Monday, July 16, 2012

Initially formed in early 2001, the Red Masque are a Philadelphia based avant garde progressive rock band who tend to perform music that is on the darker side of prog and sometimes playing what might sound like the soundtrack to a vintage horror movie. Needless to say, the Red Masque are one of the more interesting bands operating in Philly these days. Having seen them play live on numerous occasions and having had the opportunity to talk to them several times as well, I decided I would take the task of interviewing them so that their fans could learn a little more about the band and possibly entice those who haven't heard them yet to investigate further.

The current lineup of the Red Masque is:

Lynnette Shelley-vocals, percussion
Brandon Ross-bass, keyboards
Nicholas Gianetti-guitars
Steve Craig-drums and percussion

What are your earliest musical influences and inspirations. How old were you guys when you first starting playing music?

BRANDON LORD ROSS: "I had taken some piano lessons early on, and I started playing bass in HS, and forming bands-My father played clarinet when he was young and liked jazz and classical music, my mother liked to sing along with the radio alot, When I got into really listening to and playing music I would the say Doors especially and and a alot of classic bands really inspired me-and then I got into the Prog and Experimental rock of the 70's it seemed like no one knew this stuff existed"

Lynnette Shelley: I had sang in school choirs and such when I was younger, but didn't start playing in my own band until I was in college, where I formed a group with my then-boyfriend. I was a DJ at the local college station so getting exposed to all kinds of non-commercial radio music in the radio station was probably one of my first really big musical influences.

Steve Craig: Reputedly, I would kick in my mother's womb to the sound of Fred Astaire films. I was always entranced by music since infancy, often requesting my parents to play me select records such as the Cats soundtrack. My father, who introduced me to a wide array of music, got me playing guitar at age 12 and encouraged me to save up my allowance and buy a drum kit, which I did a year later. I learned drums by watching local drummers.

Nick Giannetti: My earliest influences were the classics as stereotypical it may be and some of the more modern guitarists like Hendrix, Page, Slash, Joe Perry, and Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains). I was about 12 years old when I started playing. My dad played guitar and I was always intrigued by it, so one day I asked him to teach me, and I was serious about it. I did some lessons, then eventually my parents put me in the Paul Green School of Rock where I really learned how to rock it up, hahaha.

I was wondering if you could say a few words about the history of the band. Obviously you and Brandon are the only ones from the beginning. How did you guys meet and how did TRM get together initially.

Brandon Lord Ross: "I wanted to expand musically and I was looking for a new band to join or form, so I tried out for a group that Lynnette had just put together, we played some shows but split up due to musical differences but Lynnette and I decided to continue working together, we kept trying to play with different people and put something together, after all kinds of bizarre and crazy meetings try-outs, and insane phone conversations (we called it the
freak-parade!) we got the original line-up together".

Lynnette Shelley: Brandon and I met back in Delaware. He had seen my old band play around town once or twice, and so when I was advertising for a bass player for a new project in the local music paper, he came out to audition. I liked him and that band played out a few times (our first performance was at the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, as part of a festival, where we played a short set in front of 800-plus people. That's still the most amount of people we've ever played out in front of to this day (sad to say). The band broke up soon afterwards due to internal conflicts, but Brandon and I decided that we'd stick together and start another project. We started and stopped several bands that didn't really get out of the basement and / or rehearsal room, then moved to Philadelphia and formed the prototype Red Masque lineup in 2000. We called ourselves "Brandy of the Damned" and that band featured the original Red Masque lineup but with a different drummer. That drummer quit right before our first gig due to nerves, so then we reconvened, auditioned and got a new drummer, and renamed ourselves to The Red Masque. The official birthdate of The Red Masque was February 2001.

Where did your interest in progressive rock start and how did it evolve into wanting to be in a band?

Brandon Lord Ross: "Since I play bass I loved hearing really great bass playing-and I like creative music/and inventive approach to an instrument-so when I started on bass I really liked classic rock,and soul music, and became bored with what was on the radio which is just so soulless and drab, and the "alternative/indie" music seemed to lack good playing and was just whiny and annoying to me. My good friends had already got into listening to Prog stuff-and I was looking for new things to get into when I finally sat down and "got it" it was like a door opened in my mind-I think I also got interested in the cultural forces that made this era of music come together as well, a synthesis of technology and ideas of mind expansion, and personal/spiritual freedom etc.-And the genre has some of the greatest bass players of course-I think it's about expressing my self as well as playing with an ensemble so with alot other types of music you just would'nt be getting to do that as much."

Lynnette Shelley: Brandon initially introduced me to the "classic" prog bands like Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson. I later heard more contemporary prog bands like Thinking Plague while trying to form the proto-Red Masque groups in the 1999/2000 time period. I had also been listening to lots of different things because of the many years I spent at the collage radio station as a DJ so I was pretty open to hearing all types of music. We never really sat down and said: let's start a prog band; we were more interested in just playing adventurous music and when The Red Masque formed we thought the closest cross over to what we were doing would be progressive rock. I do know we wanted the music to have a very raw / visceral feel to it, because many of the newer prog bands we heard sounded like they were playing it too clean and too safe and Brandon and I both like music that takes risks and has a lot of energy to it. We liked how bands like Van Der Graaf Generator would straddle the line between being out of control and in control (seemingly). The music packed a visceral punch and made you pay attention to it. It was not background music.

Steve Craig: With the introduction of death metal came the introduction of odd time signatures/changes and narrative song structure in contemporary music, which captivated me. I was always interested in the concept of music being unpredictable rather than formulaic, as most modern music is with its even time/tempo and verse-chorus-verse format. I like music that keeps me on my toes. Of course, prog rock often becomes stale in its fixation with technicality. What attracted me to RM was the courage to be reckless, dissonant, etc. and lay down a simple, hard-driven beat when need be.

Nick Giannetti: It started, again, with my dad. He had just bought the then new Spock's Beard album Feel Euphoria. I know most prog fans don't like that album, but for me it made me start to appreciate and LOVE that kind of music. It had that proggy feel with a modern twist which I personally loved about it. From then I started listening to a few others, others that I already listened to before but didn't realize they were prog like Yes and ELP. (I was young I didn't know better haha) Eventually after listening to a bunch of prog stuff I just wanted to do something similar. I craiglisted bands to see if anyone wanted to do something remotely close to prog and I found the Red Masque

The over all sound of the Red Masque seems to have matured a lot over the past several years or so. Your sound has become tighter and more focused and maybe a bit more organized if you will. What factors do you feel have contributed the most to this? 


BRANDON LORD ROSS: "I think it's been sort of finding ourselves within what we're doing and seeing what our strengths are, and then going with that"

Lynnette Shelley: Just us getting more mature and more competent with what we are doing, and having different people in the band with their different ideas and influences and suggestions (ex members Vonorn, Kiarash Emami etc all brought their input and influences to us and of course this all became a part of our sound). Additionally, Brandon and I have been playing together since 1998, and The Red Masque has been together since 2001 so it's only natural that we've evolved and re-honed what we have been doing in that amount of time. Also since drummer Steve Craig and guitarist Nick Giannetti joined the Red Masque in 2010, they brought fresh blood into the band and enabled us to keep on playing and writing music at a time where it looked like we were going to have to pull the plug on the band. (We had been having a difficult time finding other musicians to work with who could either play the music or had the time to devote to the band).

Steve Craig: I've been told that when I join a band, it consequently becomes angrier or heavier sounding. Perhaps this is the case for Red Masque?

How do you guys define your music. If someone were to ask you to describe it what would you tell them. 

Brandon Lord Ross: "It's hard to say-I don't like always saying "Prog" because people might think oh it's like a bunch of wanky solos or fusion, or earnest "white boy" singing about elves or pseudo philosophical shit they don't even understand in the first place!-maybe avant prog but that has some associations I dislike also, I think I would attempt to explain that we are "progressive" in the original sense like bands that were exploring musically in the 70's-there are some great bands that I would consider prog but would not fit into the standard stamp that the term implies-I think it's easier to say were psychedelic-but that also brings up different interpretations from what I would mean by describing the band as such."

Lynnette Shelley: Avant progressive rock

Steve Craig: Grace Slick having a Vietnam flashback.

Nick Giannetti: Funny thing, I had that conversation with the drummer, Steve, just yesterday (5/10/12). We just really can't think what to call ourselves. You guys tell us!

How and when did you guys discover there was a prog scene and how did you become a part of it?

Brandon Lord Ross: "I realized there was a prog "resurgence" in the late 90's maybe? And that motivated me more to form this band and I guess Lynnette has networked with people and we have have got together with and played with bands in the scene, and met alot of fans and aficionados-how-ever I think the scene -at least in the US is way too insular and geared primarily toward Neo-Prog and caters to a certain age-range/type of audience, and I think we've been kind of outsiders in a sense even though we have fans and friends and played with other bands who are heavily in this scene and involved with the prog festivals etc."

Lynnette Shelley: Back when we first started, someone told us about NEAR Fest and we checked it out in 2001, and gave out copies of our debut EP and talked with folks at That was our introduction to the contemporary prog scene, and that's how we initially got connected with some of our future fans.

That being said, there really is no prog scene for the most part. There are scattered shows and festivals, of which we are pretty much the red-headed step child that is usually not acknowledged (ha ha). And not to sound like I'm taking credit, but much of the contemporary indie prog shows (i.e. unsigned or small label acts) in Philly over the past ten years were ones that either I put together with the band, or a couple of prog-friendly booking agents (like Andrew Miller or Scott Verrastro, and one or two others ) put together. Also when Jonn Buzby from Land of Chocolate lived here, he put together some shows too. That's the extent of the "scene" in Philadelphia.

Steve Craig: There's a prog scene? I want in!

Nick Giannetti: I realized from the many festivals, NearFest and RosFest, I went to with my dad. That's how I became a part of it

You guys obviously have gone through a number of lineup changes. What do you think it is about prog bands in general that causes them to go through so many lineup changes as opposed to most "normal" rock bands that don't usually have that? And do you guys see yourselves as having gone through various members for the typical reasons.

Brandon Lord Ross: "Probably because in progressive it's usually one or maybe two people who write all the material,and the other people are there to play the compositions so they get whoever is available to play the material and will put up with the main proponents of the entity for that period of time, and if it's a group effort since the music involves mixing different styles and has complex arrangements there will be long discussions/arguments over how/when/where things should go, the members influences, and predilections come into play so the dynamics of the individuals coming together to do this sort of thing can get more complicated then just playing hard rock songs, or jazz standards etc. Plus doing original music in general is an unpredictable endeavor esp. within a quasi-fascist society like ours.
But With us it's been everything from peoples priorities changing, to musical differences, to deaths in family,and both physical and mental illness, but you have to look at it as a process of evolution."

Lynnette Shelley: I disagree with your assessment that "normal" rock bands don't' do this. We've been around for over ten years. Most bands, without label support, and no income, last a year or two or three at most. For all the indie bands that I know, this is the case, irregardless of type of music played. When people leave the band either you move on and replace them or you quit. Quitting was not an option with us because we had music that we wanted to be heard. People are in the band for as long as it fits in with their lifestyle and motivations. Because nobody gets paid to do this, other things can take precedence over time - whether "real" jobs or families or health or other issues. In the 11 years the band has been together, there have been very few un-amicable leavings in the band. People have left when other things took precedence and / or they no longer had the motivation to do it.

What kind of prog scene is there in Philly and how often do you play with other prog bands in the area? 

Brandon Lord Ross: "I don't know if there is a prog scene in Philly and I don't know if there is even a cohesive music scene! When we play we try to line-up with like minded bands in the area-or ones that are touring-I can mention excellent local bands that we like to play with and I recommend going to their shows- Radio Eris, Syrahh, Fern Knight are all great!"

Steve Craig: There's a prog scene in Philly? I'm starting to feel left out.

Nick Giannetti: There's a prog scene in Philly? But seriously, I don't know. 

I've noticed that a lot of bands, especially newer bands, don't have a proper website but instead rely on having a myspace page. You guys were around before the whole myspace and facebook phenomenon but do you use or rely on those or other social networking sites to help market your music and get your name out there?

Lynnette Shelley: We have a facebook page and a page on Reverbnation, but our primary online presence is the website, which I handle.

Lynnette, I know you are a visual artist also. Could you speak a little bit about your visual art. Which TRM album covers did you design etc.

Lynnette Shelley: I've designed all previous album covers, though for "Victoria and the Haruspex" (our first full length album), Nathan-Andrew and I collaborated on that one. I'll be honest, looking back at some of the covers, I wince at some of them as I was still new at design at the time.

But I quit my "day job" five years ago to be a full-time artist and that has honed my technique and my style and I feel I've really come into my own as an artist during this time. The new album coming out (Mythalogue, due out on Beta-lactam Ring Records in early 2013) will feature my artwork on the bookbound gatefold cover as well as on a fold-out poster that will be inside. In addition there will be a limited edition of the CD that will feature small original artworks by me included in the packaging (the original artworks will be the size of baseball cards). For full information on the new album go to: For more information on my artwork, visit my art website at

Are there any non musical interests of yours that have influenced your music such as art, poetry, social media etc and how?

Lynnette Shelley: Well, with my artwork, mythology and folklore has been a huge influence, and having done a lot of research when working on artworks, some of those stories and ideas have ended up in the lyrics. Our new album, Mythalogue, is a thematic album influenced by various myths and folklore from around the world. The lyrics generally use a myth a starting off point, so if you're looking for literal retellings that will not be the case, but the myths are a starting point for the various songs.

Steve Craig: Lying naked in a dark room allowing the rats to crawl all over my body is generally how I develop the rhythms for RM songs.

Have you guys achieved all that you have expected to as a modern progressive band?

Brandon Lord Ross: "I think we have so-far succeeded in the sense that we outlasted some contemporaries and have not yet given up, despite the line-up changes, and pure insanity we have faced-and yes the brazen lack of respect in some circles, that being said I feel there is much further to go with this-if I said I achieved all expected I would just be settling for just taking out one position when I have fought full-on trench warfare"

Lynnette Shelley: No. There are things we still want and hope to accomplish. I would think that will always be the case because there is always something new to do or to be accomplished. One of the major things we've never been able to do, for financial reasons, is a tour, as well as a proper music video for one of our songs. These are both on the to do list at the moment.

But there are things we have accomplished that I am incredibly grateful for: we've met and performed with some truly amazing musicians over the course of the years (too numerous to name them all), and just having any actual fans that care about what we do is amazing. We recently had a kickstarter campaign to fund our new album, and we reached our goal and then some, and that was amazing to us. The fact that people from all around the world offered their support was some much-needed encouragement for us. We were all flabbergasted, and the money enabled us to put together what is my favorite album of ours to date. Accomplished producer and musician Bob Drake mixed the album and has done a spectacular job. Mike Potter from Orion Studios engineered the album for us and he did an amazing job. I can't wait for the album to be released in early 2013 so people can hear it. I think it's going to wow a lot of people.

I see that you guys are in the process of putting out a new album. When could we expect to see that?

Lynnette Shelley: Early 2013 through Beta-lactam Ring Records. It will come out in two available formats: a Limited Art Edition CD (edition of 50) as well as custom book-bound gatefold CD with fold-out poster. For full information about the album as it becomes available go to

One of the reasons we spoke with Chris McBeth (at BLRR) about releasing an album with him is because he likes to do special and custom editions of albums, and I think it's important with today's society to have something really cool and physical to buy, that has a lot of thought put behind it, and the music is not just a collection of songs but is something that is meant to be heard as a whole. This is obviously antithesis to the mp3 generation but I think there are enough people that still care about seeing good art and packaging and hearing an album as opposed to single songs that this will appeal to. Also BLRR reaches some different markets than we have previously been able to reach, so I am hoping this will broaden our fan base beyond typical "prog" fans.

Where do you see the future of the band and what are your immediate plans(any future projects, cds etc). 

Lynnette Shelley: we have plans to try and do a small tour (if we can finagle it) as well as create a video for one of the songs off the new album. Also our new album comes out soon. Right now (July 2013) it's just about finished being mixed and then it'll get mastered. The label's release schedule is for early 2013.

Finally, other than your own material, what are some albums that you guys are currently listening to?

Brandon Lord Ross: Julian's Treatment, Brainticket -Psychonaut, Renaissance-Illusion, Gounod's Opera Faust.

Lynnette Shelley: lots of stuff: Most recently, probably the new Comus CD (which is great), Bob Drake's latest (also great), some older stuff like Julian's Treatment, plus some bands we picked up at the past NEAR Fest.

Steve Craig: "The Ingestion Session" by a band called Awjita. Wish there were more bands like that out there.

Nick Giannetti: For me, it's always some Spock's Beard particular X, then some Andy Timmons, Jeff Beck and bunch others that I can't think of right now

Thanks for taking the time to do this and it was good to see you guys at Nearfest. Good luck with future projects. 

Lynnette Shelley: Ok thanks. Good to see you too.