Cynic interview (12/2008)
|With:||Paul Masvidal (guitars & vocals)|
|Conducted by:||Darkside Momo (in person)|
With Paul Masvidal (in person)
Paul Masvidal himself
I long wanted to do an interview with Paul Masvidal or Sean Reinert, but it couldn't happen last year at Hellfest so I grabbed this new opportunity. I wasn't the only one to want to speak with these legends, so Benoit Gazin, a friend of mine (who also happens to have a metal radio show on the same station that me) came along and asked a few more questions.
The Ocean were doing their soundcheck, so we had to go outside to record the interview. It was already freezing, but none of us did care.
Benoit Gazin: So it's the Cynic interview, with Paul Masvidal...
Paul Masvidal: "Ca va ? Ca va bien ?" [meaning 'How are you? Are you fine?' in French]
Darkside Momo: 'Ca va !' ['I'm fine!'] Thank you!
BG: Good accent! Well, we both run a radio show, and we are big Cynic fans. Momo has got a lot of questions to ask you...
DM: Fourteen! [laughs] So, how's the tour going so far? Are you happy to play with Opeth and The Ocean?
Oh, it's great, it's going very well, the shows are great... The shows are going very well, the response has been amazing, and it's really a wonderful tour! It's great to play with both bands.
BG: Actually it's a very strong bill, I guess, because all three bands are great, and it's very rare to see this.
DM: And what do you think of the music Opeth and The Ocean play? Do you like what they do? What do you think?
Yes, I like... I've known Opeth for a while now, and I do like their music; they have their own unique sound, which is really pretty cool. And The Ocean, I'm just discovering them on this tour and it sounds really cool. It's got this, er, kind of metalcore vibe to it, but they have a lot of interesting different shades. A lot of different, mellow stuff, and really high intense energy stuff, so they seem like a good band to the bill also.
BG: Smart metalcore.
BG: Have you seen the packaging of their last album?
Yeah, it looks very cool.
DM: Now, about Traced In Air, your new album. Was it difficult to write the music? I mean, Focus was released fifteen years ago... Did you have pressure on you, as it was your only album, and it's kind of a cult album?
Yeah, hum... Not really. I don't think I can be creative with pressure in mind. The record came for me very easily, actually. I mean there were obviously moments of struggle with the decisions about musical sections but it felt like I had my antenna tuned into Cynic's radio station and the information was just coming through... I just had to show up to my studio everyday and put on my guitar and boom, it was 'OK, great!' You know, it's just very natural.
DM: And now, how would you compare Traced In Air with Focus? Like a twin brother, something different, a logical evolution...?
I don't know! I didn't listen to Focus when I was making the record, I just didn't... You know, it's only too close and too far in the past. I don't know... It just seem that they work well together, there's the key, the kind of Cynic things, but it's more evolved, there's a new thing happening, naturally, it's more melodic and everything, so... It seems that we've grown a lot - obviously we have - but... Yeah, it's definitely a new stage for Cynic, kind of more refined and more mature.
DM: Maybe more melodic or more... meditative, in a sense?
Sure, yeah, there's definitely more of that in the ambiance, more space and stuff...
DM: Do you think that your previous experiences as Aeon Spoke, or maybe Portal, did influence you, help you write the new album, in a way?
Yeah, and my work as a composer in the television and film world too... It's all, it's life. Life does this, it informs our hearts. So everything from the work I've done as a musician, as a songwriter, 'cause I've been working very hard on developing my skills as a songwriter; I feel like I know how to do that now. I still feel like the eternal student, but I know how to write a song, how to make it work. Hum, and also just life, suffering, pain, joy, all these things, just the sun, the night, all these things inform me as a musician, not just music. It's all part of the experience.
DM: Part of you, in fact.
BG: And you said you did music for television?
Yeah, I worked as the main session guitarist for two big network sitcoms for numerous years. One of them was called 'Third Rock From The Sun' and the other was 'That Seventies Show'. I don't know if you've heard of them but they're big TV shows in the States. And then I just did a lot of little films, and trailers and all kinds of commercial work. I mean, I was making a living as a session musician in L.A. after Focus, pretty much. It was after Cynic broke up; I just worked as a musician and did all that stuff for a long time.
DM: Why did Portal stay at the demo stage?
Well we were trying to get released from Roadrunner because we felt that Roadrunner, especially then, was such a metal label and Portal was its own, it was very different. And they wouldn't release us, they wouldn't let us go, we were kind of contractually bound, and we were really frustrated with the music business, I think we were just... (laughs) not happy with the business in general! And we just said 'forget it', you know, and we just let everything go...
BG: Actually Portal must be considered as Cynic? It's a logical suite, it's the same band, that's it?
Yeah, Portal was really what we became, but it wasn't Cynic to us anymore... Because we brought in a full-time female vocalist that played keyboards, it was such a different sound from Cynic that I felt like it shouldn't be called Cynic anymore.
BG: It was the same label, the same contract...
No, we only did demos for Roadrunner and we never did an official album.
BG: Because you were contractually bound to Roadrunner?
Yeah, and they were probably willing to release it, but there were all kinds of complications... We didn't want to put it out as Cynic and they did, and we were like 'no!', so it was just kind of a complicated situation for us. Yeah...
DM: You spoke about the demos. Last year, Marcel asked you if you wanted to release the first Cynic demos; you said at the time 'no, it's not planned.' Has it changed?
Hum, still no plans… You know, we've had people offer us money and 'yeah we want to put them out' and we said no… (laughs)
DM: You still don't want to?
Yeah, I just… I don't know, I feel like the demos are sketches of a painting, and Focus was the final painting. And they don't feel like realized work, they feel like a student trying to find himself, and… I know it's interesting for fans to hear that, but for us... I hear that and I go 'hum...'; I just don't feel like it has the vision yet.
DM: OK!… You played Evolutionary Sleeper during the tour, especially at Hellfest (we were there), and it was great. Did you have any other song completely written at the time or was it the only one?
It was the only one. It was a song that I had around, and I hadn't really done anything with it and I remember when we decided to do a reunion I said: 'let's bring this song out to have something new other than Focus, just to see'… and I kinda made it into a Cynic song. I didn't know what it would belong to, really; it was just a piece of music I had.
DM: It wasn't for the Aeon Spoke sessions or something else? You just wrote it and…
I have a lot of music in my library. Some of it is more progressive, some is more cinematic, some is more Aeon Spoke / folky / mellow… So I have all these different things and that was more in the progressive folder (laughs), but I didn't know… You know, when we reunited I thought 'Wow, this makes sense as a Cynic song' and we started to play it and it made more sense; it was like it started to tell me the language of where Cynic was going. So it was really the beginning of the new album
DM: So Evolutionary Sleeper deserves its name because it showed you the evolution to Cynic?
Exactly! Yeah, it was an interesting kind of synchronicity to have the title of the song with the story of Cynic too... It was really interesting! I thought about that later and 'Oh! That's cool!', you know...
DM: OK! Now, how much will you tour to promote Traced In Air?
I think, a lot, actually. This is the beginning of a lot of touring. We're planning on touring the States in January / February, and then we'll come back to Europe to do a proper headline tour, either before the summer festivals or after, but we're gonna come to the festivals too.
DM: Do you have any names for the festivals?
I know that Hellfest has been offered to us again, so hopefully we'll be there. And all the major ones, you know, probably Download, and the big UK ones... I don't know if we'll do Wacken again, but we'll see. And other major festivals, hopefully.
BG: Did you expect that attention?
Not at all!
BG: At the time, I really loved Focus and all this Florida generation, you were all very, very talented and original... But, in a way, you were kind of cult, pretty unknown, and maybe the mind of people pretty...
... Grew with us, yeah. Yeah...
BG: The scene was expanding, with bands like Pestilence or Atheist, but not so many people were in the stuff... So I'm really surprised, and I find it amazing, to see the cult status that you have now!
You know, it really makes us happy because it shows how much the scene has grown. It's really so much bigger now. You know, back in the early nineties, it was like, extreme metal and then these little other bands, but it was so small... And now, you have bands like Opeth who are doing really well and other progressive bands, Dream Theater obviously, have grown so much so it seems like there's more room for bands... And the metal scene has gone smarter, you know, there's just more nerds, which is good!
DM: About the metal scene nowadays, which are the bands you like the most?
God! Well, it's such a... (laughs) You know, in terms of extreme metal, I'm a fan of a lot of the old school stuff... I mean, hum, I'll probably go back to Atheist and Obituary and just that kind of old Florida scene, even Morbid Angel, and just Death, you know... This is what I grew up listening to. But I keep hearing some good bands, like the band Intronaut. Have you heard of them? From California?
DM: I know them only by name...
And there's a band Scale The Summit that's really cool (from California), that I've heard recently. Kind of instrumental... Almost instrumental Cynic-like stuff, but very well performed and played. Who else have been listening to? I've been listening to... It's funny, I started listening to music when I had made the record because I had so much noise in my head I couldn't listen anything, and now we're properly listening to music in the bus, and I'm able to catch up on everything in the scene. I heard some of the new Meshuggah, it was very hypnotic, kind of intelligent, heavy stuff.
DM: You were speaking about Death. You played in Death, so I have two questions about that. Have you a fond memory of your time with Chuck Schuldiner to tell us?
God, there are so many memories... He was somebody that I knew since I was fifteen, fourteen years old so he was like my older brother. I kinda grew up in the scene with him, and I pretty much knew him until he died, so there are so many little experiences from times of being with him, that I'm trying to think of something special. Hum... There are just so many, something more specific, maybe?
DM: Well, during the recording of Human, for example.
Yeah. Well, Human was a lot of fun! Chuck was in very good spirits then, you know, he felt like he had a hard time with his last line-up from Spiritual Healing, all the changes... And then all of a sudden he gets kind of the dream line-up for him; these new level players, young guys, everyone was just really intense... And he was really excited and positive and I just remember him doing press and stuff during the recording, just saying 'wait you people until you hear this record!' He just felt confident and it was wonderful. But, I remember... Here's a funny story. I remember when he went to growl to do his vocals on the album. Chuck normally didn't drink alcohol, but he went to do his first take of vocals and it wasn't sounding right, it was like 'what's going on'... And I remember Scott Burns said to him 'Do you want a beer or something?' And he had a beer, and another beer, then maybe one more beer, and he was kind of... But his voice went WOARG, it was just opened up and he felt like he got uninhibited, he lost a lot of the tension... I tell people lot of time, especially when you go to sing, it's like you have fears, right? It's a vulnerable thing, even the growl... So I think it was a funny thing to see Chuck drink to get his vocals right. But that's a weird little story, I don't know...
DM: Oh, it was nice! And now, since you played on Human too, what's your favourite song on it?
Wow! God! I have to think about... Maybe Together As One, that was a lot of fun to play, or Vacant Planets, that was a really interesting song for him. We never really did Cosmic Sea live, which was a shame because it is a really cool song.
DM: It's my favourite!
Oh, cool... Yeah.
DM: Another question now… I know you're meditating regularly. Did you write your music while meditating, or is the meditative vibe of Traced In Air more a kind of by-product of it?
Yeah, I think it's a by-product because I haven't missed a day of meditation since the early nineties, and I think it becomes a part of your way of being, and so it inevitably works its way into the music. But also, just when writing I can't really be meditating right. Meditating, for me, is sitting still and just doing nothing, actually. Just absolutely doing nothing. Complete boredom! (laughs) Just being present, to be here, right now. You know, I always tell the students in yoga classes, meditating is to just listen. Because a lot of times we go in our heads and we're thinking about the future, yesterday, and 'oh I forgot to call this person' and our minds are crazy, they're monkeys! And then, when you can just listen, and just hear the highway and… (pause) … you know, you hear these different sounds and it forces you into the present moment. And I think I do that a lot when I'm writing music now, I get very present. Writing Traced In Air was 12 hours a day for 9 months, I did not stop; and, when the album was finished, I felt like 'waow, has it been, you know, 7 months?' It felt like a blur...
BG: You were so focused…
BG: Was it exhausting?
At the end, when I finished the album, I went pschh. But during the recording, I had so much adrenalin and energy… It just felt like I didn't write the record, I felt that it wrote me, I felt it came through something, transmitted, and I just was the echo, to just communicate this language… It doesn't really feel like it's mine.
DM: I think I remember an older interview, when you said something like that about Focus, already.
Yeah, so there you go! I think that's the nature of the creative process, for me at least. It's not personal, you know… There is something very deep and personal about the music but it feels like it's more of an universal thing, it's more about communication and I don't know if it's mine or who it belongs to! It's a mysterious thing to write music, it's very curious, it's the soundwork... We're shaping sounds, you know! It's a very... artistic process! (laughs) I don't think even the musician understands where it comes from.
BG: Do you think you can write another album, or something?
Oh, sure! I mean, I think it's 'cause I've been writing so much so much music for so many years now, I know how to do it, and I think I know what Cynic's music is. It's like it's part of my biology, it's so... You know, Cynic is the band Sean and I started when we were little boys so it's like our childhood, you know. When I do Cynic, I feel like a little boy, and I really feel young again. So, when I open up the 'Cynic channel', it feels pure, it's just a very... honest thing. It's not a job, like with the TV... But with Cynic, it feels like... I don't know, it has an innocence to it to me that feels very open and raw, and sometimes very vulnerable too. There are parts where I feel my heart is right here, you know... But that's the whole idea, isn't it, with music and artists?
DM: You spoke about yoga earlier. You're teaching yoga?
I teach a little bit. My brother has a big yoga studio in Los Angeles called Dancing Shiva. He's an ayurvedic teacher, he goes to India a lot, he must have been Indian in a past life because he looks Indian, (laughs) he has much darker skin than I! And yeah, I studied a lot there over the years, for my brother and everything, and I teach a little bit too... You know, I've taught guitar over the years and I think we learn when we teach; it's definitely a wonderful way to reinforce knowledge.
DM: It's sure, when you teach something, the fact to explain it to someone else...
...makes you think about it. Exactly.
DM: So, any last words?
Oh, no, merci beaucoup ['thank you very much' in French]
BG: It's cool to be on a French label, Season Of Mist.
Yeah. We're happy about that, they're very passionate about the bands and...
BG: Are they solid, financially?
They're definitely smaller than Roadrunner, you know, it's definitely more of an independent situation but I think, for a band like Cynic, it's more cult and underground, and it grows like this. Sometimes you need something more small to built it. And not a big crazy label where, if you don't sell 100000 records in the first year, they kick you out, you know what I mean. It feels good, I like the passion of the French people; you know, we've always had good shows, here.
BG: Did you play, in the past?
We've played in the Nouveau Casino, two times for the reunion tour. And the shows were amazing.
BG: I mean, in 1993...
I can't remember, when we toured with Pestilence, if we played Paris... I don't think so. I don't think we played a French show.
BG: You didn't play many shows, at the time?
No, that was like 2 or 3 weeks, a quick tour. So, you didn't see any shows, no?
BG: No, no... I just had the album, a highlight in 1993. With Atheist - Elements...
Yeah, that's when they broke up too...
BG: Yeah, and they reunited too...
And there's a new album... It's amazing.
BG: Have you heard some stuff?
I haven't heard anything but I e-mail and talk to Kelly regularly, and he says he's just starting now, so they have a lot of work ahead of them! (laughs)
Thanks are due, of course, to the Seasons of Mist staff, to Etienne (Havana Café / Necrocosm), and most of all to Paul Masvidal himself for his kindness.
||Posted on 28.12.2008 by Once your regular Hellfest reporter, now retired. I (strangely enough) listen to a lot of metal. And enjoy good beers, comics, novels and role-playing games.|
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