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InterviewsFrost*: An interview with Jem Godfrey

Posted on Friday, May 20 2016 @ 18:46:34 CDT by Steven Reid
Progressive Rock

It doesn't matter what line of work your in, an eight year absence is a risk. However in the music world, leaving that length of gap between studio releases is as good as saying 'thanks, but no thanks'. Hence, the clamour of excitement that has greeted the first Frost* studio album in just under a decade, is both heartening and a ringing endorsement of the fabulous music this progressive rock have long been known for. The album is Falling Satellites and it sees the core members of Frost*, Jem Godfrey, John Mitchell (It Bites, Arena, Lonely Robot), Nathan King (Level 42) and Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson) reunited for what might just be the best album they've recorded. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid caught falling satellite, keyboard player and Frost* mainman Jem Godfrey to find out more…

It's amazing to think that it's been eight years since the last Frost* studio album. How did it feel to start up the Frost* studio machine again after such a lengthy lay-off?

Very good actually. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it was very much the case in this instance. It feels good to be back.

Was it always your intention to record another studio album, or was there a time when you didn't think it would happen?

As I've grown older I've learned to not worry about things that aren't immediately pressing. Frost*, I'm now discovering, seems to have a life of its own. When it wants to get going it puts an appropriate amount of ideas in my head. Quite where it's been for the last few years I don't know, but it was nice to get "the call" so to speak.

The band have remained active on stage and with releases like The Philadelphia Experiment and The Rockfield Files, have there been specific reasons why it's been so long since the excellent Experiments In Mass Appeal?

I had a family and also needed to start a variety of music related businesses to generate additional income, as the internet has created a culture whereby people assume all music should be available free of charge. This decimated my and many of my fellow musicians' careers accordingly which in turn denied us the freedom to indulge more often on projects such as Frost* which generally tend to lose money rather than make it.

Arena, It Bites and so many more, guitarist John Mitchell has been with you from the start. When people think of Frost* they automatically think of you, however could you ever imagine the band without John's influence, musical skill and wonderful songwriting?

Definitely not any more, he's as much a part of this whole thing as I am. More than that, he brings his special "John-ness" to things that can't be measured in physical terms.

However bassist Nathan King and drummer Craig Blundell have been with the band for a good few years now. I think the strength of the band line-up really shines through in the breadth of ideas, approaches and styles on your new album, Falling Satellites and the confidence with which they are presented. How much of a part does each of the four of you play in the initial creation and then evolution of the songs you work on?

Nath and Craig are also absolutely vital to the band. It's the combination of the four of us that make this thing so interesting nowadays. We now don't dep' a player if one of us can't make a gig date. It's the four of us or nothing. Purely for logistical reasons it's easier if I write most of it as we're so far apart geographically and so busy day to day that making a truly collaborative album would take sixteen years rather than eight. That said, I try very hard to leave their parts vague on the initial demos so that when they record their bits, it's their personalities you're hearing rather than them copying something I wrote. Some bits have to be precise, but by and large…

The album has strong and obvious links to the first two Frost* albums and yet it has a clear, confident character of its own. Is that a result of time that has passed between albums, or do you always approach an album with the intention of evolving and furthering the band's sound?

No, to be honest. I just open the gates and try and stay vaguely in command of the ideas as they clatter past. It's all happy accidents.

Some of the early tracks on the album take an electronic/synth edge and challenge it through hugely strong melodies and wonderfully layered vocals. Keeping the album on the edge of technical and accessible is a very fine balancing act that the album manages to master with impressive ease. How difficult – and important – is it to keep the music challenging and distinctively different, while still allowing the listener in and making the songs memorable?

Lots of current prog has put the guitar centre stage and that's perfectly fine and works well. However I have noticed that keyboard players, as a consequence, have ended up being supporting actors to the guitar wall of sound for about six to eight years now. I wanted to swap that over and put the bloke doing the ironing back under the spotlight. I want to see a new keyboard player emerge from these new prog bands coming up at the moment to give the guitarists a bit of competition. We need some new keyboard heroes in my opinion. I don't include myself in that by the way, my ship sailed ages ago.

There's a real flow to Falling Satellites did you go into the album with the idea of matching the musical flow to the lyrical theme that runs through the songs?

I wrote about twenty songs in the end and simply picked the ones that most suited the narrative. I then tweak some of the lyrics to be more applicable. This is the least fantastical theme we've done, it's actually semi-autobiographical as Death and I have had a close encounter recently. He looked me in the eyes while he took my dad off me.

Which leads me to ask about the part of the "Sunlight Suite" called "The Rage Against The Dying Of The Blue Light In 7/8"…

It was about my dad in his final months suddenly and dramatically starting to outlive all his friends. They all started dropping like flies. He felt very shaken by that, I remember well. I could see him thinking that he'd taken good care of himself over the years, whereas many of his friends hadn't so much. His good behaviour "reward" therefore was to watch all his mates die, go to all their funerals and end up literally being the last man standing, all alone. Suddenly I understood, a little more, the "better to burn out than fade away" sentiment which I'd always disagreed with up to that point. Nothing worse maybe than being the last person at a party…

However, across the album, the lyrical theme is a broad, yet revolves round a specific idea. Can you elaborate on the lyrical ethos the album contains please?

It's about how human beings think they can touch the stars, but in fact we can barely get clear of the atmosphere. Considering the age of our planet, let alone the age of the universe, what we think to be the mighty trails of our lives are nothing more than the tiniest of flickers, just like when you see meteorites hitting the Earth's atmosphere some night for a fraction of a second. We're not stars at all, like everything we put into orbit, we're just falling man made objects that never really made that much of a difference in the first place. We think of America or Russia or whoever being these distant super powers who control our lives, but actually just a single stadium sized chunk of super heated rock screaming into the Atlantic has more power than they'll ever have. We're not much more than a bunch of improvising ape descendants with a species wide deep lack of self-confidence, trying to act all cool. If I was a visiting alien I'd probably think it all rather sweet if it wasn't for the senseless violence and cruelty.

The basic message is – we're all going doing to die, there is no escaping it. Make the most of being alive while you can and be glad that you're even here at all because it's MASSIVELY improbable. We're all lottery winners in that respect.

I believe you had the help of a true guitar master on "Sunlight" as well, Joe Satriani bringing his unique talents to to the suite. That's quite a coup. How did he come to be involved?

I toured with Joe playing keys for him in 2010 and 2012, I think it was, we've remained friends ever since. I was initially reluctant to ask as it seemed like a massively tacky blag, but he was profoundly kind and gracious and delivered an absolutely classic Joe solo. To that have sound on a Frost* record is, and remains, a huge honour.

Can I also ask, who provides the female vocals on the song "Lights Out"? They really are quite wonderful.

That's Tori Beaumont, a friend of mine. She lives – perhaps wisely – entirely outside of the Prog-u-sphere, which was part of the appeal of working with her. To have an entirely new voice on the song gave it a nicely unpredictable element I thought. In the song, she's singing lovingly to her unborn child. T'is pity they both die in a car crash in verse two…

One of the 'lead tracks' from the album, "Heartstrings" originally featured on the excellent Rockfield Files release. What was the thinking behind re-doing this song in a different arrangement and including it on the new album?

Lyrically and melodically it ended up being the central theme to the whole album. A few people have complained that we've put an "old" song on. I think that's a bit harsh myself. The Rockfield version was never the definitive version and I'm surprised that people have thought it was. That said, I always thought the live version of "Supper's Ready" on Seconds Out was much better than the Foxtrot version, so what do I know?

While Falling Satellites also contains the track "Hypoventilate", how does it – if it does – relate to the Rockfield Files track, "Hyperventilate"?

They're both in E!

I listened to the album before I read the accompanying press release and was interested to find out the sound I recognised, but couldn't quite place is a Chapman Railroad… I have to ask, what the dickens is that? And how did you come to use it on the album?

It's a new instrument designed by Emmett Chapman who invented the Chapman Stick. It's basically a ten string Stick, but machined from a solid piece of aluminium so it has a very tubular tone and very stable tuning. The fingerboard is also textured so you can get infinite sustain out of it when using vibrato. I have mine set up in a 5ths and octaves tuning that Emmett tells me is unique! I also play it horizontally like a keyboard and play it through lots of different effects with mallets and eBow as well as tapping it. It makes a beautiful and sometimes disturbingly organic sound.

And finally, I'm delighted to say that Frost* have some UK shows lined up for next month. What can people expect to hear at the shows and will the band be playing further afield later in the year?

We shall be playing the "Sunlight Suite" for sure. I'm hoping for a 50/50 mix of old and new. It's just nice to have some new material to play finally!

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