Interview with Chris Frost – Splintered Soul

Planetmosh: OK for anyone who hasn’t listened to Splintered Soul before, can you tell us a bit about the band?

Chris: Splintered Soul are a dual-female-fronted 5-piece Metal band that produce a new subgenre we call ‘Cinematic Metal’. Established in 2006, we are a unique blend with an atypical background. Erica Mengod is our vocalist from Cadiz in Spain, Sally Jo Third is our 6-string Electric Violinist from Australia, Chris Frost from Kent is the 8-string Guitarist/co-lyricist/composer and founding member, James Burrows from Suffolk is our drummer/co-composer/lyricist, and Andrew Penders from London is our 6-string bassist and co-lyricist.

 The idea behind fusing film-scoring with other genres had been something I’ve been experimenting with for 15 years, but the band itself started in 2006 and whilst I happened to be teaching at the time, I thought it was high time I stopped preaching to students about music and started doing it! The fusion of different styles was something that always came naturally to me anyway, as I enjoy such a broad and diverse palette of music, and as far as I was concerned, nothing was taboo; it all forms a veritable buffet of sound. I ended up writing practically all of the music and lyrics until the point James Burrows joined in 2010, who by coincidence had composed for Film too. So we now had two people that had grown up with similar influences and shared a mutual passion for prog, fusion and film music.

 What you’re basically seeing and hearing in Splintered Soul is something incomparable to Rock and Metal acts you’d heard before. If you like your prog and technical music, you will not be disappointed. If you love your big budget Hollywood scores (John Williams, Howard Shore, etc.,) then you’ll love this. If you enjoy world music, female fronted metal, and if you believe songs and music should project immersive stories, then Splintered Soul is for you.

 Planetmosh: Your new EP – Festival has just been released. Are these songs that will appear on the album and if so are they different versions or the same?

Chris: The Festival EP was released to coincide with our performing at Bloodstock Open Air 2012, and the tracks are three of the ten taken from our album ‘Lore’ which we have been in the studio recording for the past 13 months, however these are unique mixes from an unfinished recording, that only serve as a taster of “things to come”. The EP was mixed and mastered in 2 days, the album will have had 5 more months for the same, which hopefully will give you an insight into the amount that has gone into Lore!

 Planetmosh: Why have you chosen to release this when the new album is (hopefully) just weeks away?

Chris: The decision to release the EP was simple; some of our fans have been waiting a year for Lore, others have been supporters for the last 6 years, and in that time, they’ve had virtually nothing to listen to, as this is technically our first release. We thought it was high time they had something back for all the support and faith in us they’ve had all this time, as “Lore” is something we won’t rush. 6 years in the making, a lot of blood/sweat/tears has been lost in getting it to be what we want it to be, so that by the time it is released, people won’t know what hit them!

 

Planetmosh: What’s the latest news on the progress of the debut album, Lore?

Chris: To understand the processes of making this album, you’d needed to have been watching our live broadcasts in the studio (SSTV, which we broadcast over uStream and Facebook since August 2011). This is entirely new territory for everybody involved. Our producer (Rupert Matthews: Cradle of Filth, Porcupine Tree, etc.,) has no reference point to base our album on, as it has never been done before. No one had ever written or recorded music where all the orchestral elements (and feature instruments) were as integral to the songs as the band itself, it’s usually added as a texture behind the band, nor had anyone done this with 8-string Guitars. The rule book had to be thrown away entirely, everyone’s had to unlearn everything they know about recording, and let the music guide itself. Plus, with 192 instruments in EVERY song, this is quite possibly the single most challenging mix any producer has had to face.

 On top of that, all the instrumentalists are having to play in a unique way. James will tell you that the drums (for example) have been ‘composed’, and are not written as a drummer would have approached his instrument, and every last note and hit within every song is purposeful, and is interwoven with something else. People have had to play their instruments in unusual ways. Some instruments have had to be re-tuned where they would otherwise have never been. We’ve had to adopt new kinds of notation in order to pull off certain aspects of the music. From the lowest of male choir voices to the highest notes on a violin, everyone had been asked to perform outside the scope of their instrument. Sally Jo (for example) was playing notes right off the end of her fingerboard and beyond!

 So 13 months on, 98% of the material has been tracked. We still have vocals for 2 songs left, and some Guitar solos before we can say all the material has finally been recorded. At the same time, we’ve been experimenting with mixing in order to hone the track as it goes along. By the 3rd week of November, we expect to have anything that needed recorded completed, and the only thing left to do would be to mix the whole thing, which as I explained above, is no small task!

 We have also enlisted the help of Spencer Haynes on the artwork for Lore, which is almost completed, and the term ‘artwork’ is an understatement. I guarantee fans will spend just as long studying all the art for Lore as they will listening to the CD!

 Planetmosh: One bit that stands out is the choice of instruments used. You play 8 string guitar and Sally Jo plays a 6 string violin. Are there any other unusual instruments being used on the album?

Chris: Absolutely. Each of the songs focuses upon a different legend from the known world in Ancient times, and we chose to reinforce this with relevant instrumentation too. We have had a Chinese Erhu (two-string fiddle) player come into the studio to record on one of the songs. We’ve also used other Chinese instruments such as the Gu Zheng/Dizi/HuLuSi/TamTam, Japanese Koto & Taiko drums, Armenian Duduk, the Indian Santoor and Tambura, Iranian Zorna, Middle-Eastern String Orchestras along side Symphonic Orchestras, Turkish Doumbeks (played by Chris), as well as experimenting with things like Anvils, and other forms of percussion.

 It’s worth also pointing out, that Sally Jo is the most recorded person on this album by a country mile. Whilst the rest of us are tracking our parts for 65 minutes of music, Sally Jo has performed over 780 excluding out-takes. Instead of hiring in a costly string orchestra, Sally Jo performed all the violin parts, all the viola parts, and we had a girl call Rebecca perform all the Cello parts. What made this extra difficult was that we found that when you record the same person playing the same instrument over and over, you don’t hear more of them, you get only one, so what the girls had to do was adopt pseudo-personalities of different people, and attempt to perform each time in a new way, until we were given the impression of an entire section. This meant Sally Jo performed 65 minutes of music twelve times, as twelve different people, just for the orchestral string sections alone. This didn’t include any of the solo performances on either her acoustic or electric violins.

 Planetmosh: What benefits does the 8 string guitar give you over a normal 6 string?

Chris: The most immediate benefit would be having more notes to play – like going from a keyboard to a Grand Piano, but the additional thickness of the neck adds more tone and sustain overall to the Guitar. I also find that I’m able to play the Guitar in a new way by reaching across strings, rather than stretching up the neck for new chordal shapes that I would have otherwise not have been able to do without constantly retuning.

 Planetmosh: What made you first decide to try an 8 string guitar?

Chris: In 2003, I saw a 7 String Guitar for the first time, which I tried and had difficulty with. Later in 2006, I had this insatiable instinct to pick one up again; something told me that I was being held back without one, so I bought a Schecter C-7 Hellraiser and never touched a 6 string Electric again. It was so natural, I don’t know how I managed without one before. In 2010 (following Splintered Soul’s first appearance at Bloodstock Open Air) I had the same cravings again, this time for an 8 string. It was driving me crazy that I didn’t have one, because I just knew that once again this was another natural evolution to my playing and songwriting, and was instantly satisfied upon getting my first 8 String, the Schecter C-8 Hellraiser. Again, it felt absolutely right, it immediately changed my playing and songwriting forever.

 Planetmosh: What are the benefits of a 6-string Violin for Sally Jo?

Chris: The top 4 strings on her Violin are the same as any other Violin, however the bottom two increase her range to that of a Viola and part of a Cello too. This is incredibly useful when it comes to performing live because (in conjunction with her Axe FX II effects processor), SJ can perform any or all parts within the string orchestra we used on Lore. The other wonderful thing about SJ is that she’s a Metaller at heart, and can make her Violin sound like a Guitar, and shred as good as any Guitarist!

Planetmosh: What’s the song writing process in the band – is it a collaborative thing or are there one or two main song writers?

Chris: As the founding member and only original member, the majority of the material has been mine over the years, and we decided to take some of the popular songs from Splintered Soul’s back catalogue into the studio, as well as writing new material too. Upon James’ joining the band at the end of 2010, we soon found that our own writing styles complimented the other, which took Splintered Soul up to a whole new level musically. As a general rule, James writes the lyrics and I write the music, however, we always run all ideas by each other, help mould the other’s ideas into something far better, and sometimes invite the other band members to join us when it needs greater input. Both James and I are experienced composers, which makes Cinematic Metal songwriting exciting for the pair of us.

 Planetmosh: What are the inspirations for writing the lyrics?

Chris: Generally speaking, James writes the majority of the lyrics, and then I poke my nose in if I feel I have something useful to add. Right at the beginning of Lore, James and I bounced ideas around for a while until we settled on the concept of a “tour of ancient legends”, and then set about finding ten legends that conformed to the era and map of our choosing, that also piqued our interest as an interesting story to sing/write about. They were tough to whittle down as there’s so many great legends out there! James and I felt it was key that whilst the lyrics had to be historically accurate, we wanted them to be relate-able to the listener too.

 The song themes are synonymous to the band name too, Splintered Soul, inasmuch as the tracks represent prominent figures in history that were torn within themselves and their ability to be the leaders they were supposed to be.

 Planetmosh: Are there any tour dates planned for later in the year to coincide with the album launch?

Chris: Nothing has been announced yet. Right now we’re focusing on completing this album, as it has been 6 years in the making and we’re eager to get it out there. This doesn’t mean, however, that we aren’t planning something special!

 Planetmosh: You played two sets at this years Bloodstock festival – one on the Sophie Lancaster stage, and one on the Jaegermeister acoustic stage. First of all, how did your Sophie stage set go?

Chris: Incredible. I came away from BoA in 2010 being hell-bent on getting back there, and we were all honoured to have been asked to play my personal favourite stage of all four by Simon Hall. All the staff were incredibly efficient and professional, and the crowd were wonderfully warm and engaging. We were inundated in CD signings for the remainder of the weekend, so the crowd clearly enjoyed it as much as we did! Took a good couple of weeks to shake off the “post-Bloodstock blues” (as we call it) for the whole band, as we had the time of our lives.

 I cannot recommend Bloodstock Open Air enough to Metal bands of any level, the world over. After each of the three performances we’ve now done at BoA, we came off the stages with a new level of drive and ambition.

 Planetmosh: For the acoustic set, how much preparation was needed to make sure the songs would work acoustically?

Chris: Surprisingly little to be honest. Simon (Hall) picked us to play the Sophie Stage only about 3 weeks away from the event, and then sprung the acoustic performance on top the following day. Also as the band members are spread out (two in London, two in Kent, one in Suffolk), we only get to meet up once a week, which only really gave us 2 rehearsals before the festival!

 A number of people had suggested to me about doing acoustic performances of our material over the years, and I had a hard time getting my head around it …. we all did. Considering the complexity of the music, we didn’t believe it could work, but since Simon asked, we thought we’d give it a go. We were as surprised as anyone who knows our music when we played, and this turned out to be an eye-opener for the band when it worked better than we imagined, and as such, we will be doing Acoustic performances more often.

 Planetmosh: How did your acoustic set go on the day?

It was strange, but in a really good way. Generally speaking in order to pull off our music live, the drummer has to play to a click, and any instruments we are unable to perform live at the time (Orchestra for example) goes into a backing track. There’s a lot of tech involved which, uses as much of your brain power as performing itself. The acoustic set, however, was nothing like that and as such, we felt like an entirely different band. Playing acoustically was less about trying to be loyal to the original songs, and more about being free to experiment as musicians. This created a completely different vibe, which the audience quickly latched onto, and joined in with.

 Overall, the experience was a lot of fun, and we look forward to doing this again.

 Planetmosh: Overall how did your Bloodstock weekend go?

We couldn’t have asked for anything more. The weather was wonderful, all the ticket holders were having the time of their lives, and all the stages were crammed with some of the best bands out there. We met some interesting people from within the music industry, and learnt a great deal as performing artists. Four-and-a-half days just isn’t enough.

 Planetmosh: What bands do you think have influenced your music?

Chris: That is incredibly difficult to answer, because I consider anything I’ve heard since I can remember an influence. If I had to only choose a few, then I guess I’d say John Williams, Howard Shore, John Barry, Danny Elfman, Mozart, Wagner, Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’, Ozric Tentacles, Thin Lizzy, TesseracT, Sonata Arctica, Dimmu Borgir, Pantera, Meshuggah and especially Megadeth. I was one of Chris Broderick’s students for a few years, and that guy taught me more in music theory that I used in composition than I learned in a lifetime. I should also add that since James and I are ‘Children of the 80’s’, we grew up with the first home computers, and therefore computer games. Game music ended up being a huge passion of ours, and a huge influence in what we write. Game music composers are tragically underrated!

 Planetmosh: When you buy music, which do you prefer and why – CD, Vinyl or legal mp3 downloads?

Chris: It really depends. I haven’t bought vinyl in years, and as much as I appreciate the uncompressed nature of vinyl, I a) no longer have a record player and b) find them too delicate. If I want something and cannot wait, I’ll hit the old iTunes and buy my MP3 albums there, but if I really love a band, I want a tangible item and will go for CD’s every time. There’s nothing like having all the artwork in your hand.

 Planetmosh: What was the last album you bought?

Chris: I re-bought the Ozric Tentacles “Strangeitude” a couple of weeks back because I lost my old one hahaha. Before that, I bought Bull-Riff Stampede’s debut album (which is awesome and highly recommended by the way), and before that I bought “In Sorte Diaboli” and “Abrahadabra” by Dimmu Borgir, because they’re ace. Before that I believe I bought the soundtracks to “Game of Thrones” and “Battlestar Galactica” (new version).

 Planetmosh:Thank you for your time.

Check out Splintered soul on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/SplinteredSoul

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.
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