The duo of Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert began as a death metal group in Orlando, Florida in the late 80’s. Find a live recording of them in Miami in 1990 and you’ll only recognize a few aspects that they carried on to their debut Focus in 1993. Now a duo, Cynic’s debut combines metal, melodic jazz fusion, growled vocals, Masvidal’s vocodered singing and more into a unique, dynamic and and stunning whole. The debut was remastered and rereleased in 2004. In 1995 the duo created Portal with singer/keyboardist Aruna Abrams and produced a demo of Dead Can Dance/Bel Canto inspired music that would fit well on Nettwerk Records. But because of their deal as Cynic with Roadrunner Records, Portal was a short-lived yet necessary stop on the evolutionary trail for Reinert and Masvidal with their demo available online. As Aeon Spoke, Masvidal and Reinert released two albums appealing to a wider audience with atmospheric and emotional songs that were heard on Smallville and One Tree Hill.
In 2008 Cynic released their second studio album Traced In Air, this time with the growls and guitar of Tymon Kruidenier. Traced In Air featured the intricate guitarwork and vocodered effects of Focus, along with Reinert’s re-energized percussion, yet also included an even more melodic approach to their metal arrangements. In 2010 Masvidal and Reinert decided to rework some of the songs from Traced In Air. Re-Traced is an experiment in ambient textures and dynamic songcraft putting a new spin on the Cynic sound. Carbon-Based Anatomy is the latest Cynic opus, an EP that presents various sides of the duo’s interests, from Amazon healing music, to finger-blurring guitar work to double time drum fills to progressive rock that will capture your ears and fill your heart with hope and happiness. Singer/Multi-instrumentalist Amy Correia is featured heavily throughout the EP. More on her later.
At the first date of their tour with Three and Scale the Summit, the Metal Sucks weekend in NYC, I had the pleasure of speaking to Paul and once we got a loud enough connection, introductions were made and this is what he had to say about touring, following his heart and his time with Reinert.
Where are you in the world right now?
We’re in New York City. We’re headlining a festival called Metal Sucks, which is a blog out of New York, we’re at Gramercy Theater.
What bands are you playing with? Are they different styles or mostly metal?
It’s primarily metal I’d say. I think they had three nights here and today is the more progressive type of bands. It’s a good line-up, a good night. There’s Three and Scale The Summit, Obscura, The Red Chord and a lot of bands, it started this afternoon and is going until eleven tonight.
You’re currently on tour with Three. How long have you been familiar with the band?
I’ve been familiar with them for years. I didn’t really get to know their music until the past six months or so.
Do you think your styles mesh well?
Sure, they’re doing their own thing, they have their own sound and are melodically driven and have some interesting progressive elements. I think they do fit well.
You have a new member, Brandon Giffin, bassist from The Faceless?
He’s someone we’ve known for a while, we toured with The Faceless back in ’08. He’s somebody who also lives in L.A. so it just made sense that he’d tour with us. He knows the road and he’s a talented player, a great guy and easy to hang out with.
I have some questions from a fan named Wesseley. Why the decision to redo songs from Traced In Air?
Basically we had a month off between tours. We toured almost three years for Traced In Air and there was this window where we had a full four weeks off. We thought the most productive use of that time would be to re-explore the songs from that album, a handful of them, and show people another side of Cynic. Really show the roots of the tunes because they all start acoustic. It was a look at our music and giving our fans a different perspective and just trying to keep productive.
I think you do have that delicate side throughout your history so it’s really nice to hear that. That leads into the new EP where you show your lighter side. I really like it. Is this where you want to be musically on the new EP?
I just show up for a process and let whatever happens happen. This is just where we are now. I try not to think about it too much, I just let it flow. It’s about staying out of my own way and serving a creative process and being honest about it. This is where we are.
Wesseley also wanted to know about the vocoder. Have you put that aside for the new songs?
No, there’s still vocoder. It just depends on the song. Some songs could use it as color more than others. I take that on a song-for-song basis. Traced In Air had a lot of it and it just felt appropriate for that material. Who knows, the next record could be packed with vocoder or not. It’s hard to say, it’s just really one of those things that are all about serving the songs.
I like that the new songs have choruses. Is that mainly you with pitch changes and different approaches or do you include friends and family?
It’s a combination of programmed stuff with myself and Amy who also performed on the record. It’s a medley of things.
That’s Amy Correia?
How long have you known her?
I’ve known Amy since 2004.
For those unfamiliar could you tell us a little about Amy?
Amy’s first record came out on Capitol Records in 2000, called Carnival Love, it’s a fantastic album. She’s kind of a folk artist, with a beautiful, amazing voice, an incredible songwriter, a great lyricist. They she had another album come out in ’04 called Lakeville, on Nettwerk. She just released an album herself last year called You Go Your Way. She’s an active musician, she tours and I’ve been writing and working with her as a best friend. She’s someone that’s really close to me in my life and we share a lot of things in common creatively. She’s been like a sister to me. I always try to weave her in wherever I can. It made sense to bring her in and make her a part of it considering what was happening musically.
I also hear some tabla and sitars along with Amy’s voice on Bija!. Who plays those instruments?
That’s actually Sean playing a keyboard with samples of a tabla and sitar. It’s real samples of the instruments but played tapping keyboards. Sean’s a really great pianist too. He knows how to do that stuff well.
Live you must do things to create all the sounds heard on the record. Does Sean have a sound trigger board when on stage?
He has (something) he uses for sampling. We don’t use guitar synths on the record. All those sounds are our guitars, but they are analog guitars with interesting sound design or just how I create the sounds. It’s all ambient analog sounds. The drum stuff is Sean uses the samplers for very specific sections of songs. Just incidental stuff that adds to the broader picture. On the record it’s Sean and I and Sean Malone on bass. He played on our other records and he’s a phenomenal bass player. It’s really Cynic’s first real trio record in a sense. Kind of like how Mars Volta is in the way that it’s two guys behind the project and we get different musicians depending on what’s happening.
You do get some amazing musicians so that works out well.
You want to surround yourself with as much talent as possible.
What is it about each of your and Sean’s personalities that has kept you two together through so many years and projects?
I’m not sure if it’s as much our personalities as it is our unconditional love and passion for music and our connection in music. We hear and see things very similarly and have a very similar vision in terms of what we like and how we think things should sound. That’s really where we meet. That’s what has kept us together, has been the music since we were kids. We met as musicians at twelve years old so it’s kind of been the dialogue since the beginning.
On this tour do you have a long set where you can cover your whole career?
On this tour our set is about 70 minutes or so. We’re doing the new album, songs from Traced In Air, from Focus. It’s an adventure.
That long of a set gives you a chance to breath and do different things to your songs that you wouldn’t normally be able to do in a short set.
We just play the songs, just try to deliver the tunes. That’s kind of the gig.
You’ve toured with the likes of Meshuggah and Opeth. What have you learned from some of the bands you’ve toured with?
Just to completely surrender to the unknown of each day. It’s just a very unpredictable process so you just go with it and don’t argue with it. It’s just really about handling the whole thing of living in a vehicle that’s constantly moving, not getting a lot of rest, thriving off the adrenaline of the performances and just enjoying the ride. For me it’s just fun to get out there and play, and share the music and get in front of audiences. It’s always fun to do that. I just keep my focus there, about what we’re doing there, just sharing the music with people in a room.
One last question: Who are some of your favorite guitarists?
That’s hard to answer. I’m all over the place. I could start with Andres Segovia, as a master of classical guitar. I’m a big fan of jazz guys like Pat Metheny, Alan Holdsworth and I’m kind of all over the map, really. I grew up with an older brother who turned me on to Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page, some great players in that realm like Steve Vai. So I like it all. I’m a fan of originality and guitar players that have something to say. It varies day to day, I’m picking influences all the time from different places. I like folk guitarists, finger-picking type guys. I used to be a big fan of Michael Hedges who passed away, he was a New Age guy that was a phenomenal acoustic player. There’s so much talent out there that is inspiring. I like some of the ambient guys too, like Kevin Shields and Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. There’s so many tasteful players doing a lot of interesting stuff sonically.
It sounds to me like you’re picking guitarists who have a definite voice.
Absolutely. I’m a fan of people who find their language and have something to say as an artist, as a musician. I think I’m a fan of good artistry more than of genres or styles because that to me transcends it all.
I’m sure there will plenty of fans standing at the foot of the stage studying your playing too.
Totally, there always are.
Thanks for the talk, I’m looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks in Hollywood.
Cool, that’s the end of the tour, we’re L.A. guys.
Just look for the tall guy in the audience, that’s me.
See Cynic on tour with Three and Scale the Summit through November 23, 2011 where they’ll play the Key Club.