Hello Paul! Thank you for you being at my disposal. It is honor for me to speak with one of my peers.
Thank you Leslie.
I think, Cynic surrounds a mysticism, we know very few about the band. You are/were a real cult band! Tell me please about the beginnings! About your foundation, about your rehearsals, about your musical influences! How would you characterize the old Cynic?
The early Cynic days were filled with an incredible drive to master our instruments and a complete passion for music and the knowledge of it. We were always in school, studying music around the clock. Our rehearsals were relentless. Sean lived in our rehearsal studio. We had marathon (long) rehearsals often. Our rehearsal studio became our home that we basically grew up in. I recall after graduating from practicing in our parents homes we found our first rehearsal space. It was a boiler room in the boonies (at the time) of West Kendall in Miami. You can only imagine how small and hot it was in there. We didn't care, it was a place to play as loud as we wanted whenever we wanted! Eventually we grew into larger spaces. We were listening to all kinds of music. The four of us were huge jazz heads, but we also had peculiar individual tastes too, for example, Jason was a huge fan of old-school funk and very rhythmic music. He had a side project band that played this aggressive funk style. Sean was primarly a jazz head but also into classical and progressive pop music, and I was into jazz, ethnic music (Indian) and really moody spacey stuff. Essentially we were all over the place, just enjoying music without labeling it. We were sharing our new discoveries with each other all the time.
At the middle/of the end of the ’80-s the famous death metal scene in Florida began to unfold. Tell us please about those times, about the bands, they have taken part in the scene. This is metal history.
It was an incredible time. In the really early days, we found out about bands through regular mail correspondence. I lived for mail! We would trade demos, videos and and any other paraphanelia we could get a hold of. Sometimes we would exchange phone numbers with these "friends" in the undergroud. That is how I got to know Chuck. It went from letters, to phone conversations to eventually taking roadtrips up to Chuck's house to hang out. We would go to shows and listen to music together. I remember a strectch of rehearsal warehouses in Tampa that was the home of many of the bands from that time. I think there is a clip from that area in some old Rock Hard (Germany) video that covered the death metal scene at the time. Atheist were befriended quickly due to our similar progressive tastes. I remember some huge open barn/ warehouse event/party that Deicide played at when they were called Amon. I think Obituary and Nocturnus played that night also. All of the Florida bands were there. I was at this event with Chuck. Spiritual Healing was just released or about to be. I recall Dave Vincent from Morbid Angel coming up to Chuck and telling him how much he liked his vocals on the new record. That party in reflection was just about when the whole scene was at a peak or about to burst.
In your opinion, why was Florida the center of the death metal scene?
I'm not sure, but it was curious to have such a concetration of intense music coming out in the same period. I suppose some kind of collective energy accumulated there and manifested as this intense art form. Perhaps a simple chain reaction took place as a response to certain elements. Morrisound Recording Studios became the nucleus of this energy.
I think, you must have known everybody from the scene. Who were your friends? At that time did everybody play death metal?
We were closest to Chuck and Atheist. I enjoyed touring with Carcass and spending time with those guys. Also Pestilence became good friends from the tour. Malevolent Creation and Cannibal Corpse were friends in the early days. We also met and hung out with Slayer, Sepultura,Coroner, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Destruction….so many bands. We met or knew personally most of the bands from that time. It was a large community of musicians, but being in Death and Cynic exposed me to practically everyone.
I think, the career of Cynic can be divided into three parts. The first one was 1987-1990. You recorded three demos, you had some line up changes, you had gigs, tours etc. How do you remember those times?
I remember relentless hard work and efforts to make it happen. We toured up the coast in my mini van with Malevolent Creation. One time Cynic rented a truck and drove up to Alabama to play one show! It was just fun to be with each other. I was always putting the music first, but also getting shows, meeting people, sometimes, trying to keep the band together. A lot of change and growth in that period.
The second part was 1990-1992. Your musical taste/style had changed, your music became more complex. What was the reason for altering your music? Do you agree with me, you were the trailblazers of the progressive death metal?
The alteration wasn't conscious. It was a result of the process we were in. We were developing as musicians and became obsessed with originality. The combination of those elements along with a severe interest in complex/layered music led to our sound. Exposing our ears to Jazz was really the beginning of the deeper musical exploration.
At the end of the ’80-s Atheist appeared. Have they had an effect on you or inversely? "Piece of time” is an all-time favorite of mine, an excellent work.
Atheist were one of the other band's in the scene that we felt close to. Although our styles were different, we had a strong connection as friends during that period. We played shows with them and developed a great relationship between bands. Roger Patterson was a phenomenal bass player. He was a big part of that orginal Atheist sound.
Your fourth demo was financed by Roadrunner. How had you get in touch with them? As I as know, Kelly Shaefer (ex-Atheist) helped you.
Kelly did help us get our deal. He was telling everyone about the band and introduced us to Scott Burns and Borivoj Krgin. Kelly also sang background vocals on our 3rd demo that we recorded with Scott. After that demo, RR took an interest and financed the 4th demo. Kelly Shaefer, Borvoj Krgin, and Scott Burns were angels for Cynic.
If you compare the fourth demo to the previous ones, did you develop? Are there similarities/differencies between the demos?
I felt the development to be most was dramatic by the 4th demo. The sound was evolving and finding it's identity in those first 3 demos. By the 4th demo I understood the direction more clearly and Focus ultimately became the realized vision of those demo's.
Before you recorded your debut LP, a lot happened. You and drummer Sean Reinert played on Death’s classic "Human”. Why did Chuck choose you? Did you know him formerly? How was it to work with Chuck and Steve DiGiorgio?
I first played with Chuck when I was 18 years old. I missed my high school graduation to play some shows in Mexico with Death (for Leprosy) after he had kicked out Rick Rozz. I knew him as a friend before that, we use to get together and play guitar and hang out. After he toured for "Spiritual Healing" he was in need of musicians again, and I happened to be in a position to help him. Cynic was always my priority but I thought it would be a good opportunity . I recommended he check Sean out and he agreed. Steve was an old friend of Chuck's ( I think he met Steve when he was up in northern california working with Chris Reifert (who played drums on Scream Bloody Gore) . Chuck was excited to be making a record with Steve. It was a fun band, we were all good friends. We had a blast playing and practicing those songs. We rehearsed for the 'Human' recordings in the Cynic warehouse. Some of our energy must of leaked in.
What do you think about Chuck? He was the grandfather of death metal, wasn’t he? Unfortunately he's been dead for over two years…
I was just speaking to a friend about Chuck's death last night. Who would of known? He really wrote much of the language and was a visionary. He was pushing the envelope with new melodic sensiblites and unique riffs. He also knew how to write a memorable hook. His production approaches were completely unique and often set the standard for many of the death metal records that followed. He was trusting his instincts and he also knew he had something special to offer. He was always interested in developing his sound and growing as an artist.
How would you characterize „Human”? Which songs are your favorite? My faves are „Lack of comprehension”, „Flattering of emotions” and „Cosmic sea”. At that time you had made a video for „Lack of comprehension”. Did you play also on the Death tour?
Human is brutally intense, moody and tight as hell. I like the 3 songs you mentioned. ….yes Sean and I did the Human world tour.
You have played with Paul Speckmann too, on the „On the eighth day god created master” album. What should we know about it? The music of Master was simply and primitive, wasn’t it? Do you like the acts (Abomination, Funeral Bitch etc.) of Paul? He’s a death metal veteran.
Scott Burns was in the studio recording them and they had kicked out their guitarist in the middle of making the record. In a bind, Scott called and asked if I could help him with guitars. I went up to Tampa and literally recorded each song as I learned it. I improvised all the solos and being the perfectionist that I am, was not happy with the end result! I trusted Scott's blessing in the end. I had to surrender and let it go.
More guest work hindered your album recordings. I read in your biography, you are/were the most popular underground act to never record an album. What can you say to it?
The session work became contagious for the members of Cynic. It also spread our name far and wide. The member of Cynic within a year, played on 5 different records. The delay was a blessing, because we had more time to evolve and develop our sound. Everyone knew about Cynic because we never joined those bands and it was always understood that Cynic was our baby that would eventually have it's chance at life.
The third chapter in your career 1992-1994. At first, you had to seek a new bassplayer, because Tony Choy had left the band, he joined Atheist. Why? Had he enough from Cynic? Where and how did you find Sean Malone?
We loved Tony, it just wasn't right to continue playing with him. We grew with different ideas about the songs. We found Sean Malone in the studio. When we went to record Focus we had a different bass player who was (also playing with Atheist) Darren Macfarland. Darren was planning on playing on our record. When we got in the studio we realized he wasn't right for us either, and discovered Sean Malone. He was working at Morrisound as an assistant engineer. He also happened to be a great bass player. Within, I believe a few weeks, he perfected the material and came in to record bass.
On the compilation of Roadrunner „At death’s door II.” you had have a song on it - „Uroboric forms”. This was the first Cynic song, which was officially released, wasn’t it?
Yes. It was Cynic's first official introduction into the scene.
Although before the releasing of "At the death’s door” you were known, but how much did this compilation help your career? Do you remember who was on this compilation? In my opinion it was a good stuff. Did it help you to become more popular?
I wasn't sure about how it helped. It seemed subtle, but people became more familiar with us. Roadrunner put these different compilations together to spread awareness of their new signings.
You wanted to enter the studio in october of 1992, but a sad event happened. Jason’s house was destroyed by a hurricane, along with your rehearsal facilities. It can be said, a dark cloud was following Cynic until the LP was finally recorded..
Yes, a natural disaster delayed the recording. It was a blessing in disguise. We ended up with an extra year to really take things to the next level with the songs. Focus was really like our 2nd album. Our sound grew exponentially because of all this time.
When did you begun finally to record the album? Did you write some new songs or did you record only the demo songs? I think, Focus didn’t become a demo collection.
Focus was mostly new material and a couple older songs that we re-worked.
When and why did Brian DeNeffe join the band, who was the vocalist of Viogression? Was there a difference between your voice and Brian’s one? As I as know, he didn’t sing on the album.
I didn't want to sing the brutal vocals and we knew Brian from the Death 'Human' America tour. I liked his John Tardy like sound..He came down and played with us for a while. He is still a good friend. He had some personal things come up and needed to get back home.
You recorded the stuff in the Morrisound studio, with the help of Scott Burns. Tell me please about the recordings. How was it to work with Scott Burns? Morrisound studio seemed to have a spell of good luck. Why did Morrisound become so popular?
Scott was patient, intelligent, efficient and a great guy all around. He was the perfect engineer, because he was so easy to work with. Morrisound was a great studio in the middle of the state where much of the bansds from the scene were rising up. Scott also worked at Morrisound. A combination of logistics, the staff and timing led to it's success.
September 13th 1993 „Focus” was released. Tell me please about the songs, about the lyrics. This became a progressive death metal masterpiece.
Textures was the last song we wrote before going into the studio. At the time I wrote the introduction to Textures, I was a big fan of Robert Fripp and his Crafty League of Guitarists records. I later learned about King Crimson having that side too, because of Robert's influence. All that counterpoint madness he wrote was brilliant. Also the use of loops and ambient environments as backdrops to these sonically beautiful pieces. Much of our progressive jazz/fusion influences found their way into the songs in the form of our chord choices and harmony. A song like "How Could I" sounds to me like a classical etude. It was interesting to realize the unity in jazz and classical. Jason and I use to practice the Bach inventions with two guitars and we would swing them. It ended up sounding like Charlie Parker! All these curious little discoveries were hugely influencing us and our aspirations as artists. We spent a lot of time working on each and every detail. It was truly a labor of love. I spent a lot of time on the lyrics, they have always been very important to me. At the time of Focus, I was meditating quite often and much of that headspace became the identity of Cynic. My spiritual aspirations were woven into the sonic tapestry. The marriage of these escoteric lyrics with this escoteric music seemed right. Also, I was reading all kinds of metaphysical and psychological literature and that was a big influence. It was all about growth and learning about who I am,… it still is. I don't know how to live life without asking questions and inquiring deeper into it's meaning.
What’s your opinion about „Focus” if you compared this album to the Atheist records? What were the similarities or differencies between both bands? In my opinion both bands were brilliant, but the break-through failed. Do you agree with me?
Focus was completely different than the Atheist records. Sure it was progressive music but we each had our own unique voices that didn't really compare with each other. It was too different. We had similar passions for complex music. A big difference was in the foundation. For example, Steve was a great drummer, but he had a completely different approach than Sean. Our break through was in our sound as artists exploring a new medium and succeeding at pulling it off convincingly. In terms of poplularity, sure - it certainly wasn't making us rich, by any means. That was never the point. I reached who it needed to. I trust in that.
Didn’t you think, "Focus” was released a little bit too late. In 1993 death metal wasn’t on the top, it wasn’t as popular as before. In your opinion, did „Focus” become successful? Why did death metal go out from the fashion?
I trust the timing of it’s release. It may not have been during the peak of the scene, but it wasn't really meant to be. The record I felt wasn't quite understood on a large scale till years later. I don't think Focus was the kind of record to be regulated by time. It was it's own piece of art, floating around in it’s own universe. It's success came much later as a record that inspired a new generation of bands and artists. Roadrunner just reissued the album, eleven years after it's release. It was the most requested reissue in the Roadrunner catalog. That's pretty cool. Did death metal go out of fashion? It seems to be practically mainstream these days. Perhaps the original scene lost it’s luster. As does everything. The world of form is cyclical.
Did you tour and play with Atheist? Did you like the band's music?
I loved Atheist. Piece of Time has an energy to it that is transcendent. The other records were great too. We played many shows together over the years. Kelly was a great friend and believer in the band.
In your opinion, is "Focus” similar to the Cynic demos? I'm implying the structure, the speed, the fastness and the variety of the songs.
As mentioned earlier, Focus was really the end result. The demo's were the progression of a band evolving and developing its sound. We were writing more thrashy, faster songs especially during the early demo's. But, the sound got more intense by the time we recorded Focus. So it for me got heavier, but also mellower too. We became better at writing and arranging. We grew on our instruments and had more freedom to explore.
After the releasing of Focus, you went to Europe and toured as the support for Pestilence. How was it to play in Europe? Was it your first time in Europe?
We had a great time. We got along well with Pestilence. I was in Europe numerous other times with Chuck and Death, years before.
On the tour, Chris Kringel played bass and Tony Teegarden was the vocalist. I read you were in danger of losing your voice. Why? What happened to you? Were you satisfied with the achivements of Tony and Chris? Why didn’t Sean Malone tour?
I don't think my voice was designed to sing brtual. It was really affecting my vocal chords and I wasn't interested in risking further damage. Tony and Chris were both consummate professionals and easy to work with. On tour the most important thing, is knowing you can spend long periods of time with someone. They essentially become your family for a while. Sean Malone wasn't able to tour Europe with us because he was finishing his studies at University. Sean eventually came out with us for the US tour.
Why did Pestilence split up? Who played bass in Pestilence on the tour?
Tony played bass and a friend of the band's ( Ican't remember his name) helped out on the European tour. As to Pestilence's split, I'm not exactly sure...but, I think Patrick's taste were changing and he wanted to try something different.
1994 you toured the US with Cannibal Corpse. I think, it was interesting. How did the tour do? Why did Tony Teegarden leave the band? Who sang instead of Tony?
The tour was fun and did well. Although Cannibal's audience was at times hard for us, we always made it work. Tony wasn't able to do that tour because of life changes, and we had Dana Cosley come and help out. She played some keyboards and sang the aggressive vocals.
Why didn’t you play the Milwaukee metalfest in 1994? What was the problem with your label? Was it a conflict between you and Roadrunner?
It was financial thing, Roadrunner wouldn't give us the money to travel up to Wisconsin from Florida for the show.
Altogether did Roadrunner support Cynic's career? What’s your opinion about them? They were a very fine thrash/death label. Today, they are releasing every dirt, mostly nu metal. Do you agree with me?
Roadrunner was a good label for this underground movement, and was a pioneer in releasing those records. The label felt a bit limiting for a band like Cynic because we were moving in different sonic directions and we felt like they might not be able to promote us properly in the direction we were heading. They atleast put their bands on the road and understood the underground grassroots movement. I haven't kept up with what they are releasing today.
Why did Cynic disband? Nevertheless you had begun to work on a new album. Did you record some new songs? What was the difference and the similarity between the „new songs” and the songs on "Focus”?
Cynic eveloved so quickly that by the time we began rehearsals for our 2nd record we also knew everything was changing. We recorded 10 new songs as Portal in 93-94. Three of them were recently released on the Cynic reissue that came out in Nov '04. Have you heard them? We were getting more into ambient pop music and ethereal soundscapes. We also added a 2nd singer, Aruna who joined the band.
I have read, you had four songs, which were never released. They were „Useful human waste”, „A cynical sphere”, „Damage inc.” from Metallica and „Meeting of the spirits” from Mahavishnu Orchestra. Why didn’t you release these songs?
We had plenty more than those four. (two of those are covers anyway) But we were always writing, and were interested in the new songs versus the old. Moving forward. Also we weren't about to release a cover. We wanted to put out original material. Although the Mahavishnu cover we did was interesting.
What did you do after the splitting up of Cynic? What do the Cynic members nowadays do? Are you friends? Are you in contact with each other?
I still play with Sean Reinert in Aeon Spoke. Jason lives in Oregon with his wife and kids and still plays music but more as a hobby. He did play on much of Sean Malone's new record. Sean Malone is busy with his teaching work and Gordian Knot. Sean Reinert, Jason and I recorded some tracks for a song on the latest Gorian Knot release.
Is there hope of reforming Cynic? It would be very great.
No plans at this moment.
As I as know, you moved away from Florida? Why? Where do you live now?
I was interested in a different environment. I live in Los Angeles now. Perhaps Europe in the near future!
My last question: do you listen to death metal? What’s your opinion, about the death metal scene of nowadays? Your first five death metal classic of all-time.
I don't listen to much death metal these days. I would be curious to hear what's out there and how the sound has evolved. A top five is tough. But here's a quick thought on powerful records in the early days that I enjoyed. (in no particular order):
atheist - piece of time
pestilence - consuming impulse (I remember how brutal this album was)
death - early records including human
slayer - reign in blood
sepultura - beneath the remains
dark angel - darkness descends
destruction - release from agony
kreator - pleasure to kill
obituary's - Celtic Frost cover of 'circle of the tyrants' was cool.
Paul, excuse me for so many questions, but I liked Cynic and I want to support your work. Thank you for your patience and for your cool answers. I wish you all the best. Please close the interview.
Thank you Leslie, for what would be the most thorough interview I've ever done. Thank you to all of the fans for the tremendous support over the years. Thank you also to those spirits who took the time to read this interview . Check out aeonspoke.com - Stay tuned - blessings, paul masvidal
by David Leslie