The rise of Fractures: “I just make music I like, and hope for the best.”
With his new EP, the aptly-titled EP III, the Melbourne-based musician blossoms into a rising star in international electro-pop.
Tracking the rise of Fractures over the last few years creates an interesting story. Initially, the Melbourne-based musician - real name Mark Zito - emerged as a fresh face to Australian electronic specialising in the more lo-fi and subtle approach to the genre, mixing the synth-backed conventions of electronica with a distinct, indie-aligned shading. His debut, self-titled EP arrived at a time where this approach to electronica was having somewhat of an introductory moment - musicians such as The Kite String Tangle and Mansionair were emerging at a similar time - and from here, things looked set to take off.
Then, in 2016, things stopped to a halt. Just when things were starting off, Fractures fainted in his home, leading to a broken neck that would ultimately prevent him from achieving many of the things needed for musical growth - playing a live show the most obvious. For three months, his neck was supported by neck brace, and after that came the necessary measures needed to ensure full recovery: physiologists, stretches, internal confidence-building and so-on. “I couldn’t even pick up a guitar, just because of the weight,” he says, talking about the time. “The way my head was locked in, I couldn’t sing with any volume or anything like that, and just within that I just got frustrated.”
The injury did, however, give Fractures the chance to reset. In 2017, he released a debut record Still Here that, despite whether it was influenced by the injury or not, felt like a cathartic release that opened up Fractures’ next chapter, defined by a sense of songwriting that’s honest and open, but also capable of spreading its wings across a number of genre-confining boxes. His work since has had much of the same qualities; his 2019 EP Reset seeing shimmering electronica unite with guitar intricacies and subtle indie moments, while singles such as last year’s ROZES-assisted Chains take him into a pop-centric world, lush with the accessible hooks and gentle songwriting that falls in line with the dominative soft-pop phenomenon.
Over the years, one thing that’s felt particularly characteristic of Fractures’ music is its versatility, and its ability to swerve between genres and somehow master each of them in the process. EP III, the musician’s aptly-titled third EP, is one that continues this. As teased with its aforementioned preluding single Chains, EP III explores Fractures’ wealth of experience in electronica and its intersection with pop, something that’s not explicitly new to Fractures’ discography - his work has always had a slight pop shading - but definitely emphasised this time around.
Take Plateau, for example, which sits alongside Chains as the album’s most obvious embrace of pop mannerisms. Featuring fellow Melbourne musician Montgomery, the track positions the recognisable sounds of Fractures - rolling drums, cinematic tones, shimmering synth melodies - and moulds it with a dueting vocal that oozes with the richness of a well-balanced pop song. It’s potent in an almost indescribable way, thick with a sense of emotion that’s hard to put a finger on, but displayed so clearly that there’s no avoiding its distinct pop roots - that is, after all, why commercial pop musicians are so well-adored.
“Pop music influences a lot of my decisions no matter what music I write,” says Fractures on the release. “It feels like a new direction for me but ultimately it’s something I’ve always had up my sleeve.” On EP III, this definitely feels true. As mentioned, shadings of pop’s distinctive mannerisms have always weaved themselves into Fractures’ work, but even EP III’s least pop-centric efforts - the sprawling, Tourist-esque electronica of Feel, for example - roots itself moreso into the pop world than you feel like it would’ve in the past; Zito’s vocal in the limelight, this time around.
Now, Fractures is setting his sights internationally. Chains sees him collaborate with a musician that has been a go-to in chart-dominating electro-pop, including one of the genre’s most successful songs - The Chainsmokers’ Closer - and his signing to influential US magazine The Fader’s label arm begs for a greater, global audience. From here, the question is how he’s going to shape his music to achieve that; but one thing he’s proved over the years, is that he can master whatever music he chooses.
To kick this off, let’s maybe go back a bit to before this EP started to take shape. We’ve covered you since around 2014, and in that time, you’ve grown from an up-and-coming electronic producer to someone with a much larger audience and a much broader sound. Has all of this changed how you’d approach a project now versus say your debut EP back in 2014?
Nah, not overly. I’m still just feeling my way around in the dark until I find something I like and then I follow through with it. At least it feels the same. My skillset has probably expanded and broadened too so that’ll inadvertently affect how I approach the process and where it ends up, but ultimately, I just write song to song rarely with an end goal of an album or EP or whatever in sight, and then I worry about piecing it together when I’ve built up a solid bank of them.
Do you feel any heightened sense of pressure - either externally or internally - because of your changing audience?
Rarely, if ever, do I feel any external pressure to adapt to who’s listening to the music. Internally, the pressure is more in regards to how whatever I’ve come up with will be received. Especially because I tend not to stay in the one corner for too long stylistically so there’s always the thought that ‘oh the fans of the long-form alt-rock stuff aren’t going to like this shiny pop ditty about a broken heart’. That’s always on my mind, but there’s not much I can do about that unless I decide to pander to one camp completely and that’s not really something I want to do. I just make music I like and hope for the best really.
For this EP in particular, again, the external stuff is not so much a factor but given the more radio-friendly nature of the tunes I definitely tend to put higher expectations on them and myself but ultimately this doesn’t find its way into the sound or the songs. Or least I don’t think it does. Eep.
Your work has always had a pop backbone - whether it be through guest collaborators or songwriting styles - but this EP, EP III, feels like an embracing of the genre moreso than ever before. Did that feel like a natural step for you, or did something specifically encourage you to dive into that?
The making of this particular set of music was pretty natural to me. I’ve always liked pop and half of these songs had been gathering dust, more or less fully formed, in my Dropbox. So as far as being a natural step, I’d say yeah, it was and there was no specific turning point that made me want head in that direction. Basically I just had the songs so figured why not release them?
The only real stumbling block was the consideration of the timing of it all. I definitely thought twice about if I’d be pushing myself into a corner or pigeonholing myself or whatever by going to pop land, but the reality was my first EP was right on the cusp of being a pop record, I just didn’t necessarily have the tools to follow it all the way through, and now I do, so that ultimately made the decision to release these particular songs a lot easier.
Most musicians don’t begin a piece of work with a blueprint reading “okay, this is going to a pop record.” Usually, it’s a much more subtle and natural process, that develops over time writing and producing the work. How did this EP and its transition into more pop-centric sounds take shape?
About four out of the five songs were several years old, three of which I’d written with my old friend Will Luby, those ones specifically as an effort to write unadulterated pop songs as opposed to whatever it is I was otherwise releasing at the time. So the groundwork had been laid on them, but we’d never fully considered what the outlet for the songs was as at that point in time the Fractures thing was all moody indie/alternative pop-rock or something. It just wasn’t pop, so the songs were just kept to the side.
Chains was a song I’d written about five years ago as my very first crack at writing a pop-laden Top 100 smash hit chart-topper and most people who heard it thought it had legs but the same thing basically stopped it becoming fully realised - I just wasn’t making songs that necessitated it being included on a release so it was put in the maybe pile for the longest time.
So by the time I met with Phoebe (Montgomery) and we finished our tune those other songs were kind of distant memories, and in the same way, this new one didn’t really have a release to live in.
Basically, I released my Reset EP, satisfied my indie pop/rock itch for the time being and there sat these five pop gems without a home - so I gave them one. It’s a boring story but it’s so very true. By the time I made the decision, they all needed a bit of a freshen up so I spent most of my energy trying to polish them and bring them up to date, which ultimately probably made the EP a lot more cohesive than it would’ve otherwise been.
Montgomery and ROZES both feature on the record, and they’re both musicians who have sound deeply rooted in pop music. They’re also - I believe (correct me if I am wrong) - the first features you’ve had on your own, Fractures-released work in a long time. How did having them come on board shape the EP’s eventual sound?
You are most certainly correct. More than anything, I’m not a person who goes out of his way to collaborate or network, maybe to my detriment but the solo life had been my approach for my own music up until the point that I met Phoebe and we wrote Plateau. Even having written it, I didn’t know if it would end up on my own EP, I had long assumed that when she released her own music again it would best fit in with her particular sound. I’d argue it still probably does but I liked the song so much I just wanted to make sure it saw the light of day somehow so I took it on to release it like the hero that I am.
The ROZES feature definitely put a nice cherry on top of what was already a strong song but the reality of it was that the song was more or less exactly as it is on the EP production-wise, just without her vocal placed atop, so it didn’t have a huge impact on how the sound evolved in any other song as they were already finished.
The songs were all written without any of the others in mind so I’d say it was just sheer dumb luck that they complimented each other on the one release. I’ve never been good at stepping back and looking at the whole project, I just kind of smoosh them together and hope for the best.
I was reading how the ROZES collaboration was quite an inorganic process done completely online, whereas Montgomery is based in Melbourne, so I’m assuming that was done a bit more organically, and in person. How did the collaboration and writing process differ between the two collaborators and the circumstances around them?
The ROZES collaboration was very much a management/label-led adventure done pretty much entirely through the wonder that is email. So there was a bit of back and forth of which I didn’t play a huge part, and then the vocal stems were delivered and plopped on to the music bed which I’d already produced and written in its entirety, so it was very much akin to having built an entire house and then putting a lovely weathervane on top. It tied it all up in a nice little package but ultimately, I’d stop short of calling it a true collaboration so ultimately, it wasn’t the most satisfying experience DURING, but a lot was learned from it and the results spoke for themselves.
As for Phoebe, the writing session itself was again organised by the big dog managers as far as getting us in a room (my second bedroom, to be precise) but from then on it was all us. I had the barest bones of an idea sitting there and we just built upon it. Phoebe either looked up the word 'plateau' or had it in mind as a central theme to the lyrics and it just kind of spurred us on. I was unusually quick on my half of the lyrics and Phoebe seemed to poo them out effortlessly, which is always a good sign because many a writing session becomes problematic when there is lag.
I’d say we had about 95% of what is on the final track done within that day already put down which is rare and it probably solidified my preference to write in the same room as someone for best results. The whole human connection thing, which I’m rolling my eyes at even having typed, is pretty vital to the whole thing and it shows in the final product.
I read that this transition into pop music didn’t really change how you approached writing the release, but do you think that peering ahead - seeing how people are digesting it, seeing how people react to it - may shape how you approach future work? Why?
Probably not. It’d be a disservice to anyone who likes my music if I was swayed heavily by the reaction to the songs. I know that I could shit out more songs of a similar ilk relatively trouble-free and if that’s what I felt like doing then I’d have no issue with it but it’s pretty unusual for me to want to just reproduce immediately after having put my efforts into the previous one. I need to change things up or I just get bored and I think people would see through that.
As luck would have it, I’ve more or less got the most part of an LP or at least a very long EP sitting in the wings, some of which is being mixed already, so I’d say the approach to future work has already taken place - maybe what comes after it will shift as a result of how EP III is taken in but frankly I think I’m too stubborn to let that be the case.
This is - as the title suggests - your third EP now, and your second since the release of your debut album. Do you feel like reapproaching the album format is something appealing for you in the future? If so, would you approach it differently now that you’ve got a few more releases behind your belt that you’ve no doubt learnt from?
I don’t really ever approach any of the releases with a sense of the entire thing in mind which is maybe something I should be admitting but here we are. I just write and accumulate songs and end up with batches of songs that I can attribute a common thread to and package them up for all the lovely people out there to listen to.
I’m someone who has always backed myself in as far as production is concerned but I think over the years I’ve become more acutely aware of my limitations. I think the production and songwriting elements are a strength of mine, but particulars like sound selections of synths, drums, whatever, are something I need to work on a lot hard than other people seem to.
The more collaborative approach of this EP has definitely opened me up to the idea of having other fingers in my musical pie, so to speak so I’d say I’m a bit more open to someone other than myself producing my songs, or at least adding their own spin to what are usually fully formed ideas. Seems like whatever I release next might have a few more names in the ‘producer’ column, but they’ll be nestled next to mine as I am a megalomaniacal freak.
Fractures new EP, EP III, is out now via FADER Label / Caroline Australia.
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