It’s a rare treat to get to witness a group of very talented artists get together and really begin their path toward legendary-status. That is exactly what one does while checking out Manchester’s Black Sonic Revolver right now.
Black Sonic Revolver is the brainchild of mastermind and overall-great guy, Leon James Kenny. While Kenny is a verifiable one-man-band, BSR’s current line up of astral rockers includes James Elvin on guitar, Joe Nicholson also on guitar, Daniel Earnshaw on keys/synth/percussion/backing vocals, Joel Riley on bass and Jason Hanley on drums (while Kenny sings and plays guitar as well).
Playing a furious acidic rock that sounds at times like The Sonics meet 90s Brian Jonestown Massacre, BSR blast with a searing energy that can rip your head clean off. Righteous guitars, manic drums, swirling organ, hallucinogenic effects, and mesmerizing vocals that paint illustrious lyrics all exist within every song. Their stage antics are just as memorable and wonderfully unhinged as their music (tales of Kenny leaping over a canal during an outdoor gig have been drifting about during the last few months). What more proof does one need that this band is good? For me, this is quite enough. As The BJM said, “take my money, take my time, take my sistuh, I don’t mind!!”
With that said, I spoke a few months ago with Leon James Kenny and had one of the most memorable conversations of my life.
NOTE: If you know what’d good for you and your ears and you want to expand your mind some, follow these instructions: 1) Read this interview. 2) Check out every single available audio and video clip that exists of Black Sonic Revolver. 3) Go see them live. 4) Dedicate yourself to their releases for life. 5) Find a way to repeat all of these steps. Seriously, if you miss these guys, you are really missing out on something truly wonderful.
Now on to the interview!!
RCU: How would you sum up your experience thus far as a band?
LJK: A journey.
But then again, that’s how I always kinda wanted it. Black Sonic Revolver is just as much a band as it is a movement to unite people from all walks of life through music. Bring people together. We’re currently starting that with a whole host of bands around Manchester and further afield (I’ll mention more on that a little later!), as well as ordinary music lovers that don’t play instruments and aren’t in bands, and just love music and life itself and wanna come together and do something cool.
The gigs have been great, it was difficult to find the right people to join the band, and at first I just kinda threw people together in order to play, but now, since January, there’s a bunch of very talented and creative people on board who are great to be around and really up for anything and it really is incredible to be a part of this band.
Other than that we’ve had gigs with Tom Hingley of the Inspiral Carpets, I was main support as a solo performer for John Power of The La’s and Cast (you American’s should get on those 2 bands if you haven’t already!), Chris Helme of The Seahorses, Victor Brox, Proud Mary. These are really great shows to have played considering how new this band is. So I’m very proud.
RCU: How did the band come into being?
LJK: I was playing a few different instruments in a few different bands, but I found that a lot of these “musicians” on the underground scene who I was in bands with were so full of themselves, arrogant and thought they were better than everybody else. That’s not the attitude that I wanted to be around. It was boring. I want music to be about togetherness, not who’s “better” than who. I appreciate all kinds of music, and if something “isn’t quite my thing” so to speak, I will most often find something in it that I can appreciate and applaud.
I love music. I love people. This isn’t a competition with me, I write songs to get things off my mind, I create music because I love to do that. Now I’ve found the perfect people to go forth on the BSR mission with me, that all feel the same as I do, WE do those things together, not to compete, not even for an audience, we do it for ourselves, because we love it. That’s what music should be about.
So that is why I started Black Sonic Revolver, I had a few things on my mind that I wanted to put into songs, and was sick of everyone else around at the time acting like a bunch of divas, trouble causers, back stabbers and wannabe rock stars.
Down with that sort of thing! (Father Ted reference. For those that don’t know, it was an Irish comedy series)
RCU: What’s the philosophy of Black Sonic Revolver?
LJK: To make music that we love, show love and respect for each other and everybody else, to make the very best of ourselves as people and musicians, and for myself personally to write lyrics that have a meaning or a personal meaning to myself, as I prefer that than just random lyrics that rhyme or whatever……… but we’ll see if I’m still saying that if I ever run out of things to say. Which probably won’t happen!
RCU: What’s the most important thing to you guys when you record?
LJK: We’ve not recorded just yet, so we have no idea! We’re hoping to do some in April. On the demos I’m the only person that plays on any of the songs, apart from the drums on “The Way That I Do” which was a lad called Dan Baldwin. All but one of the 6 tracks on Soundcloud were just done in my house to give the world a rough idea.
RCU: Describe a typical recording session solo and as a group.
LJK: Get all the gear out and set everything up! Because you never know when you just wanna jump on a keyboard, bass, percussion, etc. Then what I like to do is just make it up as I go along, unless of course something has been written on an acoustic or whatever, then I know where I’m going. A lot of the time I will just make everything up and play all the instruments. That’s exactly what the Soundcloud songs are, only Sometimes was written before I hit “Record” on any of those.
There’s many more songs, all demo’d and backed up on my computer in full format that will never see the light of day, because now there’s 5 other very talented individuals in the band the songs are now better and we wanna do them in a studio.
RCU: Describe a typical concert solo and as a group.
LJK: I usually end up playing from half way up a speaker stack!
No, there’s no “typical concert” when it comes to Black Sonic Revolver I’m afraid. If you can dream it, then it can happen! The thing is, we’re caught in that moment. Nothing but the songs are rehearsed, so the way we behave is the way that we feel. It’s real.
There’s not been too many gigs yet as we’re a newish band, but I’ve climbed up to a few high places and played guitar and sung from up near the ceiling, been jumping off stuff, we kicked all the gear over and made loadsa mad noises with guitars and stuff at the end of a show one time, just for fun. We came off and people were saying to us “Wow. That was SOME ending!” Which was really cool, just as long as people watching enjoy it, and people like to see 6 (7, 8, 9… depending on who we get on stage with us!) crazy people playing music and doing mad things I guess…
It’s all in good fun, we’re not trying to be anything other than who we are. We just do whatever we feel like and put on a bit of a show, without actually meaning to really…
RCU: What are some of the highs and lows so far for the band?
LJK: The HIGHEST so far, and the one I am most proud of was actually a solo acoustic show, as the main support act for Liverpool legend John Power in London. Now, let me tell you. John Power has been in TWO of THE MOST legendary bands to have ever come out of Britian. He was bassist in The La’s and later songwriter and frontman of Cast. I had some of this guy’s records in my collection before I was even a teenager!
So, years down the line to be his main support in front of a sold out venue, on my own, in London, and then getting to party with him and have a few beers with him afterwards in his dressing room, while chatting to him about music, life, pots of tea… was just truly amazing for me. It’s the best thing I’ve done in music full stop, not just BSR. Black Sonic Revolver was also on the ticket under his name. I nicked some stubbs from the door as a keepsake! That was cool as well.
RCU: What are your earliest musical memories?
LJK: My Uncle Pete is 10 years older than me, and growing up lived on the next street, so would always be looking after me. My other uncle is 25 years older than me and 15 older than Pete. So as you can see, myself and Our Pete are much more like brothers than we were Uncle and Nephew.
Now, I tell you this, because if it was left to my Mum I’d have been listening to Deacon Blue as a kid! And we wouldn’t have wanted that now, would we?
So Our Pete’s going through his teenage years when I’m starting to discover music and I’d be playing with my toys and he’d go “Shut up and show some respect. John Lennon’s on VH1″… To which I’d be like “John what?” and I remember the Imagine video from that moment. It was in my gran’s living room, I was behind his chair probably doing his head in.
Apart from that he used to play me a lot of stuff and the first album I ever owned was in 1994 when I was 7 years old and it was Definitely Maybe by Oasis.
Over the next year or two I was getting albums by Blur, Supergrass, Stone Roses, Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene, Kula Shaker, The La’s, Nirvana, The Seahorses… and it just went from there.
I was always gutted when Pete would go out to gigs with his mates and I was far too young, and he always promised me we’d go to gigs together, and now we do, and he comes to watch me play on the same stage as some of the people he was going to watch back then, it’s crazy!
I owe everything I do musically to him.
RCU: What’s the musical landscape of Manchester currently?
LJK: There’s some great bands in Manchester at the minute and some great people doing great things. It is a blessing to be from Manchester I find, we live in a big city, rich with musical history and the biggest thing other than football here is music, so it’s not too bad at all.
That said, as there’s so many places, so many bands, so much to do, there’s then so much music for people to choose from. So you end up meeting a great band / solo artist or whatever, that’s from where we’re from, but we’ve just not crossed paths yet. Missed connections and all that. But it’s a great place to be from, and there’s good things for us here as musicians and music lovers. Plus no band ever tours Britian without playing Manchester, so I’m glad of that too!
RCU: What environment provides you with the most inspiration?
An active environment. I couldn’t write or be creative on a plane or whatever, I’ve tried. I have to be prepared, because inspiration hits me at the most inconvenient of times mostly!
LJK: What drink would pair best with BSR’s music?
Jack Daniels and Coke. Definitely.
RCU: What sort of images are conjured up when you play your own music, or that you’d like to have conjured up by listeners?
LJK: I guess that’s hard to say, because I fully understand what my lyrics are about. I’ve played the songs and demo’d them countless times now, so I should imagine I would view it a lot differently than someone that’s not been recording it and listening to it bit by bit for 5 hours straight or whatever.
I’d just like people to enjoy the music, the swirly sounds, and to listen to the lyrics. There are some great things being said in the songs that, although mostly personal to myself, are things that I’m sure every one of us as a human being has been through or thought.
RCU: Current 5 desert island disks?
LJK: Ohhhh. Tough one this…
The Dandy Warhols – Dandy’s Rule, Ok?
The Stevenson Ranch Davidians – Psalms Hymns & Spiritual Songs
Brian Jonestown Massacre – Take It From The Man!
The Beatles – Help
and here’s a wild card for you…
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle
RCU: Current 5 albums you’d rather toss into the ocean?
LJK: None! I love music too much to be doing anything like that!
RCU: Favorite record store story?
LJK: Wow, there’s just been so many…
No, I’m kiddin’. I go in, have a look round, buy some cd’s and leave… I don’t know what happens in record stores YOU go in for you to have stories, but I’d sure like to come with you sometime!
RCU: Desert island movies?
LJK: Would I have electricity on this desert island?
To be honest, I’m not the biggest film buff. A few years back my friends found out I’d not seen a load of “classic” films, Scarface was one, can’t really remember the others, so we sat and watched them all in one weekend!
So I wouldn’t be too bothered about taking any to a desert island as such. One film we drilled in the “college years” was Friday. That was a funny film, everyone used to get high and quote lines from it. In fact, a few big 40 odd year old guys tried rob myself and some friends of mine while we were on holiday about 6 years ago, and we defended ourselves, well, I say that, we just kinda put one guy and his arse and ran off! The next morning we were walking for breakfast and we were quoting lines from the film Friday relating it to what happened the night before, mocking it, and out of nowhere this car showed up and started chasing us! Scary stuff when you’re a kid in a foreign country!
RCU: Who’s your favorite revolutionary?
LJK: John Lennon.
RCU: Who speaks the truest truths?
LJK: Me. I wear my heart on my sleeve.
RCU: Who’s your greatest ally?
LJK: My mum, “Annie” as I call her. The midwife told her with a name like Leon James I’m going to become a country musician. I now play slide guitar and harmonica, so she wasn’t too far off! My girlfriend Hannah too. The women in my life look after me and keep me on track.
RCU: What is holy?
LJK: My Gran. She’s like a modern day Saint. I buzz off that woman so much that I went to New York with her and my Grandad and we got hammered on Jack & Coke for 11 nights! My Gran’s always been into cool music as well, from her time, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Cliff Richard & The Shadows. She went to the pictures to watch A Hard Day’s Night. That’s cool that is.
RCU: What is art?
LJK: A creation of some description.
RCU: What’s the most significant?
LJK: Oxygen, Love and Respect. In that order.
RCU: Is there really such a thing as ‘freedom’?
LJK: Yeah, but you’ve gotta work for it first.
RCU: What lies beyond the edge of our universe?
LJK: The next universe.
RCU: Why is reverb so amazing?
LJK: Some things just can’t be explained!
RCU: If reincarnation is real, who are all of you reincarnated from?
LJK: I’ve never thought about that.
I reckon Joe has reincarnated from an American who died during the Prohibition of Alcohol, because he loves his ale that lad!
RCU: Who do you want to hear more from?
LJK: People in general. I have everyone I could ever wish for right now around me, but it’s always nice to hear from new people too.
RCU: and never from again?
LJK: Any pop “Artist” that doesn’t write their own lyrics, music or songs.
RCU: What lyrics, yours or from others, best describes the secret to happiness?
LJK: The 3rd verse of our song “If I Could See Into The Future”
If I could see into the future
What would I see,
And where would I be?
If I knew then,
All the things that I know now,
Would I change time, if I knew how?
That song is all about living for the very moment that we are in. Your life could change forever tomorrow, or in the next 5 minutes… Enjoy life.
RCU: Tell us a joke.
LJK: If I were a stand up comedian, I’d be more like the later days of George Carlin, as apposed to telling you straight “jokes”. I’d be better finding a heckler and going to town on him.
I find that American’s don’t “get” the English humour either a lot of the time, you guys are way more literal, whereas we’re very sarcastic in a lot of what we joke about. I have an American friend in London and I jest with her and she tries to argue the point and I sometimes have to explain that I’m joking! She’s lovely though. I’ll tell you more about her at the end of these questions.
Some of my favourite comedians are American though. George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Dave Chappelle, who I discovered in New York, I love all 3 of those guys.
Speaking on American comedy though, and I know, I’ve gone way off the question here, but on your shows, that canned laughter! What is all that about?!
RCU: A lie.
LJK: I invented the delay pedal.
RCU: a haiku.
LJK: Sorry, Japanese poetry isn’t my strong point I’m afraid!
RCU: Vinyl, CD, tape cassette, 78, MP3, 8-track, Edison Wax cylinder?
I grew up buying a lot of Cassettes though, as I used to take my little walkman to school with me.
RCU: If BSR or each individual member was an astronomical object out in space, what would they be?
LJK: I think we’d all be Stars, not because we think we are or anything, but because we’re good people who look out for each other and those around us.
RCU: If you could have a drink with any political figure from history, who would it be?
LJK: David Cameron.
I would like to ask him…
“Mr Cameron, I have to ask, have you ever thought about saving money for the economy by pulling out of all these stupid little war games?”
RCU: Are strawberry fields forever?
LJK: Most definitely my friend.
RCU: What’s in store for BSR in the near future?
LJK: Going into the studio to demo tracks for our Debut EP. We will then go back into the studio to record it!
RCU: Am I forgetting anything?
LJK: I should think not, we’ve covered quite a few points!
RCU: Is there anything further that you’d like to mention?
LJK: Yes. I want to give a shout out to all my friends who are some of the nicest people on the planet and are really great musicians. Here goes.
The entire cast of Black Sonic Revolver, including myself is..
Leon Kenny – Guitar / Vocals
Joe Nicholson – Guitar
James Elvin – Guitar
Joel Rielly – Bass
Daniel Earnshaw – Keys / Synth / Percussion / Backing Vocals
Jason Hanley – Drums
Daniel also fronts a garage rock band with his brother Ben called Villiers, we’ve started joining each other on stage with myself doing a bit of guitar for Villiers and Ben jumping up with BSR.
My friend Luke Thornton, or “Jackson Wolf-Music” ocassionally plays guitar in BSR and I play harmonica for Jackson Wolf from time to time also. He currently fronts a blues rock band called The Twisted Dolls.
In the very early BSR days I met a band from Hull called The Black Delta Movement, they’re a truly great garage rock / blues rock band. We’re now very good friends and have done a few shows together and planning more, which is going to be amazing!
My before mentioned American friend is a girl called Melissa Clarke, who fronts a band in London now called All American Girl. She’s a really great singer and her band are cooool. Ben, who’s AAG’s guitarist and Melissa both joined me on stage for my last song supporting John Power in London back in January. Ben played guitar and Melissa sung it with me. Another beautiful moment.
Purple Heart Parade are a psychedelic band from Manchester who are pretty far out, shoegazy n that. They’re very interesting to watch live and their front man Peter rivals myself for mad antics! Very nice, cool guys as well.
François Sky is another musician I would like to mention who makes very far out, shoegazy, psychedelic music. I like to put François’ music on and just zone out man! You know, that kinda vibe. It’s great. He’s also been very supportive of BSR and it’s very much appreciated. The guy lives in Berlin, and is originally from Marseille, France, so you know, if we ever make it to play a show in Berlin it would be great to catch him.
(PS: SInce the time of this interview, BSR have recorded a bad ass EP, which you can check out tracks from it here: https://soundcloud.com/black-sonic-revolver)
(P.P.S: Great big thanks to Leon for all of this time, humor, patience and dedication and of course to him and the rest of the guys for such amazing tunes!)