a busy lad - Patriot Ledger

THE PATRIOT LEDGER
January 19, 2006

MUSIC PREVIEW

Mascara puts on CD release party in Cambridge

By CHAD BERNDTSON | Read the article at The Patriot Ledger

Chris Mascara's been a busy lad since his 1999 debut album ‘‘Cellar Door'' emerged as a raw, bohemian shake-up of Velvet Underground stylistics, Pere Ubu-style punch and glistening instrumentation.

Since then, he's been a man about the local scene, playing Jesus in Boston Rock Opera's 2000 production of ‘‘Jesus Christ Superstar'' (alongside Gary Cherone, no less), and masterminding 2003's memorable run of Lizard Lounge collaboration shows, Scara's Night Out. He also maintains an Indian music duet, Sitar Tabla Power, with his wife, Deb, keeps his classical organ chops alive at a 140-year-old church on the Tufts University campus, and even finds time to sing Sinatra, advise scholars on sustainable development and environmental law, and make plans to build a soundproofed studio in his home garage.

But Mascara the band - which in addition to Mascara on guitar and vocals also features Rikki Bates on drums and Chris Girard on bass - is of renewed interest these days, and after a six-year break from new material, the trio has a brand new EP, ‘‘Spell,'' to fete. Brainy and intense, Mascara joined us for an e-mail chat on the new recordings and his recent activities, prior to tomorrow night's CD release bash at the Lizard Lounge. He reports that a broader tour is in the works, and a full-length follow up to ‘‘Spell'' is also on the horizon.

Q: With all the things you've done over the past few years, why a new EP now?

CM: It's an understatement to say I've been eager to release new material; (‘‘Cellar Door'') came out in November 1999. In the intervening time, I've been developing new material and redefining my creative process. By January 2002, I reconstituted the band, and (Scara's Night Out) granted us regular exposure and a live setting in which to hone the new tunes. Shortly after, we went to Indecent Music and recorded basics for ‘‘Spell'' with engineer Hendrik Gideonse.

Life events for each of us took precedent over the project's speedy completion. However, as a result, the end product stands up and is stronger for the amount of time devoted to it.

In early 2005, we reconvened, finished the mixes, and by mid-year, mastered ‘‘Spell'' at M Works. We scheduled the release for January 2006 because we wanted to start the new year off with a bang, as well as allow for enough lead time for design and promotions. We chose the EP format for starters because we are reintroducing our music with the new and improved lineup to our public and are offering a new calling card to potential fans.

Q: How has your songwriting evolved in the past few years?

CM: Performing with a steady lineup for a few years now has shaped the songs I bring in. I write with the players' individual sounds and strengths in mind. So, naturally, Rikki and Chris translate the message and intent of my expansive, angular songs, matching my headiness and bringing rock muscle and urgency.

At the outset of writing a tune, a particular mood may strike, triggered by a lyrical or musical phrase that, in turn, dictates the flow, identity, and even what guitar tuning to employ. I use three alternate guitar tunings as well as standard tuning, which lends a distinctiveness to my sound.

Inspiration, to me, is like the alleged art of ‘‘psychometrics'' where past events and emotional circumstances can be divined through touching a person or an object. ‘‘Cellar Door'' takes us down into an old, dank, dark basement strewn about with the abandoned effects of a forgotten person, sifting through an old trunk, studying patina-ed photos, questing for ‘‘Rosebud,'' the humanity beneath the artifacts. These things all tell stories, some melancholy, some creepy, some angry, some mysterious.

‘‘Spell'' takes a journey also, but this time via an old wooden school desk, to childhood memories of grammar school: growing up, losing innocence, tackling hurtful events, fully appreciating formative moments seemingly inconsequential at the time.

Q: What else is different about the ‘‘Spell'' material than your previous musical efforts?

CM: Generally, ‘‘Spell'' is more fully realized, concise and primal than its predecessor. ‘‘Cellar Door'' focuses on musicianship and accuracy, where ‘‘Spell'' emphasizes a raw, more live-performance sound. On ‘‘Spell,'' we exploit each song's character by tailoring its backdrop. ‘‘Cellar Door's'' more exotic instrumentation included sitar, bowed double-bass, dobro and lap steel. ‘‘Spell'' brings out the organ, piano, samples, and vintage studio effects.

MASCARA
CD release party with Binary System, Ramona Silver and Reverend Glasseye. At the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 8 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets $10 at the door or $8 in advance through virtuous.com. Show is 21-plus. Mascara also plays the Middle East Upstairs with Voodoo Screw Machine on March 2.

Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Thursday, January 19, 2006