Written interview with Jem Godfrey (if you prefer to listen to the interview instead of reading it, click here).
Jem Godfrey established the band Frost* in 2004. The band released two studio albums, several live albums and is about to release their third studio album named Falling Satellites, which will be released in May 2016. There are eight years between Frost*’s second studio album Experiments In Mass Appeal (2008) and Falling Satellites. In the meantime Frost* had some line-up changes, but their latest line-up already consists for six years. I interviewed Jem Godfrey via Skype on 28 April, 2016. We talked about Falling Satellites, the story behind this album, Jem’s influences, and how Steven Wilson ‘stole’ drummer Craig Blundell for his tour.
Iris: You’re just about to release your third studio album Falling Satellites. Why is there eight years between this album and the previous studio album?
Jem: It’s a combination of things. I was waiting for the right songs to arrive. I can’t hurry Frost* songs, they are very specific. I had to wait for the right sort of elements to come together. My children took a lot more time than I thought it would take, that slowed me down a lot. Also the music industries changed a lot the last 10-15 years, so I had to get two or three of other music related businesses/jobs off the ground to keep a roof above our heads. Now the kids are a bit older so I have more spare time, and the Frost* songs suddenly appeared.
Iris: How is the album recorded, and where?
Jem: It was mostly done in my studio called ‘The Cube’, which is in my garden. I did all my writing and playing/singing bits here. John Mitchell, the guitarist, wrote along on a couple of songs and I went to his place a couple of days as well, doing some bits and pieces. Nathan King, the bassist, was very busy. We live far apart from each other geographically, so it’s not easy for us to get together that often. Nathan emailed a lot of his stuff over. The genius musician as he is, it was literally a case of taking the email, dumping it straight in the track, and it was brilliant. That’s how Nathan works! For the drums we went up to a studio in London, called Strongroom, which got these amazing drum sound. We were there with two weekends with Craig Blundell, the drummer. We tracked it all and took it back to my place, and spend the winter mixing.
Iris: Any other (guest)musicians contributing on the album as well?
Jem: Yes! There’s Joe Satriani, who plays a guitar solo on Closer To The Sun. He very generously agreed to give me 32 bars of his time… Well, I think it was 32 bars, so that was amazing! We also had guest female vocalist Tori Beaumont who sang on the track Lights Out. It was actually the plan that I would do all the vocals on Lights Out myself, but it sounded a bit weird. She had a vulnerable voice for that little section, lyrically, and it worked really nicely.
Iris: What’s the concept/story behind the album?
Jem: It’s basically a message that life is very short and that you should enjoy it while you’ve got it. It’s been a strange year for me. The initial idea of it was about a person looking back at his/her life and thinking “It wasn’t so bad”… Coming to terms with your life and thinking that you gave it a good shot, and preparing yourself to die, I suppose. I have always been quite fascinated by that. Friends of mine told me stories about their (grand)parents telling that they were “ready to go”, and I was fascinated by that, because how could you be “ready to go”? How could you ever want to go? This story came about that way, trying to measure myself in that situation. Four weeks before we finished the album my father actually died, so this story became very personal, and he also said that he was ready to go! Having seen him die let me see how short live actually is. In the grand scheme of things it’s really short, so make the most of every moment you get, because we are mathimacally very lucky to be here at all.
Iris: Who made the artwork for the album?
Jem: That’s Vitamin P, Paul Tippett. He’s our long term graphic designer. He’s like our own Storm Thorgerson. He also did the artwork for Kino’s album. He’s our ‘house designer’, he puts up with my mad ideas and somehow turns them into something brilliant!
Iris: Does the logo on the album represent something?
Jem: That’s a very good question! You’re the first person to ask that! It’s some kind of metaphor for life, it’s a succession of twists and turns. It represents the choices you might or might not make.
Iris: Tell me more about the Chapman Railboard you used on the album! What’s the difference between a Chapman Stick and a Chapman Railboard?
Jem: About a 1000 British Pounds *laughs*. It’s a new instrument that Chapman developed. It’s a solid piece of aluminium, which gives a different sound than the Chapman Stick, which is obviously made out of wood. The Railboard has a more ‘tubular’ sound, and it’s blue! You can’t get a blue Chapman Stick! I had a special tuning for it made, and I play it flat like a piano. I wanted a different pallet of sounds. I don’t play it like most people play it. It sounds amazing, it’s not a guitar, not a bass and not a keyboard.
Iris: Can you hear some Chapman Railboard on the new album?
Jem: Yes, you can! You can hear it on Numbers and on the end of Closer To The Sun, and a little bit on Towerblock… It’s all over the place! I just need to play it a little bit better. I’ve got the strings set in octaves and fifths, it’s quite linear, it’s not the custom tuning of a usual Chapman Railboard. For me as a keyboard player it makes a lot of sense. It’s an instrument I will be playing for the rest of my life.
Iris: Who are your biggest influences, and can you ‘hear’ them on the new album?
Jem: Well yeah, there’s a Tony Banks moment in the track Nice Day For It. Genesis split up and Tony Banks is retired now. I was impressed by that because a lot of bands, in generally, don’t know when to stop. What I really like about Genesis is that they said “Ok, that’s enough”. I know that Tony lives in Surrey and he’s quite keen on gardening, apparently. He’s got a few quid in the bank and keeping himself to himself, and I thought to myself “That’s what I want to do, I want to be like Tony Banks when I’m 65/70”. Because we might never hear from him again musically, that bit in Nice Day For It became my little musical ‘thank you’. I think the rest of the music is a mash-up of the things I listened to in the last thirty years I suppose.
Iris: Is the album going to be released on vinyl?
Jem: Yes! The mastering is different on the vinyl, which I quite like. It’s a bit more ‘not in your face’ compared to the CD master. I’ve seen the artwork for the vinyl version, and it really works in that bigger format. There’s also a secret track on the vinyl version! We found ourselves a bit short on side four, so I had to come up with something.
Iris: You guys planned a tour in the UK, any plans for a European tour, or even an American tour?
Jem: Yeah! At the moment we’re constricted by Craig’s schedule, because he’s very busy with playing for Steven Wilson… Which is fine because that comes first, and we said that to him. We do eight or nine dates in the UK this year, and the current plan is to probably not do a UK tour next year and come to Europe. It would be nice to get back to America, and I would love to get to Japan as well. I would love to play in Japan!
Iris: And will Craig Blundell be joining the tour?
Jem: That’s one of the reasons we don’t do many gigs at the moment. We have our rules. If one of the band members can’t do it because of other obligations, we don’t do it. It will also dilute the look of the band, and it would probably a complete nightmare to teach our music to other people *laughs*. We’ve all put our time in the tracks, so it has got to be the four of us really. We’re like a band of brothers!
Iris: So Steven Wilson stole Craig from you?
Jem: Yes, he did *laughs*. We as Frost* weren’t doing much at the time. Who wouldn’t say “Yes” to Steven Wilson? I think Craig is having a brilliant time. We have a lot of contact with each other via email.
Iris: How did Frost* actually start?
Jem: That’s a long time ago… I was doing a lot of pop stuff at the time, and I needed a bit of a release valve, because it was quite frustrating just writing these very simple songs. I was writing/composing some songs (which became some Frost* tracks later on), and suddenly thought “Why wouldn’t I start a prog band? What a brilliant idea! I bet there’s no prog left at all!”. So I went on Google, and discovered that the prog scene was alive and well *laughs*! It actually happened by accident, if I’m honest.
Iris: You had different band members at the beginning of Frost*, how did you meet them?
Jem: I emailed John Mitchell out of the blue and said “Hello, you don’t know me, but would you like to play guitar in my band?”… And he didn’t reply! I didn’t hear anything from him, and two months later he said “Uh, yeah, fine, fair enough…”. He came down, and I found out that he was quite shy back in the day. We headed off in the music, and John told me we needed a bassist and a drummer. I told him that I know bassist John Jowitt, who played in IQ back in the day, and that IQ had a new drummer who was really good, named Andy Edwards. The band Frost* was formed really quickly! Later Andy and John departed from the band due to several reasons. Normally, bands go through their personnel/line-up changes in private, but we were on a very public stage because the band kicked off so quickly, we had our growing pains in full view of everybody. It’s all settled down now. The line-up that we have now exists for six years, it’s the longest line-up we’ve had, actually.
Iris: Is Falling Satellites your best Frost* album?
Jem: I think this is the best thing we have done. It sounds like we were having a good time, which is true! It’s a quite happy sounding album, even though it’s about death. It’s quite cheerful!
Iris: Any plans for a new album?
Jem: Yes, I think so! I’ve learned my lesson now, making those grandiose statements like “Right, we’re splitting up! Right, we’re back together again! Right, we’re going to do five albums… Six albums”… I’m gonna shut up a bit more often now. We wrote a lot of songs for our last album, and we have some songs left, which are proper Frost* songs. Stuff I’m really pleased with. Maybe we turn it into a fairly extensive EP. They will see the light of day, it might by our album ‘Three And A Half’ (A pun with Steven Wilson’s album 4½)!
Iris: You’re a very funny person to talk to, I really enjoyed the interview! Thank you very much for your time, I hope you enjoyed it too!
Jem: Thank you very much, Iris! It was good fun!
You can read this interview on Background Magazine:
You can read my review of the album Falling Satellites here:
More information about Frost*:
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