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Interview with Cynic

Posted in Cynic, interview, metal interview with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

Paul Masvidal is the founding member and vocalist/guitarist of the progressive metal band Cynic.  Since the inception of Cynic in 1987, Paul has been fusing the influence of his eclectic taste in music with his obvious musical talents to push the boundaries of metal music.  Max performed an interview with him to gain more insight into Cynic’s sound.

Courtesy of Gibson.com

I’m here with Paul from Cynic.  We’re at the Chicago leg of Cynic’s tour with Devin Townsend, Between the Buried and Me, and Scale the Summit.  On both of your albums, Traced in Air and Focus, you make use of that vocoder, pseudo-alien voice.  Is there a certain feel you’re going for when you use that voice?

Yeah.  I think originally the decision to do that back in the day was that I was insecure as a singer.  It was a combination of feeling that I didn’t really like how my natural voice sounded and could hide behind this alien voice.  But also, it ended up making a lot of sense once we got into it.  It added this sci-fi, kinda modern quality to the music and the whole vibe that worked.  I didn’t want a traditional melodic voice.  I was thinking of something just…different, but I didn’t know what that was.  And then over the years, since Focus and [moving] into Traced in Air and through numerous other projects, I think I learned how to essentially sing and found my voice.  So, the Traced in Air voice became like a 50% human, 50% android thing.  And it seems like it’s going more and more human.  We just did an EP and I did it all clean vocals.  So, it’s just kinda morphing.  But I think there is a trademark-y quality to that voice that’s part of Cynic’s sound.  It’ll always kinda be integrated, it’s just a question of how much.  Because on the first record there’s no human, it’s just completely android.  Which at times is cool, but it’s limiting if you really want to sing.  Because the technology isn’t there yet where, if you really kinda get into it, it doesn’t track great, y’know.  Especially in a live context.  So, I’m kinda trying to find that middle ground where I can still touch on that color and have that vibe going but also be able to free it up and have a more organic voice too.


-You mentioned that your new EP is all clean vocals.  Are you finding then that you’ll eventual move towards purely human vocals on all of your future recordings?

Yeah, who knows?  I mean, it’s funny that although there’s this human voice happening on the new stuff [the EP], it’s like…sci-fi/prog/folk.  It still sounds really modern and interesting.  But I think it has to do with the melodies and harmonies.  You start realizing that it’s the vibe vs. just an effect.  It’s almost like you don’t want to rely on the effect for anything.  The music has got to feel that way first.  But I dont know, we’ll see.  I’m sure there’ll still be some of it, it’s just that it’s one of those things that keeps evolving.  I find that I’m refining it constantly.  But it is kinda part of Cynic’s thing, it’s just figuring out how it works in the context of new material.


So, with both of Cynic’s albums you guys used Robert Venosa for the artwork.  Does his artwork mirror the subject matter of the lyrics and/or the music itself?

Well, since I was an adolescent, I’ve kinda been obsessed with Venosa.  I used to buy postcards and posters of his work from a little esoteric bookstore where I grew up on Miami.  And, it was one of those things where it just resonated with me.  It made a lot of sense what he’s doing.  It’s like one of those artists that you see their work and you just connect with it immediately; it just speaks to you.  I’d had that feeling with him since I was really young.  So, when we finally got signed to Roadrunner in the early 90s, we basically had an option to get artwork.  So, I contacted his publisher and they said to just call him directly, which I was shocked about because I thought he was some dude that like lived 100 years ago or something.  I didn’t even know he was a human, it was just really trippy.  It turned out that he was this really sweet guy who turned into this mentor, kinda friend for me.  To this day, we talk regularly and have a good friendship.  I almost feel like I’ve been trying to capture what he’s doing in his paintings sonically from day one.  How do I get it to sound like this? What this looks like, what this feels like. Y’know? (laughs) To me, it’s all the same thing really.  It’s just a different form.  The expression is the same.  Yeah, there is just some innate connection that’s really deep with Venosa that feels really pure.  And that’s why we go to it, it just kinda resonates.

Are you spiritual in any way?  On the newer album you include mantras and “om”s. Does this reflect your personal beliefs and convictions?

Since the Focus days, I’ve been actively meditating.  Just kinda, doing the work.  Trying to unearth all of the monsters and look at them and befriend them.  And at the same time, kind of just understand who I am and who we are in the greater sense…as a planet, as a species and then getting beyond that, just as a collective really.  I’ve been on the path a long time.  I would say Buddhism has definitely been the route for about 10 years now.  Yeah, it’s really kinda one of those things where as an artist your lyrics are an extension of your life and what you do.  It seems like if Traced in Air is more an earth-human struggle concept vs the first album when I was really new to all the stuff and I was really young and more innocent.  It seems like it’s gotten more intense and real in terms of what I’m getting at.  I’m getting closer to the core of something.  But, it never ends.  We’re on this journey forever or at least as long as we’re alive here.  It’s not about getting anywhere, it’s just about showing up for what’s happening.  So, that’s kinda the trick I think.  Just being present, being here.

-A somewhat less intense question now.  What have you been listening to as of late?  And what are some of your overall favorite artists?

God, I’m all over the place.  I’m a huge Radiohead fan.  I like this kinda slowcore group that I discovered recently from Iceland called múm.  They’re really great.  I also like Mew, another cool group.  Sigur Rós.  I like a lot of experimental stuff, in terms of poppier styles.  Fusion and Jazz, like the guitar player Ben Monder of New York, Pat Metheny, Allan Holdsworth, a lot of fusion guys.  I guess I haven’t been too keen on a lot of metal lately.  It just seems like it’s been more experimental rock.  We’ve been there for a long time.  It’s funny how we listen to a bunch of different stuff, but somehow the music comes out pretty heavy.  But I think it makes for more original and interesting music because you’re pulling from many different reference points.


-I was here last year when you guys played with Meshuggah.  The Cynic fans were of course very receptive, but there were a few Meshuggah fans heckling you.  Being that you guys are so different and diverse, does that happen a lot?  What goes through your head when something like that occurs?

Well, it’s funny because the little bit that may happen these days is nothing compared to what we experienced when we first started.  When you’re touring with a group like Cannibal Corpse in the early 90s, that was rough man.  Especially with this music, it was like no one got it.  It’s like what’re you guys doing, man?  This is not cool.  Clean parts?  Melodic vocals?  I mean, we even had a chick growling and playing keyboards.  And there were just no women in the scene, you know (laughs).  So, the whole thing was breaking all the rules in a sense.  I think in these extreme genres, you’re gonna get people that are fixed and don’t want to see things differently.  They just want to see things the way they imagine them to be.  I think the last time that happened, when I even heard them, because I usually don’t even hear them since there’s so much going on, I think I just said: someone give that person a hug.  You know?  They just want to be heard.  It’s like the class clown saying “pay attention to me!!!”  It’s kind of one of those things that I don’t take personally, it has nothing to do with us really.  It’s their stuff you know? (laughs)  I pretty much ignore it most of the time.

-It seems like people just don’t like to see music progress sometimes.

Yeah, I think it’s hard for people to be challenged a lot of times.  When you see an artist that’s maybe leaving the boundaries of what you’re familiar with.  It’s just not comfortable for some people.  Like, “Wait, that’s not cool.  You can’t act this way.  This genre should be this way!”  Which is really everything that we’re against.  We’ve always been about pushing the envelope and leaving the safety zones.  I think that’s the duty of any artist.  We’re here to bring something new to the table, it’s too easy to rip people off.    But, I think it’s one of those things where everyone has their own journey and process and we’re just trying to be on ours, regardless.


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