Shelley, Lynette (The Red Masque) (December 2002)

Not Haruspicy, But A Look Inside The Red Masque

Lynnette Shelley (photo: Sam Gollapalli; courtesy)Back in June 2002 The Red Masque were on the cusp of their first, self-organized festival, the Philadelphia Underground Music and Culture Festival, which was held June 1 in Philadelphia and featured also Land Of Chocolate, Persephone's Dream and Church of Hed (the latter featuring members of Quarkspace).

On December 6, the band will take part in the Philadelphia Project: A Night Of Experimental Music, which features also features Dysrhythmia and Second Sufis, which will be held at the Sedgwick Cultural Arts Center. Recent shows at the Sedgwick have featured California Guitar Trio, IZZ, Niacin, Greg Howard, among others. They will also play host to the Second Philadephia Underground Music and Culture Festival, scheduled for March 8, 2003, which will feature Dysrhythmia, Second Sufis, Dreadnaught, and The Red Masque.

I initially talked with TRM vocalist (and multi-instrumentalist) Lynnette Shelley in May and again this past November. The transcript of our chat is below. In that time, the second EP they were working on became the first full length album, Victoria And The Haruspex, Nathan-Andrew Dewin left to devote his time to a musical tribute to his brother, replaced by keyboardist Marcia Bachochin-Fabirkiewicz. Guitarist Steve Blumberg left in June, replaced by Kiarash Emami The current lineup is: Lynnette, Marcia, Kiarash, Brendan Ross (bass, acoustic guitar, and keyboards) and Brian "Vonorn" Van Korn (drums, percussion and concert harp).

SS: There seems to be a large prog scene happening in Philadelphia/Pennsylvania of late, what with Persephone's Dream, Land Of Chocolate, Echolyn and, of course, yourselves. What's in the water there?

Lynnette Shelley: If you consider four bands a scene, then I guess it's a scene, LOL. And, with the exception of the past NEARFest show, Echolyn doesn't really gig. In all seriousness, though, I would LIKE to make Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia in general, into having more of a scene. That's one of the reasons we've been playing with Land of Chocolate, Dysrhythmia, with Persephone's Dream, and now Second Sufis. I think musicians and bands should work together and support each other in order to keep the "scene" alive. That's one of the reasons why I organized the Philadelphia Underground Music & Culture Festival on June 1, and why I am going to do a second one on March 8.

SS: Why organize the PUMC? It's got to be a great undertaking...

LS: I came up with the idea of the festival because a nearby venue - the Sedgwick - offered to let us have the space available for a show for a very small fee. Our bass player is a freelance Audio Visual technician there, so I think because of that, and also because they were interested in hosting some more live shows in the area, they offered us the venue for such a low price.

The Red Masque (clockwise from top left: Vonorn, Brandon, Lynnette, Marcia, and Kiarash; photo: Sam Gollapalli)And while organizing this festival is, indeed, a pretty time-consuming process, I really wanted to organize a show where I could choose the bands and offer them a quality venue to play. I had been talking to Rowen [Poole] of Persephone's Dream about how hard it is for original and unique bands to find appropriate venues to play. Most of the venues around here, as well as where Rowen is from (Pittsburgh), have a pretty narrow-minded view in regards to organizing a show. I guess I can't blame them. The bar owners are running a business and their business is selling beer. As such, they need bands that will pack in the bars and have a lot of people drinking. They do not sell music. Music to them is a commodity, an incentive, to get people to drink beer. And, unfortunately, the music that will appeal to the largest portion of people -- who they want to get through the doors to drink beer -- is often watered down, bland and homogenized. Music that is outside the box, so to speak, will appeal to a limited amount of people, which is not something the bar owners are interested in. I've had bar owners who've heard our CD tell us they really like the music and they'd love to see us live, but they thought the songs were too "weird" for their regulars.

Another problem we've encountered is that the majority of booking agents and venues treat the performers like cattle, cramming in as many bands as possible, each act only getting to play for half an hour perhaps, in order to cram in as many people into the bar as possible. This does not usually work, though. If there are four different bands, each band might bring their own 10 to 15 people with them to the show, and then that crowd leaves as soon as their band is off. Also, the fourth band usually ends up playing at 1:30am and whomever they brought with them has already left to go home to bed.

I organized a show not too long ago that turned out to be the highest attended show on a Tuesday night in the history of that club. It turned out well because the bands all went well together (we've had venues pair up rap acts with death metal and art rock groups - didn't' mix too well), and all the bands looked out for one another, as opposed to each band trying to screw the other band over, which happens all to often in this city.

This festival is a way for me to bring quality, underground bands that you otherwise may not hear, into a quality setting that will allow the audience to fully appreciate the music. I've wanted to perform with all the bands for quite a while now, and this seemed an ideal way for me to finally achieve that goal.

SS: What was the response to the first PUMC?

LS: We got quite a fair amount of inquiries as well as tickets sold (I think all in all we had 100 people during the course of the show, which I think wasn't bad considering this was the first festival and the venue was not very well known at the time). We also had a lot of vendors there, a very cool light show, a dancer, food and other fun stuff. We came THIS close to having TROMA studios (of Toxic Avenger fame) as another entertainment at the show, but they had to pull out due to a conflict of schedule, which was a shame. It would have made my day to have the Toxic Avenger announce the bands on stage!

SS: Back in May, there was talk of an EP... what eventually came out seems longer than just an EP...

Victoria And The HaruspexLS: Actually, it's our first full-length album and it came out at the beginning of June. It's available through Musea Records and Big Balloon Music. By the time we got out of the studio, we had recorded 49 minutes worth of music, so it's a bit too long-winded to be an EP! The album, called Victoria And The Haruspex, features four songs: "Haruspex," which is a 24-minute piece that incorporates everything from an electric concert harp to a didgeridoo to a toy piano and a musical china doll named Victoria; "Birdbrain," a dark psychedelic song that features the lyrics of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; "Afterloss," an acoustic song with lyrics taken from a Shakespeare's "Sonnet 90"; and "Cenotaph," which is a solo concert harp piece. I think people will be a bit surprised by the album, which is a lot mellower or even starker in places than in Death Of The Red Masque; as well as a lot weirder in many respects as well. One reviewer described our last recording (the Death Of The Red Masque EP) as having a "Mardi Gras gone to hell" kind of atmosphere to it. The new album, I think, is more subtle in its creepiness.

SS: Was there material left over from these sessions? Are you already working on a follow up?

LS: We plan to enter the studio this spring. I have a song list for what we want to include on this next album (all new songs). Big Balloon Music, our distributor, has been talking to us about backing our next album when it comes out, so we'll see what happens with that as well.

Death Of The Red MasqueSS: When I reviewed Death..., I compared it to King Crimson... where they an influence at all?

LS: Yes and no. We all like King Crimson, so I guess it can't be helped if a little influence shows up here and there. But we never try and sound like anybody else. We try and do our own thing, which I think we've accomplished. We all have other types of music we like to listen to, though -- from gothic to world music -- so I would hope that we don't sound just like another run-of-the-mill "prog" band. Personally, I like to pride myself on us NOT sounding like a "prog" band as many of the newer acts sound terribly dated. (there are exceptions though.... Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, for one).

[This interview was fraught with delays on my part, owing to the harsh work schedule I have with my day job. Having shared this explanation with Lynnette, I asked,] Since I mention my day job/eve job conflict -- if you, too, have a day job(s) ... how do you balance the two? Do you find it difficult to try and play live dates or are your employers pretty cool about it?

LS: Everyone else has more or less freelance type of jobs - Brandon does audio/visual work for venues, Vonorn is a producer, Marcia teaches piano lessons and Kiarash just got his degree so he is looking for work currently. I had a 9 to 5 job up until this past June, when I got downsized due to the bad economy affecting my company. But when I DID have a job, it was pretty independent.... I don't have a boss in the office, and I had a lot of control over how my day goes. That helped out tremendously in that respect.

But, yes, having a cool day job is important. We had a new guitarist (Abhi Taranath) join us after Steve Blumberg (our original guitarist) announced his decision to leave, and he played with us for about a month, as well as recorded on the song "Haruspex" on the new album, and then realized that he could not possibly fit in practice time and do his day job at the same time. So he quit and we replaced him with Kiarash back in July.

Being in a working band requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice. You won't have very much in the way of free time so you have to have the mentality that the band comes first before all things. Obviously everyone needs a day job to support themselves, but if you want to be a serious musician you do have to sacrifice, perhaps, a better paying day job in exchange for one that allows you the free time to devote to your craft. It all depends on whether you'd rather be a hobby musician or a "working" musician. And that's a choice that everyone individually has to decide for him or herself.

SS: Thanks, Lynnette, for taking the time to talk with

The Red Masque (l to r: Brandon, Lynnette, Vonorn, Marica and Kiarash; photo: Sam Gollapalli)
The Red Masque (l to r: Brandon, Lynnette, Vonorn, Marica and Kiarash)

Death Of The Red Masque (ep) (2001)
Victoria And The Haruspex (2002)
Feathers For Flesh (2004)
Fossil Eyes (2008)
Stars Fall On Me (2009)
Mythalogue (2013)

Added: December 2nd 2002
Interviewer: Stephanie Sollow

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