Monday, August 26, 2019

Interview with Paul Quinn of MASADA by Dave Wolff

Interview with Paul Quinn of MASADA

Masada’s first incarnation existed from 1986 to 1991. How active were you and what were the reasons you parted company?
We were very active regionally. We opened for a lot of touring bands and built a good following. We stopped playing together because we were unable to book most of the places locally that were available. Our following was pretty wild and they tended to leave a lot of damage behind. The local venues started to see our shows as more of a liability than they wanted. At the end of the run I had a club owner tell me our shows were more like a riot than a performance. When I look back at the old videos I agree but damn, they were fun!

Why did it take many years before Masada finally reformed in 2014?
In 2014 I began building a small home recording studio and thought it would be cool to record some of the Masada demo stuff to bring it up to modern recording standards. I started reaching out to the guys and the reception was a bit lukewarm at first. I explained to them how I had read an article about Meshuggah and how they file traded to write songs. I started sending the guys files and it clicked. Since we’re separated by 1000 miles the thinking was this would just be a studio project for us to have a little fun. It soon turned into something more when new ideas started happening and everyone seemed onboard. We started rehearsing live a couple of times a year to see what that felt like and everyone kind of knew that we were going to start playing live again. Since we all stayed active and play professionally in different projects, it’s been pretty painless to get together and just pick back up where we left off.

Who did Masada tour with in their early years? Any stories from those days memorable enough to recount here?
We were fortunate enough to play with lots of locals and a fair amount of touring bands like; Death, Nuclear Assault, Sick Of It All, Obituary and Zoetrope. The wildest show we ever played was a house party show where the neighbors called the cops and of course they showed up and tried to shut down the show. While they were questioning the owner of the house someone jumped in the cop car and drove off with it. They ditched the car a few blocks away and more police kept showing up and they were all yelling and threatening everyone. The bass player and I had grabbed a bunch of beer from the truck and were hiding under a huge Fir tree watching it all go down while smashing down beers. We hid there for over an hour while the shit was going down. Finally the cops left and we hung out with the other bands drinking and cooking on the grill. We used to joke and say “yeah, your party is cool but it isn’t steal a cop car cool!”

How widespread was the band’s reputation for causing fans to leave damaged clubs behind during your shows? You mentioned watching an old video; is it on Youtube or other social media sites? How many videos of your old performances exist?
We are from the Northside and there were not many places to play, so we would rent VFW halls and places like that to put on our shows. The word spread pretty far and we found that we couldn’t rent the halls anymore which put a major damper on our ability to trade shows. It was a real bummer. I know there are more but I don’t have them. Here are a few you can check out. 

In the first video you posted the link to your cover of Stormtroopers Of Death’s “United Forces”. If you remember that and other covers from 1986 to 1991, what led you to choose them as covers?
When we were just getting started we did a few covers as a way to fill time at shows as we were writing our own material. We were heavily influenced by the extreme metal of the day like Venom and Slayer but also by punk bands like D.R.I. and S.O.D. We covered “Countess Bathory”, and “Reign In Blood” as well as “Die By The Sword”, “Black Magic” and “Hell Awaits”. In the pre-genre era it wasn’t uncommon to see bands like ours playing with punk bands so it made sense to include songs from bands that we were actively listening to at the time. The covers were well received. We did screw around with other stuff for covers but found that we didn’t really like doing other people’s music. Our focus was definitely on original material.

Are the clubs where you performed in the late eighties and early nineties still open to this day? Or did quite a few close down?
They’re all gone now. They’ve been replaced and the scene is still very much alive. To be honest, there seem to be more venues now than there were back in the late 80”s and early 90”s.

Death metal and grindcore were gaining popularity around the time Masada’s first incarnation disbanded. At any time did you think of continuing as a band and incorporating some death and grind elements, or would you have remained a thrash band?
It’s hard to say which direction we would have ultimately gone. We were definitely experimenting with a lot of styles without really thinking about it. I don’t know that we would have picked one direction and stuck to it. I guess we were a crossover band right from the jump.

What material from Masada’s early years is still available, or re-released, or soon to be re-released?
We released the “Til Death” and “Witness This Genocide” demos during our first go around. There was a third demo we called “Midwest Terrorist” that was not released because it was a preproduction recording for our first official album which unfortunately never got recorded. Since reforming, we released “Old Warnings And New Truths” and “When The Lights Go Out” independently. We’ve also begun releasing songs as singles. To date, we’ve released “Firefight” and “Stagger” as lyric video singles which has been a much better avenue for us. It allows us to promote our music on a regular basis instead of waiting until we’ve written a whole album.

In 1989 you released a split with Num Skull, Disorder, Firing Squad and Necromancy titled At The Foot Of Brutality. How many copies were pressed and distributed? Were the songs you recorded for it supposed to be on “Midwest Terrorist” or older songs?
The record was put together by Eric Grief who produced those songs. The label never really shared with us the amount of pressings so we’re in the dark about that. I understand they folded pretty shortly after that came out. The songs on that record were taken from the Witness This Genocide demo which was intended to be a demo for Eric to shop around for a deal for us. We did get some interest but a deal was never signed.

What bands were you all working with while Masada was inactive? Does your experience with them help your new material?
Jim Harte (drums) was a founding member of Jungle Rot and also plays festivals with Hans And The Hormones and also with a band called Goo Roos. Ray Vasquez (guitars) played with and toured with the band Fleshgrind. Doug Hamel (bass) plays with Automag and actively records and tours with them. I, Paul Quinn (guitars), am the founding member of Automag and have been active with this band for 22 years. I would say that the experiences we’ve all had definitely helps us with Masada. We remained active individually and went down some different musical paths which has helped us appreciate our time together. When we walk into the room together, we get straight down to business because we want to make every moment count. That’s something we didn’t have previously because there was no urgency. Nowadays everyone is giving 100% effort the whole time we’re together. It’s an awesome thing to be a part of.

Between the increase of local clubs and the rise of social media, do you see a greater or lesser amount of people attending shows these days? Since Masada reformed, do you have an easier time booking shows these days?
I would say lesser amounts these days but the people who come out are awesome. Back before the internet the only way you knew about shows was through flyers, word of mouth and select press outlets. Because of that, local shows were a much bigger deal. I know I went to see other local bands because all of our friends would be there. It was analog social networking, you had to actually be there. As for booking these days, it isn’t as hard because of the web. You have to bang on a lot of digital doors but there’s almost always someone who will answer. I’m not really seeing any reluctance to book us these days.

Will the “Midwest Terrorist” album ever be released in a different version today? In what ways do the tracks on that album compare with your newer demos?
We’ve talked about releasing new versions of those songs but because of our long distance situation I think we all feel it’s more productive to crank out new tunes. While we will always be proud of the old material, putting it out is not the priority. As far as how it compares to the new tracks, it’s a completely new ballgame. Our focus in the past was nonstop aggression and speed. The use of blast beats and insanely fast double bass lines was the norm for us. These days I’m just way more into the whole package of heaviness. I like it when a band takes you on the rollercoaster and hits you in every direction, speed, sludge, odd time signatures, and constantly moving forward with better production and songwriting. We’ve come to the point where the storylines within the songs are as important as the music. While a lot of up and coming bands are focused on reinventing the wheel, we’re going our own way and keeping the focus on bigger concepts and better stories.

Did the band’s newer emphasis on heaviness and diversity grow from the old material that placed emphasis on aggression and blast? Do your listeners today hear old school influence in your new material?
In the beginning we were solely driven to push our playing abilities to the limit. While other local bands came from the Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath mold, we recognized that we were coming from somewhere totally different. We were poor kids who were totally pissed off and we used music as a way to let that anger out. I think that’s why the Slayer/punk influences were so strong with us. We didn’t want to be polished or pretty, we wanted to be ugly and destructive. Part of that meant turning up the lyrical aggression as well as the overall speed and intensity. We were on the forefront of grind and extreme metal without really knowing it. We just knew that it was kind of an arms race and we wanted to win it. At some point that all becomes boring and useless. We had pushed our limits to the point that it didn’t look like we could go any further so what do you do then? For us, it ended up in a parting of ways. Without venues who were willing to have us and a limited audience for that type of material, it was a struggle to continue. When we reformed I wanted to make sure the emphasis was on making interesting music and having strong lyrical content. The blast beat thing is something we think of as an effect now instead of a main driver in a song. It’s kind of like if a guitar player soloed over a whole song. It loses its effect and becomes noise instead of grabbing your attention. In a way, we’ve kind of gone back to the beginning of what attracted us to metal in the first place, aggression, musicianship and songs that stick with you. We’re finding that balancing those things is the key to making better songs which is the ultimate goal. We’ve had some of our oldest friends chime in and comment about how we’ve definitely recaptured some of the old sound.

Is the punk/thrash aggression of the old days channeled in different ways, if not all at the forefront and in listeners’ faces?
I’d compare it to using a rifle versus a shotgun. In the past, we just sprayed pellets in a general direction whereas these days we have a more defined target we’re trying to hit.

On your new material, how do you go about arranging songs with blast beats and solos, without overdoing any aspects of the songs? How often do you completely achieve the results you’re looking for?
We basically trade ideas back and forth and just look for things that fit together in interesting ways. We don’t specifically try to put blast beats or breakdowns or whatever into songs these days. We treat those kind of things more like an effect. If the song needs a change of pace it becomes an option but like any effect, it can either be overdone or tastefully done. If it fits the context of the arrangement and compliments the song, we give it the thumbs up. If it feels like it’s just thrown in there we let it go. That has been part of the beauty of our writing situation. Since we’re separated by 800 miles, we spend a lot of time really scrutinizing the parts. When we were writing in a room together all of the time there were always outside things interrupting or being dealt with during the sessions. The way we do it now makes it possible to work on material any time of day or night at your own pace. It also allows you to be objective. We found that there were times when we thought something sounded really good in the rehearsal room but when it got recorded it didn’t have the feeling or effect we intended. These days we record ideas and then get to put the instruments down and really listen to them and evaluate the parts and arrangements. It definitely brings a new perspective to the process.

How does the band define strong lyrical content? What was your content in the 80s and how has it changed with your recent material?
We’ve always had a storyline kind of approach to writing so that hasn’t changed. We’ve never subscribed to the idea that if it rhymes it flies so whatever the subject for the song may be, we want it to paint a picture or tell a story. We’ve always done that but these days I think we are much more focused on it. Currently, the songs are loosely tied together by a conceptual theme. The individual songs are painting a picture of a moment in a timeline of a larger story. The idea is to focus each song in a way that they can fit into a larger story but can also stand as an individual piece by itself. If someone takes the time to look at the last couple of songs we’ve released (Firefight and Stagger) they’ll see pretty quickly that they are connected to a timeline and a larger concept/story. We plan to continue releasing songs on a regular basis that all feed into this same central idea and our plan is to jump around on the timeline while releasing the individual songs and later tie them all together when a full length album (titled Fero-City) is released. I guess the difference between our past and current writing is the attention to detail. We used to only focus on the individual song whereas now we’re looking at the whole body of work.

Discuss the making of your EPs Old Warnings & New Truths (2014) and When the Lights Go Out (2018) and singles “Firefight” and “Stagger”.
Both EPs were recorded in my home studio and they were the learning curve for future projects. I started writing material and sending it out to the guys just to gauge interest. Everyone seemed to be digging it and started jumping in. Old Warnings And New Truths was the first EP and we did everything ourselves. We did everything in house and kind of proved to ourselves that it could be done. It was a pretty steep learning curve but we pulled it off. As soon as we finished the recording we started working on WTLGO. That EP started having more of a theme to it regarding truth, honor and loyalty. I guess it kind of shows where we were at the time. Those types of themes are more common in hardcore and power metal but we decided to roll with it instead of the typical politics, evil or pure violence topics that everyone else seems to go with. It gave us a little direction and paved the way towards what we’re doing now.

What is the storyline you devised for Fero-City, and how much input did everyone in the band have into putting it together?
Fero-City is a concept record that I’ve been working the story out for some time. I don’t want to give away the story part of it yet but if you look at the descriptions under the videos you’ll find a short lead up to where the song begins. Each song will have its own trailer that leads to the moment where the song takes place to help you get an idea of what is happening in each song. Musically, we are collaborating as we always have but lyrically I’m currently handling the largest part of it. The guys know how much I love doing it and they’re cool with the direction it’s going so they’ve basically turned me loose on it.

It was a pitch black summer night and the sweat was steadily rolling down our faces making its way through the dirt that covered us only to pool in our clothes. The packs and the gear we were carrying although light, were rubbing against the wet clothing and skin causing the sure onset of rash. We were moving slowly in single file. There was no talking. The only sounds were the unintentional movements of our packs and the occasional crunch of the hard ground beneath the soles of our boots. Moving through deserted urban areas is always terrifying no matter how many times you’ve gone through the same place. There are hiding spots everywhere. That’s exactly what we were looking for, a hiding spot. We needed a place we could defend that would also give us a vantage point to allow surveillance during the daytime hours. The need for silence and concentration felt compromised by fatigue. My heart was pounding so hard I was sure everyone could hear it. We finally stopped for a minute at the end of a city block between the brick building on our right and the remains of a burned out bus on our left. The scout signaled everyone to rest momentarily as he went ahead solo and scoured the structure he intended to use. It was within reach, maybe fifteen hundred feet across the intersection on the right-hand side of the block. We were so close. All I could think about was getting inside and shedding my pack. We’d been moving at a sprinters pace since the onset of night, trying to get to the outskirts of this town. We were finally going to get the rest we desperately needed. When the hand signal to ready ourselves was given we rose slowly to our feet trying to contain the inner groans of muscles that have been pushed too far and the delirium of sleep deprivation. Relief was in sight as we dug down into our depleted reserves for the final push. Finally, we would sleep. We crossed the intersection as quickly and quietly as we could and hugged the buildings to our right hoping the remains of the burned out vehicles still sitting in the street would provide a small amount of cover. That’s when it happened.

The concussion was an instantaneous blast of light as bright as the sun. The surrounding glass, brick and mortar were reduced to dust and serrated shards hurling in every direction as I was lifted and tossed sideways into the rubble. The first attempt to move awakened the agonizing pain of landing on the jagged edges of broken bricks and shattered blocks. The air was thickly clouded with the dirt and dust that was now strangling me. Every gasp drew the thickened air saturated with suffocating filth deeper into my lungs. Each intake instantly turned into a gagging, coughing expulsion of the congealed matter in my chest and the blood that flowed intensely from my nose. The gunfire was raging outside but sounded distant as if hands were tightly covering my ears while the muzzle flashes intermittently burnished the room like a summer cloud being illuminated by heat lightning. The second attempt to move reawakened the screaming pain that only intensified as I rolled to my stomach with my arms beneath me and both hands tucked tightly with clenched fists beneath my chin. A deep sound, somewhere between a groan and a scream, poured out as I opened my eyes. The blood flowed generously from my left ear in a steady stream joining the pool forming on the floor directly below my mouth and nose. Momentarily, I laid there staring at the growing pool as it overtook the dust like crimson lava spreading across the ground. In a moment of clarity I heard my own voice whispering, “you have to move.”

Without revealing it prematurely, what was the inspiration for the storyline of Fero-City?
As a writer, I have a tendency to make lists of things like potential song titles or phrases that I find interesting. When I start arranging a musical idea, I like going through those lists to see if there is one that seems like it fits as a working title or for inspiration as a subject. This is something I’ve always done. After the studio was put together, I was able to do the same thing with musical ideas as well. I’ve been slowly building a small library of ideas that I can go back and review at any time. The music for “Firefight” launches so abruptly that the title just seemed to match which gave me the inspiration to write a short backstory for the song. It wasn’t long before the pieces started to look like they were fitting into a bigger story. That really started the ball rolling for me. As soon as I had the idea for the story, I started laying out a timeline, which is where “Stagger” happened. I’m still working out a lot of the details for the larger story with regards to the sequence of events and writing the trailer parts for a lot of them but it’s coming along nicely.

Does the narrative of Fero-City have more science fiction elements, or horror elements, or some of both genres?
It’s going to have both but it will lean heavily toward the sci-fi side.

Are you planning to release additional singles before the album comes out? How much of it has been completed this far?
We are currently on a pace to release something every three to four months. That will allow us to continue a regular promotion campaign all year long until we get to the point where we’re ready to drop the full length. As an unsigned D.I.Y. band this seems to make more sense than going a long period of time to release a full length album that gets sent out for review and in a couple of weeks it’s over. We decided that it would make better sense to release individual pieces on a regular basis to hopefully spark more interest in the project and to always have a reason to reach out to the people who have joined our email list or follow us on social media.
The intent currently is to have a track list of twelve songs for the album and they are all in different stages of development. I’d say we’re definitely over the 50% line and the pace is really picking up. We’re in the groove and things are going smoothly.

How much interest in the new album have your singles generated to date? Are you mostly spreading word to zines, or are you including labels, distros and bands who may be interested in performing with you?
The singles have been doing a little better each time so we’re hoping that trend continues. We’ve been concentrating on reaching out through a small PR company and through ads which has been an education. We have not been focusing on labels at this time but we may do that further down the line. Right now, the focus is on writing, recording and building an audience. Our thinking is if we concentrate on those things the rest will work itself out. .

How soon are you planning to release the new album? Are any labels interested in signing the band or will you release it independently?
Our plan is to release a few more singles and the full length in 2020.We definitely plan on an independent release but that could change. We have had some interest from small labels which has been great but we’re not in a hurry to jump into that arena. Once things like schedules and budgets come into play, it takes some of the fun out of it. We’re enjoying the process of making music without the pressures of the music “business.”

-Dave Wolff

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