RUST fans, we have a really, really amazing new album to tell you about today from a multi-national collaborative group of artists who have crafted one of the most phenomenal albums we’ve ever heard – ever. It’s stunningly good and thoroughly unique, with nods to past masterworks in the lineage of 4AD and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and it has a lot in common with our Project of the Year for 2014, the Icelandic rock opera Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter. Garden of Ghosts is a fantastic themed album that really owns a particular creative space. It has a sound that’s familiar, and we’ve asked Fractal Mirror to tell us about how they crafted it, and we’re going to re-publish the press release below because it’s got all the information about the folks involved.
But the important thing about Garden of Ghosts is not the factual information on the band… it’s the music. Music that rises to lofty peaks with stunning vistas. Music with intelligence, evolution and aspiration. This is one of those albums with such excellence that it immediately joins a select core of best-ever works as it redefines a genre for future generations. It’s that good. It’s that special. It’s modern music made with both new and old tools and techniques which give it an admirable timelessness.
Garden of Ghosts is both an homage to past works as well as a new and unique statement. It captures a particular sound, a recognizable sound. It’s a space that other artists have expressed themselves in, featuring extreme keyboard and vocal effects that – for us – sound like the giant, wondrous machine of heaven. The seed of this sound could be heard in Genesis’ 1974 masterpiece, and after four decades Garden of Ghosts could be seen the ripe fruit grown from that tree. One of the main elements of this sound are the backing vocals (courtesy of Amsterdam’s Stephanus Choir) which add a truly distinctive energy to this thoroughly modern music.
The songwriting is outstanding, the personalities of the musicians are perfect for the material, and the whole album has a “rightness” to it where each element is in perfect proportion and relation to each other. Garden of Ghosts is so complex – there’s so much there – that it is infinitely playable. You can find new things in it forever, which is a testament to the creative excellence that went into the songs here. The simple massiveness of this project itself is astounding and it’s extremely rare when a concept album like this succeeds on every level, which it does.
Fractal Mirror has truly accomplished something very special here and RUST Magazine was curious about how they were able to collaborate and cooperate to get it done.
RUST: The core creative ideas here are amazing. This album is both a conceptual and tactile giant. When the vision for the album first came together and took shape, was the impending work of realizing the ideas daunting?
Frank: Actually not. We began working on songs collaboratively after our first CD Strange Attractors, where I basically just added the drum tracks and lyrics to one song. But as Ed and Leo had always struggled with lyrics, I was excited as I had a backlog of ideas and the new ones were coming fast and furious as we started writing collaboratively. So I sent the lyrics to Stars, which unlocked the process for us, followed by most of Garden of Ghosts. The unusual thing about our writing process is that other than House of Wishes, the opening track, for the rest of the songs the lyrics were written first and Leo and Ed were inspired to write the music from the words.
It never felt like it was becoming a giant production, and we never intended/think of it that way. The three of us love songs vs. extended prog type works, and while we are all competent musicians, we don’t have the chops or skills to lay down extended instrumentals, nor is that our goal as there are some truly amazing proficient musicians who can do that better. We like melody and lyrics that grab you and become ‘ear worms’ that you want to hear again.
We had an idea of the sound we wanted, but it all came together when I recorded the drums with Brett Kull from Echolyn engineering. He really liked the songs and felt they needed special treatment to come to life. He volunteered to produce and embellish The Garden for free to see if we liked it-which we did, and we then decided to have Brett co-produce and mix the entire CD. That was a major contributing factor to the sound of the CD as we worked collaboratively to tune the mixes-transatlantically of course, as I am in NJ, Brett is in PA and Leo and Ed are in the Netherlands.
RUST: Being separated by distance is almost a non-factor these days as collaborators can swap files, but did you find that the distance made the work it’s own thing? Perhaps this really pushed the music into a space of it’s own?
Frank: Well we would love to work more closely-I would love to work out bass/drum parts together with Ed vs. across tracks/oceans, but overall we figured out how to make it work. Now that we are 80+ minutes of material for CD 3 we think we have improved on the process. We talk online constantly about new ideas, mixes, suggested changes, etc. and once we think it is pretty clean we involve Brett and Larry Fast for their feedback.
Leo: It has become easy to work together while there are oceans between us. Swapping files is so easy. Just an hour ago Frank sent me some new lyrics for a track called Missing. I read the lyrics and went to our studio (which is actually the attic of my house) to try out some ideas. Frank wanted a poppy feel so I wrote a simple melody on acoustic guitar. I sang and recorded the idea on my phone and sent it back to Frank via Facebook. When Ed comes over to my house we will develop that idea. Then it either develops from an idea to a song or it doesn’t and we leave it. Ed and I have been writing music together since the early nineties so we developed a certain style. We are influenced by the music we listen to on a daily basis. But as Frank said earlier we try to focus the melody because that is what attracts us to certain artists. Bands like XTC, Jellyfish, Big Big Train and Elbow all focus on melody. The same applies to those 4AD bands like Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, The Wolfgang Press and Clan of Xymox. But also eighties bands and artists like David Sylvian and Japan, The Blue Nile, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode and Talk Talk focus on grabbing their listeners with a beautiful twist or two. That’s what we also try to do.
Ed: When working on the first album there was a lot of stuff to discover, mostly in the technical department. For example how to import real drum files and keep them sounding all right. And how to export groups of instruments in one audio file. But now with the second album behind us I think we all know what’s necessary to make this remarkable way to make music together work. It would be a special one if one day we are in the same space to play some music!
RUST: The first time you were all physically together was for the mixing. Was there much revision to the songs once you were in the same room or was the creative fully set at that point?
Frank: Actually only Ed joined me for the mixing of Stars and Legacy. Brett and FM had already completed the mixes for all but those tunes, I had to add the drums for those two and Stars was very special to Ed so he flew over for 3 days with Brett. The event was important because it was really moving to hear those two songs come together, and Ed is a techie guy, so he learned much from working with Brett, all which should help the final sound for CD3. Leo and Ed plan to both be here with Brett when we mix 3, and we might even do a video of us playing one song live. We will also do a couple of photo shoots as we have never been all together in the same room.
Ed: some of my interest in music is with mixing and how to record sounds right. So when I had the chance to visit the US and meet Brett and watch and learn from him how he mixes tracks and hopefully would do some recording stuff. Frank had to record the Legacy drums at day one of my stay in the US and decided the second day after some short try-out takes to re-record the drums for Stars. An excellent decision! Besides these two songs the others were in there final mixed state. Ready to be mastered.
RUST: For us, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the pivotal reference point to Garden of Ghosts. Can you tell us about the significance of this album for you in relation to the work you did here?
Frank: Our name includes fractals-ever repeating patterns, and mirror as we reflect so much of what we have heard. Leo likes indie and prog and pop, Ed also likes some funk and soul, and I grew up hearing Philly soul all through my teen years, followed by the psychedelic movement and then progressive. So we like progressive music, but also a wide range of styles.
Leo: Genesis wrote pop/rock songs and embellished them with instrumental sections and big themes. But at the heart of every track is a song with a verse, a chorus and a bridge. I think they are amazing. There are so many beautiful progressive rock albums. Epitaph and In the Court of the Crimson King from King Crimson’s debut album are examples of great song writing too. So those Progressive Rock bands have certainly been an influence as we all like them but as I said earlier; there are so many other bands and genres we listen to and like. We see ourselves as a pop/rock band that uses influences from progressive rock.
RUST: What are a few of the other works in this space that have been inspirational to you?
Frank: I like IQ for lyrics and music, Gazpacho, Big Big Train and Marillion among others.
Leo: Current favorites are Everything Everything, Dutch Uncles, Alt-J, Jeremy Messersmith, Field Music, Steven Wilson. Oh…I could go on for a while, There is so much good music around.
Ed: at the moment I listen to Jason Falkner, BigBigTrain, Echolyn, Foo Fighters, Neil Morse, Royal Blood, Incubus, Dexter Wensel, Steven Wilson, Von Hertzen Brothers, Noel Gallagher and so on and so on.
RUST: Garden of Ghosts is such a technical masterpiece, were your creative ideas adjusted much as the songs went from idea to recording? Did pieces grow and change very much as they were worked on and refined or did you have to really set your ideas down before attempting to produce them due to the complexity of both the music and separated production process?
Frank: The songs didn’t change much from the demos we started with. We usually don’t have good openings or closings when we write, so some of that happened during the recording and mixing. Brett and his wife Jacque made major contributions with the background vocals which really enhanced the sound of the songs.
Leo: I agree with Frank. We suck at beginnings and endings ;-). I think that Brett Kull did play a major part in our growth as musicians and songwriters. He encouraged us to try and come up with variations on the song structures and melodies and to be more critical in judging our songs. Not be too happy too soon but work on them; changing things around. The guitar parts he added to the album and his background vocal arrangements really enhanced and improved our songs. Also the guitar and sitar parts that were recorded for the album by Don Fast really helped to make our songs better. Both men will also be part of album nr 3.
RUST: Everything is great on this album, but the vocals and keyboards have such a potent presence. Can you tell us a little about how you affected these sounds to get them just right?
Leo: For the vocals, Brett encouraged me to push the unique qualities of my voice (if any…..;-) ), including adding some background vocals and choruses. For the keyboard sounds we rely heavily on the sounds from the M-tron pro sound module which delivers great samples of the Mellotron. I really hope to own a real Mellotron one day but a new Mellotron M4000 is around $8,500 which is a bit too much for me. We all love the sound of the Mellotron and we can’t imagine ever making music without using its sounds.
Frank: Brett’s voice is a great offset and he usually began by asking what we were looking for in the finished product. The background vocals that mimic the Mellotron part on Legacy were an improvisation by Brett added in the last hour of recording. We call it the Jeff Buckley part. The interaction with Brett has been great because while he is in a well-known unique American band-Echolyn, their song-writing skills are exceptional but they don’t think of themselves as a prog band, and don’t listen to prog much.
RUST: Thanks for talking to us here, last question. Is there anybody particular you’d like to thank for helping you accomplish what you have here?
FM: We appreciate the help of Brett and Jacque, Larry and Don Fast. We are very proud of the artwork for our albums and video’s which are supplied by Brian Watson of Plan A Art. Also the video help we get from André de Boer is invaluable. Together with Brian and André we are able to make Fractal Mirror more than just music.
But the best part of releasing the new CD is the great feedback and reaction from the many Internet DJ’s who gave us extended play and interviews which has helped spread the word about Fractal Mirror. And we thank you too. Taking the time to listen to our music, writing a review and preparing this interview is really humbling. We do hope that Rust Magazine will be able to spread the word about us too!
For more information http://www.fractalmirror.net/
Garden of Ghosts Press Release:
Dutch/American trio Fractal Mirror are releasing their second album Garden of Ghosts. The new album, produced by Brett Kull, was recorded with the band members collaborating remotely via Facebook, Facetime, Dropbox and e-mail. Garden of Ghosts is being released on Third Contact, the record label owned by Larry Fast (aka Synergy; long-time member of Peter Gabriel’s original solo ensemble, and NYC session ace), being released in physical formats in North American and digitally worldwide.
Fractal Mirror began work on Garden of Ghosts early in 2014 quickly learning to work long distance via the Internet. Drummer Frank Urbaniak wrote most of the lyrics while traveling and emailed them to singer/keyboardist Leo Koperraat and bassist Ed van Haagen who then composed the music. After keyboards, bass, guitars and primary vocals were recorded by Leo and Ed at Fractal Dust Studios in Holland, Frank’s drums, additional guitars by Kull and Don Fast, keyboards by Larry Fast and backing vocals by Brett were recorded at Catapult Studios in North Wales, PA. The first time that the Dutch and U.S. members ever met was when Ed visited the US to assist with the mixing. Other guests contributing to Garden of Ghosts include Amsterdam’s Stephanus Choir.
The resultant album contains 11 songs that share a dark, raw edge suggesting both the urgent post-punk of acts like the Psychedelic Furs as well as the ambitious stylings of contemporary outfits like The Decemberists. Lyrics focus on how memories evolve over time, and how people connect and relate to each other in the maturing digital age.
The origins of Fractal Mirror can be traced back to the mid-80s when three teenaged friends from Amsterdam started to make music together influenced by the acts on the legendary 4AD label as well as artists like David Sylvian and Japan. Of the original three, Ed and Leo continued making music together over the ensuing decades and then met Frank via an online music site and began tackling the challenge of transatlantic creative communications and recording, resulting in their debut album Strange Attractors.
As Fractal Mirror begin work on their third album, also to be produced by Brett Kull, plans are being made the for Dutch members to travel to the U.S. and finally convene the whole band in the studio for overdubbing and mixing.