"I still remember the first time my dad played me Dark Side of the Moon," says Jon Courtney, the front man of Pure Reason Revolution. "I thought it was rubbish! It wasn't as good as Nirvana, Mudhoney or Sonic Youth." He sips his pint and then grins sheepishly: "Six months later, I was sneaking downstairs to listen to the vinyl when my parents were asleep. By then, I loved it."
Courtney recalls his conversion with the guilty pleasure of an addict remembering his first hit. That teenage revelation has come to have a defining effect on the 25-year-old and his unapologetically epic five-piece. Even Courtney's blond shoulder-length mop owes an obvious debt to his Floyd hero David Gilmour.
Sitting beside Courtney at the fashionably scuffed table of an Islington pub, Chloe Alper, Pure Reason Revolution's singer/instrumentalist, nurses a G&T and sniggers at her bandmate's admissions. This isn't the first time she has had to listen to Courtney evangelise. The two met 10 years ago while working their way through the indie bands that made up Reading's goldfish-bowl music scene. Not only did Alper witness Courtney's musical epiphany, she also knows his other dirty secret: for all his admiration of Pink Floyd, Courtney's first brush with sonic success came when he fronted a punk-rock band.
"It was a very long time ago," says Courtney, squirming. Not that he has anything to be ashamed of. Courtney's punk band Gel were actually rather good. So good, in fact, that they were scouted by Seymour Stein, Sire Records head and founder. "He came backstage after a gig and said, 'You sound exactly like The Ramones, I want to sign you'," recalls Courtney, now warming to the subject. "As soon as he left, our manager was like, 'Do you know who that was? He signed The Ramones and Madonna!'." The next day, an offer was made and Gel signed a with Sire/Warner.
It seemed too easy. It was: label wranglings a few months later meant that Gel were unceremoniously dropped before releasing a note.
The experience merely strengthened Courtney's resolve. "I'd had a taste of touring and making records," he says. "Being dropped made me want it even more." He formed the indie popsters The Sunset Sound with Alper (formerly of the Peel-approved Period Pains), but their breezy rock didn't feel right. The front man had learnt a vital lesson from his near miss: "Whatever a band delivers, it has to be authentic. Whatever you do, you need to feel it," he explains. "If you don't believe in what you do, who else is going to?"
So, after years of denying his proggy heritage, Courtney decided to throw caution, cool and, indeed, brevity to the wind. And Pure Reason Revolution were born.
They craft soaring layers of sprawling, hypnotic space-rock with the powerful sonic undertow of Pink Floyd and Yes. But their music isn't just prog. The Revolution's galvanised sound is an amalgam of Courtney's many musical passions. From Nirvana ("My first obsession") to the Chemical Brothers, Crosby Stills & Nash, barbershop and The Beach Boys, Courtney's songs reference all of his faves. "I get obsessive about any band I love," he admits. "I've got CDs, vinyl, bootlegs and books on all of them. Through listening to different music, you learn so much." Indeed, his obsession with The Beach Boys ran so deep that he wrote his university thesis, entitled The Construction of Genius, on Brian Wilson. The conclusion? "The man is a genius," says Courtney, "and I have the scientific evidence to prove it."
Courtney has applied that variety of knowledge well. Amid the sinewy rock muscle and spiralling rhythms that drive his band's recent mini-album, Cautionary Tales for the Brave, the glistening harmonies have an unmistakable Beach Boys edge. But while surging pop hooks are a key ingredient in Pure Reason Revolution's sonic creations, the band's love for weaving them into lengthy aural journeys betrays that proggy influence. They compose their songs, carefully constructing majestic swathes of colourful rock. Happily, the quality and inventiveness of those compositions prevents them from tipping into self-indulgence.
"Music, like art, shouldn't be formulaic," says Courtney. "Or have boundaries, or conform to the requirements of playlists. Our songs are filled with catchy melodies that we could edit down into a snappy pop song, but that's not what we're about."
In the current art-rock-by-numbers climate, this "more is more" approach certainly makes Pure Reason Revolution stand out. Perhaps that's why they've garnered so much attention already. Shortly after playing their first ever gig at last year's music- industry conference, In The City, the band's demo found its way into the hands of the former Creation boss Alan McGee, who released their debut single on his Poptones label in April (true to form, it was a 12-minute long belter). The Radio 1 DJ and taste-maker Steve Lamacq is a huge fan; and, thanks to constant gigging, the Revolution already have an impressive army of followers. Perhaps most significantly, the band have just signed a lucrative deal with Sony BMG - "we celebrated by popping champagne on their roof," says Courtney, still clearly delighted. "There must have been corks raining down on Great Marlborough Street."
The Revolution will soon release their full-length debut, an ambitious, dream-inspired concept album. Whether there'll be room for an album's worth of songs on a 78-minute CD is a moot point, but one thing's sure - their debut will sound like nothing else.
The mini-album 'Cautionary Tales for the Brave', and single 'Intention Craft' are out now on Sony BMGReuse content