For the Kelly brothers, the title of their band’s new record, Generation Loss, works twofold: as a commentary on how contemporary politics are eroding our nation’s youth and also as a reference to the loss of their mother. Sean, Dom, and Brendan Kelly are joined by Shaun Rhoades and Josh Kean to form A Fragile Tomorrow, whose earliest releases date back to 2012. Their new album is a complex krautrock concept, beginning with a political dystopia and ending with a homage to their matriarch. I spoke with Sean and Dom about a few songs on Generation Loss, including their new single, ‘How Do You Dance To It?’, which the band reveals today. Watch the video and find the interview below.

Pre-order Generation Loss on MPress Records. Follow A Fragile Tomorrow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In terms of ‘How Do You Dance to It?’, why write a song in a vague narrative style with a changing structure to prove a political point? Is there a benefit to doing that artistically?

Sean: When I write, it has to sing well to me first and then I figure out what I’m trying to say. Some melody or phrase kinda jumped out first and then I started to pull the thread a little bit. I tend to be abstract lyrically, I don’t fancy myself much of a lyricist—I’m definitely a composer first. The first half of the record is pretty political, so that was what I was exploring at the time. In ‘How Do You Dance To It?’ I didn’t name Trump specifically, and I think that was important because I wanted to write about fascism and this dictator mentality. It was more about the poetic aspect of it and then with the musical structure, it lent itself very well to this krautrock-y, six-four time signature, kind of weird arrangement. I can picture the narrator in that song in my head, and I mean, it is Trump, but it’s really just a person who could be a cult leader too. It explores this idea of being told not to believe what you’re seeing on the news and what you’re reading online and they are the only one that you should trust.I was picturing Nazi Germany, with all these people just blindly supporting their dear leader. So the song felt almost march-y, with that pre-chorus line with the vocoder just felt slightly call-and-response and a little hypnotic.

I was interested especially because you cited Blackstar by David Bowie as an inspiration for the song. I love that comparison, I definitely hear it structurally, I adore that whole record really.

Sean: Oh me too.

I was going to ask you about one aspect of the album [Blackstar] in particular that I feel resonates in ‘Dance To It,’ but I think you may have already hinted at this. That came out, what, just a few days before Bowie’s death? And it turned out to be prophetic, where he talks about looking down from heaven. The way you describe your song, there is a timelessness to it, though more in the sense of predicting the future because history repeats itself. I suppose you could say this of all protest songs.

Sean: I think that’s really accurate. This record took a lot from Bowie. The thing that I love about him is that, on the Next Day record, which was the first record he did after coming out of retirement, they did all the music first and then he took it home in its basically fully realized form then wrote all of the lyrics over like a four-month span. On ‘Dance To It’ we used the same approach, which allows you to weave throughout the rhythmic landscape musically and create melodies that are against the grain. On this song in particular I remembered thinking I wanted to accomplish that Bowie thing where he’s really good at elongating phrases and staggering them but it becomes like you said, like a timeless idea and you can apply it to a lot of different things.

The way you describe writing the music first, it’s as though the music itself deserves more reverence. And then the lyrics come afterward, though that can be its own draw. I know some Bowie songs I like to sing along with specifically because it’s just a little weird. [laughs]

Sean: Yeah, definitely. But it can be hard to sing and play that, and it’s funny, Brendan and I did a duo gig the other night; it was just the two of us on guitar, and we had a really hard time figuring out what songs to play because it’s hard to play these songs live, especially if you don’t have a bass player and a drummer behind you. It’s been a fun challenge in that way. But I love music like that because you’re absolutely right, for us, the goal is music first. The vocals are like an instrument so it’s all kinda part of the same thing.

How does a nation deprived of a free press feed into the idea of ‘generation loss’? Can you also talk about the album title as it applies to the rest of the record?

Sean: The weird thing is that I don’t think we really realized how it was all tying in together ‘til a good ways into the project but the title was there from the beginning. We started working on this before Mom died and we were writing songs like ‘How Do You Dance To It?’ and the title track. So after she died, some of the songs started taking that subject on. I think we’re all sorta realizing that there was this general theme of change. It was like a degrading of thought and intelligence and the loss of our mother in that same token. So with this particular song, if we don’t have a free press and we don’t have the freedom to express opinion and then also to have a place to become informed on certain things, I think you run the risk of really degrading people’s intelligence.

I was thinking about the title track of this record, I remember talking to a friend about how these older generations of people who are anti-gay and have that sort of antiquated thinking those generations are dying off. I hate to be blunt but that’s just like the way it is. Luckily I think the tide is turning with that sort of thing, but I think the problem with this is, when you start trying to limit our free press, I think you run the risk of seeing newer generations growing up less informed.

Dom: To me it’s like a loss of what we know to be true and a loss of the way things have been. When I listen to it and I reflect back on the songwriting, it’s like an acceptance of change. There are lots of people who have thought the media and news is the enemy of the people, and now we have a president who represents that. The thread on the record also includes watching our mother die and accepting these changes of everything we knew to be true. You can hear this progression on the record. The last song, 'Valhalla,' is like an understanding that what we have known to be true is no longer.

That makes a lot of sense, I’m glad I asked that question. Let’s move to 'I Fought the War, I Won.' My first initial thought is, The Clash. But in their track, the law won, not me. How—and even why—did you reconcile those messages?

Sean: So that song is really interesting. We’d been working on this other idea that we had, leftover from my solo record. I told Brendan, ‘this really isn’t working for me, let’s try to go in tomorrow and figure something else out.’ We were thinking about the Bowie song, 'It’s No Game' from Scary Monsters, this really angular, very Pixies-like, intense song. We came up with that chord progression, the chorus melody, and that line was the only thing I had for a long time. I knew that I wanted to write a song that was about Mom but I wanted it to feel like it was a protest song, so I was thinking about the Clash. I think the Clash connection begins and ends with the title mostly, because musically it’s definitely more Bowie.

[Mom] really didn’t like this standard thing that everybody says, ‘losing your battle with cancer.’ In her mind, it devalued her struggle and her fight and she wanted people to know that there was no losing. That she won. I really needed to write that song to express that for her. I went through her blog that she had for several years and tried to find phrases or words or ideas to pull from and use lyrically. That was a really hard song to write—we knew that we wanted the verses to be speak-singing, because nothing was really coming to me in a melodic sense because the chord progression is so weird. On the first demo there’s an entirely different verse and entirely different lyrics. I just couldn’t figure it out for months and months and months and honestly I’m a very patient person but I was getting very upset with myself. I don’t think I had the confidence to really do the speak-singing thing, I was very in my own head about it.

I had all these notes from Mom’s blog, just things that sort of popped out to me and I remember sitting up in bed at like three in the morning as my wife was sleeping and I just, I don’t know what sparked it but I just started writing that first verse. It came out of me pretty much stream-of-consciousness. I went back in the next day and I think we did it in two takes, and it just felt really good and I felt really proud. I did legitimately feel like it was one of those moments when Mom was working through me. I consider myself an agnostic Jew, so that kinda stuff is not very common for me. I just wanted to do her feelings and her thoughts and ideas justice.

You seem to really merge the themes you were already incorporating into this record on this track, from the political, protest side to the more grief-stricken, personal side.

Sean: That was a hard thing for me to do. We knew at that point what the sequence of the record would be and this was the transitional song. Everything up until that point was about politics and if you notice after this song it goes into ‘Circling’—the rest is pretty strictly about Mom and death.

I didn’t realize that the record had that deep of a contrast between those songs. This is right in the middle of the album, so that makes sense. Further down the record is 'I See My Son,' another single, which has a heavy background when looking into the lyrics. But it sounds upbeat and dare I say fun, which is an interesting and deliberate choice you had to make. Did that create any dissonance?

Sean: There definitely is intentionally some level of dissonance because we write music first. I think we all knew what kind of record we wanted to make and what we wanted to write about so I think there was a responsibility there to see that through no matter what was happening musically. 'Gun Shy' is a good example. That was a very big Clash influenced song, the chorus is really bright sounding, but it’s really this blunt call to white people to look in the mirror and realize our privilege.

It’s interesting because I didn’t really know that ‘I See My Son’ was gonna end up being about Mom. The crazy thing about it is that was the one song I wrote about before she died I had written.But I never showed it to her. I will always kind of regret that because while she always joked about like ‘why don’t you ever write a fucking song about me?’ and then this was the one time I did it, but I didn’t know if it was appropriate or the right time to share it.

It’s about this [phone medium] experience my mom had. She was not-so-sure on the whole thing but thought she’d give it a shot. And at some point in that conversation she mentioned this experience she had where she was getting acupuncture and all of a sudden felt this weird out of body experience and saw my triplet brother. He had more involved cerebral palsy than me and Dom do, and died when we were six. In the vision, he was coming towards her in this walker and then let go of it and started running, and then he was gone. That experience, ever since it happened it stayed with her and I think in some ways it made her feel a bit, maybe less scared of the unknown.

You won’t know until you’re experiencing this with someone close to you but when somebody’s dying, everything about them slowly just kind of disappears. Anything that makes them them. She was as much of herself as she could be up until the end but there were certain things about her that started to fade. At some point was ready to go—I think she wanted to see her dad and she wanted to see her son, but she also wasn’t ready, knowing all these things that she knew she was gonna be missing, like Dom’s wedding. It was like she had one foot in one world and one foot in the other. Musically, ’I See My Son’ feels like it’s taking place in that dreamscape.