MASI ON MUSIC
An Interview with ALEX MASI
by Jeff Rogers
Rough Edge: Alex, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions before you jet off to Europe for a couple of months, is it a business trip or just for pleasure?
Alex Masi: Both actually. I'll be doing shows
and guitar clinics but I'll also be hanging out with family and friends.
Rough Edge: Your first disc of incredible guitar playing, "Fire in the Rain," was released in 1987. Your current disc, "1900 Hard Times" with MCM (Alex Masi, Randy Coven and John Macaluso) was released in 2007. Can you believe it's been twenty years since your first release?
Alex Masi: Yeah ... time and its passing is a weird subject ... especially when one lives past 30, you start to wonder about the whole design of the universe and all things in it ... awareness and consciousness of self and others and the impermanence of it all. MCM 1900 was the last album with me (plus Randy and John) as headliner but I've recorded and appeared on a bunch of other people's albums since then.
Rough Edge: I'm big into guitar players who stand above the crowd: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Yngwie Malmsteen. I don't want to list my Top 20 (you're in it by the way) so when I heard "Vertical Invader" I had to check out your history. "Attack Of The Neon Shark" was your first solo record, what was it like to record it?
Alex Masi: It was a brand new game for me because, up to that point, I had only been involved in "band projects" and suddenly I had carte blanche to do whatever the hell I wanted, which was a tremendous thrill but also a lot of responsibility especially considering the money the company was spending in the studio, for other musicians and for my advance ... but i just chose to record what felt right at the moment and stopped worrying about making it a big seller, etc. Plus, I got to jam with Allan Holdworth and that alone was worth the price of admission ... the album was nominated for a Grammy so in the end everyone was happy, even if the music was mostly weird.
Rough Edge: Anybody who researches you will no doubt discover your love of classical music. Your obvious influences are Bach, Mozart and Beethoven; how much fun was it to dedicate three separate albums to each composer?
Alex Masi: I don't know if "fun" is the term I would use ... probably more like "inspirational." Bach was the first of the three. Recording that one was therapy for me having just come out of a pretty dark period and installing my early studio at my house. Mozart and Beethoven were recorded in a more relaxed situation and you can hear it ... the Bach album had a lot of urgency. Recording all three was an intense high simply because you're reading, executing and recording music that's so obviously above the norm it can't help but put your spirit on some amazing spiritual level.
Rough Edge: MCM has released two discs, "Ritual Factor" and "1900 Hard Times." Are there anymore releases slated for future fans? Also, tell us about how you formed MCM - was it a side project or a planned collaboration?
Alex Masi: MCM happened because I was contacted by some promoter in Mexico City to go and perform there and my reply was that I wanted to take a rhythm section with me. I've known John Macaluso for 22 years now (wow!) and we've been in touch on and off through the years. He recorded on some of my stuff, we did some touring, etcetera, so i called him and he suggested Randy Coven who had just been with him with Malmsteen first and then with ARK. We went to Mexico City and played some shows there, having the best time on stage, so when we got back to the US we decided to make an album. Keep in mind that 90% of the music we did with MCM was improvised so it was easy and quick. At this point, MCM is "on ice." I have a couple of albums that I'm finishing right now, John has a music school in NYC to run and Randy ... I'm not really sure what Randy's doing (LOL). Who knows, maybe in the future we'll do something else if someone feels like having us play and the offer is good.
Rough Edge: A little off the subject, how do you think the music business has adapted to MySpace, iTunes and various other websites that get music to the fans quicker albeit they still want to market it to certain demographics. Has the internet helped you to broaden your audience?
Alex Masi: A complicated subject ... first off, let me say that I'm not a fan of what you called "the music business." I've had the dubious pleasure of meeting many of its representatives through the years and the majority of them are absolutely uninterested in artistic values but only concerned with commercial values. The very concept of business as it's been shaped and accepted in the Western world is meant to flatten all content and render it acceptable to the lowest common denominator so, as long as the turd is polished and well-packaged, it'll be an easy item to market with the added value of not making too many cultural waves. So, to answer your question, I don't really care about the format in which the transaction takes place. My concern deals a lot more with content rather than market place. I could go on a lot longer about why corporate powers have immense interest in making mediocrity the golden standard, etcetera, but I'm pretty sure not too many people would interested in reading my rantings.
Rough Edge: Your official website at http://www.alexmasi.net has you sitting on an amp surrounded by nine guitars. How many do you actually own? Which guitars have the best memories attached to them?
Alex Masi: I've had dozens and dozens of guitars through the years. I'm not a collector by any means, I simply like to have instruments that are easy to play and that help me get my point across, that's all. I have about twenty guitars that I really feel at home with when I play them and they're all different. I've been working with MUSIC MAN for a couple of years now and I love their SILHOUETTE which is one of the easiest guitars to play in the market. My old Charvel Sunburst has my favorite neck EVER .... this thing is a dream to play. I have a few old Carvins as well that I put through hell onstage etcetera and still kick ass. Unfortunately, another old Charvel i had (the one that Shawn Lane is holding in that picture of me and him that's on the Internet) was accidentally destroyed by a roadie years ago and that one was a thing of beauty.
Rough Edge: You're a creative artist, how does the thought process happen when you want to write a new song? Is it different each time, do you have a ritual that you go through?
Alex Masi: It's always different. It has changed through the years as well, plus it depends on the type of music I'm doing. Lately, though, I prefer to let something else take over and get myself out of the way of inspiration or whatever you want to call it ... no rituals ... well, unless by rituals you mean having a couple of good drinks or taking a walk on the hill in the back of my house.
Rough Edge: This might be a softball question but I have to ask: Do you enjoy playing in the studio more, playing live or when you sit down and just let the magic flow. Is there a feeling that comes over you when you know you have composed something really special?
Alex Masi: I like both studio and live ... very different deals though. In the studio, I love the control you can have over everything and the fact that technology can be used just like a musical instrument to get as close as possible to what you hear in your mind. Live for me, it's all about raw emotions, animal instincts and spiritual connection with the other musicians and the audience. I improvise best live. In the studio I tend to organize my playing a lot more. When things are happening onstage the best feeling I get is something comparable to losing oneself in a wave of energy.
Rough Edge: Last question, I promise. But itís a three part answer. How do you convince people that music is always evolving? A lot of people get stuck in musical ruts and they can't seem to understand that music isn't just notes on a page but a feeling captured and applied. How do you convince someone to broaden their musical horizon? Is music art like a talent or abstract?
Alex Masi: I'm not sure if by "evolving" you mean historical evolution, evolution of content, form etc? Good music deals with the ineffable, the things for which words are useless so evolution can only affect form, presentation, structure, style etcetera but at its core any form of profound artistic expression remains always the same ... a chorale by Bach, a John Coltrane solo, an Indian raga, "Voodoo Child" by Hendrix, etcetera, all share the same common place in the human spirit regardless of history or geography. The problem occurs when some people become obsessed with the preservation of styles and form and try to turn music into museum pieces or even worse, like in the case of my die hard rock fans, nostalgia starts creeping in and the whole thing becomes a sad celebration of "the good ol' days" and everything starts to smell like a mummification lab ... tribute bands, bands reforming just to play the hits, audiences trying to relive their youth, etcetera. Your other question is about "trying to convince someone to broaden their musical horizon," well, I don't really try to do that, ever. It's up to the individual to decide when it's time to try something new or look at something from a different perspective. I've never been into proselytizing. If someone will ask me for an opinion or advice I'll do my best but each one of us needs to walk down their own path. Music is an abstraction as much as it is a reality just like so-called reality can also be seen as an abstraction. I think art is mankind's way to deal with the mystery of it all, something most religions have failed miserably at doing. Talent enters the picture only in order to organize how to make art possible on a physical level but each one of us is a potential artist.
Rough Edge: Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions. Enjoy your trip to Europe!
Alex Masi: Thank you and I hope to have at least partially answered your questions without boring you too much!
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400 .