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THE PHOENIX EXPERIMENT: CREATING COSMIC CLARITY FROM WITHIN THE ILLUSION - INTERVIEW BY ANDY BARNES
 
After an initial meeting with Mike Bee of The Phoenix Experiment last year as the band unfurled from the relatively recent demise of The 66, it seemed only right and proper to catch up with the intergalactic nomad of the inner cosmos once more upon the release of debut EP “Black Light Satellite,” and witnessing first hand, the sheer explosion of light and sound which constitutes the sense obliterating live Phoenix shows. If there’s a superior way of experiencing psychedelic apparitions and sonic meteor storms without the use of mind altering chemicals, I’m yet to find it.

ANDY: Firstly can I just say what a brilliant live performances at last year’s Mudkiss Showcase night and I believe the same took place in Warrington and Manchester recently prior the EP launch. How’s it been for you guys taking to the stage once more, as you tend to do relatively few gigs?

MIKE: Thanks, glad you enjoyed the blast.  I’d compare it to a volcano waiting to blow.  We’re all predominantly live performers and improvisers, so the gigs have been a culmination of built up tension and desire to play live again.  We generate the sonic whirlwind, then step inside it and see where it takes us.

ANDY: Do you have any more planned and are you looking to take the live show to even more astronomic levels?

MIKE: We’re back in Manchester, at the Black Rooms [above the Ducie Bridge Pub] on May 11th with our fantastic psychedelic friends ‘Helicon’.  We’re also returning to Friars Court to play a Clint Boon Night on the 12th July.  We’re always trying to take the live show to astronomic levels! That’s definitely the purpose of the live shows – to give people something new and make them think differently...

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ANDY: During our last chat, I suggested a certain amount of Prog Rock involved in the music of The Phoenix Experiment, which you sounded slightly surprised at. Would you perhaps agree more now, particularly as you’ve developed the live sound?

MIKE: Yeah. You’ve had me thinking about that since you first mentioned at about half a year ago! It stumped me.  Whether it was the initial Phoenix sound of me and Craig, or the eventual expanded band sound that we’ve now become – we’ve always had that unique sonic flavour.  I would class our genre as Psychedelic Apocalyptica, but someone recently said to me ‘You’re like Prog Rock, but without all pomp and bollocks attached and delivered with serious intent. 

I’ll take that. Because it’s serious times we’re musically documenting.  I’d rather be making progressive music than regressive music, which pretty much sums up most of the mainstream musical output.  We’re here to soundtrack the world that lies beneath the illusion.

ANDY: What is that illusion Mike?

MIKE: That’s not the simplest thing to explain! This reality is the illusion

The Buddha says: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

So, don’t believe me.  Do your own research and reach your own conclusions.  My own journey has taken many years of research and it is still in motion.  At first it drives you to preach to all and everyone, in some kind of panic at what you’ve discovered. Then as things come into balance, you realise you’re just forcing your own truth onto other people.  I’m not sure everything is meant to ‘wake up’.  Those who are aware, often end up naturally gravitating towards each other, often in the most bizarre circumstances and synchronistic ways.

My most powerful creative tool is music, so I use it to discuss these themes.  For anyone who is aware of these topics, it’s blatantly obvious what I’m communicating. For those listeners that aren’t aware, they remain oblivious. In a way, that sums things up. Once you’re aware of these things, you can no longer hide from them.  If you aren’t aware, you just continue to go along with your normal life none-the-wiser. I just hope people enjoy the soundtrack, if it helps them to discover something new – excellent.

ANDY: The debut EP “Black Light Satellite” has just been released and I must admit to being slightly surprised at the shorter length of songs included .  Do you see recording as a totally separate beast to the live show, with a completely different perspective?

MIKE: I’m glad you’re surprised.  You didn’t expect us to do something expected did you! The next E.P will undoubtedly be different again.  Think about our core sound as a canvas, we can then colour it in whichever way we want and it will still be a recognisable piece of work by The Phoenix Experiment. 

I see the recording and live side as two pillars, brother and sister, holding up the overall vision.  I don’t want to see a live band who sounds exactly the same as on record.  I want something more from that experience.  Likewise, I can create soundscapes and colours in the studio that will translate differently on record compared to live. 

If some of our songs go on for 10 / 20 minutes, that’s because how they evolved.  I certainly don’t stand there saying ‘Lads, we need to add another 15 minutes onto this song!’ A song should last as long as it needs to in the writer/s mind to tell a story.  

ANDY: You’ve obviously taken a decision not to include the earlier Phoenix Experiment demos which have appeared over the last 18 months or so. Have you drawn a line under those earlier songs from a release point of view or could we potentially see them re-appear at a later date?

MIKE: I’ve hidden away chunks of our early material.  I do have a plan that’s in the early stages of forming at the moment – ‘When 4 were 2’.  I’m proud of those songs and they did a great job of introducing people to us.

ANDY: Along with the rawer, blues aspects of The Phoenix Experiment, technology is used heavily and more predominantly on “Black Light Satellite”. Can you explain how you go about this and are you looking to expand even further technologically in the future.

MIKE: BKS tells a story, I’ll let the listener devise what that is, but a predominant theme IS technology.  Without it, we couldn’t create what we do.  At the same time, it’s probably killing us, or transforming us, as a race, into non-thinking automatons.

The songs centre on these themes and are linked. This might go some-way to explaining why the use of technology is really prevalent on BKS.  It was a purposeful decision when I was producing it to let these elements combine and occasionally rip through the mix and dominate, as that’s a mirror of modern life. 

The sounds were created using Moog Synthesis, mostly Ableton Live to manipulate and other hardware devices.  The track ‘Chaos’ heavily features an Ani-Moog played on the Ipad.  The walls of sound are then layered over and under the actual standard band set-up to create a small feeling if displacement.

ANDY: From the perspective of relating real life and technological advances. Is that ultimately a good thing, or are we becoming over dependent on technology and losing track of what’s ultimately important, human contact, conversation on a face to face or even voice to voice basis?

MIKE: I love the fact I can talk to someone on the other side of the world, even musically collaborate with them – that’s great.  But what are we going to do when it’s used against us? This technology, in our view, is in BETA stage, the real reasons for its construction haven’t been revealed yet.  The cage has already been built; they just need to connect it together. I often imagine a knock on the door ‘MR BEE, can you confirm this is you? Did you write these words in an interview for Mudkiss Fanzine in 2013? And then I disappear, for thought crime and facebook related postings...

The series Black Mirror by Charlie Brooker tackles the themes of the future of Humans and Technology very well.  Also look into ‘Transhumanism’ for a better idea of where they want to take us.

ANDY: I know you had a very tough time at the end of last year with the tragic loss of good friend and ex band mate Daniel Rimmer who you played alongside in The 66.  Have you been able to come to terms with this as yet?

MIKE: Yes and No, said together at the same time. 

ANDY: I’ve also seen a couple of demo tracks appear under the “Suns of Sam” banner which is yourself and Liam Rimmer, who I’m assuming is Daniel’s brother.  What’s the significance of the name and is this another project you will be progressing over the coming months?

MIKE: The name does have a meaning, but it’s not public knowledge so it will be kept under wraps for now.  We actually did our first acoustic Suns of Sam gig last on Easter weekend.  It was quality to flex the acoustic muscles again and everyone seemed to love it.  So yeah, this project will definitely be progressing.

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ANDY: Have you worked with Liam previously or has Daniel’s sad passing  given you both the desire to put music your music out there in his memory?

MIKE: The first time we’d gigged together was the memorial gig where Liam sang for the 66.  We became closer friends from that point on, sampling fine ales from across the land, just chilling.  This eventually progressed into writing and recording tracks in my home studio.  Creative Therapy you might call it.

I’ll text Liam and ask him.

LIAM RIMMER: Yeah I do it for him.  Everything musically I do is a direct inspiration from him.  To do music with Mike is an honour for me to be a part of.  Fire up the Sun.

MIKE: I feel honoured as well.  We’re not the type to start throwing man-love comments around either, so it’s true! We have a connection via the past, the present, and the future combined. 

Genetics doesn’t guarantee a song-writing partnership should work, but it does.  It’s similar to me and Danny, but Liam is his own man so brings different colours and tones to it.  It’s some kind of universal alignment. 

Hope Liam won’t mind me saying this, but I will anyway.  I reckon Danny is watching all of this and half-laughing at it, but mostly being stupidly proud of his little, bigger, brother. 

http://thephoenixexperiment.bandcamp.com (EP DOWNLOAD)
www.facebook.com/tpelodge
www.thephoenixexperiment.co.uk
www.facebook.com/SunsOfSam

Interview by Andy Barnes
Photos by Melanie Smith - www.mudkissphotography.co.uk

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