica. Was that a conscious approach during the writing process?
Jon: Yes, we had discussed that we wanted to include a variety of musical elements. Colin had been very interested in getting more involved in rhythm programming, hence the electronica part of it. Plus we both wanted to humanize that aspect of the music, which is why the electronics are often accompanied by acoustic elements, like piano, 12-string guitar, and ethnic percussion.
Check out the song “Burnt Belief”
Were you open to any specific musical influences while writing and recording this album?
Jon: Yes, that’s something Colin and I very much share. We’re both very interested in bringing lots of different influences together to create something new and different.
You recorded in three studios between the U.S. and the U.K. and exchanged digital files over the Internet. Was that kind of approach an easy process?
Jon: It turned out to be very easy. There are file sharing programs that make it easy to transfer large files, which was a big help. But the biggest thing was that we’d all had enough studio experience to know how to properly format files to make it easy for everyone involved. I sometimes missed the immediacy that we had making Dance of the Shadow Planets, where a quick discussion could yield instant results. Nevertheless, we both found that we’d found a common language and there were very few parts that had to be re-done.
The album cover is very intriguing could you tell more about it and its meaning within the album context?
Jon: Sure. The artwork is my photography, and it’s an extreme close-up images of fire hydrants. I wanted to show mundane items in ways you wouldn’t normally view them. There are lines and curves and decay and all kinds of interesting textures that you wouldn’t normally notice as you walk down the street.
In general terms, there’s a very noticeable spiritual vibe in your music, sometimes flirting with New Age and Ethnic but without losing the Rock element which is what holds everything together. What’s your opinion about it?
Jon: Both Colin and I have tremendous interest in exploring music from other cultures. I have been involved in ambient music for many years, and it’s an integral part of what I do. But it definitely has a rock element, and at times it’s quite hard hitting – especially “Balthasar’s Key” and the end section of “The Weight of Gravity.” The music that has always interested me has crossed genres without ever getting caught up in one or another. This, to me, is what “progressive” music is all about.
Musically, how much does Burnt Belief‘s material differs from Porcupine Tree’s music and Colin’s other music?
Jon: Well, certainly the fact that it’s instrumental makes it different from Porcupine Tree. But there are some similarities as well; specifically the fact that there are strong melodic ideas running through rather than just guitar riffs. The ethnic percussion part of what we do is very different from Porcupine Tree, but similar to what Colin has done on his own CDs, and with his group Ex-Wise Heads.
Basically, you’ve taken the Indie road with the album. It’s been released by the small label Alchemy Records and the album’s distribution is mainly online. Why did you choose this method instead of a bigger more established kind of deal?
Jon: It’s nearly impossible to get a bigger label interested in instrumental music. And it’s also nearly impossible to get traditional retail stores to stock instrumental music, much less pay for it. So we’ve opted instead to go with fewer retail outlets, but at least get paid for the CDs we do sell.
You’ve stated that the album has been designed to be appreciated as a complete experience. However it’s divided in very specific tracks. Can you mention if there is a specific stand-alone track that represents better than others the album’s overall music?
Jon: There are a few tracks that I think represent the big picture. In the middle, the tracks “Balthasar’s Key” and “Uncoiled” paint a very good picture of all the elements contained within the whole record. “Balthasar’s Key” is hard hitting, with great percussion from Jerry Leake, and the excellent flute from Geoff Leigh. “Uncoiled” is a long, mostly ambient piece that builds slowly, with very cool elements like prepared piano, and eventually builds to a big climax at the end. It’s almost Sigur Ros-like in that regard.
Check out the song “Semazen”
How’s been the fans and peers reactions to the album so far?
Jon: We’ve been really pleased with the response so far. I think everyone who has heard it has recognized that both Colin and I stepped away from some comfort zones to create something new. On top of that it is also quite approachable musically so it is fairly easy to appreciate, even if you’re not a musician. Many people have also picked up on the fact that there’s a lot going on, and more is revealed with new listens.
Is there any chance of a new collaboration between the both of you?
Jon: Colin has been producing a group from the Ukraine, called Astarta, who do traditional folk music from that area, but wanted to put it into a modern context. I’ve become involved in that as well, and I anticipate that the CD will be finished this Spring. Down the line, we definitely expect to make more music together – we’ve begun thinking about Burnt Belief as a band, not just a single record.
You have some guest musicians on the album. Is playing live as a band a possibility for you in the future?
Jon: Yes, it looks like there will be some European dates this Summer. We’re just in the process of confirming all of that. We’re also looking at playing some US dates as well, so stay tuned!