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InterviewsAn Interview with Frost* Mainman Jem Godfrey

Posted on Sunday, January 25 2009 @ 08:24:48 CST by Pete Pardo
Progressive Rock

Frost*'s two albums, Milliontown and Experiments in Mass Appeal have won rave reviews. SoT write Alex Torres recently spoke to band leader Jem Godfrey about the band's past and future plans.

SoT: Tell us about Frost*'s history and what you see as the highlights of its career so far.

Jem: Well, Frost*'s two albums in and four years old now. It was basically started as a hobby project really, something that was a bit of an escape from writing pop songs only, so it's quite a nice way of escaping the four-chord turnaround. Basically it was only ever designed to be a recording project but it took a life of its own eventually and also by getting John Mitchell in here.

I was working on this stuff and I thought "I know what's missing, I need some guitar!", so I had a look around for some guitarists and bought a load of albums to see what was going on because I hadn't been part of progressive rock for about 15 years. I'd been in a progressive rock band in the late 1980s and then went off to do other things. Every time I looked at things this name kept cropping up - John Mitchell - so I bought some albums with him on and I thought: "Blimey! He's alright!!". I scouted out his email address and invited him to do some session work on the project and eventually he agreed, after a few crisp 50s changed hands! From there it got better and better and he was quite excited about it so I thought that maybe we should do some gigs. John said that we needed John Jowitt because he was pretty good. When I spoke to John (Jowitt), Andy Edwards had just joined IQ and he sounded brilliant, so we all got chatting and got on really well and that was it!.

From there the first album came out, Milliontown, and then we went on tour for a few dates with Pallas on a tour bus around Europe. I absolutely hated it! The whole thing of being out there and gigging did my head in! So I came back and split the band up and then didn't do anything for about 9 months. I had a lovely time but was always writing songs and different bits and pieces and then eventually I listened to them all in their half-finished state and thought that there might be another Frost* album in there. From there I recruited Declan Burke from the UK prog band Darwin's Radio, who I'd been a fan of for ages. When I'd been buying all these albums I'd picked up their first EP and had thought what a brilliant voice and what great songs as well. The band became a five-piece and over the last year we recorded the Experiments in Mass Appeal album which was released in November in the UK and Europe and has just been released in the USA. It's been quite a good seller up to this point.

Last year was a particular highlight. As we recorded the Experiments in Mass Appeal album we also did these YouTube reports, a bit like a video diary, and they were incredibly well received and that made it the highlight: the amount of fun it was making the second album!

SoT: Yes, I've enjoyed both albums but Experiments in Mass Appeal probably more.

Jem: I agree with you, I think there's too many notes on the first one. SoT: I'm not sure about that but the dynamic contrasts on the second album are particularly interesting.

Jem: Yea, I wanted to concentrate more on writing good songs rather than just saying: "Look at me! Look at how fast I can play!". That was the main experiment really. If I listen to Milliontown now I have to turn it off, I long for a quiet bit!

SoT: How would you describe your soundscape and your songs to readers of ours who may be unfamiliar with your music so as to persuade them to go out and buy, say, Experiments in Mass Appeal?

Jem: It's an evolving soundscape. If you bought Milliontown and liked that, don't expect Experiments in Mass Appeal to sound like it because it's quite a departure sound-wise and similarly the third album will be quite a departure from the second. I'm trying to keep the band progressing because this is allegedly "progressive rock" so therefore I feel that "progression" is the key word here rather than "regression". I've been disappointed by some bands in that they chance upon something and refuse to go anywhere else. There's a lot more keyboards on Milliontown than on Experiments in Mass Appeal and it's the opposite with guitar. There's better singing on the second album and, I think, better songs. Just take each album as a closed universe although there are some things that bleed through stylistically.

SoT: They both seem to have been very well received: Experiments in Mass Appeal is getting good reviews despite perhaps having a less complex sound. How have the fans reacted to the change?

Jem: They've been very good actually. Again, it's really helped with all these reports last year because I suddenly realised that if I just dumped this album on everyone after two years of silence their reaction would have been: "What??!! What do you mean???"; whereas by doing these reports everyone had a year to get used to the change. I was quite willing to play excerpts from the album as it was happening. There were a couple of people right at the start, who were more like casual observers of the band, who said that they hated it. That's fine because the plan for the band to move the sound in a way was designed to polarise people: I'd much rather people loved it or hated it. If anyone just goes "oh, it's alright", then I think, "Oh...God!". I'd like to think that I've created a "marmite" pop band!

SoT: The other guys in the band also have other projects. How do they find the pressures of Frost*. I know that Andy Edwards (drums) has decided to stop gigging with Frost*. How do they and you deal with all of that? For instance, you've got some dates coming up in Holland in preparation for Rosfest - it must be giving you a headache trying to think of a drummer to replace Andy.

Jem: That is currently a bit of a pressure because although Andy hasn't actually left the band he has decided not to tour and the guy I have in mind is unfortunately on tour with another band at that point, so we're having to find a deputy for the deputy, which is a bit difficult! By and large I write all the music, produce it all and record it all and they come in and do bits and pieces so for them there's not that much pressure because in terms of driving it forward it falls mostly to me.

SoT: Do they not have any input into the songs once you get into the studio? They're very capable musicians...

Jem: I write the stuff and I'll present quite a rudimentary demo, deliberately so because I don't want them to "start copying". For instance John Mitchell was the revelation of the second album because I didn't do any guitar parts and I kept the keyboards quite sparse and he just brought this incredible "orchestra au guitars" air into the proceedings so yes, they have input in terms of what they play but in terms of everything else they hopefully view it as a bit of a nice holiday!

SoT: Tell us a bit more about the third album.

Jem: It's still on the drawing board stage at the moment. We're doing a DVD later in the year so that's my current priority: it's going to cover three versions of the band filmed in different environments. It's a concept-DVD, a bit like a concept album.

I'm getting some ideas for the third album. The second album was quite radically different from the first and the third seems to be shaping out quite radically different to the second!

SoT: What's the frosty asterisk after the band's name all about?

Jem: That is a serving suggestion; if you get to put it on it means "serve chilled"! Or "may contain nuts"!

SoT: From where do you draw the inspiration for your music?

Jem: All over the place. I don't have a particularly favourite genre of music, I listen to everything. I've got loads of r&b and pop and dance, rock, metal and thrash and prog, classical and jazz. So I think it comes just from particular moments when I'm stuck in the car or the train, or listening to my Walkman and I hear something and think "ah, that's lovely!". It tends to be just those snatched moments - you might just be dozing off and a lyric or melody will fly past, and you just have to get up and write it down before it's gone! It tends to just find me and make my life a bit of a misery! In terms of inspiration then, it can be anything, even books! Anything and everything.

SoT: As a band, you're often called neo-prog. Does it bother you having a prog label attached to the band? A lot of musicians don't like it.

Jem: Music's music. I don't really mind, they can call it "Steve" if they like. Prog is small enough, it's endangered as it is, it's like the black rhino of music. So long as people like it they can call it what they want.

SoT: What are the difficulties encountered by artists like Frost* in the modern music market? Would it be possible to make a living from Frost*'s music without the financial input of all of the other projects the band members are involved in? How do you view Martin Orford's recent decision to abandon the music scene because of all the illegal downloading?

Jem: It depends on what you're prepared to do. I'm a bit of a musical whore really, I'll go where the money goes! I write jingles and TV themes and do pop songs; write for magazines and review gear. It's a question of how low you're prepared to go to be honest. So I think there is a living to be made out of it but these days musicians have to be a little bit more flexible into what they choose to do.

However, I fully respect Martin's position: running GEP for him was a full time job and he probably didn't have the time to do all these other different things. I'm working 6 day weeks and doing 10 or 11 hour days but I am making a living.

SoT: What are the difficulties involved in bringing Frost*'s rich album sound to a live audience?

Jem: You need to be a bit flexible with how you arrange it. I won't lie and say there's no sample triggering. There is quite a lot of samples going on but it tends to be things like, rather than playing a whole chord with one hand I'll just sample the chord and play it with one finger which frees the keyboard up for me to do my solos. It's utilising modern technology to make life a bit easier because there are sections that it would be quite hard to play live. Certainly in Milliontown there's a couple of bridge sections where it's easier for me to fire a sample and play along to it rather than say to the band: "right, this is your B flat here, bow this, do that, do the other...". It's about keeping the essence of what the songs are about but also being flexible enough to let them breathe in a live environment.

For example, "Hyperventilate" off the first album is quite rigid if you hear the album but the live version is developing its personality with stops and starts and little bits that are different. It just comes with musicians kicking around ideas.

SoT: You don't feel like bringing in extra musicians just to fill up the sound?

Jem: We did, he's called Declan!

SoT: Which do you prefer:- playing live or creating songs in the studio?

Jem: I'm definitely a studio man! I didn't really think this project through because I've ended up fronting a band without really wanting to. I'm just a little keyboard player really! I love all the studio craft, the layering it up, the attention to detail.

SoT: Who are your musical heroes?

Jem: Tony Banks because of the immense influence he had on my early playing career. He taught me to play the piano because basically the way I learnt was by playing along to "Three Sides Live" for two years, so effectively Tony Banks was my piano teacher! I ought to give him some money for that really! Also, people like Prince who showed how to write songs that can be quite sparse but still do virtuoso stuff. John Barry is another massive influence: I'm just such a sucker for all those major-minor chords stuff he does with the Bond movie.... the augmented fifths. The older I get the more influenced by John Barry I am. I just love all that drama and subtlety at the same time.

SoT: And three albums to take to your desert island?

Jem: Definitely The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I just can't stop listening to that at the moment, it's brilliant! Then John Barry's The Beyondness of Things - that's an album I've been listening to a lot because I find it very relaxing so if I'm ever stressed out I just put it on my Walkman and go out for a walk, coming back feeling ok! And for the third, probably Holst's The Planets - incredibly symphonic and progressive themes.

SoT: Jem, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and, also, thank you for the music!

Alex Torres

****Editor's Note-the band have now cancelled the concerts they had planned in Holland pre-Rosfest because of the drummer problems that were discussed in the interview above. ******

(Click here to read our reviews of Experiments in Mass Appeal)



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