Chris McGarel was pretty impressed with “Map Of The Past”, the latest album by UK progressive rock outfit It Bites. On behalf of the band guitarist/vocalist John Mitchell was more than happy to answer Chris’ questions on the new album, concept albums and working with other musicians…
Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions and congratulations on “Map of the Past”. It’s a remarkable album.
Thank you Chris, I’m glad you like it.
First of all I was curious to know where the theme for the album came from. Did you conceive the theme up front (and if so what triggered it?) or did you find that lyrics you were writing had a common theme?
The idea came from a family portrait of my great grandparents in Cornwall, November 18th 1913. It was taken outside the family farm. On a trip to Cornwall I went looking for the building and when I found it I was stunned to see that it was EXACTLY the same as it was in the photo. The only thing that was different was that all the people in the photo were by now, no longer with us. It really struck me. The other thing that struck me was a man in the photo who was decisively looking away from the camera. Bearing in mind how long it took to take photos in those days, he had every chance. So I did some research and it turns out he was the unloved black sheep of the family who ended up wronging every one. My imagination started running wild! And now I’ve made him infamous through the medium of album artwork!
The latest Arena album, “The Seventh Degree of Separation”, is also a concept album. Does writing around a central theme or concept present any particular challenges and do you enjoy this mode of writing?
You’d have to as Clive about the Arena album as he was in charge of the story behind that one. From my point of view, “Map Of The Past” was a LOT easier to write than “The Tall Ships” primarily because we had a lot more fun this time round. Once you have a theme and a story, lyrics come flooding, it was very easy and IMMENSELY enjoyable.
The arrangements on “Map of the Past” are quite complex despite the immediacy of the songs. Could you tell me a little about the writing process for the album and do you have a different approach to writing with It Bites than with Arena or Frost*?
I don’t (until this year) write with Frost, it’s all Jem’s work. As for Arena, we just contribute riffs and pieces of music to a bigger musical picture. It’s only It Bites where I am largely responsible for the output, well myself and John Beck that is.
In a recent press release you said, “We wanted to make an album that’s better and more ridiculous than the last one”. Do you and the other members of It Bites find it challenging reining in your imagination? Do you ever listen back to a mix and think “No, that’s just a little too out there!”?
Nope, John Beck is entirely with me. The more over the top the better. He didn’t think “Send No Flowers” would fit on the album as he thought it was too ‘Wagnerian’. ‘Nonsense’ I said and promptly wrote some lyrics. The great thing about It Bites as a band is we don’t really fit into any category so we can play any music we like whatsoever!
I thought I detected a few lyrical and thematic nods to Pink Floyd’s The Wall in Man in the Photograph and the title track. Is this coincidence or a conscious homage?
Entirely conscious. I love that album. It’s a definite nod of the hat to Roger Waters!
The vocals on the album seem more assured than ever, “The Last Escape” in particular features a beautiful vocal performance. Has anything changed since “The Tall Ships” in terms of how you approach your vocals?
Not really. I’ve just sung a lot more since doing ‘”The Tall Ships”. I’m not really a natural singer and it’s not really something I ever wanted to do but I got lumbered with it. In short, I have probably got a bit better.
As a self-professed It Bites fan from their early days, is there a particular song on the first three albums that really gives you a kick to play live?
Yes. “Once Around The World”. It’s a wonderful musical journey and a real challenge to play. It was probably my favourite song when I was 15.
You have many different roles not only within It Bites but in all your projects – producer, mixer, guitarist, composer, singer, frontman, lyricist. What is your preferred role, the one which you find most rewarding?
I would have to say writer/lyricist. That’s the most fun and the most rewarding. The rest of those roles are either second nature to me or something of a job.
With so many successful collaborations in your CV is there anyone you haven’t yet worked with who you would like to?
Steven Wilson and Peter Gabriel. I have Massive respect for both. I know Steven a little so that would probably be easier to put together.
Thanks again for your time and for giving me the opportunity to put these questions to you. I wish you every success with the new album. See you on tour!
Thank you mate!