Interview: John Revelle on Liverpool, Bear’s Den and his debut solo EP

How a trustafarian trip to Mexico lead to a brotherly relationship with producer James Wyatt.

If you are not sure whether you have heard the name John Revelle, you may be more familiar with Joey Haynes, the ex-member of London-based folk-rock band Bear’s Den, who were nominated for various music awards, including AMAUK Artist Of The Year. In fact, they are one and the same person and Americana UK’s Martin Johnson asked John Revelle why he used aliases and what Liverpool means to this Norwegian-born, but London-based musician. John Revelle also talks about the relationship-based songs on his first solo EP ‘It Was Always Too Late’ which channels the spirits of Neil Young, Jeff Buckley and Ryan Adams, the challenges of starting a solo career during a pandemic and leaving London for Norway to save money on rent during lockdown. It is also clear that John Revelle has very fond memories of his time with Bear’s Den and has nothing but admiration for his old bandmates. Even though Bear’s Den managed to crack the Top 50 UK Albums Chart, the financial challenges of starting a solo career are also very real and clearly explained. 

How are you, I hope you and your family and friends are all OK and coping with the challenges of COVID? 

Hello! My family and close friends have fortunately been spared the worst ravages of the pandemic, although I know a lot of my musician friends are struggling financially.

Before we get into the interview proper, what is behind your various aliases? 

Joey Haynes started as a sort of in-joke in Bear’s Den, but then it was suddenly the name used in the album credits on the first EP, and it subsequently grew into a kind of character. It was actually a bit liberating and allowed me to lean into certain parts of my personality a bit more. But with the passing of the denim cut-offs and the trucker hats, so too passed Joey Haynes. As for John Revelle, I guess it remains to be seen what surprises he’s got up his sleeves.

You studied music in Liverpool for three years. How much has your time in Liverpool influenced your subsequent music?

During my three years in Liverpool, I developed a deep and enduring affection for the city and its people. I think the main thing most people take away from performing arts schools is the connections they make. Meeting like-minded people from different parts of the world who are all pulling in more or less the same direction is great, and in a business where who you know can be just as important as what you know, that can be invaluable.

What did Bear’s Den mean to you and why did you leave the band? 

To this day, I’m still learning the extent of what Bear’s Den meant for me and my development, both as a musician and as a human being, and I will be forever grateful to Kev and Davie for taking me in, showing me the ropes and giving me a chance to contribute to the band. I don’t think I fully appreciated their generosity of spirit, support and faith in me at the time, and I know I wasn’t always the easiest to work with. But in short, it was the first time I felt like I was given a chance to really express myself musically in a band setting, with bandmates who were endlessly supportive, encouraging and patient. We also did a lot of hard yards and muddy miles together, and that forges a very special bond. I have undying love and affection for those guys.

Leaving the band was a step in the process of realising I wanted and needed to do my own thing. As much as I love them, Davie writes songs from such a personal and vulnerable perspective that it’s not really a situation where you try to shoehorn your “brilliant” idea for a pre-chorus in there.

You did some travelling after leaving Bear’s Den. What did you get out of it and did it influence ‘It Was Always Too Late’? 

Without wanting to sound too much like a gap year trustafarian, I do find traveling very inspiring. But I think it’s just as much about being away from your everyday life as to where you happen to find yourself. Obviously, the places you see and people you meet are going to shape your music, but it’s just as much about the distance you get to your own life and the break from all the distractions. Traveling allows for purity of thought and clarity of purpose, it breaks up the monotony of everyday life and gives you space to think and something to contrast your own experience with.

How did you hook up with producer James Wyatt and what did he bring to the recording process? 

Well, even though we were both based in London, we met on a beach in Baja, Mexico, (we actually met at LAX and carpooled down to Baja, but that doesn’t sound as romantic) so that’s another major influence traveling had on the EP. Wyatt was everything to the recording process, both literally and figuratively. He was the best catalyst, midwife, problem-solver, musician, engineer, technician, producer, arranger, pal and confidant anyone could ask for. In addition to all of his musical skills and know-how, he’s also an incredibly supportive, encouraging and positive presence. I was basically hoping to record a couple of demos of myself playing guitar and singing, and I ended up realising the far-fetched dream I’d had of hearing the songs with a full band, including organs, fiddles and a horn section. Wyatt is like a brother to me, and if I wouldn’t take a bullet for him, I’d definitely take a soft gun pellet.

How and where did you record the EP? 

Recording the EP ended up being a somewhat time-consuming and piecemeal affair. We started out by hiring a countryside Airbnb for a week, just the two of us, and then things sort of grew organically from there. We then started recording in Wyatt’s home studio, which has been described as ‘cosy’, ‘space efficient’ and ‘minuscule’ by people who know what they’re talking about. Wyatt is a sought-after man, so we would have to schedule sessions whenever he wasn’t on tour or otherwise preoccupied, which was probably a good thing, as it allowed me to grow more comfortable and confident with my singing and playing. We had to hire a bigger studio for a couple of days to get drums and the horns recorded, but apart from that, most of the stuff on the EP was recorded in Wyatt’s cavernous 50 sq feet studio.

Did you have a particular vision for the EP or is it simply a collection of available songs? 

We actually recorded more songs than ended up on the EP, so there is another EP in the works. The songs that ended up on ‘It Was Always Too Late’ were written over a period of several years, but they’re all thematically related. They all describe various stages of a relationship and its aftermath.

You are releasing ‘It Was Always Too Late’ independently. Why release it now and what are you hoping for in terms of sales and coverage? 

I was originally hoping to release it in 2020, but the pandemic fooled with my best-laid plans. I wanted to wait until I could support the release with as much touring as possible, but in the end, it felt wrong sitting on a finished EP any longer, so I finally decided to just put it out and try to make the best of it.

I don’t really have any set goals in terms of sales (do people buy music anymore?) or coverage, just the more, the better. Slightly more seriously, the goal is for the EP to allow me to start playing gigs and touring, and hopefully facilitate more recordings in the future which then would lead to more gigs and touring, etc. I really hope that the songs will connect with some people out there, despite their rather personal and at times specific nature. The dream is that I’ve been able to tap into something universal through my own experiences.

Are you looking to recover the costs for ‘It Was Always Too Late’ or is it just a matter of getting some new material out for your fans? 

Even though it was recorded on a bit of a shoestring budget, I still think it would be incredibly optimistic to expect to recover the costs. The hope is that it gives me a foundation to build something from. As for fans, having some would be fantastic.

What is it like spending your time between the UK and Norway? 

I’d been living in London for 10 years until last summer, and only moved back to my native Norway in an attempt to save some money. When it became clear that the pandemic would not be over in a matter of months, paying London rent without getting any of the benefits of living in London felt like throwing money out the window.  So I’ve only been in Norway, which has also seen several lengthy lockdowns, for a year, but I don’t know if this last year counts as living anywhere, really. Hasn’t everyone just been confined to their homes, pretty much?

Do you think the fallout from Brexit will impact your future touring plans? 

Being Norwegian, I’m fortunate in the sense that I can still tour and travel freely within the EU. I’ve also been granted settled status in the UK. But if I wanted to bring along a UK musician on a European tour, for instance, that would probably be prohibitively expensive now. And vice versa, if I wanted to bring someone from Europe to the UK for shows. So personally, I’ve been lucky, but it’s having a huge negative impact on so many artists and musicians.

How Disciplined are you in your approach to songwriting? 

Hah. I’m fairly critical of my own work, and it can be a real challenge to stay in the creative space and not engage my critical faculties while I’m working on a song, which inevitably leads to relatively paralysing bouts of self-loathing. It also often takes me a long time to finish songs, often months and sometimes years. I feel like I’ve gotten better at trusting in the process, where I can work on songs for hours without seeing any tangible progress or results, but trust that the wheels are in motion and the gears are grinding away somewhere in the subconscious.

Who are your go-to influences? 

I love so many different styles of music, and I always find it hard to narrow it down. I’m not sure you can tell how much I love Tupac, the 1975, Sufjan Stevens or M83 from my music, for instance. For this EP, I think the main influences are Neil Young, Jeff Buckley, Ryan Adams, and several people in Norway have pointed out the similarities to a Norwegian rock band called BigBang, who I listened to a lot in my twenties. But I could easily also mention people like Kurt Vile, Cigarettes After Sex, Warren Zevon and John Martyn.

How important has AMAUK been to your career to date? 

Since this is my first release as a solo artist, I’ve mostly interacted with AMAUK as a listener and audience member, but I’ve had some great nights at AMAUK shows in London and have been exposed to loads of great music on their Instagram and social media accounts. I’m looking forward to future collaborations and interactions.

There is a big debate around streaming and music royalties. What is your view on streaming from an artist’s perspective?

I think the cat’s out of the bag, and the world has irrevocably changed, so I don’t think there’s much use in reminiscing about the good, old days. I think there’s actually plenty of money in streaming, the real question is whose pockets does it end up in? History has shown us that capitalism is very good at extracting surplus value, but usually not to the benefit of the creators. With a more equitable distribution of the wealth created, I think a lot more very talented musicians, bands and artists could reap the just rewards of the art they’ve created and make a living from their vocation.

What are your plans for 2021/22? 

Playing as many live shows as possible, writing and recording more music, hopefully having some beers with long-lost friends.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist? 

Probably revealing how out-of-touch I am here, but these are three perennial summer favourites Loudon Wainwright III ‘The Swimming Song’, Bo Kaspers Orkester ‘Semester’, Stan Getz, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim ‘Desafinado’.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?

Stay safe, keep enjoying music and hopefully see you on the road somewhere soon.

John Revelle’s ‘It Was Always Too Late’ is out now on Well Kept Records.

About Martin Johnson 127 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

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