FRACTAL MIRROR: The Never Ending Variety of Music

Fractal Mirror sign with Synergy Electronic Music/Third Contact

Dutch alternative/progressive rockers Fractal Mirror will remember 2013 as a release year of their debut album Strange Attractors. Being promoted by our Prog Sphere Promotions agency, it was a great opportunity to conduct the interview with the band.

What does the name of the band represent? Where is the connection between the name and the music you create?

Frank: Since a fractal is a never ending pattern, and a mirror reflects, Fractal Mirror is a reflection of the never ending variety of music that surrounds us in life. This reflection includes the patterns of behavior that are increasingly driven by technology. The themes we explore, of connections, alienation, the impact of technology and of social media, the collective conscious and ‘sharing’ through technology are explored much more in our second CD.

The very first beginnings of Fractal Mirror date back to late 1980′s, but it took all these years until the release of your full-length debut “Strange Attractors” earlier this year. I suppose you all have other commitments that kept you to give the band desired attention. What’s the story?

Ed: Life, work, children, relationships and time all affect musical output. We continued making music through tape, then digitally, but didn’t consider releasing it until we saw significant progress in our ability to record about a year ago. At that time we posted a track on Big Big Train’s wonderful Facebook page, to a very nice reaction. One of the fellow ‘passengers’ on the Train’s site, Frank Urbaniak, told us he loved the music but didn’t care for the electronic drums. We had been looking for a drummer, Frank used to play quite a lot but had not in the past few years, so we discussed how to record ‘transatlantically’. We reached out to friends in the business and they suggested pads, triggers, etc. but the investment in equipment was substantial for a proof of concept. Larry Fast, a friend of Franks’s since they were in a band together in college, suggested finding a local studio and doing some demos. Frank recorded 4 tracks at a studio near his home, not great sound, but we finally could hear the potential of our music using real drums. We agreed to continue on, and a few months after we had sent Frank the click tracks. He used a popular ‘indie’ band we then sent Frank the click tracks for what became Strange Attractors and Frank recorded the drums at a studio in New Jersey where his nephews have recorded. We received the drum tracks via the web, did a rough mix and then sent them to Rhys Marh for final mix and mastering.

Strange Attractors

What is your method of songwriting? How did the creating process of “Strange Attractors” go? How long it took you to pen these ten tracks that made it on the record?

Leo: Ed and I do all the song-writing. The Strange Attractors tracks were written and recorded over a period of two years. We constantly record ideas. Most of the time Ed and I start the recording of an idea at our own home. We come together nearly every weekend to start working on those ideas together. That’s how the songs develop. Only a minor percentage actually will end up on an album.

Ed: Since we had a theme for ‘The Life of Darkness’ some of the imagery is dark. Lyrics have always been challenging, so we reached out to Brian Watson, Frank and a few friends for new ideas. Brian did the lyrics for ‘Brian’s Song’ and Frank did ‘What’s Inside”. In the future we have kind of shifted gears to writing the music to the lyrics, with Frank, Brian and others producing some lyrics that have inspired much of our second album.

Leo: What is really brilliant is that Ed and I have found people who can write great lyrics. As I said before; we write a lot of songs, but the problem has always been to add lyrics to those songs. That’s the main reason why the songs we have written in the past have never been finished.

You base your sound on progressive rock, but can you tell us which bands/artists in particular influenced your work on “Strange Attractors”?

Leo: I think we are influenced by good songwriters. When I speak for myself; I don’t really care for genres. If there is a good song on a One Direction album than that’s a good song and I don’t see why I can’t like it. One of the albums that is in my top 20 of 2013 is the solo album by Marc Owen (Take That). People say to me; “but that is the guy from Take That??”. I don’t care. There are some very good songs on that record. That’s all that matters to me. But to name some names of people who write excellent songs: Echolyn, Jason Falkner, Big Big Train, XTC, Depeche Mode, Genesis, Gentle Giant (While I write this I listen to the track Heroes no More from their Civilian album: Excellent song!), The Electric Soft Parade, Rhys Marsh, Jellyfish, Jonathan Wilson, Midlake, David Sylvian, Teracced Garden, Mike Kershaw, Cardiac, Boards of Canada and recently I discovered Von Herzen Brothers and a Canadian band called Bolus. And there are many more that, in one way or another, influenced our songwriting. You can all start googling now ;-)

Frank: As far as the drumming, I was influenced by the Bruford/Collins days of progressive music, but our music is a hybrid, so I appreciate a wide group of drummers. I don’t try to keep up with the new drummers technically-I am too old for that, but I think there is room for tasteful percussion in Fractal Miror music.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? How would you describe your music to someone who didn’t hear Fractal Mirror before?

Frank: Fractal Mirror is a song-based group where we focus on melody and composition, with limited soloing and extended tracks, influenced by pop and rock artists, colored with progressive sensibilities.

Ed: We don’t see ourselves as a Progressive Rock band. We use influences from Progressive Rock but we are interested first and foremost on writing a good song. We are not interested in sticking a lot of solos in the songs or using as many strange and complicated time signatures in a song as we can. I think our music will appeal to a lot more people than the people who love Progressive Rock.

Leo: If you really want to label us, and you know my opinion of genres and labels, I would go for Alternative (Progressive) Rock to describe our music.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

Frank: We are interested in the impact of technology on our lives-the more we see the more we are blind, the more we are ‘connected’ the more we feel isolated.  The impact of social media-on the music business, on the way we interact, is both interesting and concerning, in that sometimes it feels like we are becoming part of a ‘hive’. We are connected with people who think like us and are interested in the same things, and we feel good to be connected to people like us. At the same time we know too much about strangers, what they are doing, eating , thinking, planning, but we only stay connected to people if they ‘agree’ with us.

Leo: The song suite ‘A Life in Darkness’ that makes up the second half of Strange Attractors was influenced by the books I read by Henning Mankell (Wallander series), Jussi Adler Olson and other thriller writers. It inspired me to write about a serial killer. No serial killers will be present on the second album though. Another inspiration was an enormous reorganisation that took place at my work. I wanted to write about what that process does to people, how it is an impact on their lives. People we work with on a daily basis who suddenly disappear out of our lives. ‘The Fading Ghosts of Yesterday’, ‘Fade Away’ and ‘Reorganisation’ (from the EP) all were written about that experience.

There is also a video for the first single off the album “The Fading Ghosts of Yesterday”, created by Andre de Boer and featuring the art of Brian Watson. What is the message you transmit with this song?

Frank: The theme of Fading Ghosts is that we have people in our lives who appear so important, we see daily, we talk, eat and drink with, and then they change jobs, move away, or we just gradually drift from and they become ghosts to us. We fade from their point of view as they fade from ours. The song has a melancholy feel to communicate that passing of the ‘ghosts’ from our lives.

Leo: We strongly believe that music is more than just the music. It’s also about imagery and the way you present yourself. We are very fortunate that talented people like André and Brian are giving our music an extra dimension. They are very important to us!

Are you satisfied with the album’s reception?

Frank: Unfortunately we don’t have the money to send out large quantities of promotion kits, and we still are working on the North American /iTunes/Amazon releases, so we are happy with the positive comments, the amount of airplay on progressive internet stations, and the reviews we have received. We are just learning how to self-promote via the web and will have a solid base of contacts for our next release.

Leo: I am very pleased with the album’s reception. Especially the Prog community has been very kind and supportive. People like 3rdegree’s Robert James Pashman, NoSounds Giancarlo Erra all gave us valuable advice. Also Larry Fast helps us a lot. We are very proud of the fact that someone who has achieved so much in music is willing to help us. Tom Hyatt of Echolyn and John Bassett of KingBathmat have also been very supportive. We have had the support of a lot of internet radio stations. It’s been really humbling!

Do you have any plans to bring Fractal Mirror on stage?

Ed: We are focused on the second release right now and believe it is a major step forward for us in terms of composition, lyrics and playing/recording. Hopefully the strength of these two releases will generate interest in FM playing live.

Frank: We have serious logistics issues to work out because I am in the US, and we play guitars/keys/bass in the studio so we would need to expand the line-up to play live. Practicing would be key, but like most bands we all have day jobs so if there were an opportunity it would be more for festivals than for an extended tour.

Leo: Would love to play live but as Frank says we need to find a lot solutions to make this happen. I think we focus on the second album first. We hope to release that one mid 2014. When that one sells well and we are getting a solid fan base then I would really love to play live.

What do you think lies in the future of progressive rock?

Frank: Well it appears that this has been a great year for progressive music, but sales are not strong, just the number of great releases. It sounds like it is evolving, with some cross-over appeal by some bands, but there might be a mix of electronic dance music with progressive stylings that captures a wider audience and brings more listeners into the ‘progressive fold’. Certainly there will be more hybrid type bands in the future that blend multiple styles.

Leo: I agree with Frank. Progressive music is about expanding boundaries. I think the album by Shineback, released on the English Bad Elephant Music label, is a good example of that. Simon Godfrey’s mix of progressive rock mixed with influences from dance music resulted in a very brave album. Something that hadn’t been done a lot. I can only think of the band Pure Reason Relovution. A band that tried to mix alternative rock with progressive rock was the American band Deadwood Forest. Big Big Train’s English Boy Wonders mixed prog with Prefab Sprout and Lotus Eaters pop music.

What advice might you give to other musicians, or otherwise yet-undiscovered artists wanting to create some good work?

Frank: Make connections, leverage connections, be persistent, invest in good equipment.

Leo: When you make this kind of music, don’t give up your day job yet!

Ed: Keep doing what you believe in.

Visit Fractal Mirror website: http://www.fractalmirror.net/

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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