Get ready get ready get ready... tune
up, chilled listeners, to hear some cool
and groovy space-a-licious downtempo,
from of Neil Cowley (Zero 7) and Ben Mynott
(Blues and Soul), together known as Fragile
State. Beats are tripped out and twofold.
We can dance if we want to... the beats
have enough verve for that. Or you can
kick back, fell laid back, rest on your
back, settle back and even hit the back
button on your CD player to hear it all
again. It's those kind of grooves, baby.
Raves.com's Kristofer Upjohn takes a lazy
day and spends it virtually drifting along
(via email) with half of Fragile State
for this interview...
Kristofer: How did
you get into downtempo?
Neil: Ben and I first made a
housey track together which did quite
well. Our next thought was, 'well lets
make an album', but neither of us wanted
to make a house album. I was playing keys
with zero 7 at the time, and felt it would
be good to do a selection of tracks that
captured the more keyboard lead moments
in the zero 7 show. From there we realized
the potential that slower tempos gave
for musical expression, and for me it
marked the beginning of a departure away
from faster dance genres. A blessed relief
at the time!
What, for you, is the special appeal
of downtempo as opposed to faster, "catchier"
beats like trance or house; what's the
hook for you, both as a listener and composer?
I've been involved with both trance and house acts and thoroughly enjoyed
the experience. The frenetic nature of
those genres definitely matched the erratic
tempo of my life at that time. Being involved
with downtempo music has enabled me to
utilise the techniques passed on to me
as a youth, such as orchestration, dynamics
and sensitive expression. Its so good
to get the opportunity to make use of
all the tools that one possesses. To waste
them keeps you awake nights! The 'hook'
is the room left available for 'soul'
to seep through. I'm an old soul boy at
Is there a particular sort of ambience
you set out to achieve when you compose;
do you have definite ideas of what a track
is going to sound like... or do you experiment
and not know what you're getting until
There is a definite ambience that each
'Fragile State' track achieves but I'm
not sure how to describe it verbally.
Its just a kind of attitude that a track
suddenly seems to be conveying. There
is no set idea before the making of a
track. Its a normally a case of messing
around with hooks and sounds until that
special eight bars turns up. From that
eight bars it suddenly becomes obvious
what the next five minutes are going to
sound like. Then its the painful task
of moving the sounds from the head to
Did you ever experiment with other
styles of electronic music?
I know Ben had been involved in some
other things before we started working
together. I have been connected to a hundred
and one other types of electronic music.
Enough to match my extremely slim attention
span. Goa trance, house, garage, groove,
jungle, drum and bass. You name it, my
dulcet keyboard tones have been in some
way connected to it.
Tell me how you first became an electronic music listener.
I could lie to you and tell you some
great story about my first taste of electronic
music, but I really can't remember. Being
invited to play on other peoples records
is normally the way I am introduced to
new and exciting things.
What kind of music did you grow up
with; was it similar or was there a major
transition from your first music listening
I was brought up by a mother who listened
to jazz and classical only, and that was
all that I knew till I hit fourteen, when
I joined my first band. A Blues Brothers
covers band. From there I was introduced
to soul and funk. It was only a matter
of time before someone somewhere slipped
an electronic record under my nose. My
mother only ever liked them if they had
funk. She still doesn't know what funk
is. But she definitely has it.
What other genres of music do you
I can honestly say that I like anything
of quality from any musical field. It
worries me when people say they only like
one genre. It normally reflects in their
Who are your influences in the electronic world?
I don't really have specific influences
in the electronic world. I kind of just
pick up things I like along the way, retain
them in my brain, then mix them up with
my true musical influences. The 'old'
guys. Pre electronic.
Do you envision trying other electronic styles, or even other genres
I think I'm heading back to my roots.
Soul, jazz and jazz funk. But like many
people I am desperate to do a fully orchestrated
film music project.
What do you want your listeners'
minds to conjure when listening to Fragile
It would be really dictatorial to tell
people what to see or think to our music.
I hope they get a slight sense of what
I felt during the making of it. The feeling
of the overwhelming magnitude of life;
and the inability to control or affect
much of what goes on around you... Or
they could picture a nice horse!
Where did you come up with the band
Whilst making the first album, both
Ben and myself were suffering health problems.
One morning when Ben came over to work,
he looked at me and said "you look a bit
fragile this morning" and I said "yeah,
and you look a right state!". I'm sure
you can work out the rest.... It coincidentally
ties in rather nicely with the delicate
nature of the music.
What's with the naked woman on the
front of the new CD, (not that anyone's
complaining, not me, anyway)?
It is purely part of the collage put
together by the cover artists. I think
it looks good in ways beyond just her
nudity. It looks beautiful in a compositional
sense. But in actual fact, the naked woman
seems to be a running theme with records
released by our record label 'bar de lune'.
Do you have input into the CD art?
The artwork is put together by my girlfriend
and her co worker. But we give them a
completely free reign to express themselves
in any way they see fit. They showed us
about five ideas and we felt this one
was most in keeping with the albums content.
Any last words?
Looking back at the way I have answered
your questions I have concluded that it
is quite bizarre that I have ended up
being classified as an electronic music
artist. I seem totally unqualified to
do so!!! I am in no ways an officianado
in the traditional sense. I can never
remember names of records, or who is making
waves in this scene or that. I do not
immerse myself in any particular social
movement. Just in my own strange head!
Having said that, being in 'Fragile State'
has enabled me to express myself in a
totally honest way, free of genre constraints.
It is therefore rather pleasing to find
myself appealing to a particular field
and being classed as electronic. I assure
you it is without forethought or design.
A purely natural evolution of sound. I
hope that 'Fragile State's music transcends
those boundaries and appeals to as many
people as possible. Cliched maybe? But
For more about Fragile State, visit www.fragilestate.com
-- interview by Kristofer Upjohn