Frost* came onto the scene in 2006 with their acclaimed debut album “Milliontown”. Comprised of a formidable group of musicians, it was primarily led by Jem Godfrey with John Mitchell (Lonely Robot, Kino, It Bites) closely in tow. These two have weathered several changes in the band during the intervening years and, accompanied by longtime bassist Nathan King (Level 42), are the primary drivers of excellent new album “Day and Age”.
Sonic Perspectives spoke with Godfrey and Mitchell shortly before the release of “Day and Age”, discussing at length the material on the new album as well as the circumstances surrounding its recording locations and the various drummers who were chosen to perform. Always keen to engage in dry humor, it should be noted for those reading the transcription that an overarching sense of wit, and at times sarcasm, pervaded the interview. The audio recording culminates with the full 12-minute version of the title track. Be sure not to miss this engaging conversation, or the album which inspired it. Remember that for more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
Hey, welcome everyone. This is Scott Medina with Sonic Perspectives. We have Jem and John on the line, representing Frost* today. Welcome, gentlemen. We’ve got a new “Day and Age” out. So how you boys feeling about this new one?
John: I’m feeling remarkably good! I’m full of the joys of spring. This album has got a lot of very positive feedback thus far, so that’s very reassuring. When we started doing it, we were quietly confident that we had something on our hands and it looks like quite a vindication. So yes, I’m as happy as Larry!
Jem: It was more of an experiment this time in doing something different with how we wrote it and we were a little bit nervous that perhaps we’d gone off too far in a strange direction. But it turns out that it doesn’t look like we have! So as John is saying, we’re feeling very vindicated and relieved.
No one noticed that there’s no solos as well, so we managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and we’ve got away with it…we think!
I noticed, cause at the end of “Kill the Orchestra”, there’s just a little moment of John’s guitar coming in on a little lick and suddenly you realize, wait, hang on for a minute, is that the first guitar kind of solo lick thus far? it only lasts for five seconds or so, but it’s enough to remind you of what you’ve been missing. So, since you brought it up, let’s start there. How was the decision to not have any solos on this album made?
Jem: Every time we write something, we try and set ourselves up with some different parameters to work with because it kind of makes it interesting to have something to push against. So, on the second album we had no toms. I remember the drummer at the time was very unhappy about that. But he had a kit made up of four or five snares in the end, so he kind of got round it in a different way. But I think the older we get, I feel more conspicuous soloing because it sort of feels faintly ridiculous sometimes, playing really fast with a bunch of chords and things like that. So, as songwriters, the challenge for us was more, how do we fill this 32 bars or 16 bars with something that’s interesting without it just being a kind of lazy sense of, you know, John – off you go, Jem – off you go kind of thing. So it was, it was more of a challenge for us to make it a bit more difficult for ourselves. And hopefully as a result, we discover some new things to do, which I think we did.
John, are you happy in retrospect that you guys made the decision not to do any solos on this one?
Absolutely. I mean, none of the music that I listen to on a day-to-day basis…I mean, one of my favorite bands is The Police, and I cannot stand it when Andy plays a lead guitar solo. [laughs]He’s a very, very good rhythm guitar player, but The Police don’t need guitar solos. From an emotional context, you’re trying to relate to people seriously about something, and if suddenly in the middle of a quite poignant song, you suddenly go and start playing 30-second notes, it kind of deconstructs everything that you were building up there in the first place. It’s very unnecessary, really. As Jem says, we’re trying to approach our dotage with dignity here. So, a full-on monitor, channeling Iron Maiden is not the way forward for us!
So do you think going forward from here, even in other projects that you’re involved with, do you think that’s going to have an impact on how much you’re soloing and you might rethink that?
Jem: Ah, well album five is a continuous solo! [laughs]No, you can never tell, really. You can never tell. I mean, there was a track on the album before, the “Falling Satellites” album, where the last six minutes of it was this sort of big elongated keyboard solo. I remember at the time thinking that that was the last one I wanted to do, really. Because “Milliontown” has got a lot of soloing on it, and then “A Nice Day For It” had a long solo in it, and so there’s only so many ways you can frame that particular picture, I think. So unless we can think of something different to do…I might get very good at the thumb piano, for example, in which case – game on!
Well, John, I’ll be interested to hear on the next Lonely Robot album if the amount of soloing has dramatically gone down…
John: Well, I’m not really aligned with the likes of Steve Vai, I’m more sort of Dave Gilmour really, and I don’t think anybody needs to hear that, either. So, like Jem says, maybe I’ll rely more upon…the emotional context.
So, let’s talk about the formation of the songwriting. It sounds like you had some dramatic locations in which to be writing this album, like next to a lighthouse and such.
Jem: Yes. Well, previously we’ve always gone around to each other’s houses to write, to each other’s studios. And the trouble with that is obviously there’s the inevitable distractions you’ll have, like, you know, your kids will go, Oh, what’s for dinner dad, or the phone will ring or there’ll be a delivery at the door. So sometimes it’s very difficult to get into a flow where you can really focus on what you’re supposed to be doing. And so I think we’ve always been kind of quietly mourning the fact that places like The Manor in Oxfordshire, the studio, is gone, and Air Studios in Montserrat. Those places where you’d go for a couple of weeks. I think we always lamented the fact that we were about 10 years too late for that sort of behavior. So I think the closest we could get was to say let’s get out of our comfort zones and go to a place that neither of us really knows and focus on songwriting. So the first place was down in Cornwall, which is in the Southwest of England where most of the UK goes on holiday for summer. And we sort of converted this little cottage into a makeshift recording studio for six days. We wrote five or six songs I think on that first session. And then we had a break for a couple of months, to give our livers a chance to recover. And then we went in January down to Dungeness, which is on the South coast of England, which is a really kind of bleak, strange place where Derek Jarman, the artist used to live and there’s a nuclear power station 200 meters to the right and the lighthouse to the left. And it was absolutely the foulest winter weather, you know? So we were right by the sea, and blowing full force and we’re trying to write this song. Let’s just say it added to the atmosphere of the writing. So I think we’ll do that again! Definitely. Maybe not there, but somewhere else.
John: I did actually find out by the way, Jem, that Dungeness is actually classified as Europe’s only desert. That’s the classification, Dungeness is a desert, bizarrely!
Tell us about the song writing process between the two of you. Are most of the songs written by both of you together, or are you coming in with some ideas ahead of time? Or how does that work?
John: When we went to Cornwall, no, we didn’t have a stitch! And I was quite nervous about it at the time, I seem to recall. Because what if we hit a roadblock early on? And Jem‘s like, Don’t worry about it, there’s lots of pubs around here. So we’ll make the best use of the time elsewhere. But the fact of the matter is, once we’re sort of off the ground – I think we spent the first evening sort of setting up an improvised studio – and then the first actual day we started, we hit the ground running. One day we came up with two sort of songs. There were three songs on the first session that we ended up using for the album, and the second session had two. So yeah, once we’re up and running it was really quite a prolific experience and it was very rewarding in that respect.
How do you determine who’s going to be the lead vocalist on it? Is it the main songwriter of it or do you flip a coin or what?
John: When we were doing the demos, it was simply a case of the fact that I don’t know how to use Pro Tools. So Jem was in charge of Pro Tools and I said, Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll put down a guide vocal here and we’ll decide who actually sings it later. And so, it was very much a case of most of songs that you’re hearing were actually the original sort of sketch that we put together. A lot of those vocals and guitars were from the actual situation and the environment where we recorded them. But I did keep saying to Jem, This one will be good for you! Your voice will be good on this. I did fully expect to get completely replaced, but that doesn’t seem to be the case! Actually, to be fair, on the album Jem sings three, and we both sing one of them, we can take turns. So there’s a mix of voices across the album.
So when John sent the guide vocals to you, Jem, were you just having a cold that week or a sore throat?
Jem: Well, I did try and re-sing some of them. I mean, “Skywards” was supposed to be me. I recorded a version of it and I listened to them and I thought, this is not as good. So, I just said to John, you’re on this one as well, mate, sorry. [laughs].
And then obviously now that puts the added responsibility of were we to play this live, the ball is very much in my court now, isn’t it? [laughter]
So, you’ve got this interesting juxtaposition of a narrative running throughout the album with phrases, like “Enjoy yourself”, “Relax”, “Everything is okay”. Spoken sometimes in an ominous inflection, and sometimes by a child. Um, and of course then there’s the counter reference of “You scum”. So, what’s your overarching intention with these messages sprinkled throughout the album?
Jem: There’s a sort of sense these days in the UK, where it was all quite patronizing in terms of how we were told to behave and what not to do. And I think up to that point, even before COVID, with the current powers that be, there’s definitely been a sense of sort of being talked down to in some respects. But they’re doing it in that kind of Bill Hicks way. Go back to sleep. I think it’s just that sense of responsibility feels like it’s been more and more taken away from people. So we’re just kind of herded about and told, Do this! But it’s okay, fine, take it easy, relax, have a holiday, buy this, go back to Amazon and get some more things, that sort of thing. I think underneath all that there is a certain aggression from the powers that be. It’s a sense that society is increasingly kind of nannied and made to feel that children, perhaps.
Because underneath it you’re considered scum, but we’re just going to put nice veneer over top of it.
Jem: Exactly. Yeah. Just do as you’re told, will you!
John: Another thing to consider as well is the fact that, like if you’re going to get somebody to perform open heart surgery, you have to be qualified to do that. But there’s no real qualification to run a country, is there? It’s bizarre that one of the most important roles in anybody’s life, you know, with such an active responsibility can be so mismanaged by somebody with so little compassion or ability to do one’s own job, it’s quite remarkable when you think about it. You certainly wouldn’t put Boris Johnson in charge of…well, open heart surgery, for example! [laughs]
Yeah, we can relate to that…
John: Didn’t want to go there! Didn’t want to make that journey, but…
So even though that’s running through various songs on the album, are most of the lyrics of the songs also reflecting that, or was that just a little injection you wanted to put in, regardless of the story that individual songs were telling?
Jem: I think the narrative really is that it’s more observationalist. It’s looking at the world at the moment and – whether it’s because I’m getting older and I’m more aware of these things, or because I’ve got children now, so you kind of suddenly become more hyper-aware of the planet and what effect it might be on them – I think it was a sort of commentary on how incredibly strange the world’s become in the last five years, perhaps. Certain people in power that you’d never thought would have been in power, strange things happening with pandemics, you know, it’s just an extraordinary time to be alive.
The video for the title track Day and Age was recently released. Does the final video portray what you were originally writing the lyrics to be about… A middle-age pig crisis?[laughs]John: I think the narrative about that whole thing is: Ignorance is bliss, really. I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s not having a crisis, he’s just lost his job and he can’t bare to tell his wife that he’s lost his job and it sends him slightly around the twist…a pig twist. And then of course it goes off in another direction. At the end of it we learned that the little oinky-oink pig there is relieved that he’s not actually a human being and he doesn’t know what fate befalls him, but that’s in a way which keeps him sort of subservient and happy. It’s not the cheeriest of videos, but it’s sort of macabre and I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out.
I noticed that one of the studios that you were writing the album in, you renamed it the Troubled Cow studios. So there seems to be this existential animal angst that’s incorporating its way throughout here.
John: Well, yeah, I mean, actually both studios had very pertinent names. Butter Beak was the second studio. And the reason for that was one of the first things that Jem and I did, we gazed upon the shoreline. We were literally 20 meters from the actual sea. And we spotted this seagull that had caught this fish and he kept picking it up. And then seconds later he would drop it again! And then pick it up and then drop it. It’s like, Just keep hold of the fish! And I said, Butter Beak! Cause we had the film Butterfingers. And that’s how it became Butter Beak studios. And the Troubled Cow was that there was a strange portrait of a cow in Cornwall. And it just seemed to be in some sort of, I don’t know, sort of discontent. And yeah, so Troubled Cow it was.
Jem: Big Gary Larson fans!
What initially inspired the storytelling monologue in “The Boy Who Stood Still”?
Jem: Sometimes I just sit down and write things out. I’ve got lots of Word documents of lyrics and half finished bits and pieces. So it kind of started out as one thing and ended up being this little short story. And I just thought, it’d be nice to put that to music or to do something with it. It’s something we haven’t done before. We probably won’t do it again because again, it was an interesting experiment. But yeah, it is a slight diversion, I suppose, from the overriding theme of the album, but it’s quite nice in a way. It’s sort of like how you’d have “Yellow Submarine” on an album or that kind of thing. It’s a little little sorbet in the middle of it all, just a bit of fun, really. It was just an interesting story, I thought. And getting someone of the caliber of Jason Isaacs to read it, lent it that kind of weight.
I think it’s a wonderful diversion in that respect and unlike some narratives that you might hear on an album, it’s kind of compelling even as you listen to it over and over again. So it doesn’t, it doesn’t lose its effect, I think.
Jem: Yeah, I think so. There’s a slight reference to the album cover in it, which was a secondary thing, about the five characters on the front. The thing that took the most time was the “Hail rage! Hail fear!” bit. Cause that was about 300 vocals…it took quite a while to tape.
John: I was going to ask you about that actually! Is there a plug-in that does that? But then no, you actually did it 300 times!
Jem: Yeah. It was quite boring! [laughter]
But we do have three drummers who appear on this album. Did you initially hope to have one drummer after Craig left or what led you to reach out to these particular musicians?
John: Well, yeah. Craig left, he was a bit busy with Steve Wilson and we just saw that as an opportunity, really. We knew that we wanted Pat Mastelotto on the record. Having grown up throughout the eighties and being massively obsessed with the album “Welcome To the Real World”, we just thought, wouldn’t that be cool? You know, that would be a box ticked. He’s got his own pocket and he actually said to us, “I’m just a tired old rock drummer, man.” And we said, “Come on, Pat, come and do it.” And he agreed to it. His groove on “Skywards” is exactly similar to the sort of thing that he’s famous for, that kind of “Broken Wings” kind of groove. He’s a very hard hitter and of course, “Repeat to Fade” was the perfect track for him. Darby Todd, Jem saw in a jazz context, in a bar in Tunbridge Wells. He sent me some footage of this guy playing and I’m like, “Wow, well, let’s get him in on it!” Strangely enough, he played for The Darkness briefly and Hot Leg with Justin Hawkins. I don’t know if anybody remembers them, but you know, he’s kind of finding his feet in the wide world of drums. And then of course, Kaz Rodriguez is one of the top session drummers in the country and he’s like the drummer’s drummer. So they’ve all got very different styles. Darby‘s got a real groove on and he plays on “Waiting For the Lie” and that end section is absolutely brilliant. Kaz has got a real motoring style he’s on “Day and Age” and he’s got some interesting sort of cross rhythms that he does. So, all in all, they’re just interesting choices for three drummers. Who knows what we’re gonna do next time, we might get three other ones, who knows?
Especially without having new solos, the rhythm really plays a huge role in the album.
John: That’s what people have said. Obviously, it’s down to Jem‘s production, but you know, the drums really are the superstar of the record, really.
Especially on a long track like “Day and Age”, it’s just a crucial element. Did you ever try out Pat for that track and see which you preferred?
John: No, everyone was assigned a role, we kind of knew that from the outset, really.
You guys have alluded a couple of times to a future Frost* projects. I did hear Jem comment in another interview that there might be a finite number of releases for the band’s future. So, is there a life expectancy on Frost* before it melts?[laughs]Jem: Oh, I see what you did there! I don’t know…as long as we keep having interesting ideas and experiences it’s worth doing. But if we ever felt, and I know John would agree with this, if we ever felt we were starting to rehash old stuff…you’re not going to get “Tubular Bells” II out of us, put it that way. As long as it’s interesting. We can pick up pace a bit now, we’ve already started working on the fifth album. That’s already in the planning stages. So, I think, yeah, for now, we’ll do five and see how we get on.
John: The important thing is, like Jem said earlier, is to make sure that every album is a progression or that there is something different about it from the previous one. It’s very easy to get stuck in that rut. To a certain degree, I kind of experienced that from doing the three Lonely Robot albums. Even though there are differences, like the third one was way more synth-y, but I did find myself towards the end of that cycle going, Yeah, there’s a reason I wanted to do three. And then of course, I tripped myself up and make a fourth one just to confuse myself! And so moving forward, I’m gonna rethink things now. But certainly like Jem says, there are bands out there that rely upon the Holy Trinity of the Mellotron, the Hammond and the Moog and you kind of know what you’re going to get and we don’t want to be that band.
Well, John, how do you differentiate writing for Frost* as opposed to the other projects that you’re in?
John: Well, I mean, that’s an interesting question. It very much depends on who you’re collaborating with, really. I mean, I know that, for example, like with It Bites or Kino, I was collaborating with John Beck. He’s got a very stylized way of playing the keyboards. I mean, I don’t think the Mitchell motor changes that much. To be fair when we did “The Tall Ships”, I have to say with all honesty and I know it’s probably unkind of me to say that it was a real, conscious effort to try and sound like a pastiche of what It Bites might’ve sounded like had they got together again in 2008. As much at the time I was quite fond of it, in hindsight I don’t think it’s aged well and it certainly didn’t have all the integrity that it should have had. So yeah, you’ve got to be mindful of that when you, when you approach anything really.
Do you guys have hopes in 2022 for live gigs before the fifth album might come out?
Jem: Yes we do. In fact, only today I bought two Mac Book Pros for that very reason. We have one problem at the moment, which is the wonderful deal that the government did for touring musicians in Europe, the current Brexit arranJements. John did some calculations and worked out that it was 2000 euros per country just to even arrive in those countries to play. So doing Germany, Italy, France, you’re looking at 10 grand before you even plugged your keyboards in. So, at the moment, we’re not quite sure about our European plans. That said, I hear America is a wonderful place to play and so is Japan and other places like that. So, we are definitely gonna get out and about! But I don’t think this year is the time to do it because I think we’re all still finding our feet with the way the world works. The other thing is that the entire gigging community is going to get back out on the road as soon as it can. So there’s only so many venues left! So, I think we’re going to let the rush die down, then we might step out a bit. So yes, definitely. We’d love to get out and play.
Yeah. Is an option instead of that, since it’s just so cost prohibitive with what you just described, to do festivals or things like that so that you don’t need to worry about taking that on yourself, or is that not as fulfilling for you?
Jem: Possibly. Yeah. We’re not particularly interested in doing streamed gigs. It’s quite a stilted experience for me as an observer because you know, you’re in a room and we’re all two meters apart from each other, it doesn’t feel right to do that. So we definitely want to go out and do it face-to-face with people. We’ll see, I suppose.
John: When we do get out again, what’s going to make this band special really is that we want to step it up a gear and put on real production value. And certainly that’s our sort of mission drive at the moment.
Do you think that Brexit visa hurdle will get overturned somehow because it’s just such a ridiculous set up that you guys are up against now?
John: There was a deal on the table. But our glorious leader sidestepped it and said no to Europe. And so now here we are. I hope it does get revisited. And I certainly, I know that there was a letter written to the governance signed by people like Roger Daltrey – who actually voted for Brexit, it should be pointed out – and now wanting to see it overturned. But, time will tell.
Well we’re going to close up by playing a track from the album, let’s play the full title track. Do you want to set it up for us?
Well, this is quite a cinematic song. I kind of liken it to walking through quite a large house and you’re going into different rooms as you go through. And there’s different experiences to be had in each of those rooms. And eventually you end up back in the kitchen, the good old kitchen of the chorus!
Right on. Well, gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure talking with you and thanks for filling us in a little bit about the album, it’s a fantastic release. Really excited for what you come up with next, but all the best with this release.
Thanks very much, Scott.
Thanks! Bye bye.