Masqued – Disguise the Dark

Sunday, 31st December 2017

Once metal becomes infused in the blood, it’s usually for life. The pursuit, the thrill, the challenge all become one – seeking out that next fix to satisfy the body and soul with the power and electricity that give the genre strength while keeping the people involved young and vibrant at heart. It’s not surprising then to learn when talking to bassist/vocalist Shane DuBose of Texas power/progressive metal band Masqued that he’s been a lifelong fan beyond his decades playing in bands – striving to achieve his own mark creatively based on his influences and experiences.

Signing to Greek label Sleaszy Rider Records, Masqued issued their debut album The Light in the Dark this year – a powerful example of a sextet that deliver power/progressive metal with that extra bit of grit so to speak. While other bands may want to go more orchestral, operatic, or commercial- this set of musicians prefer to remind the people that you can also still be aggressive against strong musicianship and band interplay. It also helps to have seasoned veterans in the mix that have played in Testament, Destiny’s End, and Sadus among others.

Calling while finishing up his day job, Shane tackles my questions with thoughtfulness and excitement over the present and future of Masqued. In this conversation we handle everything from band dynamics, recording in various studios across Texas and California, the changing live marketplace and the struggle to establish yourself as a result, and a bit of discussion regarding the personal effect Hurricane Harvey had within the DuBose household.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you take us back to the origins of Masqued – as the members have a wealth of history in various acts fairly known in the power/progressive/thrash community?

Shane DuBose: Sure, sure. Eric and I, Adam came a little bit later… came from Z-Lot-Z, which was a Houston, Southern mainstay in the early 90’s. I moved up from Louisiana in 1993 to Texas and started jamming with Eric. We worked together for a lot of years, and we also did Mindcrime as a side project, a Queensrÿche tribute band. And then Drew Creel, to make a long story short Jon Allen had moved here and married a friend of ours, Jon started playing drums – Masqued became something of a going entity with Jon and then Drew came to us from a band called Maven, he’s an amazing guitarist. I knew he had moved to Houston – asked if he wanted to jam and he said let’s do it. I had a vision for a female/male, beauty and the beast, Nightwish kind of style but with our own stamp on it, American version I guess. Steffany was a referral from Bobby Williamson, he used to be the keyboardist for Outworld, which I also used to play in for a while with Rusty Cooley. She used to come up and do “Suite Sister Mary” vocals for Mindcrime. I asked her one day if she would be interested in doing some original stuff and she said sure, why not. She’s also a bassist and pianist, and her husband is one of the best jazz guitarists here in the city.

Next thing you know we got a band. The album took a lot longer to make than we wanted it to, but now at this point, seven songs into album two- we are getting ready to start pre-production for that as we speak. So that in a nutshell, a short nutshell without going via way of Bejing, that’s how it happened.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the driving force behind this band – and what qualities do you believe separate this work from what’s been done and accomplished in the past?

DuBose: We are not all twenty anymore, so we have to be realistic. But in the same breath- we just want to write good music, and music that matters to us with content that matters to us in a style that we love to play. As far as the driving force, that’s the driving force. We aren’t looking to conquer the world, but we are looking to make ourselves happy and do good, that’s fine. Obviously everyone wants some recognition for their work, but the driving force behind it is not to drop hat and make a career out of this. It’s more about writing a hell of an album and see where we can go from there. We are lucky in the fact that we all have a lot of experience and have all played with such amazing musicians throughout our careers that it makes it kind of easy to jump in and go forward.

The female vocals (are) something that I specifically shot for with this band. Everything we had done with male vocalists – and Z-Lot-Z had three albums under their belt, Jon toured with Testament and did the Sadus stuff. None of us had ever been a part of a band with a female vocalist. One thing I like about what Steffany is able to bring to the table is- and we had to work on this a lot in the beginning- is for her to sing her natural voice rather than her trained voice. She’s got an amazing, natural tone to her voice- but she was trained operatically and as a jazz singer so she’s well rounded musically. We corralled her into the metal thing, so the next album will be a little more edgy coming from the vocals, from her side and from my side as well. Her and I have a really good relationship when it comes to writing the lyrics, we share that in the songwriting.

Dead Rhetoric: The Light in the Dark is the debut full-length – how did you gain the interest of Greek label Sleaszy Rider Records, and how would you describe the songwriting/recording process for this? Were there any specific challenges, obstacles, or surprises that came up?

DuBose: There were definitely challenges. Jon went back to San Francisco and recorded the drums with Juan Urteaga in San Francisco- he’s Testament’s guy, and he’s recorded Machine Head as well. He recorded the whole album on Gene Hoglan’s drum kit. He was already going to back to California, he booked the time and made that happen. We all recorded our own tracks individually at our own houses as far as the guitars, keys, and bass goes. The vocals we did here at a local studio called Sound Arts with Brian Baker – he’s the engineer that did all the Z-Lot-Z albums. He’s also worked with Steffany a bunch of times, so he knew how to push her buttons and get the very best out of her at all times, and me as well vocally.

It just took too long for the album to come out- that was our biggest, not regret, but hurdle. We shopped it around to quite a few labels, it came down to two or three labels and Sleaszy Rider was one of them. We just liked what they had to say- we liked their social media presence, it’s very strong. They have some pretty big name bands on their roster that they represent in that area. They’ve been really cool to us, we hope to work with this album and maybe the next, see what happens. You just never know what’s going to happen in the future, but for the first and second albums we plan on being with this label. The goal is hopefully next year to get enough interest to get a couple of shows in Europe – and if I can beat Glenn over the head long enough, get on the ProgPower USA stage one day (laughs). I had to book myself when I was doing the pre-party show – but give a brother a break, I’ve been working with Glenn for almost 20 years now.

And I understand the concept. If you are going to book a band for your festival, you have to have a buzz, you have to have an album. Previously none of my bands had either of those going- but hopefully with Masqued, we will. That’s the goal, I’m pretty sure if we push hard enough and we all know the right people we can get into a couple of festivals next year. That’s a short-term goal for us now. See what the crowds are like over (in Europe).

Dead Rhetoric: What do you believe producer Juan Urteaga along with Brian Baker brought to the table with their production and tracking expertise that enhanced and improved the final product?

DuBose: I think hands down, Juan – the drums are just beastly on this album. You can honestly put the production of this album up there with anything else that is coming out today – it would be very comparable. We are thrilled with the way this album sounds. We are working with Juan with a long- distance basis- he did master and mix it – Brian had a lot of input on that as well as we were doing sessions with Brian here.

Dead Rhetoric: Steffany Johnston as a singer embraces solid mechanics, emotions, and attitude from a heavy metal perspective. Did you know straight away where she could go vocally, and did this open up horizons along with the additional vocal support bassist Shane Dubose provides?

DuBose: Steffany used to sing and play in a metal band in the late 80’s to early 90’s. She’s always been a metal fan. And then when she did the Suite Sister Mary stuff, this could really work. It was my idea for Steffany to be in the forefront, to be the eyes of the band and the front of the band- I’m just the little voice talking in the background. I wanted to still be a part of the vocal compositions. I’ve always loved to sing and I think I have a decent enough voice to provide some solid vocal arrangements to an album – but I’ve always been limited to the background harmony role. I wanted to branch out into something different because I had more to give, and it turned out really well. There are some parts that I listen to now, that I’d do differently- and when we do them live I actually do sing them a little differently.

Hindsight is 20/20, I’m still really happy with the way things turned out. We really didn’t have to mold her much, there wasn’t much she couldn’t do. If there was a part where she sang that was too pretty, and we wanted it gritty, we would ask her to put more grease on it. I thought she did an amazing job on the title track, and that’s why we did that as a video release.

Dead Rhetoric: I noticed when taking in the record that she had more of that Veronica Freeman/Benedictum style voice, versus the Nightwish-type sound many female singers go for…

DuBose: Sure, I agree with you. That’s what we were kind of looking for. We were wanting to get away from the Nightwish type thing to go with a gritty, in your face type vocal. I think she accomplished it and accomplished it very well. She has such a range, she did all of her own harmonies in the studio. We triple tracked three parts on a number of songs.

Dead Rhetoric: What is the philosophy or attitude for Masqued on stage versus in the studio? What do you hope the audience is able to capture through your live performances?

DuBose: Our live performances are a lot more visual than one would suspect. We don’t get too gimmicky, but we do use the mask thing in our live shows. There’s not a lot… I’ll be honest with you, the scene around here is not very good for metal. We are trying to branch out and play some different spots – we have a couple of opening slots coming up for some nationals and we are going to really hit hard. We really want to be a full experience musically and visually. Steffany has such a great stage presence, and we want to bring that out. She’s the face of the band, we want that to be live… we want to captivate people. We have a killer banner, a couple of really cool side scrims- the stage shows look fantastic. We try to push the visual boundaries as much as we can along with the sonic boundaries.

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