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  Ben Mynott



   Neil Cowley

  "Voices From the Dust Bowl"
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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 heart.

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 it's done?

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 the speakers.

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 to electronic.

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 like?

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 personality.

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 entirely?

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 State?

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 name?

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 true...

For more about Fragile State, visit www.fragilestate.com

-- interview by Kristofer Upjohn



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