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Jim Garten View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: The ultimate Frost* + Tinyfish interview/interface
    Posted: December 04 2009 at 09:01
Here, for your entertainment, information & delectation, I present to you a conversation between those titans of the UK prog industry that were, are, and shall continues to be the mighty Godfrey brothers, Jem and Simon of Frost* and Tinyfish (in)fame.

The conversation is all theirs, the formatting (and errors pertaining thereto) all mine...

Enjoy

Quote Jem Godfrey-Prog! Why?? Men Are Dead were just getting established and gaining a rep on the acoustic scene, what happened to make you down tools on that and write songs about the end of the world in ludicrous time signatures?

Simon Godfrey - Because there are only so many times you can stand by the side of the stage, watching some pallid hippy sing in a reedy voice about rainy days. We used to perform (and still do) like it's the last thing we are ever going to do on this earth. Back then, we discovered that flinging yourself about on stage in a candlelit backroom acoustic club tends to go down poorly with the Nick Drake acolytes.

There is a lot of crossover between the musical styles but Prog in its purest form, is about throwing away the rulebook and getting your creative hands well and truly dirty. You are allowed to be as bonkers as you like without some t**ser shooting you a dirty look from over their real ale glass.

You once said to me that playing keyboards onstage is like ironing in front of a crowd. Wouldn't you rather be a sexy lead singer who gets to put his foot up on a fake monitor and leer suggestively at all the girls?

Jem - Once upon a time, hard to believe now looking at me, but for a hallowed 18 months or so, I was indeed an object of desire. Largely based around my 17th and 18th birthdays, I used to get asked out by nice looking girls on a fairly regular basis and as a result of saying “yes” many times, I did get to see and do many wonderful things. However, I’m now 37 with male pattern baldness, an ever expanding stomach, 3 kids and not an inconsiderable amount of grey hair starting to appear. I am, in short: old, sh*t and shot. And short.

Therefore, me standing centre stage in 2009 giving it maximum Bob Catley is not something I think the general public at large should have to be burdened with. I’ve seen quite a few prog bands in the last few years with just such a character and it amazes me how a) they can take themselves so seriously and b) how the audience can simultaneously. Therefore, I’m striking a blow for reality and putting myself in the perfect role for a fat, dull bloke who likes gadgets a tad too much – behind the ironing board.

Is Tinyfish a band or just a project? Just kidding. How did you guys meet? Just kidding. How is the songwriting achieved in Tinyfish? How long does it take for a song to go from riff to record?


Simon - Songwriting is achieved by making your fellow musicians feel inadequate in every respect so that their self esteem and confidence are utterly shattered. As any good songwriter knows, it is vital to crush potential outside artistic threats however small in order to make sure that it is your material alone that makes it onto the finished product. Just kidding. Like any musicians, we are all rounded and incredibly balanced individuals.
Some of the songs that appear on Tinyfish albums have taken years to evolve. I have a large holdall under my bed which contains a bunch of cassette tapes, DATs and mini disks that hold almost every riff or melody I've ever written. The songs I write however don't become Tinyfish songs until the other guys have had a chance to contribute. Tinyfish is not just me, it’s us as a band. This nurturing attitude will continue for as long as no-one else in the group writes a better song than me.

Just kidding.

Joe Jackson once said about playing his material live; 'If you want to hear a faithful rendition of one of my songs, go listen to the bloody album.' Does this kind of attitude appeal to you?

Jem - Yes indeedy. I rather like playing about with the songs live. One song which has almost become a bit of a running joke to change for live use is “Snowman” from Milliontown. So far, we’ve done a semi acoustic version, a version with a comedy ending, a vocal only version using a Tenori On and I’m currently working on what I believe to be Prog Rock’s first mashup by fusing it with most of Peter Gabriel’s 4th album. Bizarrely, it really works.

Jem - The music industry is changing radically at the moment. In theory this should mean that hitherto undervalued genres should be able to get a foot back in the door of acceptance by way of the so called “Cottage Industry” way of promoting their music via the internet. Uniquely, prog rock is still universally derided by the public and the media as a terrible, ghastly joke even 30 years after it’s heyday. What does it need to do to really grab the 21st century by the bollocks and be taken seriously once again? Is it even doable?


Simon – I’ve said this elsewhere in fact. I utterly reject the media perception that progressive rock is a moribund movement. There’s loads of interesting stuff out there to listen to. That said, I also fully accept some of the reasons as to why they perceive prog to be a creative ghost town. In any genre, there are individuals who are content to imitate rather than innovate. When it comes to this style of music, if you had a modicum of technical ability, it’s easy to roll out the pedal chords then bash away in 7/8 until your cape falls off.

I think Prog at its best has always been a hybrid creature, pulling in influences from other musical forms to make something new and interesting. The future of the genre belongs to the bands that are willing to acknowledge the fantastic stuff that has gone before but look to embrace what is coming with equal enthusiasm. Our Mr Zappa hit the nail on the head when he said; 'The mind is like a parachute, it works best when it's open'.

Simon - Can you remember the very first time when you thought 'This music lark. That's the dayjob I want.'

Jem - I remember seeing Brian Eno on Top Of The Pops, he was painted silver I think, wearing a long shiny metallic cape and sporting a very high domed forehead into which nestled very long white blonde hair. He was playing a machine I now know to be a Minimoog. Only he wasn’t playing the keyboard, he was just twiddling the knobs in a very menacing fashion. I clearly remember thinking, “That’s for me!”
Jem - Which suits Tinyfish better - being onstage or being in the studio?


Simon - As a band, Tinyfish is much more suited to a live environment as it's where both the band and the songs come into their own. We are by nature a very impatient bunch of gits and so the immediate return you get when playing a show is very appealing to us all.
Speaking personally, my favourite part of any album/tour cycle is the songwriting bit. It's a time to just get lost in the creative process and bugger the consequences. I remember Rob Ramsay (our lyricist and resident on-stage narrator) slapping me about the head when I said that I wasn’t sure if I should write something that we couldn’t play live. He said ‘Just write the best music you can and worry about whether it can be played live later’. He was quite right of course. It should always be about the music. A song is forever whereas a gig is just for that night. It’s what makes both things so special.

Speaking of the importance of writing. It's music first and lyrics later with you isn't it?

Jem - I used to say always music, but recently I've started writing bunches of words first too. I've got a lovely sad old tune called "Chickens" that I need to write some music for as well as another one called "Towerblock". They come with notes about tempos and other tracks to be guided by soundwise. "Towerblock" is actually guided by a song called "Bedbug" that you and I wrote back when we were thin and girls would show us their bing bongs willy nilly.

That said, I do still tend to write music first, albeit it in vastly sketchy form. The best thing I ever bought was a dictaphone. It really can be something as simple as the change between 2 chords or it can be a whole song downloaded from my brain in a one-r like "The Forget You Song". That was virtually hoiked out of my skull when I woke up one morning, I ran to the studio and had I not had a dictaphone, all that would have gone the way of many songs I lost pre-dictaphone. Some would argue that that may have been a better outcome...

I used to find lyrics hard, but it's getting better the more I do it. For the last Frost album, I holed myself up in a really small pub that time forgot in a Fitzrovian mews for a couple of afternoons and wrote it all. I think I only had about 4 pints over the 2 days such was the frenzied scribbling. The landlord was not impressed.

I've seen Tinyfish live a few times now, you have loops and samples and all kinds of cool stuff going on. How is all this technology managed onstage?


Simon – We tend to split the electronics and samplers three ways between myself, our drummer Leon Camfield and bassist Paul Worwood. We all trigger the sounds either by strumming, hitting or stamping on various machines at the appropriate time. Jim Sanders is the smart one as he just employs his Les Paul and an amp to make noise . It’s a high wire act to be sure as the resulting sonic car crash when things do go wrong can make you look like a complete tit. Playing Prog however, maybe that’s a good thing.

I know from experience what an uber-geek you are with Pro Tools and how you can make it sit up and beg like a little puppy, but has the technology you use changed the way you write? Plus, in this age of auto-tune and elastic time, are farts still funny?

Jem – I see ProTools these days as my instrument even more than keyboards are to be honest. Having used it since 1994, it’s as much a part of how I think musically as much as playing piano is. There was a lot of DAW wars in the past, people flaming each other’s software much the same as the supposed Mac vs PC thing that people get so het up about. But I reckon its all fair game. Whatever works for you.

Curiously though, despite all that, I tend to still write on piano. Personally, I find it’s better to limit my options when I write as it forces me to get to the point and not hide behind production/a ton of latest gadget.

Farts are definitely still funny though, especially when time stretched. Sneezes aren’t bad either.

Prog rock is famous for very long songs, do you think this because prog bands are terrible at self editing or they simply have lots and lots to say?


Simon – I believe that terrible editing goes on in just about every music genre (check out Mother by Drum & Bass artist Goldie if you need a good example of horrendous musical padding) but for some reason, writing a twenty minute plus song in Prog is seen (artistically speaking) as a high watermark moment. I’ve seen some brilliant outfits, bow to the pressure of creating such epics and flounder very badly indeed. It seems that certain writers get so caught up in the length of a song, they forget about its depth.

It helps if you can play a bit or have a good lyricist on hand to forge a strong narrative but even if you have been fortunate and written that ‘classic’ epic, it can end up being a millstone around your neck. It takes up huge amounts of your onstage set time and if you stop playing it to make way for other material, you get accused of ‘selling out’. Ask any member of Marillion how they feel when some t**ser in the audience yells out Grendel and you’ll get the picture.

At best, a good epic stops being a song and becomes a place to go and live for 15-20 mins. A worst it’s an exercise in vanity and a waste of good hard drive space.

You’ve written a prog epic. In hindsight, are you happy with how it turned out? Would you ever write another?

Jem - No and no. Milliontown is a bit of a pain in the arse to be honest. As you mentioned above, you have to block out half an hour of the set live which kind of limits what you can do emotionally and structurally. Basically you can either start with it or end with it which kind of negates the rest of Frost’s output to “filling”. A “medley” is not an option for obvious reasons. Genesis kind of put paid to the medley as they progressively and brutally murdered the concept over 25 years starting with that ghastly drum solo. In addition to that, a lot of people seem to think that “Milliontown” is the pinnacle of Frost which is rather depressing seeing as it was only the second thing I wrote for the project. At one of the Dream Theater gigs we did, I lost count of the number of people who said, “Your latest album is sh*t, we want more 25 minute songs like Milliontown”. Frankly, I’d rather f**k Margaret Thatcher than churn out another “Milliontown” much in the same way that most people don’t want to undergo childbirth a second time.

One review of “EIMA” said that the final long song was rubbish because there was a 2 minute gap in the middle. This completely missed the point that the final bit of music was, in fact, supposed to be a hidden track. Typical of a prog journo to assume that just because the track time was longer than 10 minutes it must therefore be an attempt at a prog epic. In addition to that, I find it slightly uncomfortable that many prog bands seem to do a long song by numbers. Excusing “Supper’s Ready” that invented the arrangement, if you go from “Once Around The World” forwards to things like “Harvest Of Souls” they seem to adhere to the formula of - 1. Quiet start, 2. Noisy Middle, 3. Funny, stop start-y octave stab bit with loads of pedal chords and a guitar/keyboard solo (Hammond Organ solo if you’re feeling particularly unimaginative), 4. Slow, anthemic ending. It was one of the reasons why I wrote the end of Milliontown as a great big, balls to the wall, uptempo thrash to the finish. No other modern day prog epic ends like that. I based it on “Duke’s Travels” from “Duke” which, personally, I think is the best Genesis record of them all along with Wind and Wuthering. A lot of prog rockers seem to think “Duke” is a Phil Collins record. Go figure...

Tinyfish is now an intercontinental project with your guitarist Jim Sanders living and working in Sweden. How does that affect the day to day running of the band?


So far, it hasn’t hindered things that much. Jim officially moved to Sweden in August of this year but thankfully by that time, he’d completed all his guitar parts for the new album. I remember him telling us of his decision back in May at the end of a rehearsal and as we were letting the news sink in, he rather gallantly offered to leave the group and let us find a replacement. We turned his offer down and suggested that it was worth seeing if we could find a way to work around the issue. We all think he’s worth keeping hold of and hey if Pallas can do it, why can’t we?

As for what his relocation might mean for the future, I think the group will more than likely have to concentrate the shows into a smaller, set period of time e.g. short tours rather than just playing one off dates here and there as and when we get offered them.

When it comes to writing and recording new material, we’ll wait and see. The fact that the internet allows us to swap audio files a lot easier than was possible even 5 years ago might mean that we could emulate the ‘Stars Of The Lid’ work ethic and collaborate at distance with Jim listening to what we’ve done via WAVs or MP3s and flying over to record his contributions as and when required. It’s not like we won’t see him for long periods of time as his work with Marillion means that he’s in the UK at least two or three times a year already . Coupled with our schedule, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not over at my house more often than he was before he left the UK. I’ll have to get in some more tea for the w**ker to drink.

You’ve been involved with a number of other progressive bands and artists over the past few years e.g. It Bites, Big, Big Train, Lee Abrahams, etc. Is this something you enjoy and would you be interested in doing it more?

Jem - It’s only been those three to be honest, I’ve tried to stay away from the guest slot role as I think there’s been rather too much of that going on lately, partly, I have to admit, as a result of my initial calls to knick other musos for the Milliontown recordings. Suddenly it seemed to become very fashionable to ask members of other bands to come and play on one’s record. Hence I’m trying to redress that balance by keeping myself to myself as much as possible. In BBT’s case however, I jumped at the chance as I’ve always been a fan. They use Mellotrons and lots of 12 string guitars and aren’t by any means doing anything I would class as modern in progressive parlance, however they do it with such originality that they almost have redefined the use of those instruments in a way that ironically, makes it....modern. They’re like a Tardis within a Tardis. Anybody who saw Logopolis will know what I mean.

Jem – Frost is currently on hiatus while I focus on my other band, however it will be back in 2011, do you have any other projects that you’re working on?


Simon - Not right now as it’s taking all my concentration and free time to complete the new Tinyfish album and tour it. I wrote and recorded a theme tune for the Prog radio show The European Perspective a while back which I guess is was first official ‘solo’ outing. That was a giggle. Past experience has taught me that working on your own is a much quicker process as I can just play all the instruments myself, mix it and fling it out there. Bish, bash, bosh…all done.

Tinyfish is a group that focuses on songs, melodies and harmonies and that’s fine by me but maybe after the current album is released and toured, I might just indulge myself in some musical R&D and put out something more esoteric under another name just to see where it takes me. My hope is that once I do that, it will allow me to look at Tinyfish again in a slightly different light and maybe enable me to write for them in a new way.

I remember the two of us sitting in a pub on the Isle Of Man about 20 years ago talking about if it was better to be famous or successful. It’s strange we never thought to include being happy in that list. Taking into account that this is a Frost* ‘rest period’ are you happy with what the band has achieved so far?

Jem - I think so yes. The whole Frost thing has evolved unrecognisably from the initial idea of a personal hobby project done as an antidote to all the pop stuff I was doing at the time. If I could have my time again, I’d have loved to have followed through on my original idea of releasing Milliontown anonymously in little cardboard sleeves with no writing of any sort on. I planned to go to a whole bunch of prog gigs and just quietly dump the album on tables and stuff and then disappear from prog altogether leaving everyone wondering what on earth had just happened. That would have been fun.

As a live band, I wish we all had more time to rehearse as we’re always a bit cack handed live. But everyone is a) very busy and b) very far apart geographically so it makes getting together for extended periods of time difficult. I can’t see us being a very prolific live band for that reason. I’d rather do 3 corking gigs than 20 sh*t ones. Plus I don’t like working weekends. I spent most of my twenties working 7 day weeks for various radio stations and then again in my mid thirties building my music company up. The only place I should be on a Saturday or Sunday is in my house or garden with my family and preferably with access to some good Rioja.

In terms of both albums, I much prefer EIMA as the songs are much better as do the rest of the band incidentally. Ironically, we’re very much in the minority on that one it appears. I see Milliontown as very “trad” prog now – 25 minute long song about zombies, lots of widdly widdly. It doesn’t feel very forward facing to me. That said, I have no plan to make EIMA 2 either so I’m very much looking forward to the third phase of the band’s development and whatever that may bring both musically and in terms of future personnel.

A lot of prog bands seem to have jumped onto the “guest appearance” bandwagon. Do you think that that adds something meaningful and interesting to those bands’ outputs or do you think it’s a cynical way of gathering some cheap publicity? If the former, who would Tinyfish ask?


Simon - Well the nasty, Mr Scrooge ‘bah humbug’ part of me sometimes thinks the tactic of getting other musicians to play on your record is employed to drum up interest and potential record sales but the nice, fluffy Jon Anderson part of me quite likes it to be honest.

I’ve done it only once (on Lee Abraham’s album Black & White) and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but as you know, Lee is a solo artist so it’s easier for him to collaborate with other people.

If I like and respect a musician enough to ask him to be involved in a Tinyfish record, it’s usually on the engineering or production side of things because they are the jobs I find very annoying. A good example of this is my asking keyboard player Mike Varty from Credo/Shadowlands/Janison’s Edge to help produce and engineer our new album. He’s a nice guy with a fabulous work ethic and a real eye for detail. I have the attention span of a goldfish and I prefer look at the daffodils whist thrashing away with my guitar into a DAT recorder. Arseholes like me are ten-a-penny and if truth be told, the world is built upon (and needs) people like Mike Varty because they are the individuals who quietly get the job done. That’s my kind of guest appearance.

Okay my last question to you; when we were young and we used to make forts out of cushions, I would leap on them while you were inside it and bury you under an avalanche of soft furnishings. As you approach your 40's are your forts any stronger now?

Jem - With the advances in sofa technology since we were kids, I would have thought they would be considerably stronger. However, upon building a fort and getting my wife to jump on it whilst I was inside, I must report that they aren’t any stronger, no.

Who would win in a race to roll a giant cheese down a hill – Adrian Belew or Alex Lifeson?


Simon - Obviously the smart money would be on Mr Lifeson as he’s had a few more years in the business with which to perfect his rolling skills (rumour has it that he swears at his cheese for up to an hour before the event begins to get it good and ready). By contrast, Mr Belew’s form never really recovered from the infamous ‘three cheese’ collision between himself, Kate Bush and Meat Loaf back in 2002

Are you done?

Jem - Yes. I'm going to make some tea now.


Jon Lord 1941 - 2012
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 04 2009 at 10:08
This is great! Very funny and insightful.

Two questions:
Is there a video to accompany this?
Where did you find this?

Thanks for the post!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 04 2009 at 10:13
1 - There's no video to accompany the interview unfortunately, but if you're familiar with Newman & Baddiel's 'History Today' you'd get the general idea.

2 - I'm sworn to secrecy under the Official Looneys Act 1872

Jon Lord 1941 - 2012
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 04 2009 at 10:46
:(

Well, in any case thanks!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 04 2009 at 10:49
Superb Jim, two of progs finest contributors right now.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 04 2009 at 10:53
I've got as far as the bit about Simon being an object of desire. I will read the rest when I've finished laughing.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 06 2009 at 19:55
Thanks guys, I really enjoyed the interview.  That was some good reading right there.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 08 2009 at 00:26
These are a couple of the funniest dudes in prog. Not saying much maybe but still. :P
"It's music, and I like it" - Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 08 2009 at 02:11
Originally posted by King Crimson776 King Crimson776 wrote:

These are a couple of the funniest dudes in prog. Not saying much maybe but still.


I agree - both extremely talented musicians & writers, yet armed with self deprecating wit & humour; makes a nice change.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 09 2009 at 22:00
Everyone I know prefers EIMA over Milliontown.  I am surprised that they have found the opposite reaction.
Without music life would be a mistake. ~Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 05 2010 at 16:00
Originally posted by soggybomb soggybomb wrote:

Everyone I know prefers EIMA over Milliontown.  I am surprised that they have found the opposite reaction.


I subscribe to that as well. EIMA isn't nearly as brilliant.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 13 2010 at 14:32
I f**kin hate this band... Angry
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 14 2010 at 06:26
Originally posted by manch1ech00ta manch1ech00ta wrote:

I f**kin hate this band... Angry
 
That is a really unneccesary and offensive post. Besides, there's two bands being discussed here.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 29 2010 at 09:06
"We all think he’s worth keeping hold of and hey if Pallas can do it, why can’t we?"
 
Famous last words.  Smile
I must remind the right honourable gentleman that a monologue is not a decision.
- Clement Atlee, on Winston Churchill
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 29 2010 at 10:52
Originally posted by sigod sigod wrote:

"We all think he’s worth keeping hold of and hey if Pallas can do it, why can’t we?"
 
Famous last words.  Smile
 
Doh!
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