The festival season is nearly upon us again, and it’s time to start getting excited about all the great events happening across the world and the memories they create for people. Over in mainland Europe though, they really know how to put together a great festival line-up, and a lot of eyes are focusing on the extraordinary event that is Dokk’em Open Air in Dokk’em, The Netherlands. We recently had the honor of interviewing metal legend Paul Masvidal at Dokk’em Open Air 2014 about how far the DTA Death legacy will go and about creating a new experience for music fans. Paul Masvidal has been playing metal for a long time. Coming out of the Florida metal community, he played with the seminal death metal band Death, and he and his childhood friend Sean Reinert founded the band Cynic way back in the late 1980s. After one landmark album, 1994’s Focus, the band broke up, briefly reforming as Portal, and then he and Reinert worked together in a more acoustic band called Aeon Spoke. Finally, 14 years after Focus, Cynic re-formed and issued a followup album, Traced in Air, which I called one of the best metal albums of the decade. Cynic is now more than 22 years old. In that time, you’ve been involved with several different bands — Death, Portal, and Aeon Spoke, among others. When you write a song, do you think about who you’re writing for? How did the songs on the album come about? I generally am writing for myself in terms of what I’m hearing or trying to communicate. Ultimately, I don’t know what that means other than maintaining an honesty and realness in the music. I write all the songs on acoustic guitar and some ideas on piano. We went through 4 stages of pre-production. The first demo started with a bare bones guitar / vocal. Demo #2 introduced sketch drums or percussion, #3 introduced counter guitar parts, bass, vocal layers and other ideas to build the arrangement. The 4th demo was very close to the album with production ideas in place and full blown performances. Looking back, on your career as a metal legend what do you feel is your greatest triumph? I don’t know how to answer that question because I feel like I’m still working. You’re never quite satisfied with what you’ve done it’s kind of the curse of being an artist, a musician. You’re constantly seeking to write the perfect song and make the perfect record. I feel like I’m still in process. I’m a work in progress (laughs). I’m grateful for what’s happened, especially after we disappeared for a long time…that we were able to come back and actually have some legs… that was pretty cool. It’s one of those things where if I were on my deathbed and / or 80 years old and had stopped playing guitar and was asked “now that you look back” but for now it’s still the main activity of my life. Every day I pick up the guitar and play music. I’m still in the thick of it. At this point, if there is a triumph, I suppose it’s making a living as a musician. At the end of the day that’s what it is. Having carved out my own path as a musician and artist and being able to put food on the table, and making a living doing it. That’s the greatest accomplishment. Also doing something worthwhile that I enjoy, and being able to share music with others, to inspire other musicians that’s at the top of the list too. To inspire other artists to do interesting things and make interesting music. Somewhere between those two maybe, that’s what it is. And then the converse question, what’s your greatest disappointment? I don’t know if I’d call it a disappointment but the biggest learning curve has been getting my head around the music business and learning how to navigate what it is. Cynic has not had an easy road and we’ve trusted a lot of people and as a result have been taken advantage of a lot. That’s probably true for many artists, especially those who are doing ok. I don’t feel victimized in the least, but I do feel like I’ve been naive to a lot and have had to learn many things the hard way, and …maybe that’s all a matter of perception. Maybe I’m just been good at beating myself up! So perhaps it’s par for the course in any journey involving dedication, but as someone who is more interested in the next song rather than the next business deal, I’ve had to take close looks at aspects of the business I never thought I’d be exposed to. It can also be challenging for an artist to place value on their work. Certainly is for me. I’m essentially doing this as art for art’s sake, because if there wasn’t any money there I’d still be doing it, and it’s something I’ve done for a lifetime, and most of the time there wasn’t any money, and that’s ok. Just out of sheer love, a figure eight shape keeps doing what it does. I think that bittersweet combination of putting a price tag on what I do and merging it with the world of money is really a job in itself. One has to shift gears. Some artists and musicians naturally gravitate towards that and know how to be more skilled business folk than others. Sean (Reinert) and I have always put the music first at the expense of everything, literally, and I feel good knowing that. Ultimately an artist learns how to protect himself and bring value to his own work. It’s a game of psychology and nonsense. So in a nutshell, the dark side of the business would be the challenge. But, we’ve gotten better at claiming that shadow! The part that looks at dollar signs and not artistic merit. There’s a dance in here somewhere, and it’s all about balance. We’ve come a long way and learn something new every day. In the end, the music will always get the most love and attention. How could it not?! I know you do a lot of TV stuff. Is it weird to have so many people listen to stuff you’ve recorded yet not have any clue who you are? I like it… I’ve done a lot behind the scenes stuff over the years and I’m still doing it now. Being a session guy and composing for TV/ Film is great because you have very specific parameters due to there being an image it needs to relate to, so the writing process is more structured and it pushes me in different directions. It’s also nice because I get to be transparent and invisible and not a dude in a band. It allows me to play a different role, and I enjoy that. To talk about some of the early 90s stuff. You’ve played in Cynic and Death two of the most influential bands in all of the genre. How are those bands alike and how are they different? It’s funny… Obviously I played with Cynic originally because Sean has been my mate essentially since elementary school and that was always its own thing. I cultivated a relationship with Chuck as a teenager and started working for him, doing some tours leading up to Human. And then with Human, the timing was perfect… in fact we had just turned the corner and we were kind of over it in a way and we were more into jazz, but we still had a foot in the death metal door and understood the language. Chuck had also turned the corner from being a pure old school death metal guy who had just a mission for brutality to being open to new sounds. I remember he used to diss a lot of prog back in the day, haha… Then he came around and we were keen to that and getting him to appreciate (the music) and I think he also turned that corner where he realized there wasn’t a lot of places to take the sound other than getting more musical. With death metal if you’re going to keep that extreme sound the only thing you can do to evolve is to get more technical and progressive that’s one way of maintaining brutality and having the songwriting evolve in some way. I think he got that, he was like “this is a way I can grow and expand my sound.” Of course bringing new musicians into the group would allow for that. It was interesting having all those things coming together. Ultimately, I think Cynic and Death share similar interests in terms of the type of death metal we enjoyed. The differences would be that Cynic was in it’s own realm sonically. We incorporated lots of clean sounds and a dynamic approach to the songs which was not common in Death’s earlier music especially. Obviously having a melodic lead voice changes a lot too. Cynic leaned towards a more jazz fusion inspired metal in terms of harmonics and rhythmic components as to where I think Chuck’s proggy leanings were more old school based. That would be an obvious difference to my ears. What was the atmosphere like at the time? What was the feel? Did you think “Oh My God We’re creating a genre that will become huge” Haha. Well no… that’s the thing..one doesn’t think about what it is, you just do what you do. We did what came natural. I don’t think you calculate any form of success with real art. The moment you sit down and think you’ve got a hold of it, you’re screwed. It’s a process of doing it and being true to yourself, and hopefully having fun in the process. For us we were laughing and smiling the whole time (laughs) it was just all about having a ball and making a cool record. We didn’t think anything of it. I don’t think people put that together until later and started saying “Holy shit this is different, this a turn in the scene” … it took some time. Look at Focus – it took a while for the world to realize what we were doing. I don’t think we ourselves quite understood it. I just don’t think you can create art in that way, it just happens and that’s what makes it magical..by being honest with who you are in that moment and trying to capture something real. So when you were 17-18-20 how many hours a day where you practicing? I remember pretty much from my early teens on turning that corner where I was like, I’m going to play all the time. And instead of going to the beach with my friends I was just going to practice. I kind of became anti-social for a while and didn’t have many friends. My friends where Sean and people I played music with. My world became music. I was totally obsessed with it. I still am, I guess. But I think at the time back then, I pulled my guitar out at the airport, at the waiting room of the doctors office, its what you do with your spare time all the time. I was just talking to a friend about this. As cool as all the social media world is that we live in nowadays, back then you didn’t have as many of the distractions, so music or an instrument was the escape all the time. It’s what you ran too. It’s really easy to lose site of that. I’ve found myself logging into facebook and then spending hours looking at things that don’t even interest me. And I think there is danger in that. Taking away time and even creative energy. Like, if you want to be a writer you just have to write all the time. It’s tricky because its a great way to stay in touch with people and all that but to make great art, it seems you have to tune that out.. get tunnel vision in a way. There’s a big thing thrown around about 10,000 hours and have you put in your 10,000 hours? What they mean by that is have you spent that much time cultivating your craft. But, that drive, motivation must come naturally from a pure place. Some people just want to keep playing and there’s plenty of people who don’t want to, and we discover this reality for ourselves as we get older. I have plenty of friends who’ve said, “I wanted to play, but I couldn’t keep picking it up and you did” And I don’t even know why I did I just did. To me it felt something that just made sense. It was like, this is what I want to do. I’m really grateful for it and it’s given me a purpose in life and a big part of why I exist. In many ways, for being a musician saved my life. It gave me a place to put a lot of energy that needed somewhere to go. I don’t even know if I answered the question (laughter) we’re just talking… What is your personal songwriting process? How do you write a Cynic song? I’m always writing new music. When it comes to a cynic song, I extract the ideas in my library that have a cynic vibe. I then develop those ideas until they form into a cohesive song that generates a certain feeling or energy. Much of what becomes the cynic choices is the harmonic and melodic choices and how those are implemented with the rhythms. We lean onto certain colors and shapes that indicate the cynic space, and it seems to write itself when we’re aligned with that energy. I tend to be someone who puts in major hours. I feel like at some level it becomes a health hazard, would you have any experience with that? Totally! I went through periods where I got super skinny and I wasn’t eating and I was eating like shit (chips and candy) when I ate. It was one of those things where it was like “Oh boy I’ve got to find some balance here” also in terms of living a life and actually having a social life and being normal is what I’ve found to be important as well… if I’m cooped up in my room practicing all the time, when I go out after, I can be really awkward and I don’t have any social chops because I haven’t been around people. It’s a sacrifice of trading skill sets! Now I think, having been doing it for a while its more about how you USE that time. Like, if you put in a good 2 hours really focused and you break it up. Like play for 20 minutes take a 5 minute breather and pace yourself. Because otherwise it’s impossible to stay focused for that long, at least for me it is. I always said Cynic’s sound is the result of major ADD. We were the first generation to be labeled that, at least it made for some interesting music. You’ve got to know your habits and know when you’re really absorbing information, or when you’re in a more abstract creative phase. So it’s really kind of a dance with the mind and learning how you work until over time we get better at it. It’s kind of like how in school some of us cram for exams some of us have been studying the whole time. Everyone is different with that stuff. It’s a personal habit and you’ve got to discover it for yourself. It’s unique for everybody and that’s the cool part. To kind of move the interview a bit more back on track.. What was it like hanging out with Chuck Schuldiner? It was like hanging out with a friend. Chuck was basically an old friend who felt like an older brother to me. He had very strong opinions and views on life, and it was just fun hanging with him. We would do silly things. Of course we connected over music, but we had a lot of things in common too. He was just one of those people who you just wanted to be around because he was super chill and laid back most of the time. I know there’s the other side of his reputation and unfortunately some of that is true and it’s just how the music business really stressed him out. It just kicked his butt in many ways. The same with any artist that is realizing how corrupt and dysfunctional (the industry) can be. And there were definitely moments when he was definitely riding on the edge and saying “I’m going to lose my mind, this business is driving me crazy” at the end of the day all he really cared about was music and hanging out. Listening to music, talking music, playing songs, and hanging out with our furries (pets). He was just like any good friend who you have a lot in common with an enjoy being around, it was that kind of dynamic. And I think I had an interesting edge, compared to other people who had played with Chuck, because I knew him since his demo days as a pen pal, so we forged a friendship as kids. I think there was something to be said about making a record with him and there was something there, a trust, that made for a special album. It really opened him up. That’s part of what is so cool about it. You have to like the people you’re working with especially if you’re working with him. It’s great because you see a lot of interviews with Chuck online and you can see that he was this chill guy and he was really smart and thoughtful. People can connect with him through his work and legacy now and his work is still communicating very strongly to even new generations, that says a lot. So if you were such good friends with Chuck why did you leave Death and stay with Cynic? Chuck had basically asked me to join from the beginning. Back when I played with him for Leprosy, post Rick Rozz, I was in high school and I didn’t know what it was but I felt like Death was always Chucks’ baby. And I had my own stubborn vision of what I wanted to do for my own stuff and Sean was my partner in crime, we were really close and we had a pact to stick together and follow through with our own work. And then with Spiritual Healing, I had the opportunity to join again, and with Human more than ever. But, our hearts were so invested in Cynic because it was rooted in our early childhood and it was our songs, our music. Whereas Chucks’ songs where Chucks’. It was a personal thing that I needed to do because it would give me more creative fulfillment and happiness. Cynic has been a life long labor of love and I couldn’t imagine having done it any other way. From your position with a lot of influence as a death metal guitar hero. How do you feel about the modern metal scene? There’s a lot out there. Especially with the internet it’s almost information overload because there’s so many bands. But the best groups shine. The scene is kind of in a cool place right now. What I like about it is that what Cynic was doing back in the day that was so outcast and not normal is now a norm and fairly common. To be experimental, psychedelic and have a wide range of influences, with songs exploring dynamics and fresh ideas is fairly common now. So I feel like it’s come a long way and I’m excited about that. I feel like the scene has grown…someone would argue that there’s just as much crap out there too. But I feel like there is something cool happening and definitely an evolution in the sound that’s taking place. It always comes and goes, and there’s going to be bands that keep the primitive thing alive and other that just want to evolve and that has been going on forever. Great artists always stand out. Real musicians and real bands stand out. You can sniff out authenticity in all art forms. It’s one of those things where metal is kind of its own subculture, it’s actually kind of amazing. I’m thrilled about how eclectic and open minded the scene is becoming. Less rules and more freedom. Having a multidimensional sound is more celebrated these days, and that’s important. ‘Focus’ was extremely ahead of its time. It took almost two decades for metal acts to release ‘Focus’-like albums and also receive massive praise from the metal community. What are your thoughts on bands such as Between the Buried and Me, The Ocean etc. and their current success? I dig and encourage any band that is interested in trying something new and pushing the envelope musically and conceptually. For me, that is the creative mojo that drives the universe and speaks to something real in all of us as listeners. Both BTBAM and The Ocean are great bands in that they seek to expand and explore. Their success is our success. We’re all in this together and it’s awesome to see more challenging music reach more people. What do you think of djent? It’s the evolution of Meshuggah’s sound into all of the variations of a theme. It’s the Meshuggah blueprint gone poppier, gone emo, gone proggier, gone fusiony. Is there a djent black metal band yet? (Laughs) It’s like you’ve taken this sound and you do all these kind of colors based on what that sound is. It’s cool, I think that there’s some interesting stuff going on. I’m amazed that out of what Meshuggah essentially invented multiple sub genres have been spawned. What I do like about it is that for the most part it requires some musical skill to pull it off. You’re playing over the bar line and often doing technical, rhythmically complex stuff. I also like the drony monotonous aspect where it just puts you in a hypnotic other place. That’s what I felt with Meshuggah especially when we toured with them. It wasn’t about the individual songs but about this sound that they would just pummel you with. You don’t even need to really listen, you just feel it. It’s like you took a drug! It’s kind of magical that way. What needs to happen in djent like with any other genre is just pushing the envelope further and bringing something new to it. That’s the job of the musicians and the artists. There’s going to be something new, the next phase of djent and we don’t know what that is yet. What do you love so much about music? I love that it’s an infinite source of inspiration. There’s really no end to music. I feel like I’m an amateur at music and I will be for the rest of my life because there’s so much I can do with it and so much room for growth. It’s this immense language and world and until I’m on my death bed I’ll be a student of it. Having a path of music before me, certainly keeps life interesting, because it feels so mysterious and unknowable. As complex and amazing as it is with all these layers and components to it, I also feel like I don’t understand how it happens. I always answer the question – What do you do for a living? with “I arrange sound molecules.” You can’t see music you can read it but you can’t touch it. It’s an auditory art. And we essentially create shapes, sonic sculptures. It’s such a mysteriously, odd art form when you think about it in an abstract way, and I think that’s fascinating. Music is a magical thing and I love how incredibly subjective it can be. A sad song can be inspiring to one person and miserable to another and vice versa. There’s no rules… it’s kind of like this really personal yet hugely open and expansive art form that does it all. I just feel lucky that it found me. I didn’t really choose to be a musician, I definitely went the path and decided that there’s no turning, back but I feel like it chose me. There was no backup plan, it was just like “This is what I do and what I will be doing” And no other career was really there for me. I think it’s an honor to be a musician I feel lucky to have this gift, it’s something I will never take for granted. There’s so many things … I could talk about it forever. Who are some of your favorite artists? Probably a lot of folk artists like The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. My mom turned me on to a lot of cool stuff. My older brother got me into classic rock like Pink Floyd. Those are my roots. But I got into jazz in college where I studied classical guitar. Thus, I got into classical music, I really enjoy ambience too. I am really all over the map, really modern, and in a way, pop too. Jazz to classical to world music. Do you play any other instruments? I do some piano, a little of everything, but guitar is my main one. Why do you use vocal processing? At first, I started using it for a couple reasons. At first, I didn’t just want to have a regular voice, I wanted to have something unique to it. At first I thought it was really cool, I thought it made me sound like an alien, kind-of like this trippy alien feature. I think I was also hiding behind it a little bit because I was insecure about my voice, so it made me discover who I was. Over time, it relates now because it’s futuristic and has an interesting aesthetic to the band. Now it’s part of it, a piece of the pie. Why did you choose Cynic as a name, especially with being so spiritual? Well, actually, the origin’s of “cynic” actually a misnomer. Cynic has gained a negative connotation over the years. The roots of cynic were from the ancient Greeks. Socrates and Plato and all these ancient guys said that happiness was not an external experience. The main [cynic] was Diogenes. He used to walk around broad daylight with a lamp. When asked why, he said he was trying to find an honest man. That’s the roots of cynicism but it got spun out to someone who questions the truth of a situation, kind-of looking for trouble. The real cynics were just people seeking truth, the words of any spiritual teachings. The words meaning changed over time. But it’s okay, we are a metal band, we need a little darkness. Does you daily life relate to your spiritual life? You know, it’s right in front of us. It’s not over there, not behind you, it’s right here. I feel like it’s everything that’s happening; it’s all one thing. This music we create is almost closer to the truth than all these words. It’s mysterious to think of what a musician does. You’re sculpting sound molecules, creating these vibes. It’s trippy you know. Final comments? Thank you for your interest and questions. Inner to outer, peace and love.