CYNIC’S PAUL MASVIDAL: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
Cynic guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal was one of the chillest metal dudes I’ve ever met. When I sat down with him at a busy New York City diner as one of many journalists cycling through his busy day of press, he was completely calm, cool, collected and unphased by the relative pandemonium surrounding him. He was also well-spoken and articulate, and most of all very humble, willing to answer my questions about the band’s now-storied legacy, getting back together, writing and recording for Cynic’s new record Traced in Air [read our review], and what fuels him as a musician. Our conversation, after the fold.
So why now after all this time, doing whatever you were doing, getting the band back together?
You know, I’m not sure really other than just paying attention to the synchronicities and just trying to go with the flow of my life and trying not to resist what’s natural. I’m finding that when I just stop trying to force and impose my will and just allow things to happen, it kind of just works. This is an extreme example of that. The record came about so effortlessly and organically and it felt really true once I was in the process. I was like “Oh, I know why I’m doing this now.” It was a matter of me letting it happen. I could get into all the synchronicities and symbolic things that took place as a result of the reunion last year. It was kind of on a real external level. We got back from the reunion shows, and I got together with Sean. We had “Evolutionary Sleepers” like the guinea pig song just to see, and the response was tremendous. I didn’t really expect that. I got together with Sean in my studio, and we just worked on some ideas. It was at that point I was like “Okay, this makes sense. This is a return to innocence. This is our youth. This is my formative years. This is what I’ve been doing since I was a little kid.” And it felt like that, it felt really pure. Two years ago if you told me I would be redoing Cynic and sitting here doing an interview in a diner, I would have laughed at you. I mean it really was not in the cards at all.
After you did the reunion shows, and you guys were excited about doing another album, was it sort of a battle to get back into the groove of writing or did it come naturally?
Really natural, yeah. I’ve kind of been writing essentially 15-20-30 songs a year for the past 15 years. So I accrued a lot of music, not to mention all the instrumental music, TV work, and all that crazy stuff I’ve done. I had a lot of stuff, and I always do. When people keep asking “Who are you listening to,” it’s like I’m not really listening to anything because there is so much damn noise in my head that I’m trying to get out. It seems that it’s always like that. I’m just trying to deal with my own music essentially, and eventually I need to play catch-up and hear what’s going on out there because I know there’s a lot of pretty cool stuff happening. I think as a songwriter who has some chops now and understands how to write a tune. I think I know the difference between a good sound that’s working and what isn’t. It was more just steering the energy in one direction or just paying attention to what felt good. You know what I mean? It’s like the channel is open, and it’s like “Oh this makes sense, so let’s develop this idea.” For Sean too, as a drummer, it was like a return to who we are. All this stuff that we’ve done until then has kind of formed this. It’s more natural. It’s just doing the work.
Going back to heavy music after spending some time away from it, was that a return to home for you?
Oh yeah, sure. We were metal kids. I grew up calling Tom Araya and playing him some [Inaudible] over the phone when I was 13. “Dude I learned another Show No Mercy song.” I was one of those metal nerd kids that got into jazz into high school and morphed into this other musician. This is our roots, so it feels really natural. So when people ask why they growl, I really like the use of a growl especially dynamically as an instrument to make parts compactable and make things bigger or smaller. It’s a cool tool in terms of arrangement This is all part of who we are.
Well I think it was a combination of having a bunch of labels appear and a bunch of offers actually. It was more the logic of big fish/small pond verses small fish/big pond. Roadrunner has become the major metal label, but they also have a lot of opinions on how your songs should sound, production, the artwork. They are very vested in the creative aspects, and we were loving the language Seasons of Mist had where they were like “This is your gig, we just want to get behind it and let you do what you do.” That spoke volumes to me because I finally had enough freedom to just trust my instincts and follow a vision and not have a bunch of people telling me how to do it. It’s really liberating. I think it was some of that anxiety that killed us in the beginning with the business coming in on us, guys in our late teens/early 20s. We were just going “Man I just want to do my music. What are all these opinions that people are telling me?” They really beat us up emotionally. So there was a certain awareness of that. I just liked the more indie approach to this. I liked going more grassroots which has been Cynic’s whole process. We haven’t had a whole lot of publicity this past year, these past 15 years. Even in ’93, it was hard. We went on tour with Cannibal Corpse. Can you imagine “you suck”? It was a rough ride for us. I love Cannibal Corpse. The guys are great. As a package with Cynic it’s not great. The audiences are different. We meet somewhere, but I don’t know. The scene is bigger now. There are all these sub genres. Goth is a real kind of thing. Back then it was death metal. If you were doing anything other than heavy metal, it was death metal. We got thrown in there, but we were never part of that. We were our own. Seasons definitely has a roster that I could care less about for the most part. It seems like they have all over the map a bunch of bands that I’ve never even heard of. The president of the label seems to be a real fan and really kind of supportive of what we’re doing as artists, and what meant more to me was them trusting our process.
Based on what you said earlier about not keeping up with metal the last couple of years, I don’t know if you know, but there’s a nice young crop of bands who site you guys as influences directly and sound like you guys. One I can think of right off the top of my head is Intronaut. Are you familiar with that band at all?
They’re a California band.
I got to check them out.
Where are they from L.A. or something?
They’re actually from the Bay area.
Oh, I got to check them out.
There’s another one called Scale the Summit. I forget where they’re from.
Man I haven’t heard any of this stuff. I got to check it out.
We posted a thing on our website and everyone is like “It sounds just like Cynic.”
Oh cool. I got to check it out.
It’s a trip, man. I didn’t expect that. It encourages me to trust my instincts because you realize as long as you stay honest about what you’re doing… Focus was made kind of against all odds. We had a series of obstacles that were fighting that record, but we trusted ourselves and went and did it. We just said “Fuck everybody; this is what we’re going to do.” So it tells me to have faith in the way things are and trust in what you do. That’s so cool. I want to hear these bands. I kind of heard over the years that a band sounds like us, and then I would hear them and not hear it, but maybe they got better at it. Maybe it’s more refined or something. There is a little gratitude with that.
Sort of related to that is over the time, I wouldn’t say Focus was overlooked or not understood, but it definitely seems that over the years it built up this legend of this amazing album. It seems that it’s being really appreciated as a classic. How do you feel about that?
It’s a trip. Again, I never expected or calculated that kind of stuff. We just try to stay honest about a process and do our work. The rest is in the universe’s hands. It’s true for everything we do in our lives. Imagine if we could calculate making an influential record, everyone would be doing it. I don’t know what to say. It’s nice.
So what can fans expect from the new album compared to the old stuff or just compared to any of the stuff you’ve done?
To me it’s definitely the evolution of Focus. It’s not related to Focus at all other than that it’s the core band. I was kind of the main writer always. So it’s still that core thing. For me as a songwriter, it feels much more evolved. It feels more developed. The language, harmonically, lyrically, melodically, it’s just richer and more dynamic. It has bigger parts and smaller parts. It’s again pushing the envelope in so many ways. It’s more futuristic than Focus. It just seems it’s a more modern kind of approach. Part of it has to do with the way that we can make records now, although we did everything kind of old school and analog with this album. It’s just still better gear. Those old compressors sound better. To me it just sounds more like a grown up kind of band that has a more refined sense of song and all these other different aspects that are at a different place.
So the album is out at the end of October [now November 25th for physical, downloads available now -Ed.], and then you guys will probably do a U.S. tour.
Yes, we should know more soon. Today we’re going to see our U.S. agent, and we’re talking about January/February in terms of big city stuff then maybe a more full-length thing later in the year. For sure we’ll hit New York really soon, which I’m really excited about because we haven’t played any stage show since Focus so we’re due big time.
I am. It was funny because back in the Focus days there were certain cities that were memorable and one of them was New York. Our last gig ever with Focus was at the Limelight. That was kind of, in some ways, coming back to New York will be really cool because it’s a renewal.
Was there a reason that you choose only to do European shows on the reunion tour last year?
No, it just worked out that way. It was one of those things that kind of just happened in terms of promoters being interested in booking us. There weren’t a lot of U.S. options in terms of the reunion. There were, but it was one gig here and one gig there, and it was just too expensive on a practical level to pull off. It ain’t cheap touring, man.
Any final words for the legions of Cynic fans?