The Red Masque…their sound is at times ominous and foreboding, menacing yet atmospheric, ferocious but occasionally gentle. With the release of Feathers for Flesh, The Red Masque have created a body of work that sees them unleashing their unmistakable brand of avant-garde and progressive rock to new levels in hopes of wider recognition within the genre. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo and Staff Writer Yves Dube caught up with Lynnette Shelley (vocals/percussion), Kiarash Emami (guitars/keyboards), Brandon Ross (bass/keyboards), and Vonorn (drums/keyboards/guitar/bass/theremin) in a tiny rehearsal room in Zoellner Arts Center at this summer's NEARfest to talk about their exciting new album.
Sea of Tranquility/Pete Pardo: How long has The Red Masque been together?
Lynnette Shelley: Originally, the band started in 2001 with Brandon and I, plus three other people. Brandon and I actually met playing in another band, and when that band broke we decided that our musical direction was pretty compatible so we decided to continue on with a new band with three other musicians. After about a year the drummer left, and then within a few months the original guitarist and keyboardist left, and we replaced the drummer with Vonorn and the guitarist with Kiarash. We tried out another keyboardist for a while, but we ultimately decided that Vonorn is actually a really good keyboard player-he was a keyboard player before he was a drummer….
Vonorn: We all work very well together…
L.S.: Yeah, we knew what we wanted to do, and realized that anybody that we brought in had to really fit in. Some people came into the band and had their own ideas of what they wanted to do, but it wasn't compatible with what we really wanted.
Vonorn: We got good at feeling people out.
SoT: Let's talk about the new CD, Feathers For Flesh-how long did it take to put that together?
Kiarash Emami: This CD was basically our first try with this line-up. So we started experimenting a bit. There was kind of a curve towards the optimum state of our composition and recording since we decided to record and produce it independently by ourselves. It tool slightly longer than we what we expected but I think the outcome is more organic in terms of interaction of all the members and the way we shaped the music.
Vonorn: We tried to get down to the core, to the nitty gritty roots, real raw, live sound. For recording we used a ProTools III system, which is kind of primitive actually, with 16 digital tracks. What we tried to create was a timeless sound.
Photo L-R: Emami/Ross/Shelley/Dube/Pardo/Vonorn
Brandon Ross: We're essentially a raw band, so that's what we tried to capture…
Vonorn: (sniffs) You smell raw man! (laughs)
SoT: For me, your music doesn't seem to follow many patterns.
L.S.: Actually, there kind of is a pattern; it's just that not everyone else hears it! (laughs)
Vonorn: We have a pattern to a certain extent.
SoT: What I mean is like your standard song structure.
Vonorn: Oddly enough, we actually kind of work more in a way like the old Genesis would work. One of our songs might be 17 minutes long, but we actually have three-minute segments, two-minute segments, within that song. So, no one's really sitting there (out of breath) "when are they moving on?" In that sense, there are a lot of sections that we put together.
SoT: What would you classify the style of The Red Masque as?
L.S.: I've just been saying it's avant-garde, with lots of heavy psychedelia.
K.E.: It's very experimental to begin with, but it really borrows many things from other genres, so it's hard to categorize.
L.S.: That's actually been one of our problems. We've tried to get into various festivals, but organizers, who do like us, don't know how to classify us so they are afraid to add us to the bill. It's really a shame!
B.R.: It's like people say, 'Well this is what progressive music is", and, we kind of fit into that, but we also fit into other things.
K.E.: It's just not progressive enough…
B.R.: What I kind of see us as is original progressive rock, which is all these creative ideas coming together and developing, that is what we were kind of known for anyway. Someone who has this "boxed-in" image of what the music is may conflict with what our ideas are.
Vonorn: We're also trying to keep…there's theater involved as well. With this CD especially, there's a theatrical and driving element to it. The reviews we are getting of course mention the "Big 3", …King Crimson…of course (all laugh)
SoT: I don't know if SoT mentioned that! (laughs) There's definitely a Doors influence that I hear.
Vonorn: There's definitely some Doors influence there. Certainly because of the spoken word passages and the poetry.
Sea of Tranquility/Yves Dube: A lot of our readers expect us to mention other acts so they know who to identify your style of music with. It gives them a sort of visual that they can use going forward.
K.E.: I think poetry was a new element to the CD was not really evident in past releases.
Vonorn: Spoken word is a real risk, and then of course we have these long passages. Someone may be listening to our CD at home, and you may have a person over fixing your plumbing or something, all of a sudden saying "Hey you, you got the Red Masque playing or something, what is that?" (all laugh)
We have an image, and with visuals we are taking it to new levels. We are working also with multi-media to help give us a new presentation when playing live.
K.E.: Each core of our music pleases a certain category of people. You probably can't find one person that is entirely satisfied with an entire set! (laughs)
SoT/Yves Dube: Even though the band is "way to the left" sometimes, I find that the cohesiveness of the new album just all comes together. So when I listen to a Red Masque 15-minute track, it's not like "wow, it's been 13-minutes now?", it's more like "wow, that was a 15-minute track."
L.S.: Well, you'll find that with our music certain people just don't get it, and other people really do.
SoT: How do you feel you have matured as a band with this album?
K.E.: In age definitely! (laughs)
L.S.: Yeah, we're old, haggard! (laughs)
Vonorn: With this one we had the time to really record and produce it right.
L.S.: The original albums were pretty much recorded live due to time constraints. We basically went in and recorded it as quickly as possible. In certain ways I liked the raw recording, the live sound, but with Victoria that didn't work out as well.
K.E.: I think we really have to mention the support of John Reagan from Big Balloon Records, because without him we probably couldn't have spent as much time on the CD.
Vonorn: He also provided us with a deadline, which a lot of bands that produce their own records don't get. "Did you get that CD done yet?"
K.E.: We had internal pressure; he gave us that external pressure, so it kind of brought it all together.
L.S.: Something else that is quite interesting about the album, is that we started recording the album around Beltane.
Vonorn: Beltane is one of the oldest Pagan holidays on the planet, and especially of the Wicca faith.
L.S.: Vonorn's housemate is actually a Wiccan priestess, and she was on celebration throughout the house…well, the studio is in the house, so we were often recording during her celebrations! (laughs) When we started the recording of the CD, in fact we had just finished the single "Beggars and Thieves", and they were doing the May Day celebration outside, dancing around the Maypole, so we got to do some of that, and we got to wrap up the CD right around the Maypole celebration again! So it was kind of interesting that we put the CD together during this whole spring harvest celebration. We took Cthulhu around the maypole! I don't know if it was a good idea! (laughs)
B.R.: It was kind of chaotic!
Vonorn: The maypole essentially was done with a king and queen, and you wrap them up. Now, they don't do this anymore, but at the end of the ceremony, at sunset, they were set on fire. They were sacrificed, but they were willing.
L.S.: We didn't know that! (laughs)
SoT: Do you plan on taking Feathers For Flesh out on the road?
Vonorn: Yes, we are going to be playing in this room next week, exclusively for you guys! (laughs)
L.S.: We are trying to get on some festivals for next year, and we really hope that this album will open some doors for us.
K.E.: We have some gigs in the Philadelphia area this summer and fall.
SoT: Best of luck to you!
First Two Photographs by SoT Webmaster Greg Stewart. Third courtesy of The Red Masque's Website.