Miracle Fortress believes in self

ALLAN WIGNEY, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:43 AM ET

Not so very long ago, Montreal's Miracle Fortress was renowned for two things: Creating some of the sweetest music this side of Heaven and frustrating anxious live audiences by taking as long as an hour to test, tweak and tune each of a multitude of audio gadgets before beginning to perform.

Of course, at the time, Miracle Fortress was a band comprising but one member: Graham Van Pelt, he of manic electro-popsters Think About Life fame.

Fortunately for us, Van Pelt recently remedied the preparation problem. The music, though, is as sweet as ever -- finely crafted, lush pop music in the tradition of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, The Zombies' Odessey and Oracle and maybe even Keith West's Excerpt From a Teenage Opera.

And Van Pelt's homage to pop music's golden age has not gone unnoticed; critics freely equate Van Pelt's beauteous project with Brian Wilson's grandest teenage symphonies to God.

Soft-spoken in conversation, Van Pelt clearly feels unworthy of such praise. But he pleads guilty to mining the master's oeuvre for inspiration.

"I can't deny it," Van Pelt says. "Brian Wilson is a fairly obvious conclusion for the listener to make. And I was very much aware of it while I was recording it.

"Really, overall, I was deliberately avoiding any influence of music based after 1980. I wanted to get a feel for how production was done before then. I wanted to get to the heart of that analogue sound and then apply digital techniques without losing that tone."

Digital tones? But surely ...

"It's not just a matter of vintage equipment or recording on tape," he counters. "I have recorded with tape and I feel that tape's effect on sound is exaggerated. You can get those sounds if you work at them.

"The sound of the '60s and '70s was about more than just tape, it was the instrumentation, the arrangements, the studios, miking techniques ... It is possible to achieve that digitally now, if you know how they got it before."

The sound Van Pelt achieved for Five Roses is indeed of another era -- perhaps one that has yet to happen, rather than one from the distant past. Certainly, it is not the sound of Think About Life, though, that band remains very much a part of Van Pelt's identity. (A new EP is due for fall release.)

"I wanted to try something else," Van Pelt says of his motivation for Miracle Fortress. "I really love playing in Think About Life, but I've always been working on stuff on my own as well. Now, thanks to that band, I have an opportunity to do this and for people to take notice of it. I'm grateful to Think About Life for that."

Van Pelt is also grateful to Jordan Robson-Cramer, Jessie Stein and Adam Waito for helping to adapt his one-man project into a second full-fledged band. (At least, for the purpose of live shows.) The group has been together for only four months, but is an invaluable asset to Miracle Fortress -- not merely in musical, but also in preparatory terms.

"I think Miracle Fortress will still be just me but it's great to be able to switch things around a bit onstage and to amp up the volume. It takes an album that may be too quiet for audiences, and turns it into a rock show."

A rock show that, unlike those '60s and '70s Beach Boys concerts, will be fronted by its mastermind.


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