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Album Premiere: Generation Loss by A Fragile Tomorrow

A Fragile Tomorrow
21 February 2019

A Fragile Tomorrow – Photo courtesy of A Fragile Tomorrow

With their new album, Generation Loss, A Fragile Tomorrow have one mission: to redefine themselves during times of upheaval and rise up more powerful and daring than ever.

Emotionally dense and sonically polished, Generation Loss centers upon themes of loss, resurrection, and change in all of its forms (personal, political, universal). With an ear for sumptuous production, the band serves up smart slices of Krautrock-heavy psychedelia. Dreamy vocal harmonies are layered into kaleidoscopic synth jams while supported by bursts of quirky, fuzzed-out guitar and groovy bass lines.

“We were listening to a lot of hip hop, particularly groups like A Tribe Called Quest, and were also exploring the work of Krautrock bands like Can and Neu!, who were often sampled by hip hop artists in the late ‘80s and ‘90s in particular,” singer/writer Sean Kelly explains. “We wanted to take those influences and create something completely unique, something so far from what we’d done before that we could almost be considered a new band.”

With songs like the lead single “Dig Me Out” or the vibey “How Do You Dance To It?”, the collection showcases many of these rhythmic influences and ambient experimentations. Adding to this musical sea change, drummer Dom Kelly moved to Los Angeles (away from his East Coast brothers and bandmates, including Brendan Kelly) and switched to playing keyboards full-time in the band.

This shift in focus allowed the band to explore synth textures more as a primary sound, with guitars acting as sonic enhancement rather than the driving force of the music. Along with the addition of veteran drummer Josh Kean (All Get Out, Baumer), the newly inspired members energized their fresh and determined direction of sound.

Mixed by the legendary Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Pavement), A Fragile Tomorrow worked with co-producers Zach Bodtorf and Ted Comerford on Generation Loss to construct the music as a continuous listening experience, often weaving together cinematic intros/outros that bookend the songs.

Topically, the album frequently deals with the recent passing of the Kelly brothers’ mother, who lost her life to an aggressive form of cancer. Some of the lyrics reference the fear she had of leaving her children behind during such a dark time in American history.

“We specifically wanted to touch on all of these issues she held dear, rather than write songs about how much we missed our mother,” Sean says. “She was an activist, and it was important that anything we wrote about her reflected what she stood for rather than wallowing in grief. So I made a conscious choice to be more political and more direct lyrically, and write about the injustices that she saw in both the political landscape and our country’s healthcare system.”

Armed with a dynamic musical vision that is experimental as well as politically charged and passionate, A Fragile Tomorrow offers an intelligent, yet contemplative outlook for the future while plunging fist-in-the-air forward to push both themselves – and all of us – towards a beautiful, more united, and compassionate tomorrow.

Exclusively for The Big Takeover, Sean Kelly also dove deeply into the meaning of the lyrics on each song, so read below for a very personal, interesting, and informative track-by-track summary of Generation Loss:

“Dig Me Out”: “This song is in many ways the flagship song on the album. It was, I believe, the first idea I had musically and definitely the first time we realized what kind of record we wanted to make. The hip hop influences really come through on it, and we were really trying hard to shatter any expectations people might have about what kind of band we are. There’s a very significant and noticeable shift and evolution stylistically here and that was absolutely intentional. We were very energized by this musical thread we were following – the way hip hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest would sample krautrock bands and create groundbreaking organic-sounding soundscapes using electronic instruments and samples. The way electronic music would impact mid-period Radiohead and their own krautrock explorations, etc. These things were all connected, and Brendan and I in particular were really exploring the links between this music. “Dig Me Out” is the beginning of that exploration.”

“This song is about the state of our union and the state of the world. The people in power are not looking out for us – it’s really up to us to hold onto each other and hold each other up as a people, whether it be in terms of class or in terms of who we are (sexual orientation, race, etc). I’m not one to write particularly positive or uplifting lyrics, as it’s just not my strong suit, but this is about as uplifting as I’ll get.”

“Generation Loss”:
““Generation Loss” was one of the first things written for this record, and one of the first times I realized that Brendan and I could work well together as songwriters. In the past, I was the primary songwriter and was generally the one writing everything we did musically and lyrically. He brought the main riff to me, and we started working together to make something out of it. Immediately we realized the krautrock influences that were appearing naturally, so we leaned into that quite a bit.”

“It took a while to get the arrangement that ended up on the album, and our producers Ted Comerford and Zach Bodtorf really helped to shape the bridge and solo section in particular. It became this frantic motorik thing pretty quickly, though. Musically we wanted it to have some energy, but also be groove-oriented in its own way, since that was what we were trying to accomplish with the record overall. That was a big focus for us particularly because of Josh joining the band on drums and Dom moving to synths. Josh is a very different drummer than Dom and he approaches rhythm in a way that’s really unique, so that was a big focus. We also wanted to really highlight Dom’s synth parts in this song, so we pulled from Neu! and Devo really heavily when arranging and finding sounds.”

“I’d started working on lyrics in the demo phase, which was unusual for me. At the time I was really diving into politics and getting passionate about the issues that meant a lot to me – primarily the influence of big money in politics, corruption, that sort of thing.”

“I sort of decided to focus the song around the idea of the older generations letting their greed, entitlement, and complacency destroy their children’s future. Generation Loss was the working title of the album from very early on, and I knew it could take on probably a few different meanings aside from the actual definition of the term, which refers to the loss of quality between subsequent copies of data (video, audio, etc). I thought of that concept – the older and more copied something got, the worse it was in terms of quality. If you put that in the context of capitalism and the way our government is structured, it applies quite frighteningly. The more power these politicians have, the more money is in their pockets from large donors, and the more beholden they are to corporate interests, the less we have and the less likely we are to truly prosper and live the so-called “American Dream.” It’s the same with older generations. They like to call us lazy and all of these things, and when we can’t afford to make our way in life they tell us it’s because we don’t work hard. But the truth is, everything is more expensive. The truth is, people didn’t need to rely so heavily on college educations in their day. The truth is, college wasn’t so fucking expensive in their day. The truth is, you could get a good paying job and a decent career path in their day without spending your entire life consumed by debt from the college education you didn’t even really need to rely on.”

“The real truth is, these older generations are selfish and antiquated in the way they look at wealth distribution and nearly everything else. They think it’s just as simple to make a life for yourself in America as it was for them. They think that the younger generation is lazy, but really they’re selfish and they can’t accept that the world is evolving and changing around them. And they can’t stand the fact that people are standing up and demanding change, demanding a better life. Demanding a more livable minimum wage (which, again, they see as entitlement). Demanding a more affordable college education. Demanding justice for those who’ve grown accustomed to not getting it because of the color of their skin. Demanding equality for people of all races, sexual orientations, genders, backgrounds, etc. That’s what the song is about. It’s about examining the fact that this part of the population – namely privileged, white American baby boomer men – is solely responsible for the unrest we’re seeing today. They’re the reason why people demand change.”

“So that’s what the song is about lyrically, and it’s a concept that sort of threads throughout the record in small ways. Generation Loss is also a concept I explored lyrically in relation to our mother’s death, which the second half of the record deals with. I’ll get into that in a separate summary, but there are essentially three ways we’re applying that term to this album, two thematically and one sonically.”

“How Do You Dance To It?”: “This was another song that was both politically motivated and inspired by krautrock. Essentially, it’s from the POV of a dictator/fascist government leader who tells his followers to just ignore what they see and hear in the media. He wants them to trust him, and they should know that he has the answers and that he has the truth. Not unlike a cult leader, he uses fear as a way to command control of people and has a growing obsession with the adoration he receives from his followers. He also loves the reality show that his reign has created. In short, it’s a song about fear mongering, the degradation of democracy and dignity in the office of the presidency, and the end of free press in America.”

“Musically, this was a song that started on bass and came about pretty early on in the writing process. We were really starting to figure out that we wanted the record to be rhythm-heavy, and the drums on this one were really a centerpiece of those early writing sessions. Josh Kean’s groove really carries the song, and allows for the time signatures to change without really being noticed. It’s an intentionally weird song structurally- speaking, and pretty much the concept vocally was influenced by David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar.’”

“I’m Afraid Of Too Much Change”: “This song was also written on bass! It’s actually a much more complex bassline than you can probably audibly discern, but I do think the rhythmic movement of the bassline comes through enough and blends well with the guitars. I’d written the guitar line in the verse as part of another idea that we ultimately scrapped, but ended up merging it with the opening bassline and then expanding the song from there. It’s the most Radiohead-influenced song on the record, which is probably most evident in the bridge.”

“Lyrically, it’s sort of a criticism of the old, antiquated beliefs about men and women and marriage. The subject is an elderly wife who recently lost her husband, and is telling her son in the first verse to stop crying and “be a man” because he’s the man in the family now and needs to protect the women. She explains that she was dependent on her husband for so long that she feels unable or incapable to do anything on her own. She believes that her role as a wife was to be subservient and that men run the show. The death of her husband triggers immense change in the family dynamic, and she can’t deal with it – she’s too afraid to be an independent person. It essentially examines the damage that is done psychologically to a person who subscribes to the ridiculous and outdated 1950s mindset about gender roles.”

“Gun Shy”: “I’m speaking for everyone here, but I think we might be most proud of this song out of everything on the album. Musically, it kind of has a Clash thing going on. We were definitely looking to explore the way a punk rock band like The Clash would approach groove and rhythm. The song actually started out pretty Elvis Costello-esque, and we just couldn’t get it off the ground. Literally the only thing I liked was the riff, which I wrote early on. Basically, how we wrote it was that I recorded the riff on guitar and then looped it in Pro Tools. Brendan played drums over it and I just started looking for chords to play over top of the looped riff. I landed on the chorus progression somewhere along the way, and it took off from there. The most standout portion of the song is definitely the breakbeat section. We figured the beat would be pretty straightforward in both bridges, but Josh came in and tried a bunch of different takes weaving in and out of tempo. We actually set up something of a “B” drum kit for those sections specifically. He’s fucking amazing at jumping in and out of tempo, so we ended up using the weirdest, most uncomfortable take he did in the 2nd bridge because it really let the most inventive parts of his playing style come through.”

“The synth line in the chorus is another part I’m fond of. That came about in collaboration with Zach Bodtorf and Shaun Rhoades when we were tracking synths in Los Angeles. We were sitting in the back lounge of 64 Sound just working out ideas, and Zach played that line on guitar. It was kind of a breakthrough moment that really made the song.”

“Lyrically, I have to admit to being fucking terrified to write this song. Our father is a police officer, and was a Sergeant in The Bronx for three decades. I have uncles that are police officers. I respect so much the work that officers do and how selfless a job it is. But I can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that there is a real power imbalance in our society, and a very real problem with race in terms of relations between police and people of color. The song really just calls on white people to wake the fuck up and look in a mirror. We’ll never have to worry about being pulled over the way a black person does. We’ll never have to worry about not coming home to our children because we get stopped for a broken taillight. And yet, this idea that rights are being taken away and that our precious guns are being taken away implants this insane anxiety particularly in white men. And they shit all over feminism and the empowerment of women as well. And they feel threatened by immigrants who want nothing more than a better life for their families. It’s just an observation of the shocking privilege that we have as white men in particular and how we really need to open our eyes to this. The American dream wasn’t designed to be inclusive and that’s a fucking injustice that needs to be made right.”

“I Fought The War, I Won”: “Musically, this was directly inspired by David Bowie’s “It’s No Game” from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. We were at this weird crossroads in the middle of the process where we were trying to figure out what we liked and didn’t like, and what needed to change. There I was a song that we’d worked on very early on that just wasn’t happening, and I sort of surveyed the band about whether or not it fit in. It took some convincing with Brendan, but we convinced him to let the song go and try something entirely new in its place. The next day, we went into the studio and hammered out what became “I Fought The War, I Won” in several hours.”

“Lyrically it happened later, and took several revisions to nail it down. It was a huge challenge and a real point of stress for me, because I’d never done the spoken word thing before. I had several versions of the verses that just weren’t happening, and I got really frustrated at one point because it just wasn’t translating. That night I went home and poured through my mom’s blogs, and sat in bed until 3am with my wife asleep next to me, and wrote the final version of the verses in a Michael Stipe-esque stream of consciousness.”

“It’s pretty evident what the song is about – our mother really hated the whole notion of “losing a battle” with cancer. She fought for so long and fought so hard that to imply that eventually she’d “lose” really upset her. She always said she was fighting a war, and this was a straight up tribute to her victory.”

“Circling”: “Musically, this song evolved a lot. We just had the verse progression at first, and it was a lot slower. At some point, I was listening to the Next Day record from David Bowie and there was a song on there with a really fast paced groove that almost had elements of dance and electronica. It kind of clicked that we should take this in a similar direction, so we did and that’s when the rest of the song happened.”

“Lyrically, I wrote the song two weeks after my mother died. I’d just come home to Savannah after staying with dad, and decided to go into the studio and just see what happened. I obviously couldn’t stop thinking about her death, so the lyric deals prominently with the idea of the end being near but not being able to let go 100% yet. I’ve never had an anxiety attack writing lyrics before, but sitting in an empty recording studio by myself with nothing but my thoughts, trying to translate those thoughts to paper, was truly a mind fuck. I felt extremely tense and anxious the entire time I wrote and demo’d those lyrics. Lyrically and melodically it’s one of the songs I’m most proud of.”

“I See My Son”: “This song happened near the end of the recording process, and came about when we realized we kinda needed something to break up the mid tempo and upbeat stuff. I’d been listening to a lot of D’Angelo and sort of felt like doing our own take on a D’Angelo song would be an interesting experiment. The music happened pretty quickly once we landed on the premise.”

“Most of the lyrics were actually written before mom’s death, but I never showed it the song to her because I didn’t think it was a good idea considering where her health was by that point. I’ll always regret that. It’s just about the idea that she sort of had one foot in and one out of this world – she wasn’t ready to leave us but she felt in her heart that my brother and her father were waiting for her in some other realm, and I think there was a part of her that was looking forward to that. Also, she’d definitely come to a place where she was done fighting. She had no choice but to let this disease slowly take her, as much as she’d have wanted nothing more than to control her own destiny and demise. I think she wrestled a lot with the fact that she didn’t have any fucking energy for this fight anymore, and felt guilty about that to some degree. But at its worst, the pain was so agonizing that she just wanted someone to put her out of her misery. It’s something I can’t fathom and something I think she really struggled with. Essentially, it’s an analysis of where I think her head was at in the final months. She was alive, but was she really? What is life if you can’t truly live it?”

“The Human Condition”: “This song had a really interesting evolution – it began a LOT slower, and the pre-chorus in the final version was actually the verse. We just couldn’t make anything out of it for months and months, until I sort of realized that the guitar progression in the chorus could also be the progression in the verse. We sped the song up a lot, edited the demo to something in good enough shape to be a demo and then built on that. For whatever reason, we didn’t get a chance to re-track the drums on the demo right away, so they were still in 4/4 time in the verse (from the original verse progression) while the rest of the music was in 6/4 time since we copied and pasted the chorus into the verse. When Josh came in to track drums we figured we’d redo the drums and rearrange the part, but everyone sort of felt the two different time signatures happening at once was just weird enough to work. So the drums actually stay in 4/4 during the verse, which was really fucking hard to pull off and took a lot of concentration on Josh’s part. But it really makes the song unique.”

“Lyrically, it’s about the idea of fair-weather friends who come around only when things are bad – like in mom’s case, some people (mostly casual friends, nobody who was very close to her) would only reach out when they thought she didn’t have much longer, but she’d always wonder where they were when things were good. It was one of those situations that really made her see who her real friends were.”

“Technicolor”: ““Technicolor” is a song that started out with the verse guitar part, and evolved over a long, long time. Brendan had the bassline in the verse and it was in a different key, so we transposed it and it worked really well over top of the verse guitar. Shaun Rhoades wrote the bassline in the bridge that became the backbone of the chaos in that section. It was a particularly fun song to write and put together.”

“Lyrically, it’s about not really believing in god or an afterlife or anything like that, but at the same time having this weird feeling like there might be another realm of existence after death. The idea of “dreaming in technicolor” is kind of just the idea that your dreams can be so vivid that you feel like they’re significant or real in some way. It’s sort of a collection of thoughts on life and death, more or less.”

“Valhalla”: “This was the biggest collaboration on the record. The song started when we’d gotten a Mellotron, and Brendan had been messing with the pitch shift function on the very first day we got it. The first thing he played was that verse part on the Mellotron, and we both kinda looked at each other like we’d stumbled on something. Then I wrote the chorus chords, and it sat for a while. Dom brought in the lyrics and melody in the verse, and then I put the rest together during the demo phase. When we tracked with Josh the first time around, we decided to just fuck with this song and see what happened because it was still in the writing phase. We ended up jamming for a while and recorded what we did, and somewhere within that improvisation we started playing the outro. Bren was on bass, I was on guitar, and Josh was on drums. No click track or anything. And it felt so good that we ended up taking that live improvisation and using it as the outro the song. So what you hear there is pretty much a live thing, with the exception of a couple of guitar and noise overdubs.”

“Lyrically, it’s the “death with dignity” song on the record. Dom and I were both pretty angry at that point over some aspects of mom’s passing. She really suffered a lot, and wasn’t given the right to decide when her time was up – she just had to keep suffering until the end. It was really hard to watch, and it makes you realize how fucked up it is that a small group of people get to tell us what we can and can’t do with our own lives and use religion as justification for denying people the right to decide when they’v had enough and are ready to die. It’s a tribute to mom and an acknowledgement of the hell she had no choice but to go through, but it’s also the most political song on the record in so many ways.”

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