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imperativereaction promo byChadMichaelWardInterview with

Ted Phelps from Imperative Reaction

Agra Hall Leipzig 2006 - IMPERATIVE REACTION are giving their amazing show at Wave Gotik Treffen. I still remember it and I remember the hype and anticipation for the band to play live before the show. Remember amazing albums and cool parties with their music to be the background. In 2011 the music stopped playing. Why? Well…we have the interview with Ted Phelps to answer the question plus to give some details regarding the new release ‘Mirror’.

Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Hello, first of all thank you for making this interview possible. I know you’re very busy with the recording and promo actions related to the release of the new album entitled ‘Mirror’. How do you feel about the new release? It will be out in January or has anything changed in this respect? I must say that nowadays, with Covid-19 pandemic striking back and forth, there are so many plans ruined that I’m a bit scared to ask…
Ted: Thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions. I submitted the album to Metropolis on October 26th. Now that a month and a half has passed, I’ve gone back and listened critically a couple of times and I’m happy with the result. This is different for me as I am a perfectionist to a fault and I usually just hear the mistakes when I listen to a lot of my music. In this case, I’m very proud of the album. It is definitely the most varied album I’ve released and I think that’s important. Unfortunately, I just went through a bout with Covid-19 and it wasn’t fun. I am thankful that I finished the album before contracting it. It did a number on my voice (it’s now just coming back) and made things pretty unpleasant for a bit but I’m passed it now.

RoD: You took quite a break in between making new music. ‘Surface’ and ‘Imperative Reaction’ were out in 2011 - what was the reason for such long holidays from music? Or was it not holidays from music but from IMPERATIVE REACTION in fact? Can an artist be actually free from the sounds and ideas rumbling in his head?
Ted: I did take a long hiatus from IR. I think the problem for me was that the band had become too much like a job. Between 2002 and 2012 we released an album and/or toured every year except for 2010. It was a great time but it was also quite exhausting. It takes its toll on anything in life that isn’t the band. When I returned home from the last tour, the feeling of wanting to get back on the road that used to come about a month or two after leaving it just never returned. Though I continued to write until about mid-2013, I knew it was time to step back and spend some time on the other aspects of my life. I don’t think it’s possible long term to silence the music in my head so to speak. It is possible though to temporarily mute it and that’s what I ended up doing. I went through a tough time in 2014. My wife and I separated for a couple of years. Fortunately, we found our way back but she could tell something was missing in me. Thankfully, she pushed me to start writing again in 2016. It was a slow process but it kind of felt like a part of me came back to life at that point.

RoD: What gave you a kick to release a new thing?
Ted: It’s pretty awesome to see how many people still care about what we’re doing. It’s been so long since IR released anything that I had forgotten about the smaller things that go into the whole process. It’s kind of a rush to take something you’ve worked on in isolation for so long and give it to someone else to listen to. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to present the songs live. Now we just have to wait until live shows are a thing again.

RoD: What will we find on the new album? Will it be kept in the stylistics your fans are used to or we will be shocked and surprised?
Ted: I don’t think anyone will be shocked per se - surprised perhaps, but I do think this album stands on its own relative to the rest of our discography. I think some of that is a product of the time between releases. I also think it has to do with what I set out to create this time. I am aware that IR has a “sound”. Half of that sound is my voice and the other is the layering of distorted synths I used to employ a lot. While some of that is present on ‘Mirror’, I decided I wanted more clarity this time around. I also spent a lot more time on the arrangement than I used to. There are aggressive and down tempo songs on this album and a lot of in between. I tried not to think too much about what IR should sound like in 2020/2021 but I think I got it.

imperativereaction mirror

RoD: Tell me about the album cover and the title. On the cover I see a mannequin wearing a suit in the glass hall. It is carrying a candle, a lighter? It is actually very beautiful and intriguing indeed - what is a concept behind the visual part?
Ted: My good friend and former-IR keyboardist, Clint Carney developed the concept for the cover. Clint has been working in visual effects for years now and he’s extremely good at it. When it was time to start thinking about the cover art, I had a couple of conversations with him about what the art should look like. My wife had given me some great ideas and I knew I liked the idea of an “infinite reflection” type image but Clint is the one who took those ideas and came up with presenting it as an infinity mirror room. He proceeded to create a virtual room in a 3D space. He created the “man” with the match in his hand staring at his reflection. I really liked the idea of having many exact reflections with only one catching on fire. After the image was finished, it went to our graphic designer, Sam Pffankuche. He added some treatments and really drove the whole thing home and now we have my favourite cover to date. There are a lot of themes running through this album and the concept of the mirror pulls them together. To me, the cover represents seeing yourself in different lights. One can present themself to the world in any way they desire but that may have an unintended impact on the person in other ways. That was something I liked about Clint’s work - it’s almost as if the match represents the man’s struggle to hold it together in front of the world while one part of him is consumed by the flame. Of course, this is one interpretation of the just the cover art. I’m still seeing new ways it ties into the themes of ‘Mirror’.

RoD: The concept of a mirror is very tricky indeed and I must say it caught my attention on the spot - someone may be our mirror and the other way round, too. Mirrors are to reflect the reality, we look into them to see our reflection, but we know mirrors alter images in a way. Books are mirrors of reality as Stendhal said. There are plenty of mirror-related ideas. What is the idea behind your ‘Mirror’?
Ted: My personal life and my relationship with my wife factored heavily into the album this time around. I would say this is probably the single biggest inspiration in terms of lyrical content. I like working with dual meanings and the concepts always seems to expand as they are fleshed out so other aspects of my life and experiences worked their way into the album as well. Getting older, redefining how we see ourselves and the way others see us are present throughout the record. The concept of ‘Mirror’ began when I considered my relationship with my wife. We met when we were kids and we have been together for the better part of 28 years now. It starts with the way soul mates mirror one another and grow and evolve. From there, the concept expanded to include other themes. I think as people we tend to focus so much on how we appear to others and fit into the world that it’s easy to lose sight of who we actually are without all of that. In my case, I spent a long time basing my sense of self on what I did and what I was able to do and it caused me to just kind of lose myself for a bit when those things changed. I tend to write darker music but I am not the type of writer who works well when I’m facing those types of things. I need perspective in order to work so it made sense that in the process of rebuilding my life and relationship I had to look at myself and my world from many perspectives. ‘Mirror’ pretty much documents the entire experience.

RoD: Your music is extremely energetic, dynamic but also aggressive, harsh, especially in terms of vocals. What made you choose this particular kind of music to express yourself? Obviously, the sound you make allows many people vent their energy - is it such a vent for yourself as well?
Ted: I think so, yes. When I started out, I didn’t know I could sing. I didn’t care at that time I just knew I wanted to express myself vocally. I did a lot of screaming and the vocals were heavily affected. After we released ‘Eulogy’ and we started to tour, I realized I needed to seek out a vocal coach as I was destroying my throat. Once I discovered I liked to sing, I started looking at ways to incorporate that into what I was already doing. On ‘Mirror’, I’d say there are equal parts singing and screaming. I let the song dictate the approach and I think it works out.

RoD: Saying that I also wanted to add that your music - even though the first thing you notice about it is its dancy, energetic quality - presents a huge emotional load. It seems you carry a lot in your heart - is music your way of verbalizing or translating emotions via medium such as sound?
Ted: It’s probably the only way that expressing that ever felt natural to me. I am working on that and it’s a process but it was always easier for me to express myself through music.

imperativereaction live byMaryTaylor

RoD: You are also involved in doing remixes - you co-operated with such artists as AESTHETIC PERFECTION, COMBICHRIST, GOD MODULE or SYSTEM SYN - to name just a few - when you take someone’s material to work on, what is it that you pay attention to when preparing a remix? Is it your own taste or the vibe the particular band is associated with?
Ted: Generally, I look for “hooks” in the song that draw me in. From there, I take it and run with it and treat it as I would one of my own songs. It varies depending on the song but ultimately my goal is to produce something that kind of fuses IR with the original song.

RoD: Will there be any remixes on your new album?
Ted: There are no remixes on the album itself but I do have plans to release a remix album that consists of bands I like remixing the songs on ‘Mirror’. That’s in the planning stages now so hopefully that will come into being sometime in the next few months.

RoD: How do you think the audience and promo channels have changed since the release of your last album? Will you be promoting in a different way? In what way have you changed as a musician?
Ted: I think a lot of what is big now was in its infancy back when we released our last album. Social media is important obviously but now the streaming services act as the radio stations and in some cases, the record stores themselves. There has been a bit of trial and error but I’m actually enjoying re-learning certain aspects of the business. It definitely keeps it interesting. I seem to have gained the ability to insulate myself and stay on task much better than I used to. Covid-19 certainly has changed things. Normally, we would be getting ready to promote the tour to promote the album right now. I’m pretty much approaching this as someone who has a lot of experience but doesn’t know quite what to expect at this point. We’ll see!

RoD: Tell me more what we can expect from you? The optimistic version please.
Ted: The momentum built up during the recording of this album continues. I am working with my wife recording the debut EP for our band MERCURY LUST now. I’m really excited about that because it’s so different from what I normally do. So, we’re doing that and I’m writing new IR material as well. I’m talking to some people about what the IR live show is going to look like and how to make it happen once we can start doing that again. I’m excited again across the board and I don’t think it’s going to stop any time soon.

RoD: Thank you very much for your time! I’m really grateful and wish you all the best with the new release!
Ted: Thank you so much for yours and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about the album.

Promo picture by Chad Michael Ward, live picture by Mary Taylor
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