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Cynic’s Paul Masvidal: “We Were Interested in Richer, Deeper Understanding of Music.”

August 5, 2014

Cynic_Paul_Sean_2011_small_(c)Mike_ EllerCynic is probably not one of the most household name as far as heavy metal bands go. In fact, up until not too long ago, they were fairly unknown, with only a single full-length album to their name (Focus, 1993). Perhaps their biggest claim to fame was when founding members Paul Masvidal (guitar) and Sean Reinert (drums) played on fellow Florida band Death’s seminal album Human (1991).

In 1994, Cynic broke up or so it seemed.

Despite their limited output and relatively short existence, Cynic eventually gained a massive following amongst progressive metal bands. Around 2006, Masvidal and Reinert (now living in LA) learned of Cynic’s new found visibility and decided to give the band another shot. In 2008, they released their second full length Traced in Air. Over the next couple of years they released a couple of EPs, and earlier this year they released their third full length Kindly Bent to Free Us.

Though the band’s profile had risen in the metal world they were still fairly obscure outside of this extreme niche. That was until May, when Masvidal and Reinert both came out as gay in a Los Angeles Times front page story.

Unfortunately, being a gay heavy metal musician is still big news and not entirely accepted in the community.

Our Chad Sims talked with Masvidal about the band, the tour (which stops at the TLA on Thursday) and why they felt now was a good time to come out.

Thanks for talking with us. To start off, how is the tour going?

Good. We just got back from a West Coast leg, which ended in LA, which is a hometown gig for us. Everything is good.

I am from South Florida so I was exposed to your music in the late 90s and I have to admit at first I didn’t get it. It was like alien music. There just wasn’t anything else like it. Not until a few years later did I hear it again and it all made sense. What kind of things were you into? What sort of influences led you to create this music?

I think we were just eclectic, nerdy kids. I had a hippy mom so she would play folk and singer song-writer stuff. And I would listen to pop and my older brother was into classic rock, which led me to heavier stuff like Sabbath, Metallic and Slayer.

At that time, the extreme metal community was kind of an underground tape community that we kind of fell into. Suddenly, we had a bunch of pen pals that we were writing letters with. So we kind of got hurled into that extreme scene, which was fun. And then we played with Death.

So, we were just coming from a very diverse, eclectic palette of musical influences and we happen to be guys who have something to say and we excelled at our instruments, versus the punk rock approach where you just have to make a statement. We were interested in richer, deeper understanding of music and that is what Cynic became. It ended up being a hybridized different thing that didn’t fit in any scene. And it kind of was just the result of who we are as people.

So you and Sean have made news recently for coming out, but I understand that you have been out with your friends and family for some time. Why now did you feel that you needed to come out professionally?

Sean and I have been living as gay males since our late teens but we never associated it with our public lives with our recording careers. We were hesitant for numerous reasons. One of which was that we didn’t want it to overshadow the music. Suddenly, you are that gay band and people don’t hear you for the music.

Over time, we realized that it was an obligation of ours to come out and speak publicly. This music we are making and who we are as artists is informed by who we are as homosexuals, and it is not separate. There is such scarcity in terms of gays in the metal scene, and to just say has we are here and we are queer is important.

I thought of Harvey Milk and he said that everybody in every field needs to come out. To this day, we are still a massive minority. There are still countries where being gay is punishable by death. We are everywhere and we need to come out.

Some of your previous comments make it sound as if being gay was a big part of the reason you originally went on hiatus. Is that true?

No, Cynic’s breakup in 94 was really just us being disenfranchised with the music industry. Now, Focus is seen as a groundbreaking, cult classic album, but at the time no one got it. We were not liked. Reviews were poor. It was few and far between where we felt any love for the work we were doing. This was a band that Sean and I started in junior high, and we finally had this record and it bombed. Then everyone started telling us how we should have made the record. It was a big turnoff.

We didn’t know who we were outside of this umbrella of Cynic as our identity. We were already out as far as our lives but didn’t know who we were as artists. Who was I outside of this Cynic identity? It was an opportunity to start over, to find a new path. We all spread out. We went back to school. I moved to California.

When you guys got back together was it always the plan to make new records or did you just want to play a few shows?

When we originally reunited it was strictly just to play for fans and get out there. We had people coming up to us and telling us there was a big scene and big following. I had totally disconnected from Cynic. It was really a sore spot for me. I didn’t even want to revisit.

It was a curious set of synchronicities. Suddenly, Cynic was on my radar from friends and family, and others artists and colleagues in the scene contacting me. A couple of bands were reuniting including Atheist. They said you have no idea what an influence you are having on this next generation of artists.

I started to look online and I was like what the hell?! I had no idea about this. We said what the hell and booked some festival dates with no expectations and just went for it.

The response was so overwhelming and inspiring to us that we ended up just diving right back into making more music. It came naturally to us. Cynic was our roots, and it was like riding a bicycle. Oh, I know how to do this. At the same time, you don’t know and the creative process is so mysterious, but that is who we are as artists. We just kept it going because it feels good.

The new album (Kindly Bent to Free Us) is great, but it kind of transcends metal at this point. Can you tell us how it came about?

Cynic has been this evolving project that has taken on many faces as far as our sound evolving. I feel like this record is culmination of all the other records we have made. It feels like where we are as songwriters.

Also, there is interest in writing better songs. Some people think it is simpler but actually isn’t at all. In some ways it is the most challenging stuff we have ever written. It is written in such a way that it doesn’t beat you over the head with technique. It is more conveying emotion which is the end goal of any piece of art. It is translation of something without confusing you. Like they say great design is deceptively simple. I just want to get a song across. I want to have a nice melody and some good words. It is like any trade or art form; we have gotten better at it. We are more secure and have a better understanding of where we are coming from.

That is the beauty of a project like Cynic. We haven’t found a sound and just stuck with it. We are on a journey and we are seeing where it takes us.

Shifting gears, what do you like to do outside of music?

I am an avid yogi. I do a lot of yoga a lot of mediation. I just went on mediation retreat. I like hiking. I like to read a lot.

I have a great collection of friends who are close to me that I like to spend time with.

I don’t know. I like to be in nature. I live in a very busy part of LA so I like to get out doors and soak in natural environments to quiet my mind. I have a very busy and active mind so I have to make it a practice to slow it down. I have to quiet it and find out what is really going on.

What does the future hold for Cynic?

For now we are doing more touring.

Ideally, I would love to just work on another record and keep it moving. That is the best part making new music as long as we are feeling genuine and authentic about this work. It has to come from a real place. It really is at this point more than ever.

Anything you want to tell us about the current tour?

The show is really special. Sean Malone is playing with us again. He was on the original album. I think we have the best rhythm section in the world with Sean and Sean behind me. These guys are monsters.

We do a very visually oriented show with these LED screens behind us. The videos were curated specifically for the songs.

It is just a night of fun music. The bands we have playing with us are cool.

I feel like live music is something you can’t recreate. It is that human thing that we can’t get enough of. The people who have been coming out have been having a blast.

Sounds great! Thanks a lot for talking with us.

Thank you!

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