Using death as inspiration is nothing new in the music industry. Countless artists have written eulogy-like-ballads to friends, heroes, and family members alike. Still, it takes a delicate touch and a strong heart to write a song about death without coming off as somewhat cheesy or worse, bumming out your audience. Lucky for us, Brooklyn-based Midnight Masses front man, Autry Rene Fulbright has just the right touch. Rapture Ready, I Gazed At The Body, the premiere EP from Midnight Masses, is a four song journey through the painful struggle of the loss of a loved one. The EP’s heart-felt lyrics are somber and genuine, while the arrangements are vast, even void-like, leaving room for hope.
One of Midnight Masses founding members is Jason Reece, who is no stranger to thematic albums. Reece is also one of the original members of the pioneering rock group …And You Will Know us by the Trail of Dead. Reece brought along some of his Trail of Dead mates to help out with this new musical endeavor, and we can’t help but notice as the list of noteworthy guest musicians and producers, that helped to make this exploration possible, starts to grow. Gerard Smith, from TV on the Radio, helped record the group and Jaleel Bunton, from the same band, even lends his voice on one of the tracks. It’s hard not to notice the potential other musicians clearly see in Midnight Masses.
As personal and revealing as Rapture Ready, I Gazed At The Body is, we here at CWG wanted an even more in-depth look at the story behind Midnight Masses and to find out just what they have in store for us.
Quinn Allan: Your newly released EP, Rapture Ready, I Gazed At The Body, opens with the haunting yet uplifting track “Walk on Water.” Lyrics like: “The damage is done, his time had come, there’s nothing wrong…” show a sense of maturity in the face of death. As the opening track in an EP clearly about loss, do you feel this song sets the stage for what’s to come? Or rather, marks the end of the grieving process and shows us, as an artist, what comes after?
Autry Rene Fulbright: Both, actually. The lyrics “the damage is done” coupled with “carry on” convey a door closing and one opening. It’s very sad but also uplifting and inspiring to move forward. The song was a gift to my mother who has since remarried. The fact that Jaleel (Bunton) sings the lead is kind of affirmation for me, like someone else encouraging me with my own words.
QA: The creative decision to use female vocals on your song “I was a Desperate Man,” clearly written from a man’s prospective, seems to suggest that this journey through the suffering of loss is for everyone, that this could very well be the feelings of a man or woman. Was the decision to bring in a female singer an immediate one, or did this come about over the recording process?
Autry: Like using Jaleel on “Walk On Water,” I think I was drawn to Katie Eastburn’s specific vocal style while also wanting to hear those words sung from another perspective. A voice that had more of an emotional detachment from the subject and words, but could still convey the desired emotion. I feel that songs sung by other vocalist aside from me in such a personal project does kind of make it “everyone’s pain and struggle” so to speak, but then it also makes it everyone’s triumph.
QA: With an abundance of established talent lending itself to this collaborative project, do you feel Midnight Masses will serve as a formidable touring force, or rather a safe haven for these artists to come and share experiences and feelings they may not get to express in their other creative projects?
Autry: Both. All of our songs constantly evolve and the version that makes it on the record – with or without guests – is just one variation. On record we aim to create particular textures and moods, and when we perform live we often bring a different energy to the songs. The songs grow and change organically and the arrangements are rarely played the same way twice. This keeps the live show fresh and exciting for us and our audience.
QA: With the roster of collaborating artists in mind, this EP has the distinct fingerprints of the talented rock band, …And You Will Know us by the Trail of Dead. I’m a Trail of Dead fan from way back, and am no stranger to their incredibly unique and evolving sound. Is this a sub-branch of that evolution, or do you feel this project stands on its own?
Autry: It’s true that the recording of Midnight Masses was intertwined closely with the sessions of the …Trail of Dead LP, but there’s not much stylistic crossover. I am hugely influenced by Trail’s sense of dynamic,texture and the lyrics of Conrad Keely,though. It’s definitely not an extension or evolution of AYWKUBTTOD. I think from a production end Conrad goes between approaching the next batch of recordings with a Massive Attack feel, coupled with the very different technique of an old seventies psych band so for him and Jason it might be a personal evolution or even a de-evolution. Hopefully we’ll find a common ground between everyone’s ideas.
QA: The praise Rapture Ready, I Gazed At The Body has already received is remarkable, with comparisons to musicians like The Doors and Billie Holiday. While listening to the EP, I heard traces of bands like The Who and Procol Harum. Do you feel that these likenesses were intentional or stumbled upon?
Autry: Being ravenous collectors of music, be it vinyl or digital, the band has a wide point of reference when is comes to what inspires us. Any likeness to any bands is simply a natural extention of that. I really like The Doors and Billie Holiday, so if anything it’s a huge compliment.
QA: Your MySpace lists influences like Nick Cave and The Zombies. Cave is what some would call an acquired taste, not unlike Tom Waits, and The Zombies, unfortunately, were lost in the shadow of bigger British rock bands like The Beatles and The Stones. Do you feel this is the kind of underground, art house, notoriety you’re aiming for?
Autry: Our influences are pretty broad- from bands like Beatles or Stones, to the ones on our list of influences to newer bands like Comets On Fire or Black Mountain or Battles and even Leonard Cohen or Antony And The Johnsons. It’s not a conscious effort to be put in some musical caste – I’d say that the fact that we tour with bands like Trail Of Dead and Secret Machines and then we’ll do a Thursday tour and then play with Art Brut is testament to the fact that we like all sorts of bands.
I don’t want to quarantine us or anyone as far as our music is concerned. I think more people should listen to Nick Cave and The Zombies. Also, you never sound like your direct influences – Os Mutantes were trying to be exactly like the Beatles. Jason and I were thinking Midnight Masses was going to be a metal band, but we recorded our first song “Deserter’s Song” and we were thinking it sounded kind of Nick Cave-y.
QA: Like a tattoo or an ant frozen in amber, albums often serve as a physical embodiment of an artist’s feelings at the time. Is this album a tribute to the memory of one man’s life or a physical record of the feelings following the loss of a father?
Autry: I’d definitely say the latter – this record came about in the wake of me reflecting on my father’s passing and the life I had up until that. It’s very cathartic/therapeutic to get all of these emotions out, although it can be difficult to confront repeatedly. Still, I find the end result very rewarding, especially when someone tells me how they can relate to the songs.
QA: With a solid four song EP under your belt, the next logical step is a full length album. What can we expect from a Midnight Masses’ full length? Are there any surprises in store for us?
Autry: We have another EP we’re recording now entitled Walking Wounded With The Dying Choir that could see the light of day in a few months. We also have the LP that we’ve started sorting out, much of which will be recorded in a few weeks from now. There is an offshoot of Midnight Masses that will record during the winter – a heavier, louder band called Holy Land, Holy See which feature several members of Masses and marks the return of original MM drummer/current Here We Go Magic member Peter Hale. I have some pretty ambitious ideas for our live show as well- we’re basically learning a brand new set so it’s going to change how we perform. I think we’re in for a few surprises ourselves…hopefully good ones.
Midnight Masses will be playing at Brooklyn Bowl on November 13th in Brooklyn NY. You can download their EP Rapture Ready, I Gazed At The Body starting December 8th and it will be available, on vinyl, in stores December 15th.