Frost*'s last album, Falling Satellites, dates back to 2016. So it was about time mastermind Jem Godfrey teamed up once more with Nathan King and John Mitchell to release some new material.
With a copy of the new EP Others held close to his ear, DPRP's Patrick McAfee puts the questions to Mr Godfrey about the six new songs and the forthcoming full album, plus his inspiration from Tony Banks and current pop bands such as The 1975, and whether Frost* will ever play a live show on Zoom!
Hi Jem, thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for DPRP.net. It is much appreciated! Others is another in the line of fantastic releases from Frost*!
Jem: Hi Patrick, good to meet you too.
What are the origins of the songs that make up the Others EP, and what factors drove the decision to release them now and in the EP/Digital format?
Others is made up of six songs that were “off-cuts” from the previous album Falling Satellites. That one was originally meant to be a double album, but it felt too unfocused, so I pruned it down to a single album and stopped writing extra songs for it. These six songs then sat around for a while in a half-finished state, and after a time I listened to them and thought that they deserved to be finished and released.
More so than perhaps any current prog band, I feel that Frost* successfully combines classic prog elements with a wholly modern musical approach. Tracks like Exhibit A and Eat are particularly strong examples of that. As a listener, it is great fun to hear you arrange and produce prog music in such a refreshing and "current" way. Do you feel that the prog genre could break through to a more mainstream audience with an increased embracing of modern production techniques and musical styles?
Thank you very much! Interestingly, I hear more and more prog influence in mainstream music now, than the other way round. Bands like The 1975 have instrumental pieces on their albums and have atmospheric, experimental moments that mainstream audiences seems to find perfectly acceptable.
Coldplay do something similar from time to time too. That's just two examples I can think of off the top of my head, but I know there are many more. I think these days people listen to a much wider spectrum of music thanks to services like Spotify, where they suggest other artists similar to the ones you're listening to. That can lead you off on a whole new journey if you find a band you like, and widens the public's horizons musically. I find people are much more accepting of different musical genres than they used to be. That “us vs them” tribal thing is still very strong in prog, but I bet there are more pop albums on people's Spotify playlists than before. It doesn't seem to have reached the music yet though.
Stylistically, prog is in a particularly angry phase currently. Progressive metal has become very dominant, and the pervading sound has been a lot of guitars, 16th notes on the kick drum and men shouting. I find a lot of it quite intimidating, which I guess is the point. Compositionally I think there's only so much you can do with that, so I think it would be quite limiting if we tried to do it. Plus none of us can grow manly beards. They go quite patchy, so we end up looking like Victorian chimney sweeps rather than rock gods.
So I don't sense that contemporary production ideas are particularly welcome in prog at the moment, which is fair enough.
With your background in many musical genres, are there current artists/bands in the prog/pop/rock scenes that you feel are producing particularly compelling music?
I'm a big fan of The 1975 as songwriters and producers. They change their sound to suit the songs, which I find very refreshing and play around with the traditional guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, vocal formation if they feel the song requires it, which takes confidence. And they're writing about things that are more challenging than just “being in a club”, having sex or getting pissed, which seems to pervade much of modern pop at the moment.
Love It If We Made It is a classic bit of song writing; it's a modern equivalent to Subterranean Homesick Blues in many ways as it's a very biting bit of social commentary, pinned to a largely static melody, but it works brilliantly. And when combined with the very graphic video, it takes it to a whole other level. It rightly won the Ivor Novello for Best Contemporary Song last year.
Their singer could do with some humility lessons onstage though, he does seem to think he's rather marvellous, doesn't he?
Tony Banks is a long-time personal favorite musician of mine. He has such a gift for melody, and many of his compositions feel big and orchestral in a sense. I hear a similar style in some of your work. Drown from the EP being one such example. Do you consider him an influence?
Yes, very much. TB was basically the reason I got into prog early on. I still think he's very underrated as a creative musician, aside from his technical skills. He was sticking his synths through distortion pedals and phasers very early on, which took Genesis' sound away from the “piano, organ, Mellotron” cliché, more towards guitar and heavier tones. I still have a hard time on the earlier Genesis material, trying to work out what's Tony and what's Steve Hackett.
Then later on his pioneering work with sampling is again, I think, chronically overlooked. Peter Gabriel tends to get a lot of the credit for innovative sampling, but Tony was using samples equally creatively, more in service to the song. The Genesis album in 1983 is a great showcase of that.
With the Covid-19 situation, we have seen many bands and artists using the internet and platforms like Zoom to engage with their audiences from a live performance perspective. I've even seen some artists charge a fee for live performances using this technology. With the standard concert setting possibly being in question for the foreseeable future, do you see remote online concerts as a viable path moving forward?
I hope not! What I do think is good though, is that it's demonstrated that bands and fans can interact much more immediately, and on a much more even level. Being able to chat to fans live, in addition to playing for them is a new thing, and I think that's really interesting. When you're onstage, you can't really hear or see the audience, so it can feel like a one-sided relationship sometimes. Doing things on Zoom and so forth has broken that wall down a bit, the band/fan relationship has become more of a conversation, and I think that's a excellent thing.
The EP is great. It has all the musical twists and turns that one would expect from Frost*, but also takes the band into some new and exciting musical areas. As with any great EP, the only wish is that it was longer! There is an excellent song called Postcard that had been uploaded to your Soundcloud page that was not included on the EP. Is there a reason it was not included and will the song be made available at a later date?
Thank you again! Postcard was written last year and not part of the Satellite sessions technically. It'll probably end up somewhere in the new album bonus features.
Not to be greedy with the new EP just being released, but word is that a new Frost* album is expected this year. That is fantastic news! Can you provide any feedback on what fans can expect from it?
I reckon we're about 60% of the way there currently. The songs are in various stages of completion. I'm just writing some last bits and pieces to try to connect it all up. It's been written in little chunks over the last year or so, so it ended up sounding a bit disjointed stylistically.
The sound has moved on again from the last album which I'm very happy about. We don't like to go over old ground as a band, so I'm relieved that we've managed to find a sound that still links us to what we've done before, but at the same time gives us some new places to explore musically. John's gotten really into his Boss effects processor thingy and has been designing some very un-John like tones that he's really enjoying using.
The good thing about Frost* is that we're all free to experiment with new things if we want. I'm playing quite a lot of Chapman Stick on this one for example. The other interesting freedom has been being a three-piece for the first time. We've decided not to replace Craig with a full-time drummer, instead we're using a few musicians in his place ; Kaz Rodriguez, Darby Todd and the mighty Pat Mastelotto are all involved in the new album and it's been very refreshing to have such differing takes on the new songs. It's changed the sound of the band for sure and we're really happy with the results so far.
Jem, thanks again for taking the time to answer DPRP's questions. Frost* has consistently knocked it out of the park musically and Others is absolutely no exception.
Thank you very much indeed Patrick! Take care of yourself and hope to see you out there somewhere soon!
Frost* — Others
The first image that came to mind while infusing this long-awaited prog-pop EP was of a Human Racing-era, muscle-bound Nik Kershaw on anabolic steroids. Others is the first output from Frost* in exactly four years. A long hiatus, but hardly surprising given the diverse commitments of the band's personnel. In fact, the EP is a delicious basket of musical fruit left behind from the creative harvest that gave us Falling Satellites. That album contributed two tracks to "the list"; my slowly growing compendium of desert-island musical perfection, with Closer To The Sun and Hyperventilate.
With this in mind, I was half-expecting filler, of which, with the possible exception of Fathom, there is none. Instead, we have an onslaught of sound which could hardly come from any other artist right now, which hopefully will provide a transition to even greater things when the new, promised full-length album comes out later this year through InsideOut Music. There is also an arty anthology called 13 Winters expected soon, so the band are clearly revving things up for the new decade, pandemic or no pandemic.
Speaking of revving up, leader Jem Godfrey sounds like he has spooned some of the aforementioned steroids into his keyboard setup. They were huge on previous outings, but here they take on gargantuan proportions that would make a Rudess or a Wakeman quiver. In fact, the tonality and layering has been upped to a level where the wonderful John Mitchell almost doesn't get a look-in. This is not an EP which displays the guitar gymnastics he is capable of. I do hope he is saving up his knuckles for the new album in-recording.
You have to be careful on first listenings with volume, and check your cardiac defibrillator if you have one, as the dynamic range makes Marillion appear like a drone artist. For example, opener Fathers goes from silent to 11 in a blink after the motif is tinkled, nursery-style, midway. Then Clouda delivers some respite from the synth battery with a water-cycle/meteorological theme, before Exhibit A kicks off with some Vietnamese-sounding chants and the resumption of the thumping. Big keys, big drums, with some shouting and expletives, alongside a cutting lyric, bemoaning celebrity culture. Nice.
We have to remember that Frost* has one foot firmly rooted in prog, but that the other is knee-deep in pop music. Jem's day job of old was, after all, helping the likes of Atomic Kitten into the charts. Come to think of it, maybe Exhibit A is a wink to this background. Maybe not. Most poppy of all is Eat. Radio 1 won't play it, but it's of that ilk. Indeed there is a lot of poppy, synth-modulated vocal going down. I've never been a fan ever since Cher got her hands on the technology, and always view autotune and such as a way to cover up total inability to sing. But Frost* don't have this problem; where the vocals are unprocessed they shine wonderfully and convey the expressive lyrics as they really should.
The highlight for me is the concluding and least-bombastic track, Drown. After the frantic previous half-hour, we have a wonderful unwind which has moments which, bizarrely, reminded me of what Prism by 65daysofstatic might sound like if remixed by an ambient-leaning DJ. There is an atmospheric guitar flourish (finally, John), which takes me straight back to that track. Music does indeed perform strange tricks in the brain.
The tracks that make up this EP were originally written for the 2016 Frost* album, Falling Satellites. Over the last few years they were completed by Jem Godfrey and his bandmates John Mitchell and Nathan King. Interestingly, the end result finds most of these songs to be stylistically different than the album that they were originally intented for.
Therein lies one of the compelling things about Frost*. Although the band has a core sound, they continue to challenge themselves and their listeners. Also, Others is only the fourth Frost* studio release in almost 15 years. This limited output has helped to ensure strength in the material that they release. As an example, none of these six songs feel like fillers.
Fathers, is the most traditional-sounding track, but is nonetheless a powerful and effective way to open the EP. Clouda, with its mix of pounding drums, vocal effects and ethereal keyboards is an example of the superb production values that distinguish Frost* from many of their peers. Technical merits aside, is also a great song!
The same can be said of Exhibit A. This tale of the downside of fame is a bit bonkers and a testament to the layers of creativity that go into creating this band's music. The aggressively-modern spark of the song may alienate some more 'traditional' fans, but it is exactly this kind of risk-taking that keeps Frost* vibrant.
Godfrey's sense of modern pop/rock and current recording techniques, helps to ensure that the music is contemporary. For example, Eat is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Billie Elish. At the other end of the spectrum, Fathom and Drown display the influence of classic prog and legends like Tony Banks. However, Frost* is not a Neo band. Instead, they continue to do a masterful job of incorporating many influences into a musical casing that is of their own.
I do my darnest to avoid writing reviews that could be interpreted as fanboy ramblings. That said, as someone who hears A LOT of modern prog, Frost* consistantly rises above the pack for me. Their recordings have been fresh, bold and most importantly, entertaining.
Others is no different, and the only negative is that its limited length leaves the listener wanting more. There is word of a new album later this year, so this EP stands an essential and extremely worthwhile stop-gap.