When we last checked in with Paul Masvidal, the singer-songwriter-guitarist had just released the second part of his trilogy, Mythical Human Vessel. With the final of the three EPs, Vessel, out today (Mar. 6) on Masvidalien Records, Masvidal is looking at its arrival — he calls its “affirming and complete” — as the start of a cycle instead of an ending.
“It’s really the beginning now that they’re all out there in the world,” he enthuses. “The next stage is the performing aspect, which is phase two of this whole trilogy, so it feels good.”
While it has been less than a year since the May 31, 2019, release of Mythical, Masvidal originally planned for all three titles to come out last year, which may have been a bit ambitious. “It was too overwhelming with the stuff we had to do,” he notes. “Not just in terms of giving each release the proper attention, but getting things set up … I have friends that are releasing EPs once a year, and it made more sense to space things out. Each record to me is like a mini-album and their own body of work, so having it spaced out over a year gives it a lot of air and room to breathe and for people to digest them.”
As a complete work, Mythical Human Vessel fits together nicely. Each EP is structured similarly, with five songs followed by a track featuring the isochronic tones (a series of pulsing sounds that are used in the practice of brain entrainment and said to enhance neural perception and memory) that are integrated throughout the songs. Cynical fans might initially be thrown by the gentle, melodic nature of Mythical Human Vessel, especially given that much of it is sparse and acoustic-based. Masvidal sees reaching past his core fan base as one of his goals.
Masvidal says that the response from friends and industry peers has been very positive so far, but he’s looking for fans unfamiliar with his body of work. “There’s a certain percentage that get it. Now it’s trying to go beyond, to the people that have no interest in any of my history or past, and appeal to them.”
The isochronic tones in the trilogy are part of Masvidal’s daily life. “I have incredible two-hour-long pieces that I have in the background in my ears all the time,” he says. “With my show, they become this whole thing where they’re basically interacting with the music and connecting all the songs, and there’s an intro and outro using these tones … They’ve really helped me a lot, and I use them as medicine. I’m very much into sound as medicine these days.”
Since delivering Mythical and Human, Masvidal says that people have messaged him from all over the world to tell him that brain entrainment has alleviated various ailments. “Arguably, you never know what’s placebo and what isn’t in these cases, but it doesn’t matter if it’s working,” he says. “The feedback’s been really positive in general.” He feels the technique works best when approached like a meditation practice: “You’ve got to be regular with it and set some kind of intention and do a practice around it. It’s not a quick-fix kind of thing. It takes patience and time like anything else that has long-term benefits.”
Masvidal hasn’t listened to the project as a whole that much since releasing it. As he’s preparing to take it on tour in Europe, he has been revisiting the material “in an authentic way, so it doesn’t feel like I’ve been doing it over and over.” He did more active listening to the collection when he was trying to determine “how this made sense as a story, as an arc, where the transformational component was and where it tied together.”
The first tour date is at St. Luke’s Church in Glasgow on March 6. Masvidal is looking forward to performing. “I feel like I finally just turned a corner where I feel relaxed,” he says. “I’m not thinking any more about words and guitar parts and arrangements, and I’m just able to be in the moment with the material and sing the words. That’s the goal in live performance — to be completely out of any thinking, and be completely swallowed and be a vessel for whatever’s coming through.”
The third phase of the Mythical Human Vessel experience will be an immersive live experience that is still coming together, so it won’t be employed for the current tour. Calling the staging “way more of a theatrical dome show kind of experience,” Masvidal thinks that it could be approached in many different ways.
“It could be holographic, depending on the technology that’s available. It’ll be more abstract and less literal, less about Paul as an artist and more about a story and a feeling and a performance-art kind of environment with immersive VR environment that’s more about a conceptual idea than ‘Here’s this guy’s songs,’ ” he explains. “I feel like the songs themselves might end up being reinterpreted and rearranged and suited to fit the show itself. The show won’t be so much a vehicle for me as an artist as a self-existing entity that’s connected to this thing that’s its own universe.”
When the European tour wraps up, Masvidal will record the next Cynic album, for which he says he has “the foundation and frame in place.” “I don’t really know what it’s going to sound like yet because it hasn’t been recorded or produced yet. I’ll have a clearer sense come May, June, July, but with anything I make, you almost don’t know what’s happening until almost after you made it.
“I was telling a friend yesterday that I’m just starting to get what’s been going on with Mythical Human Vessel … why all these pieces and parts have been coming together and where they all connect,” he continues. “As an artist, you’re just letting the muse guide you and staying in process. Then you can look back and understand what’s happening.”
The album’s creation will occur in the shadow of Masvidal’s grief over the sudden Jan. 24 passing of his former Cynic bandmate, drummer Sean Reinert, whose cause of death hasn’t been reported. “This is the first significant loss in my life, in that I lost a peer, a best friend and someone I grew up with my whole life,” he says. “I lived with him, toured with him, and we were basically inseparable for 33 years. I spent more time with him than my own blood brother. It’s been really challenging for me.”
Masvidal is familiar with the stages of grief — he has worked as a volunteer with ailing and terminally ill populations for about 25 years, so he knows “how to enter that space. But now it’s my turn to directly experience it, and it’s been a ride. I’m just trying to create space for it all and show up for whatever needs to come through and to move toward the loss instead of away from it, especially something as significant as this.” He expects to work through it for the rest of his life because “essentially, my personality was forged with Sean. We found our identities together as kids. It’s not easy, but I don’t expect it to be.”
Compounding the sense of loss: Reinert reportedly could not donate his organs because he was gay. “I’m an organ donor and a gay man, so I guess I should remove my organ donation from my driver’s license,” says Masvidal. “This sounds like an ’80s Reagan bill or some nonsense. I had no idea, and I hope that in light of this, that it’ll help bring attention to how absurd that is … It really is a form of prejudice and homophobia in law.”
Masvidal is hopeful that Reinert’s legacy will live on. “We’re at the tip of the iceberg of people realizing what a monster he was as a musician and the influence he left behind,” he observes. “I would love to see that expand as well, in terms of Sean’s legacy becoming something historic and there be some kind of preservation of what he did as an artist and what he offered the world. He really was unique and a beast of a player, and there’s not going to be another guy like him.”