After a long decade of silence, Imperative Reaction has returned with a new album, about which Ted Phelps invites ReGen readers into its creation and songwriting, with hints of a bright future ahead.
An InterView with Ted Phelps of Imperative Reaction
By Brian H. McLelland (BMcLelland)
Imperative Reaction first began recording demos in 1996, but it wouldn’t be until 1999 when Eulogy for the Sick Child was released that the explosive electronic act would begin its journey. While Eulogy… was significantly different from what the band would ultimately become, songs like “Overcast” held hints of what Ted Phelps was capable of. 2002’s Ruined presented the penultimate version of Imperative Reaction with catchy electronic melodies complemented by Phelps’ passionate vocals like boiling water. Over the coming years, Phelps and co. would double down on the style to become a cornerstone of Metropolis Records and the electro/industrial music genre, but after a brilliant self-titled album in 2011, things went quiet. The world was, of course, spinning on for Ted Phelps and the band came together to play a handful of live shows, but new music wasn’t on the horizon… until now. The January 15, 2021 release of Mirror marks the band’s seventh album and the first album of new material from Imperative Reaction in a decade. To mark this momentous occasion, Ted Phelps took the time to speak with ReGen Magazine‘s Brian H. McLelland about his activity over the last 10 years and the band’s return, the inspirations behind the new album, the evolution of his approach to songwriting, surviving COVID-19, and more.
First off, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Phelps: I appreciate you taking the time to help us spread the word. I’ve been ‘gone’ for quite a while so it’s nice to see people still have questions for me.
Things have been quiet on the Imperative Reaction front for a while now. What have you been up to in the interim?
What helped shape the sound of this record?
Has your approach to making music changed?
Phelps: There was a time when I just wanted to write the ‘hardest’ or the ‘most danceable’ song I could. I focused a lot on creating a sound, but not as much on the movement or buildup within the song. My approach is much more holistic now in that I need the song to be a bit of a journey rather than just something that immediately hits you over the head like a ton of bricks. I like the bricks, but it’s a lot cooler if the last chorus hits harder than the first one. There is a time to have all the bells and whistles blaring, but they don’t necessarily have to start in the beginning and last the duration of the song. Some of my favorite songs feature a really cool sound that only occurs once in the song and sometimes that really helps to elevate a song and make it something more memorable.
How has the current state of the world influenced your writing process, if at all?
Phelps: The world is a disaster, there’s no doubt about that. It seems each day is more bizarre than the last. I purposely kept the content of this album more personal than, say, Minus All was, so in a way, I tried to isolate myself as much as possible. But the COVID thing has affected us all in so many ways. I just got over it myself. It’s not fun at all. If there is a silver lining, it’s that I spent far more time perfecting this album than I have with others and the lockdown helped me do that as there wasn’t anything else to do.
The vocals on the record are excellent. When you first began recording again, was it difficult to tap into that raw place where your vocals seem to come from?
Your composition on the record is really interesting and diverse, there’s nothing else coming out that sounds like this, could you talk a little about your approach to songwriting?
Phelps: Although the sounds used are important, the song itself is paramount to me. I spend far too much time with production, but I can’t do that if the song doesn’t move me. As a result, I threw away much more than I used for this album. I spent more time on arrangement on this album than I have in the past. I like the song to take the listener on a journey where the end point is somewhere different than the beginning. I often use the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure, so the challenge was keeping the song moving and evolving throughout. Sometimes that means introducing a lot of new elements in the last chorus or two. Sometimes it’s something as simple as bringing the level up 1db after a break. Whatever the case, I really wanted strong, memorable songs on this album. Hopefully, I’ve achieved that.
This record seems slightly less angry than previous records, a little more mournful than usual. Do you think that’s a product of the subject matter, or just your own personal changes as you get older? Or both?
What’s your favorite song on the record and why is it ‘Split?’ But seriously, what is your favorite?
Phelps: (Laughs) ‘Split’ is definitely near the top for me. That song has changed so much since I first wrote it – it’s kind of like three songs in one. I realized sometime near the end of last year that it was going to be the album opener. My favorite changes as I listen to the album more, but I think the one that consistently comes to mind is ‘Glass.’ I have always wanted to write a song like that and express those types of emotions, but I’ve never actually gone through with it due to, I guess, artistic insecurity. It’s relatively easy for me to express anger, loss, talk some shit, etc. It’s not so easy to express love and longing in a way that translates properly to the audience without worrying it may be trite. I decided this time to ditch all of the stupid ‘rules’ I had for IR and just let loose and write the album I wanted to write. As a result, I think ‘Glass’ is one of the better songs I’ve done.
Clint Carney said in his most recent InterView with ReGen that your album is ‘so fucking good’ and he can’t wait for everyone to hear it. You mentioned that this album is a lot more focused on just making music you want to make; do you feel this album is your ‘purest’ or strongest effort so far? If so, is this the future direction of IR, or is this a farewell?
Lastly, I always ask, what are you enjoying most right now? This could be anything, the first thing that springs to mind – a video game, a movie, a TV show, a book, a record, an activity, whatever.
Phelps: I just got caught up on Better Call Saul – I love that universe – so good. I’m enjoying reconnecting with fans online. Other than that, I’m just getting ready for what 2021 has in store as the Jaws theme plays faintly in the distance…