Interview: Cynic Frontman Paul Masvidal Talks Gear, Technology and More

by Andrew Bansal
Posted Mar 25, 2014 at 5:25pm

Los Angeles-based prog-rock veterans Cynic have engaged in a good deal of musical exploration over the years, carving out a niche for themselves with their unique compositions.

Their latest full-length effort, Kindly Bent To Free Us, is a case in point. It finds the band taking a more riff-based yet ambient approach.

I recently spoke to frontman and principal creator Paul Masvidal for a two-part interview; we discussed the album, his gear — and lots more.

Check out the first part of our conversation on Metal Assault here, and read the second part below.

GUITAR WORLD: Gear-wise, is there anything you’ve done differently on this album?

I have a new signature guitar from Strandberg called the Masvidalien. It’s just coming out now. I used that on the whole record. Then there’s another Strandberg, the Warbird model, which I also used. But it’s a different guitar setup for this album, which was big for me because I was a Steinberger guy for many years. Now I’m totally in a different place with that, and that definitely affected things.

Tonally there’s a more organic kind of sounds to the guitar. It just feels more like a guitar more naturally, and I intentionally went for that. I was trying to keep it pure and raw and not get too processed. The processing was happening a lot with the synth players I added and then some vocal stuff.

But guitar-wise, it’s pretty much one really cool clean sound and one really cool dirty sound. That, I’d say, is 90 percent of the record. That’s a big difference as compared to previous records in which I'd get crazy with layers and sounds. Some of the songs on the Carbon-Based Anatomy EP had 30 guitar tracks. So this is the opposite, just kind of stripping it down to core tones and really just letting the song stand naked as a work without all the decoration and coloring.

I was approaching it from a different place. I think the decorating came on the vocal side as opposed to the guitar side, which made the songs more riff-oriented, and we felt like keeping it very "trio-y." I think that did affect things. Also, there’s a lot of things that have been considered Cynic staple kind of riffs, specially the heavier side of our riffing, and I think I intentionally didn’t do those things. I thought it was too easy to do that, and I approached it differently, which opened things up. It almost got more propelled by bass and drums, and guitars ended up being more open and chordal, with bigger harmonic ideas. It just changed the whole perspective on the album.

Does this mean the new album is closer your live sound?

I think so. Live we tend to always treat it like a different animal anyway, just because I feel like it’s a different animal. Live is live, studio is studio. It’s nice to give the audience a take on the material, which often translates to being really raw and more live. We create parts during the natural course of a performance, parts that feel often heavier and rawer.

You’ve been around in the scene for a number of years. There have been advances in technology, especially in live performance. Has that aspect affected your musicianship in any way?

I’ve always been a gearhead and a technology nut. So I did use the Ultra on this record for a lot of it. I also used some organic amps. I pretty much borrowed the rig from Tosin [Abasi] and Javier [Reyes] of Animals As Leaders [laughs]. I actually used the Axe 2, which I also borrowed from a friend of mine. He had this cabinet set up with different things that were kind of interesting.

But yeah, I do like a lot of that stuff. It’s funny; we use this technology to try and get a really pure sound a lot of times, something you can probably access easier just putting into an old-school amp. But it’s one of those things where you have that freedom with this newer technology where you can just have it all in one box. So it makes things a lot easier, and I appreciate that side of it.

I’m not a huge fan of the complicated programming side of it and the engineering you need to create it and get into some of these units. There are just so many menus. I just kind of just want to plug and play. But it definitely inspires me to create new sounds. It has opened new vistas, and sometimes you write material based on the sound.

So it certainly affects the creative process. But in terms of Cynic writing, our songs start as acoustic arrangements and the demos I give to the guys are bare bones on an acoustic guitar with a voice, kind of like little prog-folk songs. And then it goes into the production phase. But yeah, technology has always been a big part of our thing.

What plans do you have for the rest of the year?

We’re doing some touring in the summer. We’ve got one thing that’s been locked down now in August, but we might be doing a West Coast run going from Canada all the way down to southern California. I think that may happen in May or June. So some things are coming together. We’re definitely going to be touring, it’s just a question of the right tours and just trying to do them in the moments that seem timely for us. I think we’re going to do more regional runs, like a couple of weeks here and a couple there. But yeah, there’s some touring that will happen and we’ll be out and around this year.