Red Masque Interview

DEC. 2002

Q: Before anything, thank you to grant us this interview. Could they make us a brief review of the history of the band?

Lynnette: Brandon (bassist) and I originally met in 1998 when he auditioned for a kind of folky-progressive-psychedelic band that I had started in Delaware. After that band had broken up in 1999, he and I decided that we would continue working
together and would try to recruit some other musicians. We both had a pretty good idea of the type of music that we wanted to do, but were unable to find like-minded musicians in the area. By 2000, we had moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and had a rough line up that would eventually become the precursor band to The Red Masque. After changing drummers, we officially founded The Red Masque in February 2001 and were playing out by April of that year.

Brandon: Lynnette pretty much answered this question for us. A few years ago it was tough to find people interested in playing this kind of music, much less improvise. Then you would talk to people but they would be more into fusion or prog-metal, now it is great that we have found the people we have to accomplish our vision.

Vonorn: About a year ago I saw The Red Masque at a SciFi convention. I was quite impressed. They twisted me around in ways musically I had not heard nor seen in years. I stayed and conversed with Lynnette and Brandon. I purchased their 1st CD and we found out we were kindred spirits. A few months later I received a call asking can I audition on drums for them. I brought out my friend's beat up old kit and passed the audition. Boy were they tough on me. Naahh, they were very open minded and let me do my own style, as long as I hit the cues. This was great as some of the music is quite complex and their previous drummer, Kevin, was superb. Not easy shoes to I wear sneakers most of the time now.

Q: Where would they say that they have their roots musically speaking?

Lynnette: Brandon and I wanted to put together a band that had a very theatrical musical style that would be eccentric, chaotic, or spacey as the song presented itself. We both like old horror and sci-fi films and I think this also is integrated into our songwriting. But while we have definite progressive rock roots in the band (particularly early 70s English progressive rock bands like Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson; as well as kraut rock and space rock bands), we don't like the direction much new prog rock is going. To me it seems very stilted and artificial, with bands writing songs in 13/8 just for the sake of showing their
chops. Or else the bands are extremely regressive, mimicking their influences without bringing anything new to the table. There ARE some cooler progressive acts out there (like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum for example) that are actually progressing but for the most part, many of the bands are defining themselves by very rigid notions of what a prog band "should" sound like. When Brandon and I founded The Red Masque, we didn't want to put up any boxes around what our music "should" sound like.

Vonorn: I would say early King Crimson and Van Der Graff.

Brandon: VDGG and Hammill, King Crimson, Magma, Doors.

Kiarash: I have been listening to a wide variety of music styles for years, ranging from Classical and Baroque music to the more contemporary artists from different nations. I have a passion for medieval tunes and of course the innovative British rock movement of 60's and 70's. I'm very interested in incorporating folk music structures into the body of rock music.

Q: Something that got me the attention in The Red Masque it is the great variety of instruments that you use. I would like to know like they work live with fellow man it deploys instrumental. How is the live band?

Lynnette: I think we are more in our element live than in a studio. Right now, I would say our live show is beyond what we've accomplished in the studio so far. Vonorn, our drummer, can play a huge variety of instruments. He can probably outplay all of us in our respective instruments actually, he's that good. His main instrument is actually keyboards, but he's also an extremely accomplished drummer and we felt we had more need of him in this role at the time he joined the band. Live, we do juggle instruments somewhat.

Vonorn will play drums but then will switch off on to Celtic harp, or flute as the case may be. We are considering putting a keyboard up by him so that he can switch on to that at some points as well. Brandon plays bass for the most part, but sometimes switches off to acoustic guitar for certain songs, and he also composes on keyboards so we plan on incorporating him on keyboards during some of our live improvs in the future. Marcia plays keyboards and clarinet while on stage and Kiarash plays guitar, though he also has a mandolin and we want to incorporate this into the live show at some point as well. I pretty much do the vocals and any sort of percussion or weird objects that can be incorporated. In the past I've used a musical china doll, party noisemakers, a Day of the Dead death's head rattle, and a children's toy that we made into a kind of "space flute". I would like to do more of this in the future, maybe even start bringing in "found objects" and incorporating them into musical instruments (like scrap metal, for example). So, I think live we are pretty interesting to watch as we go beyond the standard guitars-bass-drum-keys lineup.

Brandon: I think we have come off better live than in the studio so far. It seems we are gradually adding more theatricality, and instruments to the mix, I like having people jump on various instruments and make some noise! I think it is important also to convey a good aesthetic; as we like to dress-up and set the mood for the music, and to capture the spirit of what is happening onstage.

Vonorn: I squeak, strum, and thump sounds out of about 12 instruments. I use in our ensemble: an African Jembe drum, a Celic harp, a Native American prayer flute, a snake charmer flute, a didgeridoo... with more to come as I find them. I also do a fair share of smashing and bashing on my drum kit.

Kiarash: Playing live gives us a freedom to experiment with sparking ideas that comes to someone and watching them grow in a multi-dimensional manner. It's very interesting to watch a brief idea picked by a number of people and interpreted in different ways. This mainly comprises our live improvisations. Occasionally we develop a very rough structure for our live improvisations and then try to develop it on stage as an extension of our feelings. We don't even play our prewritten songs exactly the same every time. There's always room for a little bit of improv here and there which makes it interesting to play every time. Wider spectrum of instruments and sound textures helps us create a more eclectic sound on stage, hence a little less repetitive. The Red Masque has something special for you when you come see us live! Something which you can't find on the records.

Q: To the moment to compose, do they leave of a letter or of an arrangement? Which is their method?

Lynnette: We usually start off with a jam that we later try to structure or else Brandon has a riff that I work with him on with lyrics and then we present the skeleton structure to the rest of the band, and we all work together on it. Vonorn has also been getting more and more involved in structuring things. Kiarash was new to the band and is more interested in songwriting than some of the previous members were. We plan on incorporating more of their ideas into our songs as well.

Brandon: Writing songs so far has been in the improvising rock band approach. Piecing together ideas and arranging them around. We often change songs, not always playing things the same way. Works in progress. The goal is to find the right balance between thematic structures and improvised and/or somewhat composed chaos. Keeping things creative, and unpredictable, while speaking
the musical message .

Vonorn: Mostly arrangement with some lead lines written.

Kiarash: I have joined the band for about 6 months now. So far I was mainly focusing in integrating my playing style into the band's music. A great effort is spent on making the songs play more dynamically and more fluently live, since that has been the main focus for the last couple of months. Also some rearrangements have been introduced to the recorded version of songs to make them more appealing to us and the listeners. We are starting to work on new material with the new lineup and this will show our real studio side.

Q: Could they be which the concept that "Victoria and the Haruspex" contains is?

Lynnette: I don't think we went into the studio with a "concept" of what the album was going to be like. We had songs that we wanted to present, and we knew we wanted to do an improvisation that started off with the musical china doll and toy piano (seen on the cover photo), but other than that we just let the musical ideas present themselves in the studio. If there is a theme in "Victoria and the Haruspex" , I would say it would be the theme of loss. "Cenotaph", the last song on the album, was performed by Nathan-Andrew and dedicated to his brother, Alan, who was killed in the World Trade Centers last year. "Afterloss" , the acoustic piece, utilizes a Shakespearean sonnet as lyrics, and deals directly with theme of a lost relationship. In the song "Birdbrain", the lyrics are from a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem in which the protagonist bemoans her loss of freedom. On our next album, we have more of a concept that we are interested in exploring, though we are leaving room for plenty of improvisation in the process.

Brandon: I guess there is a vague concept to the first song Victoria (The Doll) has some sort interaction with a Haruspex (Diviner by Entrails) and is driven mad, this is somewhat implied by the artwork on the album. I like the listener to interpret whatever concepts they may arrive at by hearing these songs. Overall I'd say a possible theme for the album could be facing loss can drive you mad, but at the same time things can become more open and you are freed by this transition.

Q: Besides a bigger instrumental wealth, Which are they for you the most notorious changes that it experienced the band, from the exit of "Death Of The Red Masque" until arriving to "Victoria and the Haruspex"?

Lynnette: I actually think that adding Vonorn into the lineup had the biggest profound impact on our sound from the "Death of The Red Masque" EP. Kevin, our old drummer, was great on drums, but in terms of our artistic direction, I think Vonorn fit into where we wanted to go more, and he was also a lot more involved in our sound. I would say our biggest sound change, has yet to be heard on disc. Since the "Victoria and the Haruspex" was recorded, we've replaced two of the members on that album. With the new members in place, I think we are a much tighter, more focused band than we were before. The people who have seen us live since this lineup change have been commenting on how much better the band sounds. I hope we continue to go in this direction and I am very much looking forward to how this lineup change translates itself into our next recording, which we hope to begin working on in May of 2003.

Brandon: Very transitional; Less drumkit, more weirdness, Vonorn joined adding a looser more improvisational sound, Steve was on his way out, Abhi was set to join but didn't have the time, Between the first CD and now we replaced three members, so the second recording was during an odd changing period getting back the themes of loss and transition.

Q: What did they publish the disks in an independent way the first
option that you had in mind, was or did they prove before with some label?

Lynnette: We published the CDs independently because we do not have label support. We did have an experimental label that was interested in signing us in 2001, but ended up backing out due to some of the negative effects of the economy after the Sept. 11 attacks of last year. We do have a small independent label our of Washington that will be sponsoring us for our next album. We've actually had a somewhat of a hard time getting labels interested in us because our music is very hard-to-define. I've been told by some label owners they didn't "Get It" while
others did not go for the freestyle improvisations that we do and wanted more "structured" sounding songs. This is one of the reasons I am considering looking beyond labels that are considered "progressive rock" labels, as I think they are
somewhat limited in their views on what prog is supposed to sound like. I plan on looking into more experimental music labels in the future.

Q: What opinion do they have of the current progressive scene in it USA and at international level?

Lynnette: There are actually some very cool American progressive groups, but they are mostly underground (i.e. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum etc). As far as the "Scene" goes, you have to make one yourself. There really is no "scene" per se. Most progressive rock fans are only going to check out the big name acts like Yes, Rush or King Crimson when they come into town, but don't bother with seeking out independent, underground bands that might be in the area. So it's a constant struggle to make yourself heard. The biggest advocate for bands like us in this sense is the Internet. On an international level, there are definitely some cool
bands out there. Most of them I hear about on the internet as they aren't heard through mainstream media. In terms of bands getting to play out, I hear America is a better place to book venues than some other countries. At least, that is what I've heard amongst some of my friends in bands in England. At the same time, though, I think some of the European or Italian or Spanish countries are more open-minded about some of the music being presented. The most prevalent progressive rock groups in America are either metal-influenced or more regressive bands. If you don't fit into these two categories, it's harder to find an audience. Of course, some of the more "out there" bands like us have an easier time appealing across genres. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, for example, played a show with us, and we had an
audience consisting of gothic kids, hippies, prog fans, metal fans and college alternative music fans. We also had both men and women at the show, both young and old. A lot of prog shows I go to, the average fan is a middle-aged white guy. Of
course, this demographic may be different in other countries. I am only going by what I see at American (East Coast) concerts

Vonorn: Much of progressive music I feel has become stuck in a speed and power formula that Emulates a cross between ELP/Yes/Genesis...etc. The work of the early Prog bands was daring and creative, they were playing music that traversed remarkable musical landscapes. When Brandon, our Bassist, plays a 70s prog CD for me, 9 out of 10 times it will have the magic and insanity that lacks in much of the current prog offerings. Live organic improv seems to have disappeared in favor of machine like stilted music that overwhelms the listener. I feel in The Red Masque we invite the listener to come along with us into a creative and sometimes scary world...but it is a living breathing world. Given birth to by us, Ze Red Masque

Brandon: I think it should be more counter-cultural and progressive like it originally was, rather than sub-cultural and put in a box. A lot of newer Prog bands seem to not the catch the spirit of it and get to choppy or too poppy or keep referencing older bands all the time. There is a lot of genre mixing and experimentation by underground bands now though that is sounding very "progressive".

Q: Which are their daily activities outside of the music? To what each one of you is devoted?

Lynnette: I have done a lot of journalism and worked as an editor for various magazines outside of the band. I'm currently looking into another line of work however. As far as outside interests, I've been studying aikido for several years now (in fact, I live in a dojo, a martial art school), and before that I studied Kenpo Karate. I am also an amateur artist and I am interested in web design (I am the webmaster for The Red Masque's web site). The band, however, is my overriding interest.

Vonorn: I also work as a producer/musician/engineer/graphic artist. I have worked on various projects from MTV to tape concrete...and beyond.

Brandon: A mope working my way to curmudgeon.

Kiarash: I have been working on a robotics project in Villanova University in the past 2 years. Occasionally I do some computer-related jobs.

Q: Is it notorious that your musical likes are very wide, What they are listening in these moments?

Lynnette: Prior to working with Brandon, I had been listening to a lot of psychedelic music and space rock, as well as garage rock and more gothic-influenced music like Dead Can Dance. However, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator and Lisa Gerard of Dead Can Dance would have to be my favorite vocalists at this point. Some of the albums I've acquired in the past couple of years include artists like Captain Beefheart, Doctor Nerve, Porcupine Tree, Peter Hammill, Hawkwind, Mushroom, Medieval Baebes, Hildegard Von Bingen, Elevenland, David Bowie, Karda Estra, Universe Zero, Present, etc.

Vonorn: Every style from classical to bluegrass/ rap/jazz/ nature's grumblings...etc. Music is a language so I like to be a multilinguist

Brandon: As Always Van Der Graaf, and Hammill, Roxy Music, Crimson. Been listening to Captain Beefheart, Hawkwind, Olivier Messiaen, Rennaissance and my own obsessive thoughts.

Kiarash: Though I have been listening to a wide variety of music in the past few years, I am specifically interested in the works which tried to integrate new and less common musical elements into the well-established body of rock music. That's one of the dominant branches of progressive music, in my opinion. Musicians like Andrew Latimer, Robert Fripp and Ritchie Blackmore have all been moving in the same direction.

Q: Again I want to thank them for your kindness. Some message for our readers?

Lynnette: I just want to thank you all for your interest in the band. Because progressive rock, in all its sub genres, is an underground movement, independent bands like us rely on the support of music fans all over the world. Without you all, the music can't be heard.

Kiarash: Thanks for supporting independent progressive music and helping us
get our music to more and more people.

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