Reef - Summer 2018

Hailing from Somerset in England, Reef are perhaps one of the most important bands of the last generation. 18 years since their last full studio album, they’ve just released Revelation - and it’s an absolute cracker! It’s a record that maintains the classic Reef blueprint but one which also projects a louder and heavier rock direction than its predecessors. Perhaps this is in part due to the influence of new guitarist Jesse Wood but overall what this record clearly shows is a band sounding fresh, excited and absolutely on fire! There may have been 18 years since the last record but it would be wrong to say ‘they are back’. Each member of the band has been active throughout this time either as part of side projects or as part of Reef itself. Reef as a band has been fully active over the last 4 years undertaking numerous sold-out tours and playing some high-profile gigs such as Wembley Stadium with Coldplay, but thankfully our thirst for new music is now being quenched. We catch up with bassist Jack Bessant on the eve of the album’s release to hear about how it all came together and the band’s plans for 2018 .        


I do of course want to talk about the new album Revelation, but before we do, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the hugely successful last couple of years. You released the fantastic Live At St Ives album, the single How I Got Over You and toured extensively, even playing shows like Wembley Stadium with Coldplay. Looking in the rear view mirror at these achievements, how does it make you feel?


When you sort of summarise it like that it’s cool! We have done some good things. I think in a way those things have been a really good sort of arrowhead really to get us where we are now: trying to get the band up and running relative to today and get the band rocking so that people want to see us live and to even make a great album. All those things are the arrowhead to get us to where we are now, and I think it’s just taken those 4 years with Jesse on board and with help from George Drakoulias (producer) and Lincoln Elias who’s managed us and kind of signed us back in the day. Help from these people to make us happen as a band, as a body of work and bring it up to scratch man! It’s competitive out there and you’ve got to be great to be able to make a mark or make a sound or breakthrough, you know. 


Let’s move on to the new album Revelation, the first Reef album in 18 years and since 2000’s Getaway. You have been active as a band throughout, so why has it taken 18 years, almost a generation, for there to be a new Reef album?


We did another recording session with George. We did a fifth album which is a greatest hits where we recorded 7 new songs for the record and I think five are on it. And a couple of those songs are really great like Stone For Your Love. We still love playing the songs from that 5th record that never really became a full studio album. So we kind of did that and it has taken a long time since then. One massive reason why it took so long is because we took 7 years away from it. We did the greatest hits record, we toured it a bit but the whole bottom was kind of falling out of rock companies. We got dropped and I think we’d come to the end of our run of energy. We just burnt ourselves out in a kind of way and we had nothing to fall all back on, no inspiration left. We just needed to find ourselves and ground ourselves again, even just to find out in that time if we still loved music. I still really like music and I want to write songs, the best songs I can. After 7 years we were offered to do a tour as Reef as the original lineup, and I was like ‘Yeah, I can handle that, being back together as the original line up’. We didn’t need to interact or communicate on a high level, we just needed to play the old songs. Me and Gary (Stringer, singer) made a couple of records together: we did Stringer/Bessant which were more chilled out acoustic albums, a bit country – just lovely songs. So I felt good about being creative, it felt cool, and it was great to play the classic Reef songs. We did that for 4 years and we then felt like perhaps we wanted to write but then Kenwyn (House, original guitarist) left. So we auditioned for a new guitar player and Jesse was the kid.       


With an incredibly strong back catalogue, how important is it for you to release new music?


I think it’s just important in a way for us to move on a little bit and perhaps if we want to do this as a living then we need to book gigs , and to be able to book gigs you kind of need to have something that’s new and that’s current, and backing from a label. We’ve got Ear Music who signed us which is fantastic. So we’ve got this backing from a label and we’ve managed to get this body of work together enabling us to promote ourselves. Plus we can play gigs in Europe hopefully. We can just spread the word easier with some help, because it’s hard being in a band. Sometimes you just need help in promoting yourselves. It’s important for us to have something new and also to show that we are creative people and this is what we love doing. We love writing songs and with Jesse on board it’s fresh blood, he’s got a different style and a different feel. It seems to work really well and we are able to write songs like Revelation, Precious Metal, you know. Some of them came really easy like when we first started Reef in the first place – it was like jamming in a room and everyone gets really lovely parts really quickly and we were like ‘Wow, we’ve got a great song! That’s was fun to play, let’s play it again!’. Some of the songs were a little bit more singer-songwriter-y. You’re always learning the skill of songwriting but perhaps we’ve got a little bit better at that over those 7 years with other projects, you know. You’re never a master and you’re always learning but that’s the exciting thing about it. You just try new things out and you see what happens. 


You’ve mentioned there that it’s hard being in a band and I just wanted to reflect on how things may have changed. The music industry itself has changed a lot in 18 years: the way people buy their music and the way people listen to music – and I’m thinking of things like streaming services etc. What are your observations around how things have changed and how have these changes affected the way you approached making this record?


For me it’s still playing live that’s the thing. Writing a song, playing it live, trying it out, and we did a lot of that with Reef. So that’s the main thing for me but Lincoln perhaps, he was like the songs needed to sound good in lots of different devices and in the way that things are streamed now, how people listen on their phones, on the radio. He wanted them to be instantly striking and hard hitting. I can see how that makes sense because sometimes people only give 1 thing 1 listen before they decide if they like it or not. So that changes things. I still love the analogue feel of great old records. If you listen to the song Revelation it really does punch you in the face. It’s pretty wicked! It’s the first song on the record, a heavy rock song that doesn’t take itself too seriously but the parts fit together so well and Gary is full tilt! It’s great to play live. 

Guitarist Jesse Wood has of course been with the band for a few years now and he has proved himself to be an incredible guitarist, both from a technical and performance perspective, but this is his first Reef studio album. Tell me about your studio experience and what it means to have now written and recorded with Jesse.


A lot of this has been new for Jesse, like being signed to a label and actually doing these sessions, but in a way it’s been new for the 4 of us. We have been working really hard to make a great album, and one like I said before with George and Lincoln helping us too and making sure we get something that’s going to really blow people away. It seems to be going really well. We’ve had some really great feedback and that means that we are doing something right. Deep down inside you can sometimes feel a little bit doubtful but at the moment it feels like all this has been worth it, man. 


Revelation see you again working with producer George Drakoulias. He’s did some fantastic work with your Live At St Ives record, and of course on previous records such as Glow. How has George’s influence shaped the new record?


He was so great for things that were little ‘devil in the detail’ things. You wouldn’t have realised had you not been there and seen it. He’s pretty good on acoustic guitar – he can play any instruments and make it sound fun, he’s just got a great ear – and he’s just really good at getting us to perform and pull the best performances out of all of us, and if it’s not good he’ll get us to do it again or he’ll get us to find a better part. We all respect him so much that we want to work for ourselves and we want to work for him, because we sort of love him and respect him and you can’t ask for that. We really trusted him and were so thankful that he wanted to work with us because that meant we would end up with something really good. He wouldn’t accept a couple of the songs. Gary had this song called Lone Rider and George wouldn’t drop it until it sounded epic and he had this way of making it sound a bit more that kind of rock ‘n’ roll feel that we weren’t playing before but suddenly it starts to come round and we were like ‘Okay, I get it!’, and it just sounds brilliant now! Just this little tweak has given it a chorus with a more rock ‘n’ roll kind of feel. One my favourite songs on the album is First Mistake. Quite a lot of the songs we’ve played live and try them out live. That one just turned out so well as a rocker.


I think one really interesting aspect about some of the songs that appear on the album is that you’ve been playing them on tour over the last 2 years. Were you almost road-testing the songs to see what worked?


Yes of course we were! That was a big part of everything, you know. I’ve been doing music nights in my local pub where, because I knew for myself if I wanted to make this my vocation or career, make music my way of earning a living, that I have to get bloody with it you know (laughs)! So I’ve been doing music nights, writing songs, playing them down my local pub, doing it for Surfers Against Sewage, and stuff like that. I’m doing it for a charity – my dad passed away – so for his local hospice. The whole time thinking ‘Okay, this is what I do, this is what I love to do so I need to get in there’.  With Reef we’ve been doing that on a bigger scale, trying songs out live. You’ve got to brave it. So that’s been really important. I know it’s been important for me to bring myself on in a competitive field, keep myself confident, thinking about whether the song is any good and whether people like it. It’s kind of been a time of entering into the unknown but we’ve all got to do that and just brave it. We are at a lovely point now where the record is finished and now we know how to play the songs live. It sounds epic! We worked on the songs and now we can just play them live - we can jam them a bit if we want to break out - but the record just sounds great, it sounds so good and it’s very exciting! 


The lead single from the new album is My Sweet Love featuring the wonderful Sheryl Crow. How did this collaboration come about?


Well that is George really trying to get into the song and thinking this is a great song, perhaps we can do as a duet. He obviously knows Sheryl. He is a mover and shaker in the music scene, he knows lots of people, and he just played her the song and asked if she would like to be featured on the record. She was digging it and here we are!


When an album release is imminent, wha sort of thoughts and emotions go through your head?


It’s been busy, we’ve had three gigs last week: Lincoln, Hull, Liverpool and back from there straight up to London to do a TV show. So I’m really glad that we’re really busy around this period. As I said, me and Gary have released records when we’ve had no help and now here we are. We are Reef again, we’ve got help and we are really busy. There is no real time to reflect. We doing the songs live with Chris Evans on the day of the album release and we couldn’t really ask for any more than that! So there’s not really a lot of time to think – we’re just doing it!


It sounds you’re actually riding the crest of a wave.


Yeah, we’re just doing it. We were asked yesterday for us all to write a little bit about each song. I think that’s maybe for the streaming thing – you know when people stream they want to know little bit about the song – but I was on the train coming back listening to a song on my headphones, and I just love listening to it. That’s great isn’t it? When you enjoy something you’ve done? I have listened to the songs and I was able to write good positive things about each song because I’m enjoying it and the record gives you good energy. Gary’s voice for a start – he’s such a great singer. It’s been 4 years, it’s been hard but it’s been worth it. I think it will bring a lot of joy to a lot of people and that for me is enough to make me a happy rocker.  


Let’s move on to your touring plans. Your will be touring with The Wildhearts and Terrorvision on the Britrock Must Be Destroyed run of shows. It’s actually quite ingenious to put these 3 bands together. How did the idea come about and what does it mean for Reef to be part of these shows?


The idea came about from a promoter who put the whole package together. What it means for me and for Reef is just enjoy being in a building with other musicians and it will just be good fun. I can see that everyone is going to be similar in away, just wanting to do it because they love it. It will be like a mini festival in some of these venues. I hope they are going to go well because I think the whole package is going to go to Australia. If we’re going to be on an aeroplane together for 24 hours I hope we get on together (laughs!). 


So you’ve mentioned that the package of Reef, Terrorvision and The Wildhearts may be going to Australia. What else can we expect to see on Reef’s 2018 calendar?


We’ve got a couple of shows in Ireland that I’m looking forward to doing, we’ve got a few sessions on the radio, we did a gig at the Eden Project down in Cornwall. So there’s just going to be some interesting gigs really throughout the summer. Because we’ve got people helping us, we’ve been doing a few interviews with other countries in Europe, so hopefully we will do some gigs in Europe as well. We need to see what the album reaction is out there. Revelation has been featured on a German heavy rock show (Radio Bob www.radiobob.de) which is pretty cool.

As our conversation draws to close we reflect on what an incredible album Reef have created in Revelation and also what a wonderfully exciting time this really is. It may have been 18 years since the last full studio album but this is certainly a strong case of good things come to those who wait. A classic British band with a great new record and packed schedule suggests 2018 is going to be great summer for everyone.


Revelation is available now. To find out more, visit www.reeftheband.com. In the meantime enjoy the video for the lead single My Sweet Love featuring Sheryl Crow below.