Ken, MJ, Greg, Russ, & Chris - Masque

July 28, 2003

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Greg: MJ is the other guitarist. I'm Greg. Russ is our bass player. Ken is our singer and Chris is our drummer.

MJ: We're in a band that has been around for almost 11 years now. Since we all got together we basically stayed true to form. We try to keep the same style of music we were playing back before it was popular, when it was popular, and now we're paving a new way so to speak. We're trying something new. We're seasoned and we've been doing this for a long time. We're all in our mid-30s so we're not as young as some of these bands are today but we still feel pretty young. We're still dedicated and real happy about our album. Right now we're in the process of finishing our second album. We've got eight songs we're really happy with and we're looking at putting three more good ones on there. As writing goes, some of them don't come out as good or sometimes you'll start and then you might put it on the back burner because something else pops out that you start working on.

Greg: We're trying to get out and get as much exposure as we can at this point. I do work with the band Mother's Finest. I'm a guitar tech for them and they're really busy.

I listened to the CD and I loved it. Ken's vocals reminded me a bit of a cross between Layne Staley and Scott Weiland who are two vocalists I really like.

Ken: Well, thank you. I'm in good company then. They're two big influences on me. One of our songs, "Layne Sign", is a tribute to Layne Staley.

Tell us about the song.

Ken: Actually MJ came up with a riff and it was the day that they found his body. I was just thinking about him and the music and how it changed the scene. Just went off and that song grew out of the tragedy.

You guys released your CD, State Of Mind, last year in August.

Greg: MJ was telling you we stayed true to form. This is our first album we put out and we have probably close to 20 original songs out on various EPs and demos. My personal opinion is our older material I thought was a little deeper musically. More in depth. People that liked that music usually had to listen to it a few times before they'd start taking a shine to it. With our music now, I still think we keep the same creativity in our writing. It seems to flow a little better now. With the album, State Of Mind, we wanted to keep the songs that were on this album more upbeat and fresh sounding as opposed to some of the longer ones that were a little more in depth. Even though we still like to play those when we go out and do a show. You'll get some fans that will ask you to play a particular song. We'll pull the old stuff out for that.

Was it a little more in depth lyrically?

Greg: Our lyrics have always been I would have to say true to heart. The way we write, we don't try to make anything up. We like to write what's in our hearts or what's a real thing to us. Some bands like to write about fast cars or whatever. I think we write more on life things and life issues as opposed to fantasy issues maybe.

Like the power metal bands in Europe who like to write fantasy themes based on dragons and such which is cool.

Greg: Anybody who does that, more power to them. If I want to tell somebody a story, I sure would like to know what I'm talking about before I try to tell them a story. If we write about what we know, it seems to make a better song in the end.

You did some music for a homeless cause.

MJ: We wrote the song "Homeless". I think our singer spent some time in Columbus, GA. He said there were kids in the park and he came to know a few of the homeless people and realized they were really some people down on their luck. Any day it could be you and he wrote a song about it. Our manager heard it and it touched her heart. She knew it needed to be out there so we put it out. We got a ton of bands from Atlanta wanting to do a compilation with us so we picked 14 bands and did a compilation. That was in October. I think the show was October 22 of 1994. That was basically the start of this version of the band I guess. That's when we started realizing we really have a quality product and it's really good. I've said several times that I kind of wish I wasn't in this band so I could go see them. Like man, I wish I could have seen that. That's what we all say too. We go see other bands, especially a good band and that's my problem. I always want to see our own band.

I think you already have the best seats in the house.

MJ: Don't get us wrong. I love being up on stage playing too. For some people I guess it's skydiving or bungee jumping. To be on stage, that's my thrill ride right there.

That's probably the safest high you can get.

MJ: You're always trying to do one better. I keep waiting to get scared. I think that's the whole point. A couple of times we've walked out and gone "well boys, this is the real thing" and it was all over with. It was just the best high you've ever had. One of my idols is Gene Simmons of KISS. His work ethic. He said one time you've got to be a little bit crazy to stand in front of a bunch of people just to have them critique you. You're up there going "okay, what do you think about this?" We love to do it. For good or bad it's always been enjoyable. If I could do this for a living it would be the greatest thing in the world. Look at the guy who split the atom for the first time. It's just got to be that kind of a thrill. We're trying. We just got accepted to the Atlantis Music Conference showcase this year. We're actually do that this coming Friday night. New Music Reporter nominated us for Best Rock Band of the Year for 2003. I think the award show was a couple of months ago. We didn't win but we were nominated. It's still pretty cool.

At least you were in the running.

MJ: Yeah, exactly. We always seem to pull it together when we need to. I'll go into the show worrying about one thing or another and then when it's over with everybody's like "what the hell were you worrying about?" There's just so much confidence in the band. I think we can do it. There's no reason this band shouldn't.

The guy who produced your first album was Jeff Tomei.

MJ: He did Matchbox 20, Jerry Cantrell, and Brother Cane. Actually he was really instrumental. We got in there and played a few things and he made a few suggestions. You know how musicians are. "That's not the way I wrote it but okay, I'll do it." In hindsight you're going "man, he was right." It was good having somebody at his level to bring us up to our potential so we can put out what we were really capable of doing.

That's what you pay him for.

MJ: Exactly. I never understood that until now. I've done several demos. You go in there and they just ask you what you want it to sound like and you sit there and try to tell them. It's so nice having somebody that's seasoned into it and knows exactly what to look for. It seems like every change he did, at first we were kind of apprehensive about it, but it all turned out for the good. I think it's an unbelievable CD. It's just excellent. I can't wait for the next one. I'm one of my biggest fans. I can't wait for the next one.

You guys had the opportunity to open for Georgia Satellites and Three Dog Night.

MJ: Yeah, we did Three Dog Night for the Atlanta Peach Drop 2001. Yeah, that was cool. It was 18 degrees with about a -10 wind-chill so that was exciting to say the least. It was titillating, how about that? Yeah, we've done Georgia Satellites. We opened for Brian Howe. I guess he was Paul Rodgers' replacement in Bad Company. He gave us a few little pointers. We've opened several shows for Mother's Finest. That's how Greg got in with them. Just waiting to get out with somebody. Let the world see what we can do.

You guys are working on your second album. When will that be released?

MJ: I'm hoping by early next year is a good project date. It would give us about a year and a half on the first one. All the material might be a little bit harder edged. I think the older we're getting, the little more grittier we're getting. It's still from the heart rock and roll but I think it's got a little bit more punch to it. It's still going to have a positive back to it. It's not going to be any kind of downer music.

Ken, how did you become interested in being a vocalist?

Ken: It's always been a natural thing with me. First time I sang in front of a crowd was in fifth grade at a talent contest singing Queen. I took second place and just kept on from there. Got with one cover band to the next and just got better and progressed. Finally met Greg and they blew me away. They were a four-piece at the time. They just blew me away with the sound that was coming out. Then started writing and kept on going.

Who does most of the writing?

Ken: We pretty much all collaborate at the same time and you'd think that was crazy but it works for us. I have written songs on acoustic and brought to them to the band and it would just change to putting in distorted guitars but it would be structured. We can actually write a song and structure it all together and come up with ideas. I've never been able to do that with anybody else but these guys.

You guys are really cohesive.

Ken: Oh yeah, just full of love with music. We've never gotten to "well, what do we do next?"

You guys have always written your own material?

Ken: Yeah, we've always stuck to that. You're not going to make anything out of yourself playing other people's music. We're playing clubs and making some money. We have to do that when we play clubs for the club owners and such. We're working on getting up enough material to have as big a show as they want to do. There's no problem with the writing or the music as far as having a choice. Everybody's full of ideas.

You guys get played on three different radio stations. Are those local stations?

Ken: Yeah, 99.7 WNNX, 95 ROCK, and ALBUM 88. We put out some demo tapes and the compilation CD for Homeless and two cuts, "Wednesday's Child" and "Homeless", made airplay on all those radio stations. That was pretty exciting but we're having a hard time locally.

MJ: 103.7 in Athens, GA. Their afternoon DJ's name is Chris. He's real fond of trying to get us back in Athens right now. We're trying to work that in. We have a good welcome up in that town. That's a college town and that was one of the funnest gigs we played. We went up there on a Wednesday night and we didn't know what to expect. We were playing at a Wild Wing Cafe. I didn't know what to expect. We got there and there are 400 kids packed in this little room. They were playing "State Of Mind". That was a really good show. It really was. Q106 in Macon is playing "Morning After". That's another weird thing. We write these songs and of course we all love them. We always ask ourselves "what wouldn't you think would get airplay?" I don't know how their program director picks it out but different stations seem to want to play a different one. That's good too. It really makes me feel good.

My favorite is "Joan".

MJ: That's a good song. We play that one out. I actually play harmonica on that song. One of the few.

That song reminded me of Guns N' Roses "Used To Love Her".

MJ: Actually that was an older song we wrote but you're right. A lot of people request that song. We decided to put that on the album because friends and fans were asking if we were going to put "Joan" on this album. At first we were thinking well, should we? Then we had to put it on there. That was one of the ones that used to get people going. You're surprised. A lot of times at a rock show you don't see many people dance but you play that song and people get up and start dancing. That's pretty cool. We're all up for that too.

You guys are mainly promoted in Georgia. Have you traveled outside of Georgia?

MJ: Right now we just got our foot into Chattanooga, TN and 103.7 SURF in Wilmington, NC. We're going to try to get up there. Right now we just hooked up with some more management help that's getting us a rider that goes out before us and a promotion team that will take care of radio stations before we get to town. We're right at that point now. We're breaking out.

Talk about some of the tracks on State Of Mind.

Ken: "State Of Mind" is where we were at when we got back together and started writing new material. Our dedication and our goals were what I was thinking of when we wrote that. "Calling" is kind of a religious thing. As far as I've been told, I had a calling in a religious aspect and took that and wove it in with our goal that we all have in mind of being successful. Sticking to our guns and going as far as we can. The first song on the album, "#5", the lyrics aren't written down anywhere. I spontaneously wrote it and just never put them down on paper. We recorded it and just kept it like it was.

MJ: When we recorded it, it was actually track five on the track sheet. We wondered what we were going to call this song. Since it was track five, we just called it "#5". Over the years it stuck that way and now it's concrete.

That's where I came by the Layne Staley resemblance.

MJ: Jeff did a good job on that song. We added some percussion that filled in some good spots. He really captured the vocal energy. I've always had a problem finding an affordable engineer that could do that. He really did a good job on that one.

Ken: Working with Jeff was really a good learning experience for all of us. We have done numerous recordings in the past but like MJ was telling you earlier, you'll get into a studio and you'll have an engineer track all your music and that's all great. But when it comes time to mix down, you've got five guys in a band trying to tell an engineer what we think it's supposed to sound like. With Jeff, when he accepted to produce this record for us, it was his baby after we were done. Another thing is, when we went to record, he would say we need to have percussion in here or he needs another guitar track or we're going to do this again. He'd pretty much tell us what we were going to do. When we went and listened to the album after he had it done for us to review it, we were devastated. We couldn't even believe that it would come out that good. That was a good thing too.

It sounds like he was as excited as you were.

MJ: Not only that but we actually put out a video that's just out. It hasn't been released yet but we've just finished our first video. It's to the song "Road Lights". We've captured live footage, in-studio footage, even some footage from our rehearsal space, and you have this all blended in and it goes with the song. There are a couple of spots in the studio where you can see Jeff in it. We got that done. That was pretty moving too. I'm pretty excited about that also.

Who are you sending that to?

MJ: MP4 is probably the first place it's going to go. I know the last new management team we had, they were really impressed with it and tried to find an avenue to send that down to. Honestly, video is still new to me. We'd like to get it as far as we can. A lot of stuff MTV won't take unsolicited. Usually if you can get your foot in there and ask if you can send it to them and they say yes, then that's a good thing. A lot of times you'll send stuff out and it never makes it to where it needs to be seen.

Chris: To be honest with you, unless you're into rap, it's hard to be a rock musician here in Atlanta. That's one of the reasons we're trying to go into other markets because it is kind of tough at this point around here in Atlanta. We're getting out there slowly but surely. We're just getting some more exposure. We're getting some people who know the business a little bit better than us. We're venturing out slowly but surely. As far as my perspective goes, basically now we've been doing this so long. As far as writing goes, we pretty much write for ourselves. We make sure we enjoy it before we put it out to the public. God forbid if it happens to make someone forget something for a minute or two during their day or it makes somebody bob their head and forget about their problems. Then our job is done.

Music is that great escape.

Chris: That's basically all we can ask for at this point. Until we get out there. It's just a matter of touching a few people.

Any last thoughts or comments?

Russ: We're going to be one of those 11 year overnight sensations.

Masque