EDWIN JON DURANT INNA KOVTUN
American guitarist / composer Jon Durant has proven to be one of the most diverse and versatile musicians on the 21st century progressive music scene. His solo albums on his self-owned label Alchemy Records have always been highly regarded as are his rock-fusion albums with bassist Colin Edwin in their side project called Burnt Belief. In early 2019 Jon pleased music fans with his experimental New Age instrumental album Alternate Landscapes, which blended guitars, synths and a range of subdued and mysterious moods. During that time, Jon also began working with Colin again, bringing in a singer from Ukraine called Inna Kovtun. The results of that project finally materialized in late 2019 as the self-titled album called Edwin Durant Kovtun. Thanks to Innas soaring vocals, sung in Ukrainian language, the 12-track, 60-minute album has gained acclaim among World Music fans as well as experimental hard rock fans. Adding to the album, powerhouse drummer Robert Gualdi brings in a strong beat. The recorded sound is superb and features equally potent sonic grooves to those that Jon and Colin brought to the Burnt Belief albums, while the exotic Ukrainian language vocals from Inna offers another layer of sonic intrigue. The CD cover art with the bridge is kind of symbolic in that the sound here is similar to a bridge that spans guitar-centric avant-garde rock fusion with World Music. Jon further adds that, Ukrainian music is sadly underrepresented around the world and we tried to bring some of these wonderful ancient melodies to a new life using modern production and creative ideas, all the while keeping the song forms accessible. For rock fans looking for a familiar musical signpost, the sound and style of music draws somewhat of a comparison to alternative rock bands such as Dead Can Dance and The Cocteau Twins. With its stunning amalgamation of Ukrainian and Slavic folk music, balanced by guitar-centric electronica and deeply atmospheric progressive rock, this first album by Edwin Durant Kovtun is an epic culture-spanning moment that merges modern and ancient music.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: Whats new in the world? Are you in Boston or Oregon now? 2019 is almost over but you were very productive this year with the Alternate Landscapes album at the start of the year and now the Edwin Durant Kovtun album. Theres a new decade on the way, in fact the third decade of the 21st century. What were some other highlights of the year for you?
Jon Durant: Ill be in Oregon for the first several months of 2020, with a couple trips from there including heading to the NAMM show to play at the Koll Guitar/Benson Amps booth. 2019 was an amazingly productive year for me. Highlights for me were the release of two very albums, both of which I am enormously proud - Edwin Durant Kovtun and Alternate Landscapes. Also, being featured on Stefan Thelan's remarkable Fractal Guitars was a delight, especially as it was the first time David Torn and I have found our way onto the same record.
In June, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Estonia to play a concert with Uma with guitarist Robert Jürjendal and trumpeter Aleksei Saks. Inna Kovtun also joined us and it was a really fantastic and inspiring event. Robert and I are nearly done with an album that will be out in 2020. Just before heading there, I did some recording for the great English ambient group Darkroom, and I think that should also be out sometime in 2020.
mwe3: Is the Edwin Durant Kovtun CD the first World Music album that you have made and what first attracted you to the Ukrainian vocalist Inna Kovtun? Tell us something about the way she approaches her lyrics and how you wrote the songs with her? You explained that Colin Edwin kind of opened the door when he traveled to Ukraine and he hooked up with the band Astarta, which featured Innas vocals. Its interesting that the Edwin Durant Kovtun album was recorded even before your solo album from early 2019, Alternate Landscapes.
Jon Durant: Its funny all of my albums have had World Music elements, especially the three Burnt Belief records and Dance of The Shadow Planets. But because I never consciously consider genres as Im making music, theyve never really been considered World Music. And even Edwin Durant Kovtun is hard for some world music folks, as they tend to expect acoustic instruments and would think of Innas traditional folk group Rozhanytsya as World Music much more than what we did with EDK.
When Colin started working with Astarta he sent me a track for feedback, and that started down the path of getting me to play on the album. We did a couple live festivals in Kyiv and London in 2013 before the revolution in Ukraine caused things to come to a halt. I was very pleasantly surprised when Colin said that hed gotten some new material from Inna, as I really loved her voice despite the language barrier. At the time she spoke no English, and we spoke no Ukrainian, though we had a translator at the Ukraine festival and we got along really well. Since then, Inna has begun learning English, and that has really helped us communicate and made a few other musical events become possible.
We finished it a year ago in London, but due to Colins band O.R.k. having a major release and tour, we agreed to put off the release until later this year so that hed have more time to help promote it. Right after we finished mixing, Inna did a live show in London with Darkrooom, which was incredibly inspiring. It was that inspiration that started me on Alternate Landscapes, which I finished quite quickly and released while I waited for the time we could release EDK.
mwe3: I didnt realize there was such a vast amount of music from the Ukraine region. Can you compare the music from Ukraine with that of Russian music? Do they speak the same language? Its fascinating that all the countries have such a vast history of folk and cultural music. Were you always fascinated by indigenous music?
Jon Durant: The two cultures are very different, and although the language is similar it is also very different. Ive long had a fascination with music from various parts of the globe though Im most interested in ways that different elements can get combined in new and interesting ways. Heres an example of a fun piece from Innas group Rozhanystya.
mwe3: You are a major progressive rock fan. Do you find the Edwin Durant Kovtun album is more progressive rock or more World Beat music? You informed me that the album was actually on the Roots Music Report World Music charts, which was interesting. Do you feel this first album will lead to other projects with Colin and Inna or other permutations of prog-rock and World Music? I didnt realize progressive rock was so big in Ukraine and Russia too
Jon Durant: Yes, I was pleased to see that weve been getting some airplay in the World Music area. Its such a difficult record to categorize, which I think is what I like best about it! But its always fascinating to discover that music really does transcend borders and you will find progressive rock fans everywhere. One of the nice things about social media is that is does tend to foster worldwide groups of music fans who would otherwise have no way of knowing that there are others out there!
mwe3: Can you give an example of the way the EDK songs were composed? Are all the songs Ukrainian folk songs restructured as progressive rock songs? They are very melodic with an interesting lyrical twist. Did you consider having Inna sing them in English or would that lose their intrinsic World Music appeal and can you offer some insights in the subject matter of the lyrics and any discussions about the lyrics with Inna before, during and after the recording sessions?
Jon Durant: Most of the album began with Inna singing a traditional Ukrainian folk song with a click track. Colin or I would then take that melody and create a starting background track. From there wed send them back and forth to flesh out the arrangements before sending back to Inna for final vocal parts. From there, Colin and I would finalize our parts, as what she did was often very different from where it began. Its a long process, as you can imagine! The one piece, which was different, was the closing song, Interference, which actually began as a long cloud guitar piece, which Colin built an interesting rhythm track around and I fleshed out a bit further. Inna then added improvised wordless vocals.
It was never considered to have her sing in English, though we did have that happen on a song with Uma (linked above). Shes nowhere near comfortable enough with the language to do that. Maybe in the future that could happen. As for the lyrics, Colin and I had no idea what they were going in, we just built music based on the melodies. The English titles came from discussions we had with Inna during mixing where she gave us a general sense of what they were about. My Husband Beat Me, for instance is a song about getting up and going forward and leaving behind a no good man. Hannochka is a song about a woman about to be married, whose not so sure. Which explains our outfits in the video!
mwe3: Is the World Music sound a direction you want to pursue further? You were telling me about the trip to Estonia to work with the group Uma. What did the trip to Estonia bring to your musical ideas and do you have some other favorite World Music styles and will you be going back to Estonia this coming year?
Jon Durant: As I mentioned, Im always interested in music from other parts of the world. And Im never interested in fitting into a genre, so As for Estonia, my album with Robert is nearly done. In addition to our two guitars we have Colin joining us on a few tunes, Aleksei as well. Andi Pupato (Nik Bärtchs Ronin) is adding percussion as we speak. Were hoping to do some live work next summer, there are a couple festivals were trying to get into.
mwe3: You said that the Edwin Durant Kovtun album was mixed with you, Colin and Inna together. So what was that London mixing session like and what did the mixing do to enhance the album following the recording, which you said was done remotely. Also was anything done to the album sound in the mastering session?
Jon Durant: The mixing session was fantastic because for the first time in the process of making the album, the three of us were together in one room listening and making decisions together about all the parts. And, more importantly, we all realized that we have a tremendous bond between us personally which really contributed to the overall sense of community among us. Which I think shows in our photos and videos. Mastering didnt require much extra, as the mixes were really well doneJonathan Hucks did an excellent job.
mwe3: The drumming on the EDK is amazing. Tell us something about how you worked with drummer Roberto Gualdi. Is he European too and are there drums on all the tracks? For example the lead off track Walking Wheel has drum sounds on it but Roberto isnt listed as playing on that track. What can you tell us about the electronic programmed drums?
Jon Durant: Roberto is an Italian drummer with whom Colin has done a fair bit of work. Hes an excellent player, and very creative. I was really pleased that he could do the five tracks that he did. It adds a great energy to those pieces. Many of the other tracks have programmed drums by Colin. Hes been doing that for years, and indeed has had some sessions where hes been asked to do drum programming instead of bass! All of the pieces where the programming is the only drumming have a really live feel, but its Colins expertise in that area that makes it work.
mwe3: How do you feel the Edwin Durant Kovtun compares to the albums you made with Colin Edwin in Burnt Belief and will there be another Burnt Belief and likewise, will the EDK album pave the way for future recordings with Colin and Inna?
Jon Durant: This album is very far from the Burnt Belief albums for sure! Our whole mindset was altogether different and we never thought of it as a Burnt Belief record or an extension to what we do there. As for the future: Inna and I just did a Christmas piece with her ensemble Kalyna. In September she took on the role of Artistic Director at the Ukrainian national folk ensemble Kalyna, but continues to work with her group Rozhanytsya. We did that for Ukrainian radio, and it will be available as a digital single this week on Apple music, spotify etc. She and I continue to discuss all kinds of possibilities, but nothing definite has come up. Meanwhile, Colin, Vinny and I have discussed another Burnt Belief record but we havent begun writing yet. Maybe early next year Ill have time to start.
mwe3: Did you think to include English language translations of the Edwin Durant Kovtun tracks? Its always interesting to see these translations, especially if theyre accurately transcribed!
Jon Durant: Funnily, we did do a translation for the song Harvest and we have a lyric video in the works. We used the translator with whom we worked in 2013 to do it so we feel fairly comfortable that its more accurate than google translate!
mwe3: What guitars are on the new album? You said you played some acoustic guitar on the album and synths too. Are there any new developments for you in the guitar world?
Jon Durant: I used all kinds of things in the process of making this record; guitars, amps, direct with different preamps. It would take me forever to plot out exactly what was used where, as I really did a layered/textural approach to many of the songs. Theres a hint of a synth sequency thing in the background of Harvest, otherwise its all guitar and one spot of piano. There are a few bits with the Koll fretless guitar, a couple things use the Koll electric 12 string, the acoustic 12 string, and still some PRS guitars in there too. I used a Mesa Boogie Mark V amp, Freyette preamp, and some Line 6 preamp things too. The delays are the Pigtronix Echolution 2, and there are some Eventide and Lexicon things on there too. As for new guitar things, Saul Koll is building me a double-neck guitar. One will be fretless, the other will be MIDI-fied so I can do everything from one guitar. The plan is to have it ready for me to play it at NAMM in January.
mwe3: As the cover art portends, are you finding that your new music is sort of a bridge building global music phenomenon? Now with the advent of the Edwin Durant Kovtun album you seem to be taking your place on the world music stage. What else are you planning for 2020?
Jon Durant: Yes, the bridge theme is very much what we are aboutbridging cultures, bringing people together instead of dividing them. Im hoping these couple festivals will come through as the combination of Robert, Aleksei and I shows great promise. And if we can get Colin and Inna involved too it could be very interesting!
In addition to the album with Robert Jürjendal, Ive begun discussing doing a piano and cloud guitar record with the wonderful English pianist Peter Chilvers. He did the Bloom app with Brian Eno, and works with Brian on the sound for his art installations. Were hoping to start getting ideas together after the start of the New Year.