You already started working on the album "Master Of Disguise" in 2006. Please tell us something about the process and about the long creative period. How have the songs changed over the years?
In actuality, we began working on material for “Master Of Disguise" in 2003, and even performed unreleased material from the album as early as 2004 - a lengthy creative period, to say the least. After nonstop grinding since 1992 with the common practice of write, record, perform, repeat, we decided to take our time with this one, and tried very hard not to torture ourselves or fall victim to whatever self-imposed anxiety that was constantly at the gates. The development of songs was not rushed, and both breathing room and attention to a variety of detail led to a longer maturation period. The fact is - as the self-produced entity that we’ve always been - the only deadlines we have are self-imposed, and given the scope of this new release, we wanted everything to be as close as possible to what was envisioned in every way - from the sound to the concepts to the material to the performances and packaging. We wanted something that could stand far beyond the consideration of time.
How did you produce the extensive spoken and cinematic parts (like in ‘Hunter And Hunted’ or ‘Dysphoria’) and what do they mean for the overall concept of the album? How did you ever come up with the theme for the album?
We've been utilizing cinematic clips in our recordings and performances since the inception of Braindance, and for this album, I knew exactly what kind I was looking for, and where I wanted them from. It took a few months to record and compile them, a few more to make final selections and designate placement, and still a few more to edit them together cohesively. The hope, naturally, is that they enhance both the material and storytelling throughout the album.
The theme for the album began long ago, with challenges I was facing in both my personal and professional life, and the unfortunate reality of having to frequently wear a figurative mask in order to 'maintain equilibrium,' as it were - as well as to regularly prepare for the possibility (or eventuality) of fallout for having done so over long periods of time.
This concept of sublimation and the subsequent disconnection and/or resentment associated with maintaining this duality blossomed into several associated concepts before morphing into a (hopefully entertaining) synchronistic science fiction/fantasy framework running parallel to the emotional underpinnings.
Without giving everything away - the album tells the story of a alien monarch whose exposure to otherworldly influence results in the loss of identity and the difficult journey of self-discovery that follows - all against the backdrop of a parallel universe sharing similarities with both ancient Egyptian and Mayan culture and civilization, both of which have always fascinated me.
The song ‘The Game’ begins with the words ‘Nothing is more important than family.’ How does this statement fit into the story of a hero who is looking for his place in the world and in life in general?
Again - although our lyrics always have clear underlying meanings for me, I do my best not to assign definitive conceptual thematic values in their presentation, because I believe listening should be somewhat interactive. Insofar as everyone's experiences are different, so should their interpretations be. Running underneath this fictitious science fiction or fantasy framework, then, I still might see despair and desolation, whereas someone else might very well see a hamburger.
I hope that I was able to dodge that question effectively :)
You have already worked with comic parts in the design for your releases in the past. Now you put it into a higher level with the packaging, plus a 16-page story in collaboration with the artist Joe Simko and other illustrators. How did these collaborations develop?
There’s certainly a lot going on - from the alphabet assembled and redesigned by myself and the mighty designer Kevin ‘Pavement K’ Beard, to the 3D mural by the German artist Rainer Kalwitz, to the ten page foldout illustrated by the incredible Joe ‘Sweetrot’ Simko, to the photos taken by Hristo Shindov, to the 16-page graphic novelette brought to life by Simko and Kieran Oats, to the amazing printing by Ross Ellis. I knew that I wanted packaging that (while still relevant to the material) was completely over the top, and that would also be rewarding for those fans who appreciated cool packaging attached to actual hard copies of music, like real fans often do.
For Master of Disguise, I did quite a bit of research on the history, religion, architecture, fashion, and overall culture of ancient Egyptian and Mayan civilization and society. I also spent a lot of time reading up on the history of written communication, from cuneiform and Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs and pictograms to Asian scripts, Cherokee alphabets and Anglo-Saxon and Nordic runes, and spent as much time reviewing archeological artifacts from around the world and their associated inscriptions. In particular, I focused on religious practices, burial techniques, and theories on the afterlife from ancient Egyptian civilization, drawing regularly from texts such as the Book of the Dead.
I spent of lot of time researching these different areas, because I wanted to convey the concept of identity loss and confusion under a simultaneous barrage of apparently unlimited information, or dense communication. I wanted to convey those ideas visually wherever possible, and in as many creative ways as possible. By creating an alphabet from every alphabet every created, by re-creating recognizable archeological artifacts within the packaging, and by creating a story in the which there existed a parallel society whose nature of communication was as perplexing as identity loss is, I felt that I paid attention to the underlying emotional challenges as well as presented something unique that draws the viewer (or listener) in, and makes it interesting enough to stay for awhile.
For the 'Golden Glyphs', i researched 60 alphabets from the very beginning of recorded time and chose five characters per alphabet to replicate in order to create a 300 character custom designed alphabet. These characters, visually presented in random (or not so random) order could easily be taken at face value as solely a form of hieroglyphic communication (and perhaps a moderately attractive visual effect), but the message behind choosing a visual comprised of a multitude of apparently non-compatible glyphs - and a main theme running through the entire album - again, is one of identity confusion amidst information. Kevin and I rebuilt these glyphs to create a uniform alphabet, and Ramon at Ross Ellis printing gave us the option of having an entire outer shell covered with raised gold leaf glyphs against a matte black background. Sha-zam.
Even before the creation of the 'Golden Glyphs', I knew that I wanted illustrator Joe ‘Sweetrot’ Simko to bring the central artwork and ten page lyric foldout for “Master Of Disguise" to life. Joe had already done awesome stuff for tons of bands such as GWAR and The Misfits, and had reached out to me before a Braindance performance in 2005 or so to express interest. Joe is one of those guys that I cannot say enough great things about - completely intuitive, massively talented, and the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Not to mention - able to exceed expectations (and tolerate my forever detailed directions) in record time, again and again.
The ten page foldout features our protagonist shadowed by an imposing structure, flanked by pyramids, and standing knee deep in sand, presumably before a great expanse of imposing desert. At his feet are recognizable archeological artifacts, yet he apparently remains completely unaffected by their presence, or associated symbolism or meaning. In his right hand he holds a royal staff and a purple robe, remnants of a life that is about to be left behind. In his left hand he holds a relic - an amulet of undefined power that has clearly affected him.
The 16 page graphic novelette, designed by myself, also illustrated by Joe Simko and colored by Kieran Oats of Cadence Comics, begins the saga of our protagonist, who, upon discovering the aforementioned ancient relic, ends up questioning his entire existence and destroying everything around him.
For the song “Lost” you have a professional video shoot and even created also a pure animated version, based on the comic. What hopes are you combining with this comprehensive release to “Lost”? Will there be more single releases or videos for other songs out of “Master Of Disguise”?
For the video, director Tony Hanson was able to incorporate three separate story lines, costumed actors, green screen technology, set design and makeup, overhead outdoor shots, CGI effects, live performance, and VFX digital artwork created from the ground up, aside from the animatronic rendering of the comic that was completed by Konstantin Vilenchitz.
In the video, the accompanying story for ‘Lost’ is quite different (other than the one told in the comic), incorporating a sinister character background of our monarch, a separate thread involving the priests and their magical influence, and overall, ending on a definitive moral high ground. Without a doubt, a different twist on the tale that Hanson suggested would be more effective in video form for viewers, and possible to duplicate for a series of three or four other videos.
As awesome as it would be to have a line of comics, or a series of animated stories based on the comic, or action figures from the packaging, or even - as mentioned - a collection of related videos produced and distributed in association with the release - my name isn’t Todd MacFarlane or Marc Silvestri (or Stan Lee, for that matter), and doing it yourself certainly takes its toll financially.
In fact, we’ve put so much attention to detail into the packaging of “Master Of Disguise,” that even if we were to sell out of every CD and shirt that we currently have, we still would take a loss on merchandise. A good business strategy? Perhaps not. But a strategy in line with producing things that might possibly be considered really fucking cool over a long period of time - priceless.
Especially in the “Underground” can hardly anyone afford a music release with such many specials and gifts as you are now offering with the whole “Master Of Disguise” pieces. How did you come up with the idea for this publication package and what obstacles did you encounter during the realisation?
Exactly my point. As a self-produced entity, there’s only so much we can do to promote the album without incurring some serious expense. But I believe that sending and promoting the distribution of physical product is important to maintain the magic that one used to experience when opening an album jacket, or CD booklet, or even a cassette j-card. It seems that as a moderately theatrical project, the least that we can do to keep the aforementioned excitement alive is to offer something more than a few digital downloads.
With the title "Progressive Darkwave" you do not only describe your music, but also publish under that label all of your publications and it also contains the management. How do you manage all this work? What would Progressive Darkwave Recordings say if tomorrow a major label would knock on your door?
I guess that depends on what time of the day they arrived, and what type of food they brought before knocking. Lunch time usually offers the widest array of dining options, so I would shoot for a midday arrival. Seriously, though - I am currently swamped with all things Progressive Darkwave, and could certainly use the assistance (not to mention entertaining the possibility of major label partnership, of course...!). There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be the Puff Daddy of Progressive Darkwave. :))
Let's talk about current topics again: How do you plan to bring the concept and the mystical atmosphere of "Master of Disguise" to the stage? What are your plans for live performances, a tour or festivals worldwide?
of the artwork as depicted in the comic and packaging of “Master Of Disguise.” That, and headline every major festival and arena in the galaxy, of course.
There are about ten years between the releases of “Redemption” and “Master Of Disguise”. How did the music world change during this decade and where do you see yourselves in the underground now?
As I’m sure everyone is already aware, the music world has certainly changed tremendously, even in the last ten years. Although Braindance has garnered the experience to be able to continue to function as a small self-sufficient unit, record sales across the board are way down, mid-level venues have all but disappeared, and tastes in music have changed considerably, especially domestically. Furthermore, labels are barely investing in artist development, and many industry personnel will lead you to believe that the only music available to you is music that you were raised on, since it requires little or no financial investment and absolutely no risk taking. Either sit back and watch as the only music you or your children are exposed to are 'artists' that perform cover songs via 'talent' programming such as 'American Idol', or nostalgia acts that you grew up on twenty to thirty years ago, engaged in yet another 'farewell' tour.
Whether good or bad, we’ve never been classified as anything other than ‘underground.’ As long as what we do crosses a few different sub-genres, as long as there is no ‘niche’ for us, as long as our music falls between the cracks of what is classifiable (even in the independent world, which prides itself on promoting new, exciting, underground music), we will remain in the underground. Since day one, we have done everything ourselves, and have relied on ‘underground’ magazines, webzines, radio stations, and most importantly, word of mouth to spread the word of this thing we call Progressive Darkwave.
Thank you very much and we wish you success with “Master Of Disguise” and much fun with it on stage.
Thanks to you and continued success with Legacy...!