John Mitchell is a man with a rich musical heritage and history - from musician and vocalist, to songwriter and producer. So it’s no great surprise to find him as the mastermind behind a new project called Lonely Robot. The eponymous forthcoming album is the first time he has done something of this nature, and he's loved every minute of making it.
“I can honestly say it's the most fun I've ever had in the studio. That's not to belittle anything I've done before but with this, I can wake up in the morning with a song idea in my head, write it and have it recorded by the evening.”
Mitchell had long thought about embarking on a project like this, and when he found a break in his schedule due to plans for the next It Bites album being delayed, he finally took the opportunity.
“People had suggested I do an album like this for a long time, but I procrastinated so much that in the end, it took Thomas Waber from InsideOut to push me into doing this.
“With Lonely Robot, I have a clean slate and that's very exciting, because nobody expects anything in particular. It reminds me a lot of how things were when the Kino album [2005's ‘Picture’] was done, in that no-one knew what would come out of it. Musically, the Lonely Robot album is very proggy, but more about atmosphere than technical expertise. It reminds me in places of Kino and Frost*, but stands apart from both.”
There are 11 songs in total, with the versatile Mitchell handling much of the instrumental performance and vocals himself. But he also lined up some intriguing musical talents to guest on it.
“Craig Blundell does all the drums. I mapped out all the parts for him in advance, but he brought a lot of his personality to the songs.”
Marillion vocalist Steve 'H' Hogarth performs on two songs, but not in his accustomed role. “He does backing vocals, yes. But his main contribution is playing the piano, which he does with such a delicate feel.
“Throughout, what I wanted to do was to take the guests outside of what they're usually known for. For example, Kim Seviour from Touchstone sings on one track called ‘Oubliette’, and I got her to do it at the lower end of her vocal register, which she doesn’t normally get to use.”
There are two other acclaimed singers featured on the album, the first being Heather Findlay.
“We duet on a song entitled ‘Why Do We Stay’, which was actually the first one I wrote for the album. Heather is usually known for her folk style of singing but for this song, I gave her the brief of taking a more Kate Bush approach - breathy and emotive.”
Perhaps a surprise inclusion on the album is Go West lead singer Peter Cox.
“When you think of Peter, you immediately think of Eighties pop, don't you? But I felt his dusty baritone would suit my track ‘The Boy in the Radio’ perfectly.”
Still on the 1980s pop trail, John also asked Nik Kershaw to contribute a guitar solo for the track ‘Humans Being’, as he’s long been a fan of his style. John also couldn’t resist asking good friend and keyboard player Jem Godfrey of Frost* fame to add his unique musical treatment to two tracks, including the title ’Lonely Robot’, with Nick Beggs playing bass and his signature Chapman Stick on a few other songs.
There's one more significant contribution to the album. And that comes from the narration provided by renowned English actor Lee Ingleby.
“He's one of Britain’s finest character actors right now. He was in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Master And Commander, as well as having the lead role in the recent BBC TV series ‘Our Zoo’. What I asked him to do was to provide motifs at certain key points in the album, to help to link everything together to the overall album theme.
“The concept is about the way in which some ancient civilisations – for instance, the Mayans, the Egyptians and the Chinese – had technology way beyond what they should have had at the time. And I'm talking about the millennium up to 1000AD. It’s as if some people had been transplanted onto the planet from another world and time.”
Mitchell also put a lot of thought into the overall project name. Lonely Robot isn't just the juxtaposition of two disparate words.
“It represents the human condition. I'm not suggesting that human beings behave like robots, but so many people lead regimented lives and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and not realise or know how to get out of it.”
Lonely Robot is certainly the soundtrack of John Mitchell's prolific imagination coming to life.
“What's the album like? Like nothing I've ever done before!”