New Duo eMolecule Constructs Solid Debut Album
Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom combine for killer conceptual release.
Thank you for spending part of your day with Michael’s Record Collection. I hope you’ve been enjoying this newsletter, and if so, I ask that you please consider supporting this independent music outlet by visiting my Patreon page to see if any of the benefits of your support is of interest. Even just the $2 per month “set it and forget it” option helps cover the basic costs.
This week, I interviewed one half of a new duo called eMolecule. Recording under that name may be new, but Kelly Nordstrom and Simon Collins (the son of Phil Collins — yes, that Phil Collins) have been working together for years. Prior to forming eMolecule, Kelly and Simon worked together on Collins’ solo records and the excellent 2013 release by Sound of Contact, Dimensionaut.
I caught up with Kelly to find out about eMolecule’s debut release, The Architect, which drops Feb. 10 from Inside Out Music. Let’s get to that story.
Kelly Nordstrom and Simon Collins have formed a new duo, recording under the name eMolecule, but the two musicians have been working together for many years. Their previous work has culminated in The Architect, an album full of atmospheric, electronic-tinged rock with heavy rock, pop, and progressive leanings that will be released Feb. 10 by Inside Out Music.
Their previous collaborations include working on Collins’ solo albums and a cover of the Genesis track “Keep It Dark.” Of course, Genesis features Simon’s famous father, Phil. Simon followed in Phil’s footsteps as both a drummer and a vocalist — and his voice does have some similarity to Phil’s — and has turned out four solo albums since 1999.
Nordstrom’s guitar work and writing ability complements what Collins brings to the table, and the two have worked well together over the years, whether through Simon’s solo albums or the excellent 2013 album Dimensionaut by Sound of Contact. That band began as a Nordstrom/Collins collaboration and expanded to bring in keyboard player Dave Kerzner to round things out. Nordstrom bowed out of that project for personal reasons before the album was complete and was replaced by multi-instrumentalist Matt Dorsey — who is currently working with ProgJect and also recently completed a solid solo album, Let Go, which will drop in April.
Like Dimensionaut, the first eMolecule album is a modern spin on progressive rock. It features heavy guitars and drums with elements of electronica, rock, pop, and prog, with a modern production. A full-blown conceptual piece, The Architect is a tale of darkness vs. light, power, and corruption, and as such, the music vacillates between intensity and dreamy atmosphere. The 11 tracks that make up the album spin the tale over the course of 70 minutes.
Nordstrom provided the basic outline of the album’s conceptual overview.
“In a general sense, I refer to the concept as the story of darkness to light, good over over evil, the expression of the great story that comes from our past that’s been told from generation to generation,” Nordstrom said. “So, not necessarily an original thing, but our effort to express that story as honestly through our own experiences as possible. So we did create a character to do this, and described a character who came to power and came to corruption and (succumbed) to the desires of the flesh.
“And through this process, (he) lived dangerously and flew too close to the sun and was given a terminal diagnosis as a result of his behavior and experimentation. This change in circumstances spawns the spiritual transformation which occurs and that we explore through the second half and ending of the album.”
The album kicks off with “eMolecule,” and it’s always fun to get a song named after the band. The epic first statement from the duo clocks in at 10 minutes and 43 seconds and encompasses everything the album is about. It starts off with electronic sounds and breaks into heavy guitar and drums, building tension and intensity for almost two minutes. Then it shifts into a dreamscape of Collins’ haunting vocals, subtle guitar, and percussion. It serves as the duo’s mission statement.
Sparks become marks
The origin of our material
Eventual we are eMolecule
Deep within the dark
Light becomes your mark
It makes us from forever
The fabric of together
Despite having limited lyrical content, “eMolecule” doesn’t seem overly repetitive, and the arrangement of the song is anything but sparse. It doesn’t feel like a 10-plus-minute song, either — even when it breaks into a more ambient, droning soundscape later in the song. That droning section flows into a heavier part near the end that slips into metal territory. The ending sounds something akin to Deadwing-era Porcupine Tree. It’s such a declarative statement from the band that “eMolecule” was the first single released from the album, and it’s rare to release a track of such length as any single, let alone the first.
“Yes, that is something that we were comfortable with,” Nordstrom said about releasing such a lengthy first single. “Thomas Waber at Inside Out was quite adamant that we should not pursue things and move forward trying to put something together that we think that we would be best received — that the best thing we could do, the most commercial thing we could do, was something uncommercial. So, we were quite comfortable doing that and really behind the idea. And also it goes hand in hand with the whole premise and being a true and honest portrayal of who we are and an authentic offering. And we’re not trying to make sure that things are going to fit into a radio format.”
The album’s title track follows the band’s title track, with “The Architect” picking up some of the heavy riffing and drumming present at the end of “eMolecule,” but taking it in a more energetic direction. The listener is introduced to the titular character, who admits right off the bat that he is not a pleasant person, as Collins sings:
I’m the kind of man
Hurts you cos I can
Nordstrom adds some spoken word vocals in the background, with the repeated line, “I am avarice” in the midst of the heavy section, mingled with Collins’ vocals. The guitarist then takes center stage in the middle part of the song. Over dreamy keyboard washes and delicate acoustic guitar, Nordstrom’s voice echoes out a moody spoken section. The song then cranks back up at the end, finishing with a melodic-but-heavy flourish. It’s one of the album’s most interesting songs, and Nordstrom said it will be released as the fourth single on the album’s release date. He added that the middle section spoken lyrics represent the architect in his youth, before he comes to power.
“One of the things we like to do is juxtapose in our arrangements, concepts,” Nordstrom said. “The middle part worked quite well because the rest of the song is quite intense and riff-y and heavy. So, it was a perfect opportunity to break it down and, atmospherically, use an acoustic guitar. And that piece of acoustic guitar is something that had actually been around for many, many, years that never found a home, and it just fit perfectly in there. So that spawned the part and it was a good opportunity for us to also express the inner dialogue of our character as a child.”
“Prison Planet” gives lyrical hints at the architect’s worldview. It seems he’s feeling trapped or held back by the world or society, and he’s not going to live a live under those perceived constraints. The irony is that he goes on to become the jailer himself. The song starts quietly, with a ton of atmosphere, but it ebbs and flows in intensity, with power chords and electric guitar licks juxtaposed against soft piano.
“Mastermind” is another unconventional single. The third pre-released song from the album clocks in at 8:39 and is a much darker and harsher piece with the architect coming to power. Collins sings this ominous and foreboding track with ferocity.
“The full darkness of his regime is felt, and so at that point, yeah, there is a sense that he’s in control of everything,” Nordstrom said of the title character.
Midway through, the song shifts and becomes lighter as the architect admits that he sees what is happening to him. Yet he still succumbs, despite that moment of clarity, and the music darkens again considerably after that interlude, building in intensity. Nordstrom’s nightmarish spoken free-form poetry vocal at the end rises over the building darkness and heaviness of the music. It’s fascinating musically and terrifying from the story’s standpoint.
And all you could be
Is of no consequence to me
All your net worth
Became mine at your birth
I’m not going to lie
Many of you will die
The meaning of life it seems
Is taking one for my team
All the little children
Born into addiction
Straight and narrow
Or feel my arrow
Make room for the next one
Your life is already done
All hail the new way
I control everything
“Dosed” begins with a tasty, crunchy Nordstrom riff over Collins’ powerhouse drumming. This is the part of the story where some kind of accident befalls the architect, who is blasted in the chest with some unknown drug/force/radiation as a result of his arrogance.
I was taking part in a simple test
Didn’t think I would need to wear the vest
What do they know cause I know best
But then I took one to the chest
After being dosed, the architect was notified he had weeks to live and that there was no cure for his affliction. Beyond its importance to the story, the song has one of the most hypnotic grooves on the album and at times it provides some of the album’s heaviest music.
“The Turn” is largely a dark musical piece with the architect wrestling with what has happened to him. There’s some harsh, metal guitar riffs and Nordstrom gives voice to the title character’s descent.
Bits of bone leaves soiled under feet
My body leaks acid
This kingdom of filth
Deep within the dark
Put down like a rabid dog
I am infection
“I can take credit for that. It got question marks from everybody who heard that,” Nordstrom said. “I tend to write things in poetic kind of format and sometimes we can use that and transform it lyrically, and such. At that moment we were looking the character in the shadows, the darkness, toiling over his misfortune. At this point our character has been notified that he has a terminal illness and it’s his descent into madness. He’s not accepted the situation, let’s just put it that way, and is expressing maddened thoughts that are perhaps coming from fragments of other dimensions.”
The darkness of “The Turn” gives way to the light of “Awaken.” One of my favorite songs on the record, “Awaken” showcases Collins’ ability to convey emotion as a vocalist, and the message is a simple one about starting with a small change to bring about changes on a grander scale.
I know I can’t save all the world
So I’ll start with myself
I will start with myself
The transition between the darkness of “The Turn” and the lightness of “Awaken” is the transformative part of the album’s story.
“Between ‘The Turn’ and ‘Awaken,’ there is an attempt for him to take his life in our storyline,” Nordstrom said. “And with the track ‘Awaken,’ we have the guardian angel, if you will, or some mysterious force or higher power that comes to his assistance in his most dire moment, where he’s actually decided to leave this world and not to face the things that he’s done, and (he’s) feeling sorry for himself. Throughout the song ‘Awaken’ he has the beginning of his spiritual awakening — a sense that there’s something greater than himself.”
Although it doesn’t start out that way, “Beyond Belief” becomes the most obvious choice on the album to be a single, and indeed it was the second pre-released track from the album. If it sounds the most like a Simon Collins solo song, that’s because he was the primary writer and it was originally intended to go on a solo album. However, it fit this point in the architect’s story and musically it was inserted seamlessly. Its chorus makes “Beyond Belief” the most poppy, catchiest, and hookiest song on the record and shifts the mood into one that is far more upbeat.
The fact that it was the second single seems to fly in the face of eMolecule’s desire not to specifically chase a traditional radio format, but Collins and Nordstrom wanted to put something ear-catching out in order to pull people into the bigger picture of The Architect.
“Everybody who had heard it said it was quite catchy,” Nordstrom said. “So, we want people to notice us, and so it was clear that that was on the list to get out there. So we put it out at number two.”
“The Universal” finds the architect wrestling with the mystery of what it means to be human. This leads into the conclusion of the story, which plays out over the final two tracks, “My You” and “My Truth.” The first of those strays into ballad territory without quite fully arriving.
Nordstrom gets to do more than spoken word vocals on the latter song, singing the beginning of the architect’s new outlook. The two principals of eMolecule trade off the lead vocals, with Collins jumping in between Nordstrom. Whether intended this way or not, I surmise that Nordstrom serves as the character’s inner voice. Collins’ parts act as the title character outwardly taking responsibility for his actions.
The conceptual conclusion comes by way of a narrated news report about the architect being found dead by a pile of documents that expose the crimes he’s masterminded on his ascent to power and during his time in control.
The Architect is a terrific modern spin on progressive rock and it’s one of those albums that reveals itself more upon repeated listens. That isn’t to say it’s too dense to absorb on first listen, merely that it holds back some of its secrets for later.
I’d recommend the album to fans of Sound of Contact or Collins’ solo works, but eMolecule has its own sound, style, and intensity that sets it apart from those albums that came before it. The Architect allows Collins and Nordstrom to fully integrate the personal style that each brings to the table and creates a musical concoction that can be both bitter and sweet at times, depending on what the story needs in the moment.
You can find out more about eMolecule at emoleculemusic.com or on the band’s Facebook page. You can also find them on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
Moment of Truth
For my entire interview with Kelly Nordstrom, check out the video below or download/stream Episode 97 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast, available at your favorite podcast dispensary or at the embedded link. In addition to discussing the process of writing the songs for The Architect, Kelly spoke about his musical background, the rise and fall of the Sound of Contact project, working on Simon’s cover of the Genesis classic “Keep it Dark,” making the U-Catastrophe Collins solo album, and more.
Thanks again for your time. Please consider sharing this issue of the newsletter with the music lovers in your life via the first button below, or sharing Michael’s Record Collection (in general) with the second. And be sure to check out the podcast version of MRC at your favorite podcast dispensary. I invite you to visit my website at michaelsrecordcollection.com and to take a look at the membership levels on my Patreon site at patreon.com/michaelsrecordcollection to find out how you can support independent writing and podcasting for as little as $2 per month (that’s only 50 cents per week!).