REFRAME: Positive Outlook
Memphis, TN-based progressive rock band ReFrame recently re-released their 2019 album “Reaching Revery” via Italian label Luminol Records. Following the feature on Progotronics 28 compilation, the band members answered our questionnaire about their work, the album, and more.
Define the mission of ReFrame.
Phil Berger (guitar): As a group of musicians we all come from different musical influences and stylistic backgrounds with some common ties. The mission/goal was to find a way to bring those influences together in a unique way. A freedom that existed in the 70′s with all the original Progressive rock and fusion bands. While still writing a song that hopefully is accessible to all listeners. It’s a fine line of what works to please the musical ego, what appeals to common listeners and what stays true to the overall band aesthetic.
Ed Johnson (bass): To write music that we genuinely enjoy and to share it with anyone who wants to listen!
Drew McFarlane (keyboards): Personally, I don’t like to think that we need to have a mission to do what we do. With this group especially, we are not actively going out to deliver some type of message or convert anybody to some sort of theme. We come together to create something special to us that carries a piece of ourselves in it. If that speaks to people on an introspective level, then I can definitely say that I am proud of that, but that comes more from the fact that people have connected to something personal that we have built here instead of thinking of it as a task that we have accomplished. I really think that we’re just some dudes playing music, and that is my favorite part of this family.
David L.J. George (vocals): As I see it, our common mission seems to be the creation of music that we enjoy, expressing ourselves through our music. As an artist, I personally, want to touch people with my art and elicit some sort of response. Art is meant to touch you, and how it touches you is up to you, the individual.
Tell me about the creative process that informed your new album “Reaching Revery” and the themes it captures.
Phil Berger: Some of these songs at least in a bare bones sense have been around for a long time…the intro riff to And The Light Shall Lie has been kicking around for a long, long time, Fearless Pt. 1. has been around for a few years as well in a very different arrangement, Some of the riffs in Head In My Sand and I Want To Be More, came around in the very early writing for this album but then some things such as most of F.E.A.R., April Showers, Invisible Gardener and The Unbegun that came around once we were heavily into the writing stages.
April Showers, Drew McFarlane our Keyboardist wrote mostly on his own including the lyrics.
Musically a lot of the other ideas came about from writing sessions I had and would then present to the guys everyone would get their ideas together and we would track from there.
Musically, The intro to F.E.A.R. was written and gifted to us by John Clancy (The Cigarettes) and Philo Cramer(Fear) which Joe Murphy wrote lyrics for.
As far as the lyrical themes, Joe Murphy started writing lyrics based on some thematic discussions we had spoken about after the first batch of songs were written. As the songs started fully forming we started talking about making it a concept album and we started finding the thematic threads to do that. F.E.A.R. was originally supposed to end the whole thing and it ended up becoming the intro and the Focal point of the first chapter of our characters story…the idea of a character suffering from multiple personality disorders and the delusions and disappointments a character who loses everything before the second half of the story starting with The Unbegun, where he begins building his life back up. All the way till the end of Invisible Gardener where the character is running through the streets rejoicing regardless of the losses he has endured or the pain he has felt.
Ed Johnson: The general song structures and storyline were already established by Phil prior to my joining, but he gave me free reign when it came to my parts. And on several occasions, parts were moved or outright changed. There were multiple times where we went back to the studio to redo some things. In terms of my bass lines, I kept a strong focus on dynamics and keeping the emotions of the song in the forefront. In places where there was more sonic space, I tried to push myself to fill that space with equal emphasis on technicality and musicianship. Tapping is cool and all, but not when there’s fifteen other things going on.
Drew McFarlane: The creative process behind “Reaching Revery” is almost in its entirety an experiment. It was our first project as a cohesive group, and it really captures that idea to me. The songs on the album are each incredibly unique, and that comes from us all wanting to try a lot of new ideas and see what worked and what didn’t. We finally found a group that we could bounce ideas off of and try new things with. On top of that, we were all across the world, so most of our communication and idea sharing was done over various forms of media, giving us each the freedom to sit and put a good amount of thought into how we wanted to put our own personal touch on the songs.
David L.J. George: I came into the band after the first version of the album had been finished. The album we just released is very different from the original recordings I came in knowing. The entire process was an evolution for the sound. Things were recorded then emailed back and forth between band members.
What is the message you are trying to give with “Reaching Revery”?
Phil Berger: Reaching Revery as a concept album was designed to show how a person, no matter how fractured, how bruised can develop a positive outlook. Everyone has endured loss, whether it’s a family member, a close friend, a pet, and we have all been faced with how we feel we should deal with that loss, whether in the moment or in the long term. So we were hoping to be able to appeal to the idea that we all share this sense of loss and how we as human beings, have the power to pull ourselves out of that, we have the power to let people know, that we are all walking this road together, take my hand we can make it through together. It might be a fairly hippie-like belief but I think that it’s very valid today with everything we’ve been going through in the world.
Ed Johnson: There is an overarching storyline that follows the tracks, and my takeaway from the story is that redemption is always possible, no matter how hopeless the situation.
Drew McFarlane: It is difficult to pinpoint one exact message in the overarching story of the album, but I think my biggest takeaway from it is the idea of personal redemption. The character in the story goes through A LOT of taxing experiences, but the big message in the outro is one of liberation and freedom in one’s own self.
How did you document the music while it was being formulated?
Phil Berger: Well some of the riffs have been around a long time. I have always recorded new ideas on my phone or before that an old tape recorder. I have a music memo app on my phone that has several dozen ideas…and when the right piece comes along i’ll pull one of those out. Sometimes I have riff ideas that I write out musically so everyone can be on the same page for a really challenging part. There’s a few riffs and song structures that were meant for the Reaching Revery album that were never finished for various reasons. But for the most part we’re starting fresh this time!!.
Ed Johnson: We all kept scratch recordings, physical notes, and digital tabs/staff notation during the initial learning process. During the modifications and “post-hoc” writing, it was much more freeform. Somebody would try something new, and if we liked it, we would change as needed, and there wasn’t much in the way of documentation. It was just how we played the song after that.
Drew McFarlane: Not very well, I’ll admit. When we started the process, I was still very green in the music world, so I was not as well practiced in the art of “write down what you do.” I joke a lot about never playing the same thing twice, but it was regrettably true for quite some time. Most of my “documentation” was hastily scribbled notes in whatever notebook I could find. However, over the years of making this album, I started to learn from those around me and began making much more of an effort to document all of the ideas and parts I was working on. The big difference was when I was able to put together a much better studio space, complete with a recording device with better sound quality than my cell phone. After that point, the writing and creating process became much more organized.
David L.J. George: Music was documented by recording after writing lyrics and chord charts.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?
Phil Berger: Yes very much so. We spent a lot of time making sure there were transition and musical ideas that would help these songs make cohesive sense. Stronger Than Death to April Showers and back to Stronger Than Death with the newscast and the sound of the car crash was an experiment in the studio that we’ve definitely put a lot of thought into. Strauss to Head In My Sand with the really spacey interlude was definitely an idea that we borrowed from Hans Zimmer and Pink Floyd of course. Fearless to I Want To Be More was always planned to flow into each other. Although if you listen to All Yours and Invisible Gardener and Fearless Pt. 3: Coda, they borrow themes and riffs from Fearless and I Want To Be More. F.E.A.R. is full of thematic and dynamic pieces to flow together to make a 32 minute song hopefully enjoyable on multiple listens
Ed Johnson: I’d say it very much is. For the most part, all of us tend to rise and fall in unison, with the exception being during certain softer solos where one of us will take the dynamic lead and the others drop nearly out. But as a whole, definitely. This is one of the first bands I’ve played with where the final recording doesn’t look like a straight up rectangle. Real waveforms have curves!
Drew McFarlane: Definitely. We spent countless hours talking about where specific songs and parts of the album should go and working them to fit together, not unlike a big puzzle. We wanted a nice flow between the softer moments and the heavier ones on the album in order to play with the tension and overall emotional tug. We also put a lot of thought into the idea of the cadence of each song leading smoothly into the beginning of the next one, in terms of both time and key signatures. If a song ended in E Major, we wanted it to transition smoothly to a key that made sense out of that one. On top of that, we interweaved songs together to carry the bigger picture.
David L.J. George: There’s a specific story that goes with this concept album. So the dynamic flow is quite carefully architected.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
Phil Berger: Well after a false start at one studio, we met Jason Gillespie of Exothermic Productions, who has worked with Maynard James Keenan of Puscifer, and Saving Abel as well as been nominated for a grammy. Musically, We started preproduction with him and spent the majority of 2018 refining the songs that originally made up Reaching Revery(minus F.E.A.R.) passing recordings back and forth to Australia for the lyrics and vocals to be worked on by Joe Murphy, In mid 2019 we recorded the album as you hear it now. We began working on F.E.A.R. in hopes to get it on the album. But we were definitely hitting a roadblock lyrically we felt this song needed to be on the album to complete the story that we wanted to tell. So Jason and myself started brainstorming on what the story of the song would be and between Jason and David L.J. George(ReFrame’s current vocalist) we were able to put together a solid story and hopefully a cohesive song.
Ed Johnson: In short, I’m just the bass player. In long, Jason and Phil kind of took the lead there. There was tons of creativity on display from an engineering perspective. From layered tracks, to simultaneous stereo tracking with different amps, there was plenty to experience. Jason Gillespie really knocked it out of the park.
Drew McFarlane: It was very interesting for me. The main process of it was that one of us would come up with an idea and find some way to record it. We would then send it to the group, and it would be built upon by each of us individually until we had a whole song. Until recently, some of the tracks had never been played by the entire group at the same time. They started as a simple skeleton of a song, and we would each individually build on it and build on it until we had a complete, cohesive track that we were proud of.
David L.J. George: As I was added to the band in Late summer of 2019, the majority of the recording was completed.
How long “Reaching Revery” was in the making?
Phil Berger: I believe this album for the most part can be dated to 2016 when Drew McFarlane(Keys), Joe Murphy(Lyricist/Vocals) Ed Johnson(Bass) and myself really started working on getting these songs together. Some ideas may date further back but that’s when things really strated to come together.
Ed Johnson: YEARS. Exactly how many, I’m not quite sure. I believe we’re coming up on five?
Drew McFarlane: A very, very long time. We have had many different versions of the tracks over the years, and each one was completely different from the last. Some of the riffs and ideas have even been over ten years in the making, just sitting on the tips of our fingers, waiting for the right group to come along that we felt could turn that riff into the song that we wanted it to be.
David L.J. George: The entire project is the brainchild of our guitar player. He came up with the concept years before we met.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?
Phil Berger: I mentioned two earlier, Hans Zimmer, and Pink Floyd, but for me there are so many I Will keep it down to the primary influences on my songwriting and guitar playing. Alex, Geddy and Neil from RUSH will always be HUGE influences on my overall approach to music, as well as TOOL, Songwriting wise and production wise, Peter Gabriel’s solo work is a huge thing for me, I would always bug Jason to use the Peter Gabriel Delay not just on Vocals but on overall production as well. Queen is a huge part of my songwriting and guitar playing as is John Petrucci and Dream Theater. Neal Morse and his solo band especially(Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette) But it could be any of Neal’s projects he;s just such an incredibly talented musician and a very gifted songwriter, no matter my mood, hearing Neal sing puts a smile on my face. Same goes for Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree is again an insanely talented songwriter. Kevin Gilbert of Toy Matinee, a true talent that was taken from us WAY too soon, KIng Crimson, Gentle Giant, Styx, Genesis, YES. and I could go on, John Williams, Metallica, Tori Amos, Haken, etc…etc..
Ed Johnson: Personally, I always tend to draw from Primus, Tool, Victor Wooten, among others. As a group, Rush and Dream Theater are certainly major influences.
Drew McFarlane: I had many influences on the album, and it seemed like each song had a different touch of influence in it. From Dream Theater and Haken in FEAR, Nightwish and Andrew Lloyd Webber in the Unbegun, Journey and Elton John in All Yours, John Clancy and Yes in I Want To Be More, and so many more.
Matt Sweatt: I take heavy inspiration from Vinnie Colaiuta, Mitch Mitchell, and some Tony Williams. Those guys are my drum heroes, and each one is so unique you could study them for years and still be craving more knowledge.
David L.J. George: I have been influenced by many artists and bands. Quite literally from the classical genre to jazz, country, blues, rock. David Bowie, James Taylor, Eric Johnson, Malford Milligan, Jussi Bjorling, Stxy, Rush, Genesis, Boston, Radney Foster, Monte Montgomery. My taste is extremely eclectic. I feel that good music is just that, Good Music.
What is your view on technology in music?
Phil Berger: I think it has a very important place in music, but it’s a very fine edge of what’s technology enhancing music and what’s technology taking over and replacing the human element that is so important to make music a visceral and powerful thing. So much music these days is recorded and edited and not being released the way the musician intended it. Beat detective, Auto Tune etc…all great tools to enhance but easily abused.
Ed Johnson: Well that’s an awfully deep question, and I’m not sure if I brought my lifevest! But let’s see, in terms of listening? I think streaming services have more Pros than Cons against them. Money paid to artists from listens has undoubtedly dropped, but exposure to people who would have never heard them has skyrocketed. I think the accessibility of music nowadays should not go unappreciated. In terms of creating? Technology can enable solo acts to create much more fuller experiences than they ever could without it. Whether this is good or bad is a point of contention. Personally, I’m of the mind that if you can’t play it live, don’t put it on the album, but I’m not going to tell others what to do, or what is good, or what is bad. Art is art. In terms of recording? Again, kind of a grey area. Engineers can spend 1/10th the money they would have on plugins as opposed to the original equipment and get a similar sound. Is it the same? Maybe not. But here I’m going to say that enabling the masses to create and record quality music should never be a bad thing.
In short, it depends on the context, who is making it, who they are making it for, and why.
Drew McFarlane: It is very much a double-edged blade. As a keyboard player who lives three hours away from his closest bandmate, I love what technology has allowed me to do. I would not be able to do what I do without the technology that I am lucky enough to have. But, some people abuse the power that has been handed to them and overuse it in music-making to a detrimental level.
Matt Sweatt: I welcome technology in music: as long as we don’t become overly reliant on technology, which I think we as musicians are beginning to become. I think there’s an element of excessive perfectionism in music now, which ironically reduces the artistic value of music in my opinion.
David L.J. George: I’m really enjoying the evolution of musical technology. In many ways, the increase of technology in music has spurred some real creativity and I admire that a great deal. There are however, still some techniques from years gone by, that prove to be quite effective.
Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?
Phil Berger: I hope someone listening to a ReFrame song somewhere feels some greater connection to one of our songs, like I do to songs that I love. That’s what music to me is for. To inspire those moments when the hair all over your body stands up, the tears well up in your eyes, you are singing along at the top of your lungs, I hope someone can find that in a ReFrame song like I have in so many others.
Ed Johnson: I would hope so, but I won’t be able to say what that is. Music is very subjective, and if a listener can create meaning on top of what is there that helps them, then I am all for it! I hope the purpose we as a band provide, is to give listeners a lush escape from the craziness of the world.
Drew McFarlane: Yes, it has connected me to so many new people whom I never would have met if I have not followed the path that I did. The bonds that I make with the people in my life are some of the most important influences on me, and I have met so many wonderful and inspiring people through my musical career. This music has connected me to them, and I could not be happier about that.
Matt Sweatt: Our music is a tool, just like every other piece of music. People use music for all sorts of things, whether it be emotional, spiritual, so on and so forth. So I see our music serving whatever purpose people want or need it to.
David L.J. George: I am honestly hoping that our music has a positive effect on people. Music is supposed to stir some sort of emotion in you. I think our music is there do just that.
What are your plans for the future?
Phil Berger: Well some of those plans right now are being dictated in what the future is with this pandemic, we definitely all want to be able to get out and support this album by playing shows and sharing these songs with people in a live setting. We have a few surprises we’re working up. Some new things, some covers for fun, maybe something for the holidays. We’re trying to get some really cool musical embers flaring up.
Ed Johnson: Well, I certainly plan to keep breathing, playing, cooking, and sleeping! If I can quit my day job, that’s great. If not, then that’s great, too. Because at the end of the day, I’ve already won by creating something I love with people I love even more.
Drew McFarlane: To rock on, my dude.
Matt Sweatt: Music all the way.
David L.J. George: Once the World opens back up and it is safe to have concerts once again, we are hoping to go out on the road and continue to create music together as long as we can.