Philip Kressin's incredible musical journey has taken him from a WWII bunker in Frankfurt to an isolated farm in Argentina. He's been a massive Michael Jackson obsessive and a teenage metalhead; a classical guitar student and a film composer.
Now the German-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who records under the name Neon Legion is releasing La Revolución, an ambitious album that explores his appreciation for rock, electronic, and classical music and expresses his unique cultural curiosity.
Kressin studied at the Frensham Heights School near London, where rock & roll is an accepted part of the curriculum. He learned about Bach's harmonies and Handel's melodies, toured Europe as a member of the choir and orchestra, and rubbed elbows with the children of rock legends like Roger Waters and Brian May, often visiting the house where Led Zeppelin famously recorded "Stairway to Heaven." "I was also exposed to more electronic music, like Chemical Brothers and Leftfield," he recalls. Freshly inspired, he spent seven months totally alone on a farm in Argentina recording an electro album that never saw official release, though bits and pieces of songs made their way onto La Revolución 15 years later.
He returned to England to study music at Brunel University, where he wrote a prize-winning piece about the Crusades and three-movement composition based on "2001: A Space Odyssey." Kressin then hunkered down at Black Solaris Studios, an old (and possibly haunted) WWII bunker back in Germany, where he produced hip-hop and electronic artists, and had his first foray into film composing with his classical score for the award-winning short Geigensolo.
Kressin somehow found time to record his first album, Cyan (under the name Kirt), and decamped for the sunnier climes of Buenos Aires to release the disc ("I just needed some light again," he says). During his two-year stay in Argentina he racked up considerable critical praise, spent time touring with an early incarnation of Neon Legion, and co-founded Multicorriente, a collective that functioned as his record label, and as publisher of a monthly cultural magazine.
When restlessness struck again, Kressin set out to record in North America: New York City and Toronto. "I like to put together a different band in each city," he says. "Everyone brings their own sound and cultural perspective to the global group that is Neon Legion."
It took more than a dozen musicians in four countries on three continents to make
La Revolución. After working out arrangements with his Argentinian group, Kressin enlisted Priestbird cellist Daniel Bensi in New York, as well as a large cast of Toronto musicians, referred to him by a mutual friend of Broken Social Scene's Jason Collett, including members of the experimental electronic group Holy Fu*k, The Hidden Cameras and Bahamas. Despite having so many hands on deck, the album maintains an organic feel uncommon in most synth-rock music. This is a result of having recorded primarily live, with Kressin putting aside his admitted "control freak" tendencies and trusting the instincts of his fellow musicians.
Mixed (and partially recorded) at Electric Lady Studios in New York, La Revolución bears the unmistakable sonic stamp of that legendary building's 40-year history. At the fore is Kressin's vulnerable tenor, a counterpoint to the often moody, driving rock underneath. He credits Blonde Redhead's classical harmonies, with "an almost childlike male voice" as a particular inspiration for his vocal style on La Revolución: "Sometimes singing quietly is stronger."
The album's 10 songs delve into existential and sometimes political topics—the nature of man, intellect vs. instinct, man vs. the environment—from an omniscient perspective, in an effort to examine the essence of humanity. "Hunt" tackles the Christian denial of the evolution of man ("The day that Christ christened his lies/The humans fell into the trap"), and in "Time to Feed," Kressin laments the destruction of planet Earth ("It leaves in me a fear so deep, I can't breathe") before offering atonement ("Mother, I'll take care of you like no other son would"). It's no wonder that when he sings "Maybe we're all the same" in "Twin," it seems to be meant with a sense of resignation.
The heavy themes never get in the way of hooks. "Eyes" finely incorporates electronic elements into a pulsing, guitar-driven groove; the insistent synth-pop of "Wicked Men" harkens back to the masters of the craft, Depeche Mode. Like most great records, La Revolución gets plenty weird: "Pornoratorio" explodes with a cascade of tricky time signatures into a dramatic post-glam-rock chorus; the nearly eight-minute "La Revolucion" stomps ahead on an electronic pulse and foreboding synthesizer pattern, like an army of giant knights marching forward.
The analogy is an apt one: Kressin is the descendent of German knights, and he sees it as part of his mission to reemphasize values derived from their code of chivalry. His motives—"to refer back to a time when Germany was known for its poets, its thinkers, its innovations in technology and culture".
Several years after he began plotting out La Revolución, even Kressin is impressed with how the globe-trotting effort has come together with such a strong sense of cohesion. "That's part of the idea of Neon Legion," he says. "It's like a little army of creativity."
Neon Legion’s tracks