Interviews

Instant Magic – introducing NYC post punk act MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE

MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE
1,5 year after our last interview about his solo project and just a couple of weeks after the release of the new EP by his new band, we have teamed up with Mason Mercer to discuss his new alt rock / post punk project MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE. The band has just released their new EP and music video for the song “Negotiations Failed”, a joyous and at times haunting journey that experiment with the unexpected and should definitely receive widespread acclaim. Hence our interview, conducted over the course of September and November.

MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE released their debut EP “Demonstration” earlier this year and unveiled a follow up EP called “Bellycrawl” in early December. Both records are available via God’s Creatures Records.

Hey Mason! Thanks so much for taking some time with IDIOTEQ. There’s not too much information on MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE in the Web. Can you let our readers in on your story? What led to you forming this new project?

Thank you so much for having us! MBP started earlier this year. The idea for starting the project came to me in Spring 2015. I had just released an EP with my solo project and I was aching to start something new with a full band. I wanted the sound to be really dark and militaristic. I wrote a ton of demos in Fall 2015 and Winter 2016. I started sending the demos to some musicians I knew around Brooklyn. I sent the demos to my old roommate Blair. I was really nervous because Blair is like a really awesome painter and has really cool taste in music, so I didn’t think he’d like the songs, but he almost immediately responded that he was really into the demos. So we started jamming and it felt so natural. His drumming was super violent and really complimented my guitar playing. It was instant magic. I sent my brother the demos and he was surprisingly interested in them. We still needed a bass player, and my brother works at a rock climbing gym and invited one of his co-workers (Chris Jang) who lived one block away, over for dinner and board games one night. We had a great night and instantly hit it off, and I find out he went to NYU to study jazz bass. Chris and I started jamming and he learned the songs as fast as I could play them for him. The lineup was finalized and we started playing and recording in Spring 2016.

What’s the story behind the name? Does it reveal a global concept and defines your approach with this band?

We had an extremely tough time deciding on a name for the band, not because we couldn’t think of anything, but because we came up with too many perfect names (I won’t share runners up because I’ll likely use them in the future for other projects!). Literally minutes before our first show started, we still hadn’t picked a name, but there was the favored option, and when I introduced our band before our first song it was the first time the world had known our band as MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE. Looking back it was for sure the best name for the band.

The name MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE is something I want to be somewhat ambiguous, because the concept of “something tough before/in front of something wonderful” is something people have to deal with often, and I want this band to represent that for people in whatever circumstance they need it to.

The phrase MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE however came from a short film I made last year. A few years ago I had shot some footage to make a fun little video with both my brothers while we were on the beach that was gonna be called “Dudes of Paradise.” I never edited the footage or finished the video, but I had a second similar idea called “Músculos Antes De Paraíso” (MUSCLES BEFORE PARADISE) which I eventually made. Because the first film was never made, MADP had nothing to do with the first film and took on it’s own meaning. When thinking about names for the band, I liked the MBP phrase and saw how it could represent something different in a different setting. I proposed it (using Muscle instead of Muscles) as a band name and we latched on!

Your debut tape is a one hell of a psychedelic trip. How did this come about this particular style? Tell us about your inspirations.

Our sound is the fruit of a pretty natural progression of my guitar playing. With the new project I wanted to be playing more raw and direct. When we were growing up my dad played us tons of old roots reggae music. The distinct and relentless cadence of the bass playing in those songs has always been a shape I try to make. I really wanted the songs to be vicious and hard-hitting but with melody strung through the holes in the coarseness. Kind of like how some post-punk bands do it, where it’s really dark but there is something catchy running inside that darkness that is attractive. It’s a mark I aim for in my solo songs too. I feel like this idea is the closest posture to what the background music of my internal monologue would be. Blair and I used to play in another NYC band together called SPORTS GUY. When playing in that band I could always tell he was wanting to get more violent with his playing than he was allowing, so with this project I feel like he is uncaged and it’s been incredible to have that devastation as the running wheels under the guitar.

Chris is our resident theorist and is able to take the sopping wet and muddy riffs I bring in from the wild and able to examine it from its limbs to its most molecular atom and tell us all about it and how it works. Chandler is our minister of fullness, I have a tendency to leave things very skeletal, and Chan’s playing clothes the old bones with skin and warm breath, using big chords and pedal prowess to make it a full and wholesome sound.

Are you bored of playing hardcore?

There has been a duality present ever since I started playing music. Half of my time has been spent playing punk/hardcore the other half has been in experimental/indie music. I think MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE is the closest I’ve come to bridging the gap between the two, but I do hope it resides mostly on the alternative side. Is this because I’m sick of hardcore? No, I just feel like I’ve accomplished a lot of what I wanted to playing punk and hardcore and now I want to develop the other half of the duality more with this project.

How does your work with MBP differ from your creative process with your previous bands? Also, what was the recording process like?

The writing process is a lot more freeing for me than say my solo project for instance. When I write for MBP in able to have more intricate parts and changes because more than one person is going to be playing it. Also dynamics are taken much more into consideration because with a full band we can add so much variation of intensity within a song. When we work on a new song together as a group a or of parts change to become more realistic for a band to be playing, and the intensity gets further bolstered by the drums building in complexity the more we play. The songs exist in a different universe viscerally, much more emotional and simultaneously violent and athletic. I allowed the songs to get louder and grittier sonically.

We recorded the vocals, guitars, and bass all in my little bedroom in my apartment, then we recorded the drums at the sanctuary of the neighborhood church I go to using a few mics I had sitting around my room. The total cost for recording was $0. I’m big into the idea of recording your music yourself because it’s just another aspect that gets painted by your individuality and adds another level of uniqueness and diy ethic to your music.

Self-judging your work with MBP, do you acknowledge your own evolution as artists?

We’ve all def evolved. This project has every member dealing with something just a little outside their comfort zone, and what “it” is, is different for each person. For Blair it’s dealing with music that has some pop tendencies, he wouldn’t playing nothing but aggressive, but he is working with having pop elements present. For Chan it is having really riff driven music with lots of changes, he would prefer more orthodox structures and guitar parts. Chris is very similar, dealing with music that defies some rules of timing/measures and just conventional wisdom of music. For me it’s letting myself give way to a more universally accepted “full” sound and allowing things to be added or taken away that I may not have planned to make it better for digestion. Sharing the say I suppose. Working with these things outside our comfort zones, having to really deal with them and become comfy with them has made us all accept facets of playing that we would never have otherwise, thus growing as musicians and in technical ability.

What goals do you have up next for your second record?

The big goal is to move even further down the road we started on with “Demonstration” and really carve in the unique angles of our sound to further separate us from any comparisons. I want it to be more intensely acute with energy and lyrics. It’ll be much darker, but simultaneously more beautiful. I think the next release will be a 3 song single with a video to accompany it. It will come out later this year/early early next year.

Bellycrawl EP was eventually released in early December.

Do you see a bigger label as a good fit for you? Where do you want to take this project?

I can’t see why a bigger label wouldn’t be good for us. I would love this project to receive more exposure, and I that’s usually the biggest asset I’ve ever received from being on labels with other bands in the past.

Where do I want to take this project? I guess just as far as it can go. Lately, I’m really trying to focus on being satisfied with a creative project for the work itself and not how a project is received, or how much attention it gets, but just for the joy of creating, and the satisfaction with music that I truly enjoy. I’m singing in a type of band I really wanted to be in, so I’m already satisfied with what this project has done if it ended tomorrow, but I think there is more that can come from this, so I’m trying to go further and anything beyond is just icing on the cake for me.

So how do you go about taking it directly to the people? What are your touring plans?

I’m still learning the best ways for people to connect, the mediums and channels change regularly. Touring of course is a very strong dose, and very reliable historically. Just playing a lot in general is smart. We will tour again in early 2017 south of NYC in the east coast.

MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE

Please tell us a bit about your relationship with New York. Is there something about the city that influence your artistic endevours?

Inevitably, New York City permeates the work of the artist who lives here. I’ve read lots of interview with other NY artists talking about how the city affects their art. I think in our case, if I really examine it, our songs can’t help but have a little bit of meanness to them. You have to have a little bit of a coldness about yourself living here, not too much and not life altering, but you have to be sort of just tough to travel most places by foot, exposed to the weather, and carried by your own energy. Any item you interact with adds its weight to your load, and while you carry this weight there are countless people trying to swindle you, get in front of you, or are directly behind you. If you stall you are trampled. Got to keep up the pace. Your other option is public transit which will drench you in it’s load of woes. All this is completely endurable, but to do so you just kind of have to thicken your skin and grit your teeth a bit, and I think it shows in the music a little bit. Some songs might have catchy parts to them, but there is always an abrasive element concurrently because nothing is too friendly, but everything is still beautiful and attractive so that shows through too. Just like the candy “sour patch kids.”

I absolutely love NYC, it is just the mediums and channels of life here are by nature “toughening”. It’s great for me, and I think adds a multi-dimensional element to the music.

I recently visited my hometown in Missouri, and just revisiting the pace and breathing patterns of that area and thinking about it in context to the music I was writing when I lived there, I think it’s kind of impossible to make something that isn’t a least a little pleasant and comfortable sounding while surrounded by that aura.

Am I getting a teaser of your new folk record right here? :)

Hahaha, the first band I was ever in was an indie-folk band, and now look at me!

Ok Mason, can you share some cool new spots, local venues, as well as artists and labels worth checking out while visiting NYC?

The venue that I think is on the up-n-up is in Brooklyn. It’s called The Glove. It’s really DIY in the best way, the people who run it are absolute sweethearts, and that’s where we had our tape release for “Bellycrawl.”Definitely gonna be doing way more there in 2017.

As far as cool NYC bands right now, my brother and also my roommate play in a hardcore-punk band called LIBERTY and they are absolutely killing it and put on such a good show they are like getting into such a new market of fans and keep playing these amazing mixed bill shows.

Apart from other musicians’ work, what kind of books, movies and other artistic creations do you turn to for inspiration?

I’m a big reader or at least trying to be, and certain books really rock my world. I really like London, Kerouac, Thoreau. Jack London especially right now has been channeled in my life because my parents got two new puppies I’ve been spending time with when I visit. Movies are definitely a big source of energy for me, some of my favorites are Jurassic Park, American Graffiti, and BottleRocket. I just love the experience of going to the movies in general. It is its own experience. I really like movie trailers, they have so little time to get so much across, so they have to operate on this visceral level that kind of has to interact with basic human desires/needs. In a way they are kind of like a song in that they have to touch you quickly and so precisely in such a directed force of emotion and energy. I will sometimes watch the trailer for a movie more than I watch the actual movie.

Do you have any special viewing, listening or attending plans for the rest of 2016?

Right now I’m really into listening to complete discographies of bands. Like I’ll start at their first album and then go through everything. I just finished The Walkmen and The Ramones, working on Black Sabbath and Talking Heads right now.

I just saw Rogue One and truly loved it, def going to see that again in the next week. I’m also planning on going to see all these new WW2 movies with my brothers. There is a movie called La La Land that came out Dec 9th that I’m dying to see, but it’s limited release right now so I have to wait. The Christmas day NBA lineup is unreal and basically all my favorite teams are playing. Also Rousey returns to the UFC on December 30th, so I’m really excited to see that.

Awesome! Same here. My wife won’t be happy though, cause it starts around 3-4 AM here in Poland, haha.

Ok, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure. All the best buddy!

Right now I’m really into listening to complete discographies of bands. Like I’ll start at their first album and then go through everything. I just finished The Walkmen and The Ramones, working on Black Sabbath and Talking Heads right now.

Thank you for doing extremely thoughtful and passionate interviews. I can tell you really care about this and are pouring yourself into it. Thank you SO much for having me.

MUSCLE BEFORE PARADISE Bandcamp
themasonmercer@gmail.com
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