Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mood Manual, "Authentic Tensegrity"

Thanks for coming back another week fellow progheads!  The trip back from Oslo was long, but the music and time spent with Gentle Knife was well worth it.  This week the Concert Closet travels back to familiar landscape--the USA--so I can spend time talking with and listening to a prog band that dabbles in many different sections of the prog garden.  Faithful followers of the Concert Closet may recall my post/review last November of The Mood Manual...well I am pleased to let you know the band has recently released their full-length debut album, "Authentic Tensegrity."  This week's post is a double-win for me; not only have I been enjoying the album, I was fortunate enough to get an interview with the band.  So if you will be kind enough to indulge me, I will share the interview here and entwine it with a review of "Authentic Tensegrity."

My disdain for routine forces me to start in the middle with a cut called "Concrete Stiletto."  The guitars weave through this piece like a snake stalking dinner.  Strong drumming builds a foundation to launch the vocals that strike randomly from all sides.  The Mood Manual leaps off the disc with this cut, challenging your pre-conceived definition of what prog is...perhaps the liner notes should include not so much a warning label as a cautionary wake-up call--you are in for a potent, vigorous week!

Closet Concert Arena: How did The Mood Manual come to be?

The Mood Manual: We've undergone quite a bit of evolution over the years.  We started out as a three-piece with Jim on bass and lead vocals, Matt on guitar, and Gio on drums.  We then added Carolyn on saxophone, who still works with us to create artwork and the band's visual identity.  In 2012 Tyler joined as vocalist so Jim could focus on bass, and we haven't looked back.

CCA: Your debut album "Authentic Tensegrity" was released in May; what was that experience like?

TMM: It was the biggest creative project we've ever taken on, which was both exhilarating and overwhelming at times.  Tyler lost his studio recording virginity in the process.  We had to race against time a few times when Tyler had to leave for military training immediately after recording sessions, which helped keep the energy alive.  We thrive on letting each other's individuality shine through--which is not only amazing, but can also lead to four-way disagreements.  However, we developed the ability to "zoom out" and see the bigger picture of what we're trying to do and fundamentally we tend to agree on the overall vision.

CCA: There are a lot of moods and emotions on the album; did you draw from life experiences when writing or is there another "place" you go to when putting pen to paper?

TMM: We draw from life experiences, imagination, and our own reactions to the music we make. Tyler wrote the lyrics to "Heresy" by tuning in to his genuine reaction to the raw sound of the music, which was composed beforehand, and the lyrics came out that way.  He also likes to tackle social issues, but in a way that's non-preachy; almost "sneaky."  Tricking people into thinking about the world we live in.  For the music itself, we draw from both our inner selves and the influences we're listening to at the time.  For example, when Matt wrote some of the parts to "Gold Mine" he was listening to a lot of King Crimson.  For "Concrete Stiletto," Gio was listening to a lot of Porcupine Tree.  Other songs, like "Architect," came seemingly out of nowhere.  We like to blend inner and outer influences; they help us stay true to ourselves and at the same time grow and expand.

Time to check out more of this album...and being curious about the song that "seemingly came from nowhere," I cue up "Architect."  The opening guitar is as intriguing as the lyrics...life through the eyes of those who lived and learned.  I feel as though I am an unannounced voyeur spying on the unsuspecting...the drums come through in an almost tribal chant, while the bass line keeps everyone focused.  The Mood Manual takes a hard left with this piece, moving into the cerebral section of the prog garden. I keep listening, over and over, and the music keeps bringing more substance to the surface with each go 'round...

CCA: You describe the band as creating unique and authentic art; can you elaborate?

TMM: Funny you mention it; we actually had an hours-long conversation to decide on that specific wording.  We want to be unique in that we want to contribute something fundamentally new to music as an art form.  The word "authentic" comes out of a movement that started in the San Francisco Bay area with a group named Authentic World (they're now based in Boulder).  We take "authentic" to mean holding attention in three places--on ourselves, our audience, and the relationship that unfolds between the two.  We say "art" instead of "music" because we think we have an opportunity to make our performances include other art forms like dance or visual art; to create something that's really alive.

CCA: What artists/bands have had an influence on the playing /writing style of The Mood Manual?

TMM: Everything but the kitchen sink, which is in keeping with our theme of tensegrity. We don't try to "filter out" certain influences to make our sound fit a particular schema.  There are tons of hard rock and prog artists such as Tool, Porcupine Tree, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Rush, Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dream Theater, etc. Some less obvious influences include Bjork, Tinarewin, Talking Heads, Radiohead, and various Middle Eastern influences.  There's even some classical influence in there, which you can hear in the fugue we wrote for Alchemy.

CCA: There is a definite metal edge to your sound, yet there is also a profundity to the playing that goes deeper.  How did that evolve?

TMM: Our sound comes back to the concept of tensegrity, which the album is named after.  We each give one another the freedom to play almost anything we want all the time, and the result is an eclectic sort of vibe.  We intentionally spend time working on the emotionality of our music, in addition to the more intellectual aspects like form and composition.

CCA: Are you touring to promote the album, staying local, or have you gone back into the studio?

TMM: We'd love to tour but we've been staying local for now.  We are planning to set up more performances toward the end of the summer to branch out regionally.  There's a bunch of administrative-type promotion work to be done and military training to schedule around, but in the fall we expect to be able to kick it into high gear.  Especially because as Tyler moves to Madison in July, we'll all be living in the same place--which hasn't been the case since 2008.

CCA: If you could play a live gig with anyone, who would you choose?

TMM: Our ideal bill would be The Mood Manual and Tool, with special guests Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp.

CCA: Please keep one seat open for me...

OK progheads, once last taste from this remarkable album...a haunting piece called "Alchemy."  The bare-naked acoustic opening takes you down an old road The Doors used to travel way back when. The vocals sink through the drumming, hitting the bottom and echoing back as if tossed flippantly into the Grand Canyon...deflecting off the walls of your mind.  The Mood Manual walks the dark outer edges with a keen insight about where to shine the light...stimulating for those who need their cerebellum poked now and then...

The Mood Manual is able to push buttons and tweak emotions...take you high only to "cut the engines" with no warning, sending you careening out of control--and then pull up at just the right moment, bringing normalcy back to life as we know it...pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...

As is my custom, I leave you with just a taste of the music...allowing you to savor the top notes and
overtones.  This week I offer an ardent cut called "i." The song comes at you from all directions--a kaleidoscope of sound in four powerful minutes.  Let the guitars wash over you like high tide after a hurricane as the vocals bounce around the rough edges.  Learn more about The Mood Manual and buy this amazing album at http://themoodmanual.bandcamp.com/.  You can dig a little deeper into what makes the members of the band tick on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/themoodmanual. Of course, following them on Twitter is also an option, @TheMoodManual.  Buy the download and plan to spend time getting lost in the prog garden for a while...you won't regret it.

Bringing this seven-day journey to an end leaves me sorting through many emotions.  The Mood Manual  is about so much more than music--prog or otherwise.  Catching a "behind-the-scenes" glimpse of a band with so much to offer has been inspiring to say the least.  The Mood Manual raises the bar for up-and-coming prog bands looking to mark territory and till acreage in the prog garden. Taking their craft seriously yet allowing room to breathe, grow, and enjoy the fruits of their labor puts The Mood Manual in the "bands that will still be relevant in twenty years" category.

But as always, all good things must come to an end...and I must once again  ready the Concert Closet for the next leg of the journey in my search for all things prog...until next week...

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