DATE OF INTERVIEW:
5th December 2011
Stylistically inimitable yet perennially influential, since their reformation five years ago, Cynic have proven themselves serious about their art beyond the nostalgia and monetary driven motives that characterise so many other ephemeral reunions. And as evidenced on latest EP 'Carbon-Based Anatomy', they've continued to progress their riveting sonic amalgam of tech-metal, jazz fusion and prog rock elements while remaining idiomatically Cynic at core. Their evolution continues into 2011 following the announced departure in December 2010 of guitarist/growler Tymon Kruidenier and live session bassist Robin Zielhorst, who were swiftly replaced by Brandon Griffin and Max Phelps for live duties on bass and guitar/growls respectively. Embarking on a lengthy European tour as 2011 winds to a close, Metal Discovery spent some time chatting to the band's ever charismatic frontman Paul Masvidal a short while before their show in the UK's capital...
METAL DISCOVERY: You have a new EP out, ĎCarbon-Based Anatomyí, which is quite an ambiguous title but is there a concept or motif which binds the songs together because the music and flow of the tracks seem to point towards that?
PAUL: I donít like to be too literal about concepts just because I want the listener to have their own journey with it but thereís definitely a thread there, a slender thread thatís bridging it all together. Itís kind of a journey about life and death which is pretty much what every Cynic record is to some degree. This one, in particular, is very earth-based and thatís why itís that title because humans are comprised of carbon. Itís really a lyric taken from the first song, from ĎCarbon-Based Anatomyí, and then I just ended up titling the record that way. So yeah, I donít know, I donít like to be too literal in breaking down concepts. For me, thereís a lot going on there but Iíd rather everyone just get their own experience.
(Paul Masvidal on developing and progressing as a musician and songwriter)
"...itís constantly referencing life experience so, for me, as long as youíre living and breathing, and life is happening and youíre actually paying attention, how can your music not get more interesting, expansive and colourful?"
Paul Masvidal in The Garage, London, UK, 5th December 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: I gather there was a shamanic tribe from the Amazon Jungle that inspired some of the writing?
PAUL: Well, the opening track is an Icaro. Itís a classic Icaro based on a tribe from the Amazon called the Shipibo tribe from Peru. Theyíre a jungle tribe that basically lives without electricity and very seemingly primitive but they do this really sophisticated healing work, shamanic healing work, with certain medicinal plants and they tune your biology so to speak. And those songs, those Icaros, are healing sounds. Thereís some indigenous language in there but itís really more of a sound thatís based onÖ whatís really curious is they have these tapestries and fabrics, and things that they paint and draw and sew, and itís very fractal and interesting looking, and they can sing them. So thatís why that melody is so interesting and kind of all over the place. Itís just there to ground the body and ground the listener, and soften the heart a little bit, and get Ďem ready for the recordÖ [laughs]
MD: So do you hope Cynicís music is healing in any way?
PAUL: I canít claim any of that, I just know that this is what interests me and I just feel like music in general, for me, sometimes the most seemingly negative pieces of music can be very therapeutic for certain people and vice versa. So, for me, thatís what it represents in terms of what weíre doing. And what weíre trying to do, at least to some degree, is help people maybe wake up a little bit, see a little bit clearer. I think, again, itís always a self-reflective process so as long as Iím telling the truth to myself, the listener will get that also.
MD: Kind of cathartic then, in that sense?
PAUL: Yeah, definitely. I think all the records for me are a massive purgative experience. Itís one of those things that overtakes meÖ [laughs]Ö then Iím in it and I donít know how I got there. Itís just consuming and crazy but thatís how it goes.
MD: I also read the ambient sounds of Brian Eno influenced some of the new material?
PAUL: Yeah. Iíve been a big fan of Brian Enoís and I think that was my reference point of someone saying, ďwhereís all this ambient stuff?Ē, and I always say, ďwell, of all the ambient artists, heís probably the one Iíve listened to the mostĒ. So I think it just surfaced more, you know, my Eno inspiration. Again, thereís no way to rip off Eno that way but I think the vibe and sentimentís there.
MD: Iíve read online where some people have been saying the new EP is basically a new Aeon Spoke record just based on the fact there are no death growls in there, so theyíre saying itís Aeon Spoke under the name of Cynic. Do you think thatís short-sighted criticism from listeners that maybe donít get what Cynic are and always were about?
PAUL: Yeah, perhaps. I think that, to me, Aeon Spoke and Cynic, itís still the same songwriter so itís just one of those things where you can call it whatever you like but itís not like another band per se. It is a different name and, obviously, Aeon was more folk-based, but I think Cynicís constantly exploring and evolving and this just happened to be how this record sounds. We donít really pay attention to what anyone says anyway! [laughs] We just do what we do.
MD: I guess it goes back to what you say about peopleís own interpretation of what they hear, music-wise as well.
PAUL: Totally, yeah.
MD: So while on the subject of Aeon Spoke, will there ever be another album?
PAUL: I donít know. Possibly. I have a lot of material thatís Aeon material in terms of super folky, almost innocent songs that I think lend themselves more to the Aeon aesthetic because Cynicís aesthetic is more futurism-based and modernist and proggy. Aeonís more folky so itís a different realm to some degree. But itís possible. Right now, Iím just in the Cynic realm.
MD: Based on the new EP, Iíve recently read journalists describe your music as ďspace rockĒ which brings to mind Hawkwind, I guess. Do you think that label over-simplifies your sound and might be misleading for some people?
PAUL: I think labels in general and the moment you start deploying semantics to describe sound architecture, youíre limiting it already because itís such an ambiguous thing, you know, music in general.
MD: Thatís what journalists have to do though Ė they only have the written word and musicians have the sounds!
PAUL: Right, exactly. And thereís this subjective quality to music that makes it very mysterious because every each person has their own interpretation based on their own experience. But I definitely hear some space rock in there, for sure. Thatís part of Cynicís thing is, for some reason, it always ends up sounding modern and futuristic.
MD: You get labelled as progressive a lot more these days more so than when ĎFocusí was originally released which I think can be quite limiting too for a band like Cynic because progressive has unfortunately become regarded a genre. Would you say being progressive for you is more an attitude towards creating music?
PAUL: Yeah, exactly, I like that. I like the more vague meaning of progressive which is forward-thinking music in general regardless of genre. Thereís obviously progressive metal, progressive rock, progressive pop, progressive fusionÖ but, yeah, I donít know, weíre pretty hybridised in that sense. You canít really put us in any particular niche; weíve always been outsiders in that sense.
MD: And as one particular musician in a band said to me once, to have a genre of prog at all is a paradox.
MD: Would you say being progressive for you is also about challenging yourself as a musician as much as trying to write innovative music?
PAUL: Yeah, I think so. I think itís always trying to push the envelope and explore and keep things moving, instead of staying in safe comfort zones. Cynic has always been about getting out of our comfort zone and, without it even being intentional, I think itís just the natural process for Sean and I as musicians to keep it interesting. Thatís just what happens; I donít know why but I donít like to stay in cocoons. Especially as an artist, you just want to keep breaking and pushing boundaries, and exploring. Thankfully, I think our first record set that up to some degree because it did cover quite a bit of territory.
MD: So whatís been your biggest challenge as a musician and songwriter during your career in terms of pushing yourself and your abilities?
PAUL: I donít know; I think thereís this overwhelming aspect to just being a musician and the nature of music itself is so vast and deep and complex that Iím kind of in awe of it constantly. And I realise how Iím a beginner for the rest of my life and even if I just locked myself up and practice for twelve hours a day Iím not sure Iíd still get to whereÖ you know what I mean? Youíre always reaching for something so itís that endless task of trying to write the perfect song and execute everything. Thatís just one of those things that is part of the tortured reality of being an artist and musician that wants to make everything right. Youíre just consumed by it and itís never quite there. But thatís the beauty of it too; it drives the whole thing.
MD: So you never see yourself as having peaked as a musician in terms of your skill level?
PAUL: I donít think so. I like to think Iíll be doing this well into old age, writing and playing music. Thatís one of the wonderful things about music is you can do it for the rest of your life.
MD: And improve.
PAUL: And get better, and your compositions can expand andÖ because itís constantly referencing life experience so, for me, as long as youíre living and breathing, and life is happening and youíre actually paying attention, how can your music not get more interesting, expansive and colourful? Thatís whatís kinda cool. Itís always informed by that, you know.
MD: In that sense then, to date, would you say thereís not yet been the perfect Cynic record? Like the next oneís always going to be better?
PAUL: Yeah, exactly. And Iím always thinking the last thing Iím doing is the best thing. You know, the current song Iím in the middle of is the coolest song ever! [laughs] But thatís good! I donít wanna ever think that itís not. That means that somethingís not working, I guess. But there are those peaks and valleys in the creative process and itís really about being patient with yourself and just keep showing up for it regardless ofÖ or, as I see, it, what else is there to do?! Thereís no real meaning behind it; you just do it.