The Bifrost Incident Blog 2 – The Difficult Fourth Album
by The Mechanisms
Second Coming. Pinkerton. The Bends. Call it the second year blues, the sophomore slump, whatever you like, but it can be really difficult to produce a second album in the wake of a project you’ve given your all to. When you nail it, though…
“Bullshit!” we hear you cry. “This is your fourth album.”
…Well look at you, with your ‘maths’ and your ‘counting’. Yeah, technically you’re right, but in our heart of hearts we consider Once Upon a Time (in Space) through High Noon Over Camelot to be a single project – one big, big album if you like.
In hindsight, the first three just seemed to flow so naturally. Once had its roots in some of the cabaret music we were playing back when we were still Dr. Carmilla and the Mechanisms. That was an extremely character-driven act, so it seemed natural to take that energy and use it to tell a bigger story.
By the time we’d recorded that story and brought it to the Fringe back in 2012, we knew exactly where we wanted to point Aurora next. We couldn’t even wait to finish the run – Ulysses Dies at Dawn and High Noon were both conceptualised in a cramped Edinburgh flat in between shows.
Heading back to Oxford, we recruited two new members and got right back into the writing. Not just the music itself, but also all the little elements that make up the feel of each story. We wanted our sets to be as fun as possible, taking existing mythologies that everyone would recognise, and thread them into our plots and settings, to produce both a cool spin on the existing canon and a story we felt worth telling in its own right.
We’re not saying it wasn’t tough at times. We spent a lot of sleepless nights making all of those elements click. But we had direction and we had passion, and we never seemed to get stuck for long! So, with a lot of help from the brilliant people who funded us on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, we ended up with three studio albums – and three Edinburgh runs – in as many years.
And after that – once the last siren call of Once and Future King had screamed its dying wail out into the void – what happened next?
Looking back, we’d ended up with two things. Firstly, and for the first time ever, we had complete freedom of choice, with no plans and no limitations – and secondly, we were all feeling the utter exhaustion of three years of solidly working on either writing or performing new material. That’s a frustrating combination. On the one hand, we had boundless possibilities for new stories, and on the other, we found ourselves struggling to find the space in our lives to tell them.
We’d like to tell you that that was when the Bifrost hit us, like a shot through a wormhole (the set is literally a shot through a wormhole). Well, that’s not quite the way it happened. Instead, there were a whole bunch of candidates for our “difficult fourth album.”
We thought about turning our focus inwards, and center an album around the origins stories of the various Mechanisms. We turned towards literature, with a focus on smaller length stories based on gothic horror – Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Dorian Grey. There were whisperings about adapting Treasure Island.
We worked on these to different degrees in 2014-15, and some of them we may revisit in the future. One of them ended up partially released as the Frankenstein EP. But all of them eventually informed The Bifrost Incident in their own way.
The main limitation we found with these smaller stories, is that we didn’t get a chance to sink our teeth into the worldbuilding in the way we do with a full length set. For our previous sets, we always knew all the juicy details about the world – the inner workings of the Acheron, and the facets of Ghoul culture – but when there’s not even enough space to go into all the details in a full hour, in 10 minutes you can barely scratch the surface. Conversely, with Bifrost we very quickly knew the political history – why Asgard is on top, why Midgard doesn’t have a choice. We know why Fenrir is exiled to the icy planet of Hel, and we know about his suffering there. We know who was there for the inaugural maiden voyage of the Bifrost, and why (spoilers!) it didn’t emerge at its destination.
But this specifically isn’t what caused us to shift our efforts. Hindsight’s 20:20, and at the time all we knew is that we’d stopped having fun. Shortly after Fran (who played Nastya) left, we sat back and re-evaluated our position. We’d spent so much time completely focussed on getting something done, but not left ourselves the time and space to make sure we were still having fun doing it. At that point we spent some time just talking things through, and at some point someone raised the idea of switching to looking at the then-titled “All Aboard The Viking Space Train!”, which had previously penned but not looked at in any seriousness.
And what then? We downed tools and dropped the stories that weren’t working and spent the next two to three rehearsals sitting in a pub just trying to work out just how a viking space train would work and why it was interesting. We didn’t get it right first time (more on that in the next blog), but we got much closer than we had before. And all of a sudden it was easier again.
Having got back on track (pun intended) with a new project we were all excited about, we had the chance to look back on what lessons we’ve learned in our year or so of false starts. Leave time for each other. Leave time for the story, and for getting it right. If it doesn’t work it can be identified and reworked. Iteration can involve leaving something behind as much as it can involve honing/polishing it. We wrote more in this year than we ever had, leaving entire songs at the wayside when we realised they didn’t fit – and we’re better songwriters for it. Iterate – stories grow and evolve. Give them space. Have fun discovering where it goes, and remember – there is more to the world of the story than just the story.