The second installment of the “Mythical Human Vessel” trio draws inspiration from names like Emily Dickinson and Kahlil Gibran.
When we last checked in with singer-songwriter Paul Masvidal, the Cynic frontman had just released Mythical, the first of a planned trio of EPs to launch his solo career.
Other than the somewhat unconventional idea of releasing three EPs several months apart, what really differentiated the project, called Mythical Human Vessel, was the common thread running throughout the body of work — brain entrainment. The series of pulsing sounds that lead off and end each of the EP’s five-song suites are called isochronic tones and are said to lead to enhanced neural perception and memory.
Masvidal says the response to Mythical has been “affirming and inspiring,” telling Billboard that he has gotten many emails and DMs from listeners about the songs. “I realize this work is more of a quiet revolution in that it’s working gently and slowly, one person at a time, as would be expected with intimate therapeutic-based music,” he says. “I’ve also gotten lots of positive feedback about people’s experiments with the isochronic [tones].”
He notes that with this material, he is basically “building things up from the ground floor again publicly, since it’s quite different from the heavier Cynic progressive rock vibe. But I’m in it for the long haul and simply grateful to share my discoveries with others on whatever scale! As we discussed, the therapeutic aspects of sound and the vast possibilities that come with it are what excites me most these days. I already see massive potential in how this could keep evolving in a songwriting context and even further as a larger body of work in the realm of restorative sonic therapy.”
Fans of the project will get to see it performed in several different scopes. Masvidal will be playing solo West Coast dates in the coming months. Next year, he has some European festivals dates in March, with a tour around that, as well as planned excursions in South America, India and the United States. He’s also working on “an immersive dome-type show that will be, in many ways, where the entire Mythical Human Vessel experience will come together as an experiential event.” He expects that to be ready by the end of next year or early in 2021.
With Human having just been released Oct. 4 and Vessel now set for a first-quarter 2020 debut, Masvidal gave Billboard an exclusive track-by-track rundown of the lyrical and musical inspiration behind each track on the second EP. See his explanations below.
“Beggars" began with poet Kahlil Gibran, who inspired the feeling around one of his quotes, "Love and doubt have never been on speaking terms." The song looks at love, trust and letting go. "Beggars" could be the purest piece of music I’ve ever written. Musically, I reference Bach’s Bourée in E minor, which is a piece I’ve been playing since early childhood, and heard what also inspired Paul McCartney’s "Blackbird." Joshua Grange’s Telecaster and baritone guitar work on this tune is otherworldly.
"Hand to Mouth" is about suddenly realizing my own breath is all I have when feeling annihilated by life’s circumstances. The entire vocal performance was recorded in one take. I remember when I got to the bridge, I started to lose my breath and had done numerous retakes trying to get it to sound more relaxed. I then went back to the first take and left it, realizing the very thing I was singing about was reminding me of what I needed most. Musically, it’s a pushing, straight-ahead groove, juxtaposing a sense of urgency with the reality of needing to slow down and simply breathe. These are things one realizes about a song’s performance after the fact!
"The Spaces" is the centerpiece and beating heart of the Mythical Human Vessel trilogy, inspired and retrofitted by Emily Dickinson’s poem "When Night Is Almost Done." The song touches that in-between space between night and dawn, and it was recorded in that moment as well, which feels like another dimension to me now. There’s this moment when a magical dreamlike reality enters into view, and we are able to see things as they are, without a conditioned mind or a personality to interfere. Musically, it’s all about a dry, nylon-string guitar; electric guitar loops in reverse; and an improvised guitar solo. For me, the song captures a tone-poem mixed with the feeling of an old jazz standard, as if I’m channeling Chet Baker on ayahuasca.
“Come Come" reminds me of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, "Only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars." The song explores seeing my own patterns and what I do to disrupt them — for example, hurling oneself into an unhealthy relationship simply as a practice to learn healthy boundaries. I’ve even deluded myself into thinking I won’t get hurt in the process. Ha, ha. These challenging neighborhoods have felt home-like and familiar at times in my life.
“Warrior of the Universe" is an uplifted dialogue with one’s higher self. It’s about the longing for realness and truth, cutting through the noise and how that intuitive voice can be seen in everyone and everything, from people to trees. I included samples of star ambassador and founder of The Melchizedek and Pleiadian Light Network, Anrita Melchizedek, whose eloquent and sage insights act as an archetypal mother figure guiding me. The arrangement is a combo of acoustic and ambient electric guitars, along with a masterful rhythm-section accompaniment [of] Sean Malone on bass and Alfie Vienneau on drums.
Major kudos to mixer-producer Warren Riker, who transported this intimate collection of material into another dimension. Everything sounds open, airy and warm, thanks to Riker’s gifted ears.