Jan 2021 13

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?

Phelps: Living life. I knew something in me had changed when we concluded the All Sides Closing In Tour in 2012 and the familiar ‘itch’ to get back on the road never came. I spent 1996-2012 almost exclusively on the band and I just got to the point where I needed to step away for a while. A while turned into a lot longer than I intended. During that time, my wife and I went through a painful separation and I kind of lost myself for a bit. Much of Mirror is about that time and really my relationship with my wife and the way we mirror each other. Fortunately, we got back together a couple of years later and thanks to her, I started writing again. I had forgotten how important it was for me, but fortunately, it all came back pretty quickly. So, the short answer would be, I spent as much time as possible with my family, focused on building a business, and played a few shows because I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of doing that.

 

 

What helped shape the sound of this record?

Phelps: I wrote about two albums worth of material in 2012-2013. Half of it was lost in a drive failure and the other just sat unfinished. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t release it. There was too much of whatever was popular at the time in the music for my taste. I realize that will always happen to some extent, but I think I was just in the wrong headspace to produce an album at that time. With the deadlines and tour plans, IR had become very much like a job and while it’s cool to be able to do what you like for a living, it dampened the excitement of being in a band.
When I started writing again, a lot of the stuff seemed ‘too IR,’ if that makes sense. I found that things really took off when I began utilizing different tools to create instead of relying on things I knew well. From 2013-2017, I didn’t really pay much attention to what was going on in music. I did ask for some recommendations from people at some point three years ago just to get a sense of what was going on and managed to discover some stuff I really liked. I also went back to some classics that really had an impact on me when I was younger. I listened to Violator (Depeche Mode) a lot when I first started writing again. I listened to some NIN and Nitzer Ebb and it was cool to reacquaint myself with the albums that made me want to make music in the first place. I listened to our last few albums and made mental notes of what I didn’t like about those albums and tried to avoid those things this time.
Keith Flint (of Prodigy) passed around the time I first heard Aesthetic Perfection’s last album. Daniel from AP suggested I check out a song from a band called Horskh, which I liked a lot. So, I was listening to The Prodigy, AP, and these Horskh songs, and I think those things contributed to two of the songs on the album. The album is much more varied than anything I’ve done before as IR. I kind of made it a point to do whatever I felt like I should do, which is really anything I think sounds good enough to be on the album should be. There was no, ‘Hey, we need to increase the use of guitar on this one’ (there is none), or, ‘We really need an ‘As We Fall’ and the rest of the songs should be club ready.’ I literally just wrote what I would like to hear. There are slower songs, upbeat songs, angry songs, and even a couple of love songs. I figure when you’re squeezing a decade of life and experience into an 11-song album, it would be weird if every song conveyed the same emotions or had the same sound.
Sonically, there is a lot less layering going on and more focus on the song itself. IR certainly has a ‘sound,’ but I wanted to create a similar impact without retreading familiar ground or using the same sounds again. Clarity was important to me and I think I’ve accomplished that this time around. I used to double all of my vocals as the sound of my recorded vocals bothered me, but I didn’t do that at all on this album. So, the other component of the IR ‘sound’ is much clearer this time around.

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?

Phelps: I spent years absolutely paranoid that as I aged, I would lose my range and/or ability to scream/sing high notes. The last few years have taught me to relax. We’ve played a handful of shows between 2014 and now and everything has been great that way. When it came time to start recording vocals for Mirror, I just made sure to properly warm up religiously on a daily basis. It took me a bit of time to ‘find my voice’ for this album. That isn’t to say I forgot how to sing over the years, but I wanted to make sure the vocals fit the mood and the sound of the album properly. I wrote and edited the lyrics as I recorded, and I think I did all of the scratch choruses before I recorded the verses. Once I had everything sounding the way I wanted it, I rerecorded all of the parts and started mixing.

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?

Phelps: I think this album features more focused anger where appropriate. I love to both sing and scream, but this time around, if I felt like singing a song, I didn’t force myself to come up with a way to work screaming into it. It sounds cliché, but I really just went with what felt natural for the songs. There are a couple of songs where the demos were a bit more aggro, but I decided that the song was better served with a more ‘smoother’ lead vocal. The subject matter definitely had to do with these decisions. I can definitely see a Minus All type album down the line that has a ton of aggression, but Mirror came out this way because it suited the theme.

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?

Phelps: That’s really nice to hear. Clint’s one of my favorite people and it’s always nice to hear things like that from the people you respect. Clint just put out an amazing album that I had the pleasure of working on. Mirror definitely is more of a ‘whatever feels right goes’ type of album. I think I’m far enough from finishing it now to say it is the strongest IR album to date. I definitely feel motivated to continue. I did say years ago that this would be the last album, but I feel like there’s just too much to do with IR to let that be the case. So, there will definitely be more. I’m working with my wife on my other band, Mercury Lust, which will be released late this year. I’ve already started the next IR album and I’m crazy excited about both.

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…

 

Imperative Reaction
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube
Metropolis Records
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Live photography by Mary Taylor of Mary Taylor Photo and Mandi Martini of Mandi Martini Photography
All photography provided courtesy of Imperative Reaction

 

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