Interview: Sermon

The album is about abuses of power. From war, to religion and conversion to suicidal ideation. Everything is wrapped up somewhat in analogy.

Sermon have just released their latest album Of Golden Verse and it is a vast and hypnotic listening experience that sees them reach new sonic heights with this new material. Gavin Brown caught up with Sermon frontman Him to hear all about Of Golden Verse and the making of the album and how the music of Sermon has developed with this second album.

E&D: You have recently released your new album Of Golden Verse. How has it been received so far?

Him: I’ve not seen one bad review, so pretty good I think. We’re somewhat limited by our inability to play a lot of live shows though, which I think is stunting our growth and reaching a wider audience.

E&D: Was the making of the album a smooth process?

Him: It was an absolute bastard. The pandemic halted my fairly smooth writing process. I just couldn’t find the drive to do anything, as at the time it was kind of unknown whether we would ever see normality again. The actual process of recording was semi-enjoyable, I like being around James (Stewart) and Scott (Atkins), bringing the thing from ropey demos, into something more finessed. But recording 4 layers of guitars is just mind-numbing. The whole thing was then made more difficult by there being a backlog of bands recording/releasing records with about 1.5 years delay in vinyl pressing. Needless to say, it’s been pretty shit. That said, I’m proud of how it turned out, but it was agony.

E&D: What are the songs on Of Golden Verse about?

Him: The album is about abuses of power. From war, to religion and conversion to suicidal ideation. Everything is wrapped up somewhat in analogy though, as I didn’t feel it’s particularly helpful to be too literal.

E&D: What have the biggest influences on the sound of the album been?

Him: That’s a good question. I regularly see people saying Tool or Katatonia, but truthfully, it’s more Wovenhand. I just love David Eugene Edwards. I see people calling us a prog band, but aside from liking the old classics like Camel, King Crimson, Magma etc I would say structurally, most of the songs have more in common with pop music than prog. There’s not really a lot on here other than Mellotrons that comes from prog honestly, or at least, not what I think prog is.

E&D: How was it working with James Stewart and Lawrence Jenner on the album and what did they bring to it and its sound?

Him: While I’m somewhat of an island when it comes to songwriting (and like to keep it that way), to make sure the structure remains focused, I really value external input. When you spend years making something, it’s easy to stand too close to the elephant. In other words, all you can see is a bunch of grey wrinkles without seeing what it is, where as if you stood back from it, you’d be able to see it was an elephant again. This is what’s helpful with having external input. I’d like more of it actually, maybe from songwriters.

E&D: What did Scott Atkins bring to the production of the record and how was the experience of working with him?

Him: Scott is great. He’s a trove of knowledge when it comes to recording, but the most valuable thing he does is push the performances of each part. You’re not leaving that studio till you’ve got it right, and while that’s quite arduous for someone as lazy as myself, the results speak for themselves. It takes it from demo to something commercially ready. Also, you spend so much time in a room together, that it sort of becomes a little like therapy. I think we both get on pretty well with each other and I’d always be keen to keep Scott involved with Sermon in the future.

E&D: Do you feel that there is still an air of mystery to Sermon?

Him: Maybe a little? But I’m quite transparent in interviews, not too focused on creating a persona or cult like air around us. This is due to laziness, but also a gut instinct that would be quite hard to communicate with media honestly, which at this stage, is kind of important to us.


E&D: Did you always want this album to be markedly more aggressive than your debut album?

Him: No, not necessarily, it was more natural. It’s a direct reflection of the mood at the time and I think it just fell out of me that way. Although, I have to say, it is my goal/dream to make extreme ideas more listenable. I think there’s a lot of scope in that for future sound, it doesn’t always have to be blastbeats. For example, I think the Mars Volta do a great job of chaotic music, but package it in an accessible way.

E&D: Did you always want to make it as atmospheric as possible?

Him: No, actually. The first album maybe, but I’m not so interested in adding a spacey texture (if that’s what you mean) sat above a bunch of riffing guitars. I do think that contrast of space is important to the song though, it can’t always be guns blazing, it’ll just make the song boring otherwise. Pacing the way the space is filled is a big consideration for me when I’m writing.

E&D: It’s been four years since that first album Birth Of The Marvellous. How has your music grown since then?

Him: I’m not sure, honestly. It’s certainly moved, I don’t think it’s grown particularly in terms of an audience though. It’s quite difficult to make happen on a bare bones budget i.e. not being able to produce a well crafted video or do a tour. It has reached a little outside of the existing audience, but actually not as much as I’d hoped. Perhaps this was just naivety on my part, the reality is that it’s possibly more slow burning.

E&D: As this is your second album, did you feel any pressure at all following up your debut?

Him: Not at all until about 1 month before release. It suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t quite sure if what had been made was actually any good. I’m not writing music for fans at the moment, I’m more doing it to listen to something I don’t think I’ve heard before. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what people think. I completely do and if it was universally shit on, I’d probably not want to continue doing it. But that’s not the reality thankfully, and I haven’t seen any bad reviews yet which is quite a relief.

E&D: Do you have plans for a Sermon live show with this album?

Him: I’ve been trying but I just can’t work out a way to make it financially happen. Also, unlike last time, we haven’t had any offers yet to play anything, which is a shame. But I do think this is partly to all festivals having their lineups filled and also, not quite reaching another level of exposure. It’s a catch 22, as you need to play to expand your reach, I just have no idea how to make it happen.

E&D: Will you be playing a lot of material from Of Golden Verse at the shows?

Him: If it happens, the whole album will be played in full, and if there’s time, some others from the first album.

E&D: Can you tell us about the experience of Sermon playing live?

Him: We’ve only played once, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been on stage. It was playing with Alcest, Opeth and Tesseract at Prog in Park, and I shit myself. After a couple of songs though I feel like we found our flow. It’s a shame the pandemic halted the whole thing, I think we would be a very different band if that hadn’t have happened.

E&D: What have been the most inspiring bands that you have ever seen live?

Him: I remember seeing Opeth’s Lamentations at Shepherd’s Bush when I was 13/14 years old and that was life changing. I think you could single handedly say that it’s responsible for my entire musical existence. Tool were mindblowing too, but in terms of other extraordinary bands I would say: Bohren Und Der Club of Gore for the desensitising atmosphere they conjure, Wovenhand for David Eugene Edwards’ incredibly magnetic, almost possessed performance. Also, I’d say Bon Iver too, a truly magical live experience, the band sounds massive and beautiful.  

E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments from your time in Sermon so far?

Him: I’d say the fact it even happened. It’s a constant risk, both emotionally and fiscally. It’s rewarding when it comes together and I think that we’re making something special, but it is somewhat miraculous that it’s even been released.

Photo by Jack Snell

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