Red Masque Interview
Capellini of Stargazer
For the original Italian translation of the interview, click here.
1) First of all, where and when The Red Masque was founded? What is the background of the band members?
LYNNETTE: Brandon Ross and I first met when we were both living in Delaware and he auditioned for a short-lived progressive folk ensemble. After the group dissolved, we decided to continue working together. After playing around with a variety of other musicians for about two years, Brandon and I moved to Philadelphia where we founded Brandy of the Damned, a template from which The Red Masque eventually evolved. By posting advertisements around Philadelphia, and after going through countless bad auditions and telephone interviews, we found Steve Blumberg during the summer of 2000, with Nathan-Andrew Dewin following a few months later and Kevin Kelly rounding out the lineup by February 2001. Our first public performance was in April 2001.
As for my personal music background, I’ve gained as much of my experience working within the music media as well as in bands. I’ve worked as both a DJ at a community radio station--which I credit for helping me to become exposed to a multitude of underground music--and a music journalist/editor. At one point I even worked in an opera house, so I’ve listened to quite a few bands, both good and bad, and this experience has helped me to approach my own performances better. I actually started singing in a band when I was 19--more as a spur-of-the-moment whim; I wasn’t particularly talented just then. Even though this particular group only last one public performance (and I forgot the lyrics to one of the songs--very embarrassing!), it was the catalyst for me becoming heavily involved in the music scene with my own projects. I am 27 now and I have to say that playing in a band has become one of the most important decisions in my life and The Red Masque is the first band that has completely satisfied that decision. The guys in the band are my best friends and I am very proud of the music--corny as that sounds. I don’t expect everyone to like the music, though. It’s definitely bizarre stuff and will not appeal to many people. Leave your musical expectations behind! Progressive music should mean experimental music, and we don't write "safe" songs.
BRANDON: I started playing bass because everybody else wanted to play guitar. I wanted to do something different. The instrument appealed to me. I played in a few original bands, each one heading more in this direction. I discovered that music from the ‘60s and ‘70s had much better musicianship and depth than what was on the radio or hip or cool at the time. Once I got into Chris Squire and John Wetton I realized how innovative bass playing can be and knew what I wanted to do.
STEVE: I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years, I started out with 3 years of classical training then moved quickly to blues, jazz rock fusion, and hard rock. Influences include; (Guitar Players) Jimi Hendrix, Steve Howe, Robert Fripp, Jerry Garcia, Steve Vai, (other musicians bands & composers) Miles Davis, Chic Corea, Bach, The Beatles Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, ELP, Yes, The Grateful Dead, King Crimson, The Who,Genesis
KEVIN: I started out playing drums in marching band (1979) and I am self-taught on drum set. Early influences are Keith Moon, Billy Cobham. I played in cover bands over the years and for the last 10 years I have been drumming for Too Bad Jim and the Papa Kilo Blues Band, two southern New Jersey blues acts.
NATHAN: I grew up on classical music, progrock, klezmer, and middle eastern music. I shared a room with my older brother, who listened to Yes, Genesis, ELP, Oldfield, Deep Purple, and Bowie. Doubtless this had a strong influence on my predilections. When I was was little, I used to sit under my mother's desk when she worked on Saturdays, and listened to the opera broadcasts from the Met. This, too , seems to have shaped my musical orientation. I decided to pursue music whilst attending Oberlin College. Though I was studying anthropology, I took courses in ethnomusicology, electronic music, and music history and theory at Oberlin's Conservatory. I hadn't yet learned to play an instrument at the time, which was a source of understandable frustration. After graduation, I remained in Ohio (where the school is located), and eventually bought a harp. I took a year of lessons with Jane Cauffiel Thompson, then moved back to my parent's house in New Jersey .I could then put all my time and energy into teaching myself to play the harp. I have also been attending Balkan Music and Dance Camp for the past six summers to pursue a deeper study of that music. And here I am!
2) I suppose "The Red Masque" is a tribute to E. A. Poe's writings. Why did you choose this name?
LYNNETTE: Yes, The Red Masque is a reference to Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” I chose the name because I wanted a name that sounded theatrical since our band tends to be a bit dramatic (we wear costumes on stage and the music is very intense, to say the least). “Masque of the Red Death” happens to be one of my favorite Poe stories so the name came about quite naturally. I’m also very visually oriented as an artist (I designed our album cover art), and the imagery associated with that name lends itself to some cool art ideas. Plus, the other band names that were being considered at the time were quite scary. Let’s just say that there are WAY too many Lovecraft fans in this band!
3) When was the material on your debut EP written and recorded? Is this the first stuff you composed together?
BRANDON: Lynnette and I mainly wrote “Tidal” when we were still auditioning with different people. “Moon Falls” has been a group effort that has come together over the last several months. In fact, Nathan is adding more keyboard parts so soon we will have a longer version. The “Ended Ways” improv. was taken from a long jam we did at Fjordstone studios.
LYNNETTE: We recorded the material for our “Death of the Red Masque” EP live in the studio, the only overdubs were for Nathan’s harp, a few backing vocals and the percussion tracks. The entire EP was recorded over the course of four days, with a about a week spent on mastering. We wanted to get very “live,” raw sound, which I think we accomplished. The music sounds very “garage prog,” which we like. We didn’t want a very clean sound.
4) What kind of response has the EP gathered up to now?
LYNNETTE: Surprisingly, we’ve gotten a lot of great response, considering how new the band is, and how weird our music is. While we are still trying to build up an audience in our hometown (and get paid!), the Internet has gotten us quite a lot of great underground exposure internationally. Radio stations in Siberia and Mexico, and journalists from Hungary and Italy, have contacted us; music fans all over the world have e-mailed us asking where they can get a copy of our EP, and our Web site has had visitors from just about every single continent at this point. The Web has been a tremendous help in connecting the band to various underground music communities.
Still, right now we are hoping to get the attention of a small independent label so they can help fund studio costs and the like. We’ve had labels tell us they liked the music, but our style didn’t fit into their particular genres. Which is a bit of a problem since we don’t like to box ourselves with a particular musical style. So, we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
STEVE: Mostly very positive, It seems that prog fans from all over the globe are very excited and supportive of our music.
5) Music wise, The Red Masque is not easily categorizable, but one can hear influences from King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator... what bands do you think are reflected in your music? What do you usually listen to?
BRANDON: Aside from King Crimson and Van Der Graaf, Yes, Genesis, Magma, Gentle Giant, Curved Air, Renaissance, Henry Cow, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, The Doors. As far as neo prog--I like Thinking Plague and White Willow a lot. Also, I enjoy medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music as well as 20th century composers like Messiaen and Schoenberg. I am more influenced by European prog than American prog, which tends to have a more clean pop sound I don’t like.
I think we are what we are trying to do is have a very original sound and incorporate our influences while not just rehashing and ripping them off. Too many new prog bands put themselves into little boxes and try to sound exactly a certain way. Progressive should mean progressive!
NATHAN: King Crimson, Hovhaness, Bartok, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Tangerine Dream, Eastern European music, and early music.
KEVIN: From a drummer’s point of view, you could see and hear a heavy Bill Bruford influence, yet I don’t really try and sound like anyone. I really play the way the music inspires me to play. I listen to a lot of different stuff--The Who to Deep Purple, King Crimson to Genesis to P.G. Plus Mahavishnu Orchestra, Earth Wind and Fire and Annie Lennox, and anything with Bill Bruford or Tony Levin.
LYNNETTE: I’ve really only recently become involved with the progressive music (two or three years, maybe). While I’ve always been a fan of musical experimentation, the term “progressive” wasn’t something that I necessarily aligned myself with. And I don’t think The Red Masque just fits into the category for “progressive.” We cross into psychedelia, avant-garde and even goth. I listen to all kinds of music, and I don’t really consider any one artist as having influenced me. I sound the way I do because I don’t know any other way to sound. But some artists/music I admire include: Peter Hammill, Dead Can Dance, Hildegard Von Bingen, The Great Society (Grace Slick’s early band), Siouxsie Sioux, and King
Crimson (especially the Wetton years). I also really like White Willow, Thinking Plague, U-Totem (and a lot of other RIO stuff). I’m starting to get into Banco too. Basically, if it’s creepy, passionate or chaotic, I’m all for it.
6) Can you elaborate on the lyrical content of the EP? One of the tracks is dedicated to the "Cthulhu mythos", I think. That's an interesting reference, any other lyrical inspirations beside Lovecraft?
LYNNETTE: Three things mostly inspire me: books, movies and the weather/elements. Maybe, I am just enacting out my innermost hidden desires to be a weather forecaster :).
Anyway, “Tidal” evolved from a combination of sources: Lovecraft, the Atlantis mythology, and the medieval philosophy of the “Wheel of Fortune” (basically fortune is described as cyclical in nature). “A Moon Falls” was written while I was re-reading the “Dune Messiah.”
Books also inspire other songs that we’re working on. A new song, “Maps of Ancient Sea Kings,” mixes Cooleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with Hemmingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.” The title comes from a book I saw in a store. I’ve never read it, but the title put a lot of imagery in my head.
Other songs I’ve just ripped off authors I admire (ssh!). For instance, we’ve set Shakespeare’s Sonnet 90 to an acoustic, flamenco-influenced piece, while a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem ended up as the lyrics to our song, “Bird Brain.” (If you haven’t’ guessed by now I was an English major in school.)
7) I really liked the improvisation track on your EP, is that a common way of composing tracks for the band?
STEVE: I love to improvise, to me it is one of the most natural ways of expression, so what we like to do is combine song structures with improvisation, this can be a great thing when we play live.
NATHAN: Each song features some improvisation, so they're a bit different each time we play them. We don't generally develop a composed piece from an improv, though we have talked about doing that at some point. It would make sense to do that, since we spend so much of our time on improvisation.
8) It seems to me there's a good resurgence of progressive rock in the USA especially in the underground, with many good bands ranging from Technical stuff to more ambient/ electronic music. Do you feel you're part of this movement. Do you think that the success enjoyed by more mainstream bands like Spock's Beard or Transatlantic can be helpful to the whole progressive scene?
KEVIN: Yes, I feel we are a part, definitely, of the underground, but the music we play--original in nature--is slow to be recognized and there is no one, especially club owners, who is willing to give us or the music a real chance, let alone pay money for performing. Regarding the success of more mainstream prog bands, yes, it can be helpful, yet I believe that bands like Transatlantic would get noticed anyway solely for the big name players regardless of the
quality of the band.
BRANDON: I say a resurgence of progressive and experimental music has to happen because what people are getting exposed to is totally lame, phony, corporate crap. You can see everything--music, film, people’s aesthetics--getting more shallow, dumber and dumber. So there is a need for more exciting, noncommercial, independent art. Gradually, I think there is a paradigm shift happening from the old materialistic/cynical world view to a new
holistic/spiritual one which I also think needs to happen for all our sakes!
So if this movement is going to help change things and not just be filtered, absorbed, or pure nostalgia, than I say we are definitely a part of it. As far as bands like Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic or Porcupine Tree, or even Radiohead--if they can help pave the way for other less mainstream-sounding bands and keep a diverse, exciting music scene than I think that is great. I do think it is bad when a band becomes too mainstream and/or too saturated. They become overexposed and exploited and it’s not about music anymore. This is what killed alternative music and screwed up prog in the ‘70s.
My own taste in progressive is to avoid overly pop sounds and let the music flow. You can’t have consonance without dissonance. And sometimes the times call for lots of dissonance! Our ideal is to balance melodic parts with angular parts so there is a journey, a more active listening.
9) I'd like to know more about your future plans: a
tour? a new record?
STEVE: We are in the process of writing the material now for a full length CD, and hopefully with enough funds and support we would love too do a tour someday.
LYNNETTE: Future plans: To become the world’s first rain stick virtuoso. ;^) That and I would LOVE to put on a puppet opera enacting the “Masque of the Red Death.”
BRANDON: We will probably try doing a full LP in the coming year. Right now we are still booking shows and working on material. We are still very new, so all these things take time. And we’d love to tour but I think we would need a small label or wealthy, eccentric benefactor to help us (any offers?).
NATHAN: In the future, we'd like to hold a Spectral Carnival Of Anubis. Audience members would have various experiential options, including apotheosis, and mutation into eldritch, pandimensional erotophagic beings.
10) Any final comment?
STEVE: Thanks for your support.
LYNNETTE: I just want to say thanks to everyone who has been kind and supportive of The Red Masque so far. We really appreciate everyone’s help.
BRANDON: It is definitely positive that there are people that are supportive of progressive music. The more folks that find their own tastes and stop letting giant conglomerates tell what to like, the better the world will be.
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