Interviews : The Mass

The Mass : I pitch The Mass some softballs, and they tear into them!
The Mass
With Tyler Cox
Interviewed by

The Mass is a band from Oakland that's hell bent on doing exactly what they want, and they're riding the bright shiny edge of post-rock. The new album, "Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness" is out now and is garnering excellent critical response. I caught up with drummer Tyler Cox recently, and picked his brain about all kinds of stuff, from the latest album to film. There's a bit of fanboy bias at work here, but if I put on my purely objective hat I can still say that The Mass is a band on the move and worth the fuss.

Okay, I've got it all together now... blasting "This Is Your Final Dream" as we speak!

Ha... cool!

Congrats on the new album, it's a significant improvement in all good ways over the debut.

Thank you... that is nice to hear. We all hoped people would see it that way for sure.

You guys did get good press off the debut, including from me, and the band seemed to be one of those that if we DIDN'T pay attention, we'd be sorry! So I've actually been looking forward to hearing new stuff, and it really works.

We really, really wanted to put out a better album than City of Dis. I like CoD a lot, but we felt that we had to write better songs for the 2nd one; so that was the goal.

It's evident in the quality of the songs, I think. How do you guys compose? Is it a group jam effort?

It's four guys all throwing ideas around and making suggestions for months and months. But usually a song will start with maybe two or three riffs that someone has written and we just go off from there.

I just got to the part in Cloven Head where Matt breaks out the sax... man, he's gotten much better I think.

Matt is a great sax player!

What are some of the genres that you're influenced by? I hear a little of everything... a smorgersborg if you will... of sounds. Metal, jazz, avante garde...

Yes all those for sure. Pretty much all the "metals", black, death, grind, crust, doom. Glam rock, 70s rock, hair rock, classic rock, 60s avant jazz, Charles Mingus (a genre unto himself), free jazz, noise, punk, hardcore.... we like all kinds of shit!

That comes through so well; I've been thinking of The Mass as on par with what Zappa was doing... that's a huge compliment, perhaps, but no shit... you deserve it.

Ha, thanks. you know, we get that comparison a lot. I think maybe the similarity to zappa is that you can't tell if he was honoring something or making fun of it or both.

Good point on that; his tonque was always firmly planted in cheek and i get that same vibe from The Mass.

It is, but it isn't. I mean, we love music and it's no joke really... but it is fun to twist and bend things that people hold sacred like Metal or Punk or whatever.

Well right, of course. Speaking of which, performing in the US seems to be a bit dodgy these days... I'm thinking of the tour pics on your web page.

Yes it can be very brutal for underground bands!

But is Europe still responding well?

We did very well in Eastern Europe this fall, and we had some great shows in the UK too. Unfortunately, most of our German shows fell through.

Ah, that sucks; playing in Germany would be interesting!

We played in Germany last year and did OK there. People are strange, they may enjoy the show but they don't cheer or anything.

Audience reception to your music must be odd... I mean, it's such a mind trip. Each song builds and releases in differnt ways, and they take off in some odd directions... and always find a way back somehow. Is it an intentional thing, or more organic? I guess I'm asking about composition again, in a round about way...

Sure. I think it is both intentional and organic... meaning that we just write in ways that feel correct to us. but at the same time, after making City of Dis, we were aware that we had a tendency to write helter skelter stuff that was incongruent, and for our own enjoyment, we decided to try to write songs that were more in a storytelling vein. Songs that go places but do not lose the theme.

Yeah! I know what you mean.

Audience reactions at shows are always interesting, because people have no idea what to make of the music. I think it is different from most bands people listen to. But doesn't everyone say that? ha ha.

Critical success and mass appeal usually don’t go hand in hand… would you rather sell a million units or to have a small but totally hard core following?

Well in the first place, I can't imagine selling a million units. But if we did I wouldn't be upset about it! In either of those scenarios I would be perfectly happy, as long as I am making music that feels right to me. the only reason we do this is because it fulfills some kind of need for artistic expression, so however many people enjoy it is gravy.

Good point. If you WANTED to make music that sold... obviously you could. But you're making music that you enjoy, which in my mind at least makes it even better. Hmm, i guess by that I mean, all four of you are very talented and could play anything. The fact that you choose to play what makes you happy instead is awesome.

Well thanks! I really appreciate that. Obviously we do want as many people to hear us as possible, because I think there are people out there who will really enjoy it. I honestly do think this band has something unique to offer.

Okay tell me about "Gas Pipe"...that's one caustic blast of fun.

That is a REALLY old song. I think that song actually pre-dates the existence of The Mass!

What's the scene like in Oakland? is it receptive to what you're doing? I know West Coast is always a bit more progressive in their thinking...

There are GREAT people in the oakland/SF scene and they have been extremely supportive of us. Great bands, promoters, friends, music fans. I love it here.

There's a decent scene here in Atlanta... you guys would go over well here I think, on the right night.

We played Atlanta in September. We played with Nebula at....

Hmm, sorry I missed that! (muttering... damn it)... Masquerade?


Ah, the Earl. Better club than the Masquerade. Did you get the usual quizzical looks?

Ha. Well, we played first and it wasn't a hugely attended show. But I remember there was a small group of people who were there that loved us!

That's good, I'll have to seek them out and buy them a beer.

Nebula was a bad match for us though. Generally their fans hated us. All 20 of them. Haha.

Stoners from hell?

Yeah something.

Heh. Okay I have to ask this one... and I'm sure you get it some... what do you think of Yakuza?

You know, I only recently was exposed to Yakuza but I think they are just plain fucking awesome.

hat's cool, they are a pretty wild bunch.

I have yet to see them.

Nothing like what ya'll are doing, despite the sax thing.

I would really like to do shows with them some day. Not the same, but I think it would be a great show!

Oh man, that would be the best... The Mass and Yakuza!

Let's cross fingers!

Dueling sax... Well one or two more and I'll let you go.

Cool this has been a fun interview.

Thanks! My first by IM... I kinda like it.

Me too!

You guys are obviously (or not so obviously) coming at the music scene with a fresh perspective and have progressed by leaps and bounds from album one to the sophomore effort… the different elements blend better this time around, production sounds better, etc. How was it in the studio for the second album… did you feel more experienced?

Good question! We felt more comfortable in the studio for sure. And I think we were able to get a lot better sounds out of our instruments. The only difference is, we had so much work to do, and so little time to do it in, that we had to work really hard and really fast. It was pretty exhausting. Since we have almost no budget to work on, that's the way it has to be.

There's a real passion that comes through, though; "Ride of the Juns" just ended and I'm once again amazed at that song. Who the hell where the Juns... I even tried to look that shit up, man!

That is one of my favorite Mass songs! the Juns are a reference to the movie Beastmaster.

Ooh... I'm not worthy! What else do you enjoy reading/watching? Short list, obviously.

Me personally: horror and comedy films, documentaries, history, politics. How bout you?

I like the horror flicks, but good filmmakers even more... David Lynch, Kurosawra... my reading is all over the place, from sci fi to history to comics... lots of comics.


The Italian zombie movies rock though... killer soundtracks. Some of your music has that sound track quality.. story telling music.

Well if you know anyone who needs a soundtrack... we need a paycheck!!!

Man, how cool would that be?

Someone contacted me about that. I returned his call but he didn't ever respond.

Yeah I can see why... ugh, how typical! Okay, but what's fucked up about IM is respoding to two things at once... lol...


Sorry about that, I think you know what I meant... heh.

Movies are a big part of what The Mass is about.

Oh yeah? How so?

It is a common bond, and when we are on tour they are worth their weight in gold!

Oh man, sure.

Maybe for the next tour we will get a portable dvd player.

Did you see Kong yet?

No is it good?

Yeah, it's very... Peter Jacksoned.

That is exactly what my friend said today.

Naomi Watts is just jaw droppingly gorgeous though. I went back and pulled out Mulhulland Drive, I tell you what...

Heh. Ooooh yes.

Okay man, last question.


Who do you like, on the drums? Just a few faves, 'cause I hear all kinds of stuff... and your drums really hold the music together, in my opinion.

Thanks again! My favorite drummer is probably Dale Crover, and I got to go on tour with the Melvins in 2004 when I was playing with another Oakland band called Totimoshi. so yeah, that fucking ruled. Other than that I have to say influences are Jason Roeder (neurosis), Dave Lombardo, Ken Owen, and dude from D.R.I. !!!! At least, first 2 and 4th DRI albums.

DRI... man, they need to get back out there.

They play here occasionally I think!

You guys get all the good shows!

Oh man and fucking ACCUSED. Big influence there, but they always had diff drummers.

Hell yeah... but the attitude was always the shit.

Yes. Play too fast or too loud or both!

Lol! Okay man, thanks for playing along! I'm now having to wait... again! for new music from The Mass, so let me know when there's more!!

Thanks for the interview and we'll definitely let you know when more music and shows come your way. hopefully we can make it to Atlanta this year and I'll definitely let you know if we do.

Yeah, we'll tear this fucking town apart!

Fuck yeah!

Okay, Tyler... give my regards to the rest of the band... Matt, Matthew and Tom. Laters!

You got it, take care and thanks again. See ya.

If The Mass comes to your town, go out and show your love! And give a listen to "Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness", out now in the US on Crucial Blast and in Europe/UK on Monotreme. Thanks to Tyler for taking time out to talk with me, and I wish him and his bandmates the best of luck in the future.