Monday, November 7, 2011

The Mast - The Propulsive Dual Dream

The tandem of single name only vocalist/guitarist Haale and percussionist Matt Kilmer make up Brooklyn based duo The Mast. Their combined talents produce a music that cannot be simply classified into an easily recognizable genre or style. Hyperkinetic percussion sets the groove for well-placed minimal guitar accents. Vocals delivered in a dual voiced tandem and precise diction phrasing do share similar qualities with School Of Seven Bells, but that's where that comparison ends. Their latest album “Wild Poppies” make use of percussion recorded with distinct crystal clarity. The stereo separation, placement and prominence dominate the instrumentation without overpowering it. Guitars are there, but secondary. The voices do share equal billing, however. The only overdubs on the album were done to enhance vocals. All the instrumentation was played live in the studio, with whatever effects needed added at that time. The result is a stunningly full sounding collection of songs that are both lyrically mysterious and sonically brilliant.

The band recently performed live as part of The Deli Magazine's CMJ "Dream Pop" Showcase at The Delancey in New York City on October 18, 2011. Included below are photos (and one video) from that show.

Additionally, Haale and Matt were kind enough to answer some questions about what makes The Mast "go"

Your bio states that you built a home studio where you live in Brooklyn . Is this where you recorded the album and is it self produced? Did you find it difficult to accomplish the sound you were looking for? Or did it come easier than expected?

We recorded the album in a studio we built and did the engineering and mixing ourselves. We knew what sound we wanted, so it wasn't really hard getting that recorded. We wanted to make an album that we could play live, so we used our instruments--percussion, voice, and electric guitar--along with pedals and effects. Nothing was overdubbed except for the extra vocal layers. So recording was quite easy, we just played the songs the best we could.

Your song “EOA” finds arpeggiated guitar figures moving forward in the mix, sharing equal space with the busy percussion. The vocals are smoothed even further as the line “all hands on deck” is repeated. “And I say – EOA” becomes the primary (and mysterious) title line. What does EOA signify? What does it mean?
EOA means end of anxiety. I mention the country made of plastic waste floating in the Pacific, and armies thrashing cities, and then sing "All hands on deck"--it does seem that's an appropriate mantra these days. We have a lot to deal with, a lot to develop and implement, like biodegradable plastics, alternative energy technologies, and conflict resolution skills. I say, EOA--end of anxiety--because I think it's be easier to enact positive solutions if we do it in a state of calm--having a panic attack is of no help to anyone on a sinking ship.

“Definitions” builds around a descending guitar-line, allowing the voices to create counter-melodies. There is an almost ancient-ritualistic quality to it all. How much investigating have you done regarding music made in ancient bygone eras? Does this inspire you?

We listen to classical Indian music-- Matt studied South Indian percussion for years-- Persian classical music, Jazz that was created over the last 150 years, and Malian and other African music with roots that definitely stretch to ancient times. We've also listened to Icaros or medicine songs sung by Peruvian curanderos, which have been passed down through the generations. All this music is inspiring.

“Hummingbird” is quicker paced, but leaves space for a buzzy, bass-driven change section. What actual instrument is used there? Is it a synth or actual bass guitar? Who played it?

H: I'm playing that on my Les Paul using a POG 2 and a Full Drive distortion pedal.
“Lucid Dream” has the repeated lyric “I go everywhere – in this Empire.” Does this song reference how one has no limits in the dream world? How much of your dreams influence what goes into you music?

H: I guess waking dreams figure in to the songs quite a bit and so much in reality is dream-like. In the title track 'Wild Poppies,' I'm talking about wildflowers that were blowing in the breeze at the foot of a watchtower and a wall topped with spirals of barbed wire. It looked as if the wildflower was waving to the watchtower and the security cameras, or trying to communicate with them. Wildflower, watchtower---the words have a similar ring, but they're two opposite ends of the spectrum, in terms of what they represent. One is so delicately beautiful and one is so ominous. And with my 3-D dream glasses on, they were side by side in conversation.
As for lucid dreaming, that's a great thing to learn to do. When you lucid dream you can direct your dreams, and apparently go anywhere. You can fly over the Grand Canyon , take a spin around that diamond planet just discovered in the Milky Way, even practice your guitar, when you get really skilled at it. Not a bad way to spend an hour a day.

Your bio also states that Matt composes music for comedian Louis CK ’s television series “Louie” on the FX network. How did all that come about? How is it working with Louis?

M: Our friend Reggie Watts called me up one day asking if I could get a band together to do the music for the show. Reggie originally got the call to do the music but he was about to go on tour opening for Conan Obrien on his tour.
So I got a band together and we really clicked with Louis . He likes a lot of different music in the show, from old bop, to Jimi Hendrix , to eastern European gypsy music. All of the guys I got to play are old friends and amazing musicians that can cover a lot of territory stylistically. Louis is the kind of guy that knows exactly what he wants, so he's great to work with.

What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?
The Les Paul guitar, Matt 's Cooperman frame drums, and Ableton Live.

We also have an electronic project we're working out, and for that one we also use Ableton, and Matt uses the Korg Wavedrum , and the Touch OSC pad.
Do you expect your next record to be self-produced, or would you like to work with a producer? If it’s the latter, who would you most like to produce your band, and why?
We're already working on the next album but if we could pick anyone, it would be Jack White , we dig his energy.

Do you use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own sound?

Haale uses a POG 2 and the Full Drive distortion pedal. The POG 2 is awesome, the bass sound you can get with it is huge, and the Full Drive just has a classic sound.

Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?
We like to get a transparent mix that still has character. The minimal instrumentation in our setup helps to get that sound. Also good mics, preamps, and mic-positioning are everything.

What other artists would you say have had the biggest influence in your approach to recording? Why?
Recordings produced by T-bone Burnett, Ethan Johns , and John Brion , and Rick Ruben , stand out as good examples of warm, clear recordings of live instruments and musicians. The approach is really just get good mic placement, check levels, hit record, play. Simple and effective.

Would you say that your live show informs your recording process or that your recording process informs your live show? Both? Neither?

They both inform each other. On the recordings, we are using the instruments that we play live. That was the only limit we set on ourselves, we weren't gonna use strings or bass or horns but wanted to make a full and satisfying sound with the two of us playing live.

Is there a piece of equipment that you find particularly useful on stage?

In our show now, we run everything through Ableton Live to really get the sound we want. We don't use it to play loops or clips, just for the effects.


With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band - fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.? Do you do these things yourself or is there someone that the band works with?
For 'Wild Poppies,' we did all the artwork ourselves. The cover is a photo collage of poppies we planted in our backyard. We photographed them, made the piece, and designed the font ourselves. The videos we've released so far we also made ourselves, though we're finally working on a director and a cinematographer for an upcoming video, which is great. Looking forward to more collaborations with directors, filmmakers, and animators.

Croms catching up with Haale after the showWhat do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?

The most challenging thing is agreeing on a final mix. The most rewarding is actually playing the music and creating the sound. The first listen after a great take is a wonderful moment.

Matt and Croms - on the mean streets of NYC

Find out more about The Mast at these links:


Ivanka said...

I guess I'm first hehe=)
Well, nice review Dave! personally I liked that video where they performing Trump, I love how the drums were sounding, very cool! plus, great photos!

Patricia said...

interesting and nice interview Dave! Cool pics. I like "Wild Poppies" great song, catchy and rhythmic.

DaveCromwell said...

"drums" "catchy" "rhythmic" "Trump" "Wild Poppies" - you two have summed it up rather nicely!

William said...

A change away from the dreaminess of a lot of Cromtastic reviews and into a faster more catchy sound but still with the requisite mystery and quality we have come to expect.

A charming exploration of the inner workings of an interesting band - you are like Murphy Brown but less douchey

DaveCromwell said...

Although included in the "Dream Pop" Showcase - I will be the first to agree that this band's sound is distinctly different from the guitar-distortion heavy music I favor so much, William.

The middle-eastern and african elements to the percussion stand out the most.

Haale's voice is just as lovely, though - as any female fronted band that ever looked to say, The Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine for inspiration.

Anonymous said...

OOh yeah, really like this band Dave. Fantastic voice. A great find. All the good stuff seems to be coming from Brooklyn these days!

DaveCromwell said...

There is no question that Brooklyn, NY has been a hotbed for a certain element of the modern rock music scene for a while now.

And although The Mast may be headquartered there - I feel their actual *sound* comes from somewhere far more exotic and overseas.

Anonymous said...

Great review Dave, I quite like the sound of their music :)

DaveCromwell said...

Good to hear, Anouk.

Yes, their sound is an interesting hybrid of classical Indian and Peruvian percussion influences.

Mr Smork said...

nice piece. sweet music i would say. and i was give them a listen while i read in it sounded easier then they talked about it. so we have different points of view to their music, that make it more interesting.
and i even caught a catch phrase from this piece that i might like - "Hyperkinetic percussion sets". :D
well done.

ViewFromSpookysDoghouse said...

Well written review and a good q & a exchange with a band that is very different in sound and influences than the usual fare.

DaveCromwell said...

Yes, I was rather pleased with the word combination "Hyperkinetic percussion sets," Mr. Smork - so thanks for noticing that one.

Glad you liked the Q&A, VFSD.

Anonymous said...


I have to say, you amaze me, Dave. With each new entry you bring another fantastic band and exceed the level of creative beauty that you share with your blog's readers. After this entry I feel as if it's a kind of peak- this band has it all.

My first impression was that they remind me of The Doors- the mystical vocals, the drums, the Indian influences, all that. But they have a totally distinctive sound, no copying, it's recognizable and original. Really, a very mature, very "we know our way into the sound" sounding band.

The emphasis on drums remind of an album, I can't remember the name of the musician who recorded it, but it's pretty recent- it was an all instrumental, all percussion based album, really outlandish, experimental stuff. In case of The Mast the drums are amazing. As well as guitars and vocals- everything is working really great.

And when I see those live studio recording videos I can only say- wow, they're great at doing what they do. Playing live like this, only two people- do I have to say anything more?

Great band. Great entry. Great music.

DaveCromwell said...

I have to agree with you about how this band shares many of the creative elements The Doors engaged in, eagle. As you insightfully mention - "the mystical vocals, the drums, the Indian influences"

Yes - very much so indeed.

Yet - as you say - there is no lack-of-their-own-ideas, *unartistic* copying. What they are doing is completely different. Unique to themselves. And as you also so accurately notice - seeing them perform and get this full rich sound with only two people - quite impressive, without a doubt. Great to hear you get this.