John Mitchell is a man who isn't afraid to stir things up, and surprise people. So, while 'Please Come Home', the 2015 debut album from Lonely Robot, set a very high standard of excellence, new album 'The Big Dream' isn't in any way restricted by what has gone before.
“Not at all,” insists Mitchell, who is very much the driving force behind this album in all sense of the term. “I never feel like I have to do things in a certain way just because of what's been done before. For me, doing a project like this is very fulfilling. It allows me to be totally in control of what I create.”
As with its predecessor, 'The Big Dream' is not a concept album, but there is a core theme running right through it, and one that sees The Astronaut, the central character in this on-going adventure, emerging from a long period in stasis.
“The Astronaut wakes up from a cryogenic sleep,” explains Mitchell. “But he's no longer in space. Instead, he finds himself in a woodland area, where he comes across people who have animal heads! It's a little surreal, and I suppose it mirrors 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' to some extent. This is something of a solipsistic haze, for want of a better description!”
This feeling of The Astronaut being locked into the imaginings of his own unpredictable mind might seem to be a twist that nobody could ever have been believed likely, after the way in which the story was developed on the first album. However, it's something Mitchell always had in his thoughts.
“I have constantly seen this storyline as opening up over a period of three albums. And, I always knew where I wanted to go with the second album. Right now, I have no thoughts of what will happen for the third one. But that is still in the future, of course. However, for 'The Big Dream' the aim was to take The Astronaut away from space and put him in this new environment.”
The change of location isn't the only one made here. Whereas on 'Please Come Home', Mitchell brought in a number of guest musicians and vocalists to bring his compositions to life, now he has a firm band around him.
“I've got Craig Blundell on drums who is my bandmate in Frost* and who contributed all the fireworks to Please Come Home. On bass I have Steve Vantsis who has been a long time collaborator with Fish and whose Tilt album I mixed only last year. Last but not least I have the eminently quotable Liam Holmes on keys that we lovingly refer to as ‘Brain the Size of a Small Planet’”
While a lot of writers never think about titles for their songs until, after these have been written, for Mitchell this is perhaps the crucial part of his entire creative process. And on 'The Big Dream', once again he puts great store by this procedure.
“A lot of bands I work with as a producer think up nonsense titles for songs when they first write them. Only later on, do they think seriously about changing these to the ones which finally appear on the album. I don't know how they can work like this. For me, it's vitally important to have the title in place right at the beginning. Once I have this sorted out, I find the rest of the writing – music and lyrics – flows naturally and easily. This is inevitably how I've worked here. Once the overall theme for the album was in place, I then came up with the titles, and when I had these sorted, they set the tone for what happened on the album.
“I really get on a roll when I am writing. I get up early and begin the process, and once the momentum takes over, then I can write a song a day. “
Mitchell also reveals he was in no way hampered by having this album following on from the previous one.
“There are no constraints here, as far as I am concerned. This is not a repetition of 'Please Come Home'. On that album, The Astronaut was in deep space, with all that meant in terms of a dark atmosphere. But here, I have put him in a much more grounded situation. He is on terra firma. So, you see, I never allowed myself to be hemmed in by anything I had written and recorded before.”
It took two months of solid focus and commitment to record 'The Big Dream', and Mitchell now wants to do more Lonely Robot shows in 2017.
“The only condition is that I want them all to be special; and now we have two albums of material from which to choose the set. However, my approach was never clouded by the idea of playing live. What I never did was restrict our imagination about what we did in the studio by trying to think about what could work live. That would be counter-productive. There are always ways to get things sorted out for the live performance.”
The Lonely Robot project has been an on-going love affair for Mitchell. 'The Big Dream' is the continuing realisation of his artistic ambitions and aspirations.
“I suppose in some respects, it's a busman's holiday for me. But the artistic wheels never stop turning. And this is the result.”