Cynic interview (07/2007)
|Conducted by:||Marcel Hubregtse (in person)|
Cynic is one of those bands that gained a cult status on the back of just one album. In their case it was 1993's majestic Focus which was released by RoadRunner at the time. After supporting that album with a tour Cynic disappears of the face of the earth in 1994. The band members pop up all over the place but nothing is ever heard of Cynic again. That is until a reunion tour is announced for the summer of 2007, consisting of 11 dates. Cynic's first gig in 13 years would be at Hellfest, Clisson, France on June 23. I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on what happened to Cynic all those years ago and what the future plans are on June 23. Due to a full interview schedule for that day my interview with Paul Masvidal is moved to June 28 before the gig at 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise for now I had seen Cynic perform live at the Hellfest and will be able use that concert as reference point.
The soft spoken Paul Masvidal was so nice as to grant me half an hour while eating his dinner backstage at the 013.
- Even on your early demos you already started to fuse several sound elements into the unique sound combination you are now renowned for. What made you decide to do it at the time? Because back then bands tried to be as brutal, heavy, fast as possible. And you've always had this almost new age sound to your music.
I think it was a result of what were listening to. It wasn't consciously. We're fans of so many different styles of music as musicians that we couldn't help but to have that come out in our writing. It was just an organic outgrowth of what we were listening to at the time. Because we were beyond all the brutal metal that was going on. We were listening to world music, jazz, pop, and classical. We've always really had kind of these eclectic ears, as it were, and so those influences kind of nudged themselves into the sound of the group. The better we became as musicians we kind of learned how to integrate it.
- Any specific artists you were really into at the time?
I was into other things, I mean, I still am, we were listening to a lot of our contemporaries like the brutal death metal stuff from Florida. Those bands. And then we were listening to a lot of jazz and fusion like Pat Metheny, Allan Holdsworth, this really kind of more etherial fusion stuff and tribal tech and the more progressive bands. And we were listening to a lot of like Indian music. I mean, we were all over the place. It was really Frank Zappa. We were just really into good music. There were no rules for us. It was a natural thing where we never... It was never "We have to do this or try and sound like this.". It was kind of what was happening unconsciously as a result of actively listening to different kinds of music.
- What kind of metal bands inspired you at the time, as well?
When I was much younger I was really into the really brutal stuff like Possessed, and even Death, and Slayer. You know, that's kind of where I started. Destruction, Kreator. And then as we got older and we kinda started listening to, got into some of our contemporaries like Atheist and some of the other bands that were kind of doing that sound. We were all kind of just feeding off each other. As a fan it depended cause I appreciated really simple brutal bands like Obituary. No lyrics, just great brutal vocals, you know, John Tardy is the king. And this really kind of cool groove. Very sludgy and groovy. What was cool about the scene at that time, especially in Florida, is that everybody had such a unique sound. Everyone sounded different. That was really cool.
- When you set out to do this stuff with Cynic,of course for fun, but did you ever expect to influence any other bands?
Of course not. We did what we did, we didn't really think about influencing people or whatever. We were just trying to stay honest and be in the process and try and make music that meant something to us, that was important to us.
- With the single album you did release you influenced the name of another band. They opened for you yesterday in Nijmegen.
- Judas Priest of course influenced a loads of bands with their song titles, but they have released a load of albums. You have released just one, so how does that feel?
It's cool. It is one of those things that I am humbled by. Because, again, we just did what we did. We poured ourselves into these songs and this work without any expectations. We didn't really look at it as... we didn't really try and do anything other than just to make good music. That's always been the priority.
- So, how was playing with Textures yesterday?
It was cool, definitely cool to see the next generation really doing their homework on their instruments and really interesting songs, they definitely had a really dynamic set and a lot of different colours and cool guitar stuff and keyboards, and the singer was really versatile. It was really cool.
- Before you released Focus you released four demos. Why did it take so long? Because your last demo, which is from 1991, was financed by RoadRunner and then it takes a further two years before At Death's Door II comes out (RoadRunner death metal compilation featuring the 1991 demo version of Uroboric Forms.) And a couple of months after the release of At Death's Door II Focus is finally released.
Yeah, that was a combination. I think it was like, well those years of the demos was just us working on our instruments and playing and writing and practising and developing our sound. And then finally, when we did the RoadRunner demo... that demo happened kind of in the middle of when we were doing Death and all the side projects, Atheist and Monstrosity and Pestilence. It was just one of those things that a bunch of different things were going on at that time so it all took a while. And actually when we finished the Death tour and finished all the things that we were doing and went home to record our next record... I mean, when recording Focus we had one of the biggest natural disasters in the history of the United States wipe out our whole town: Hurricane Andrew (1992). Which literally levelled Jason Gobel's home, our rehearsal studio was flooded. So all these things kind of arose. And that was the big one, which was really a blessing in disguise because we ended up having a bunch of time to practise more and develop the songs more. It took another year to get the record out, which was kind of great.
- Getting back to At Death's Door II and Focus... if you look at the song title...
Yes it's misspelled.
- But it's also misspelled in the booklet.
Yeah, I remember I was really annoyed by that. I think it's the reality of being still a demo band and not having the record out and the label not paying that much attention and it's such an odd word that, you know...
- So it's just a misspelled word by the label?
Yes. I don't think they double checked. It was on the RoadRunner demo. So they should have known how to spell it. But a lot of the times they don't pay attention to the details. At least they were consistent misspelling it in the liner notes and on the tracklisting. It would have been weird to have it right here and wrong there (Paul points at the tracklisting and to the liner notes) then people would have been really confused by that.
At Death's Door II
- But those demos... The first one was more thrash oriented and you developed your sound all the way through all of the demos. Will you be re-releasing them?
We're not planning on it.
- I talked to Kelly and Tony last Sunday (at Hellfest) and they really think that they should be re-released. And I think a lot of fans would love to see that happen too. It will probably sell well, especially nowadays.
Yeah, they all want us to. Yeah, it probably would. But it's one of those things where I see those demos as works in progress. They're really unfinished. They weren't realised pieces and I'm not particularly proud of them, you know. It's just too early.
- But it is a part of your history, of course. And with only one album people get even more interested in the old stuff.
I know, but the fans who want to get it can get it.
- But then you don't have any liner notes. No nice package...
Well, the liner notes are kind of, historically they... for us it's like the real realisation of Cynic was Focus, and that was to me the first real work. The rest were just works in progress and sketches. And I'm not fond of sharing sketches with the world.
- You had one brilliant release, let's put it that way. And even after all these years the original recording still sounds great.
Yeah, Scott Burns did a great job.
- And then all of a sudden you disappear off the face of the earth in 1994. What's the reason? What happened? Because at the time you were working on new songs and all.
I think we kind of burned out on the scene. We were doing this for so many years and we had kind of been through the wringer with the record company. Just a lot of different experiences kind of culminating into us saying "We don't want to do this any more". But we never really said it, we kind of just quietly disbanded and let it dissolve. It was just kind of, again, really organic, it was one of those things that we just didn't really... We were just ready to change. And our lives were changing internally, externally. So we changed. And we all secretly went in our own directions. Everyone stayed in music pretty much but it was just one of those things where we wanted to be kind of in our own worlds instead of around each other for 24/7 like we were pretty much for the ten years prior.
- So you were constantly around each other.
It was really intense. The Cynic project was super intense for us and very... there was a lot of energy that was poured into that. I think maybe we just needed a break. So we took a break, thirteen years.
- But now all of a sudden you re-appear again for a reunion tour. What's the reason to do one? Because like you said you guys were more or less fed up with it and went your own ways.
Really curiously it was a bunch of synchronisities. I had an e-mail from a fan in Russia that said he had had a dream that we had done a reunion and we were playing these big concerts. And then I got another e-mail from another fan and then Sean Reinert and I had the same dream and then I got a call from Kelly Shaefer (Atheist) and there was literally... it reached like this critical mass where seven things happened and I thought "Oh my God.". I remember calling Sean and I said "It's time. We have to do this."
So it was just one of those things, again, that I can't really explain other than that it forced itself upon us. It wasn't something that I thought about too much, it just had to happen. And it felt natural and I felt honest about it. Five years ago this reunion wouldn't have been honest. And now it is. So we're doing it.
- Atheist had a reunion as well, of course, just a bit before you. Same sort of band more or less.
Yeah, it's interesting the timing.
- Is this a one-off reunion tour or will you start recording again? Because you did play a new song at Hellfest, Graspop and in England.
Yeah we did play a new song on this tour. And it's kind of an experiment for us to see where it goes. I'm writing a lot of stuff so we'll see where it goes from there.
With Atheist reuniting for a tour as well it's almost a cosmic thing. I don't know, there's something about 2007 it kind of... when I think about it now, with perspective, it makes a lot of sense that it's happening. That it's this year that it's happening. So it just feels right. We have been really busy, you know, Aeon Spoke just had a record released, and a lot of things going on. So if it was someone said "is this the right time?" if we asked someone they'd say "no, put your energy here" there's a lot of things. Just, again, there's, we can do it all. We can be busier and sleep less. And that's what we're doing.
- On internet forums Cynic has gained a lot of popularity over the last couple of years. It has started snowballing more or less and is gaining more and more momentum. A couple of years ago almost no-one knew about you guys and this kind of music. So what do you think the reason for this interest in your music is. Is it due to illegal filesharing/downloading?
I don't think so. I think it's probably more cosmic than anything else. It's just one of those things where it seems like generally in terms of popular music technical music has become more popular. Like when we put out Focus, Dream Theater had put out Images And Words and they weren't a cool band, you know, they were people like... although they were doing well in their niche they weren't as cool as they are now. And I think it's become cool in some ways, and maybe it's even reached that kind of trendy level where being tech is actually cool and being progressive is cool. So luckily Cynic is being associated as being one of the bands that are part of that beginning of that sound. And so we we're just grateful to be having again this cosmic kind of timing with all these things opening up for us and people really... I always thought for me the music of Cynic was something that you'll hear it when your ears are ready for it. And it's more about where you are in your life and your experience and it's probably that way with most music. I don't know if you've had that happen where you hear a song and you just don't like it and then a couple of years later it really hits home.
- Yeah, I've had that with Nile, it took a couple of years for it to finally click for me.
I think it's very much that way with Cynic. It's one of those things that people suddenly get it and it's not, you can't force it it just has to be kind of a natural thing.
I mentioned downloading. So you don't think your rise in popularity is due to that. But what are your thoughts on downloading in general? Is it comparable the the old tapetrading days?
Yeah, I guess it's a modern version of tapetrading and it seems like... I think it's hurt more like the bigger bands that come from, that are used to collecting royalties from record sales. But for a younger band and bands that are still seeking to kind of expand to get more exposure it only helps. Because really it seems that these days bands are paying their bills and eating by live performances. It's almost like, it's pretty much free: music, as far as the recorded format goes.
- Hellfest was your first gig as Cynic in thirteen years? How did it feel after such a long hiatus?
It was really emotional for me. I was nervous at first and I was, I felt really vulnerable. And what was really nice was that the audience... I don't know if it's characteristic of the French or what, but there was so much passion and love and energy and support poured out of those people that it just kind of made me more at ease. So it was great. It was one of those things that at the end of the day I was like "wow, now that was an amazing first show."I wish we could have done a secret show somewhere else to kind of warm up for that. There's plenty of complaints I could talk about on a technical level. But ultimately it was an amazing experience.
- What I noticed is that the order you played the songs in was the exact same order they appear in on Focus. That was also the case at Graspop and in England.
We do that because of the natural flow of the album. But we're inserting the new song (Evolutionary Sleeper) in there at some point, breaking it up and then like tonight we're gonna do a longer set. When we do the headlining shows we play more songs just because we have to and we can. So yes, I think we spent a lot of time sequencing the record and it makes sense to kind of do that flow. You know when we played back in the day we played Focus kind of in order also.
- Halfway through your show you played the new song Evolutionary Sleeper. Which is a bit of a different song, it seems almost like a ballad. It was a sort of really nice quiet moment.
The first half is really intense and then the second half it gets mellow. It's a kind of in your face song and then it kind of opens up and gets really expansive in the second half.
- Will you be playing more new songs today?
Just that one and a Portal song (Cosmos) and probably this old song that we used to do of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a cover, Meeting Of The Spirits.
- Evolutionary Sleeper doesn't have any grunts on it but let's say you're working on new songs will those feature any grunts?
I'm not sure yet. I really don't know what the new stuff will sound like until I am really in it. I have a lot of material right now but I really can't predict where it's gonna go in terms of sonically until I... I take it one song at a time. If certain songs feel like they need some screams and some aggressive vocals then we'll put it in. It's kind of up in the air now. But so much of it is just not clear yet. So, we'll see what happens. We'll let it unfold.
- I thought that Tony Teegarden, who did the grunts on Focus, would be coming on tour with you guys, but he didn't. So what happened?
Basically Tony makes a lot of money as an entrepreneur in Florida and when we told him how realistic this was for us financially he just bowed out. It wasn't for him, he's used to a certain lifestyle and he's not really living as a musician. So, I don't think it was one of those things that was worth it for him.
- So how did you recreate Tony's vocals on stage?
We stream them from an i-pod, a computer, and it's just, erm, Sean has a click track and the brutal vocals come out through a track on stage. It's the original vocals of Focus.
- Anything you want to add?
Thank you for the interview opportunity. I appreciated it. And just stay tuned.
Thanks are due to, of course, Paul Masvidal for sharing his thoughts and precious dinner time. And thanks also go out to Raymond Tabak and Michael Dorrian of the Cynic touring entourage.
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