Saturday, September 10, 2011

Project Masquerade: The Interview

Guitarist Noud Smeets, mastermind of Project Masquerade, took time out of his busy work schedule to answer some questions about his work, the album, and where things go from here.

First and foremost, you are not new to the music business. You have been in many bands before, some well know and some underground. How did your experience writing and recording this Project Masquerade record compare with your previous experience?

When you work alone there's no discussion with other bandmembers. I really hate being in the rehearsal room discussing on a few notes in a song for hours . Besides that you always have bandmembers leaving the band at crucial moments and I think you can not always be best friends with all the members in a band.

So I thought, when I do everything on my own, I don't have these problems anymore. When I started I didn't have a studio or something like that. I bought a fast computer, a good soundcard, Drumkit from hell and a Pod xt and started writing and recording demos. I didnt know anything about Cubase (recording software). Frank Schiphorst (Mayan) was kind enough to be my private helpdesk for some time!

Working alone means that you are responsible for everything and you can not blame anyone else. If something goes wrong, it's your own “mistake”. If something turns out to be great, than its your own benefit.
So working on the Project Masquerade record was a great experience.

What is the story behind the name of the album, "Nothing But Everything Will Remain"?

My girlfriend came up with the album title. One important theme on the album is "finding your soulmate," represented by the two tracks: "Carve Your Heart" and "Restless Souls." When a child is born, it has a male or a female soul. Then you have to search all your life to find the opposite part. These two opposites have no power alone, but, when united they have the power to create in this world. When you die, your soul will find eternal peace or has to start all over again because you didn't find the opposite part. In October 2010, during the recording of the last track, my son Kick was born.

Describe the process of creating the artwork. What was your vision, and do you feel the finalized artwork fits that vision?

I studied visual design years ago, and I had a lot of designs already made for the album but was not satisfied. When I travel to work, I used to take the train. Once I decided to take the metro, and I saw this little church on a small hill. The Christian religion preaches that the human soul will live forever after death. Besides that, there is the black part in the front (the end of life) and the powercables from the railway, representing the never ending search for the opposite soul.

I took the image with an iPhone when I traveled back home. I think I took images of it for days and days when I passed this church but the first, the one that's on the cover, is the best.

I also wanted to make a link to the first Masquerade album, Cybernetic Empire, that was released in 2010 so I also used the dancing skeleton who's on the Cybernetic Empire cover. It represents "the end" (and that is a new beginning).

Inside the CD inlay there's something like a big star. Actually, the biggest part of it is a mechanical shutter from an old camera. I redrew it in Photoshop and made a 3D version of it, adding some extra elements and textures as well. Took me about 2 weeks or so. My daytime job is working as a photographer and teaching photography, so I wanted a link to that because it's one of the biggest passions in my life, besides music.

There's also another link to photography on the album. The opening track "Disease," tells the story of Persian born scientist and polymath Ibn al-Haytham's life in Egypt ( known in the West as Alhazen). Alhazen made significant contributions to the principles of optics, as well as to physics, astronomy, mathematics, ophthalmology, philosophy, visual perception, and to the scientific method. He is considered as the father of modern optics.

The album itself is impressive in so many ways. The cast of musicians that appear on the album is amazing. They are established, but most of them might not have familiar names. How did you decide on Dennis Leeflang, Barend Courbois, Mark Brekelmans, Doug Odell as your fellow musicians?

The most difficult part was listening to musicians and imagining how they would sound together with my music.
I knew Dennis already when he still lived in the Netherlands, and we did a few gigs and a recording before he went to the US. We always stayed in contact. Dennis is really a mind blowing drummer and a very nice guy.
Thanks to Dennis, I got in contact with Chandler Mogel and Doug Odell. I know Mark Brekelmans as a bass player from Edge of Serenity. I played some live gigs with this band when they released their debut album on Romulus X records in 2009.

Barend "The Bear" Courbois is the most famous bass player in the Netherlands, and played with Michael Lee Firkins, Zakk Wylde, Ian Parry, Vengeance and Steve Fister, to name just a few. I always wanted  to play with Barend, so it's great to have him on the album. He came straight from his tour with Steve Fister to record 4 tracks on the album. We had a great time with a lot of food and drinks and laughs.

I also wanted some more aggressive voices on the CD, so I just sat days and days listening to tracks on myspace to find some decent growlers out there. Dmitri Konstisyn  plays with NewYork band Hung (His wife does the backing vocals on the track!) and Daniel Verbrugge is growling in one of Holland's upcomming metal bands Ethereal.

Grain is (besides my girlfriend) a singer/songwriter who released a breathtaking album “Shut your Mouth Kevin”. If your into music like Tori Amos or Kate Bush, you should really listen to her album. We've lived together now for 7 years but her voice still gives me goosebumps!

The album is very well rounded, musically. It isn't just a collection of solos. Everything came together so well. How important was it for you to create a complete album, rather than just a guitar heavy solo record?

You're right, everything came together very well.  I have a small studio of my own so its easy to rewrite, re-record and so on. I wanted to tell stories and express my feelings and not make a guitar masturbation album. Maybe "Masterplan," the only instrumental track on the CD, goes a bit into the last category. But hey, there are more than enough solo's on the album :-)

I recorded a demo version of Masterplan, having Marcel Coenen (Suncaged) play a few mind blowing guest solos, but I decided to do all the guitar parts by myself and not have another guitar player on the CD.

The vocals on the album are astonishing and very ecelectic. From the clean singing of Chandler Mogel and Michael Zanderbergen, to the overwhelming screams of Dmitri Kostitsyn, every singer contributed in a major way. Aside from your wife, how did you meet the other vocalists, and bring them in to be involved in the making of this album?

I had a lot of recording sessions with different vocalists. Some of them kept me waiting and waiting. I remember waiting for one guy (I'm not going to mention a name) for a year!! I really wanted him on the album and accepted every excuse for not showing up. But after a year I deceided to ask someone else.

Thanks to Dennis Leeflang, I got in touch with Chandler Mogel. Chandler is going to be huge in the future!
Michel Zandbergen is one of the vocalists on the Cybernetic Empire album. We lost contact with him for more than 10 years and thanks to the internet, I was able to trace him. I'm sure we are going to record some more tracks in the future.

For the other singers, I just “found” them thanks to Myspace. Just listening for weeks and weeks to recordings. When I contacted them, they all responded very positive.

The instrumental track, "Masterplan," was influenced by the 1927 movie "Metropolis." What about the movie inspired the song?

I worked for 9 years as a professional cameraman and I love a lot of movies made before 1940. Metropolis is a German expressionist film in the science-fiction genre directed by Fritz Lang. (Metropolis was an inspiration for a lot of movies I realy like like Starwars, The Matrix and Blade Runner.)

German Expressionism refers to a number of related creative movements beginning in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin, during the 1920s. These developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European culture in fields such as architecture, painting and cinema.

The filmmakers of the German Universum Film AG studio developed their own style by using symbolism and mise en scène to add mood and deeper meaning to a movie, concentrating on the dark fringes of human experience. In the futuristic mega-city Metropolis, society is divided into two classes. The "managers" live in luxurious skyscrapers and the workers live and toil underground.

I tried to copy Gustav Fröhlich's, (one of the main actors) acting style with the melodic guitar lines
The long solo part represents the struggle of the workers and the Machine ma.

I know you had been trying to secure a label to release the album. How has that gone thus far? What is your plan for the album release as of right now?

People only want to invest money in Idols or X-factor “stars”. That's because they can quickly make a lot of money because next year there will be a new one again. I know it's a risk for a company to sign an unknown artist. But on the other hand, I offer them a complete product, pro mixed and mastered including the artwork. They don't have to make a lot of CDs because most of the people buy digital downloads. I only need their promotion and distribution network.

I got some "offers" from companies asking me to pay to release the album! Rates between 1700 and 5000 euro!  Besides that, they wanted 30% of the publishing rights... lol. That's more of a theft instead of a   record deal.

I have two small companies now who are interested in releasing the album 2013! That's not acceptable for me because I want to have a new album ready at the end of 2012. The plan now is to release the album as a digital release on iTunes and Amazon on 10/1 but, if there's a company with a decent offer, I'm always interested.

Obviously, it would be difficult to bring the entire cast out, but what are the chances of taking this album on tour?

I'm afraid it will be to expensive. It would be cool to do a few gigs next year with some of the musicians involved .

Lastly, It took almost three years to complete the entire process for the album. After all the work you put in, I have to know one thing. Are you satisfied with the finished product? When you release this album upon the world, will you be as happy to hear it as we were?

I'm happy with the album. Being a perfectionist, I still hear things that could have done better but that's more a budget matter. I get a lot of very positive responses already and started to write for the next one.

Again, thank you so much for giving us a chunk of your time. We wish you the best of luck with the album. If people hear it, you are going to be a popular man. We are going to spread the word on this one, and I hope it pays off!

Thanx you for your time and work man, appreciate it a lot.

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