“What Gets [The Mast] High”

The Mast are a rare electronic entity that draws-comparisons-to and gains-fans-of both hyper-niche “electronic music” communities (see: IDM, EBM, “post-dubstep”… whatever any of that means…) and people simply into...

The Mast are a rare electronic entity that draws-comparisons-to and gains-fans-of both hyper-niche “electronic music” communities (see: IDM, EBM, “post-dubstep”… whatever any of that means…) and people simply into experimental pop music (see: 80s synth pop, electro pop, and the more digital side of post-punk).  They have the chops to compete alongside the world’s most critically renowned drum and bass artists, but also the sing-along-ableness to gain favor with fans of transgressive and postmodern pop. The Brooklyn duo, comprised of Matt Kilmer and Haleh Gafori released their sophomore effort this Tuesday on Channel A Records and they have a February 8th date at Mercury Lounge in NYC to celebrate the album’s release.  Haleh recently took some time to talk to me about the transformation of the band since their debut, in which time they’ve somehow become more disparate, diverse, and condensed.

Izzy Cihak: You just released your second LP, Pleasure Island.  How do you feel like it compares to your first full-length?

Haleh Gafori: Our new album, Pleasure Island, is electronic-based and we had a much wider sonic palette available to us than on our on our first-full length, Wild Poppies, where we played our instruments (electric guitar and percussion) exclusively. On Pleasure Island we made beats, vocal pads, played keyboards, balafons, percussion, used found samples of windsurfing and water drumming.  We put the same attention on song form and lyrics on both albums, but we didn’t set any constraints on the sounds available to us on this second album.

Izzy: Was the process of writing and recording your sophomore LP any different from your first one?

Haleh: On both of them we tossed ideas back and forth, but we had to be in the same room much less of the time for Pleasure Island. We could each be working separately on the tracks.  On Wild Poppies we spent a lot of time together in the studio, jamming on the drums and guitar.

Izzy: What’s the biggest difference between you, as a band then, compared to now?

Haleh: We don’t have to schlep so much gear anymore.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s biggest influences?

Haleh: As far as bands go, Mount Kimbie, Bonobo, Massive Attack, Burial, and the Beatles–for song craft, always.  Sade and Bjork have been great inspirations as vocalists, though their styles are vastly different, both of them are just so masterful, it’s very inspiring to listen to them.

Izzy: I like your recent music videos, although they’re quite different, so I’m curious as to what tends to most inspire the visual side of The Mast?

Haleh: Listening to music triggers visuals in my mind.  Sometimes when I’m listening to a song, I see a video unfold.  Often times it’s a very big production that’s way over our budget, but it’s always entertaining to imagine the scenes.   The two main videos we’ve made, “UpUpUp” and “So Right,” were both inspired by characters, two wildly different ones.

For the song  “UpUpUp” I knew I wanted to work with a dancer who could do a style of dancing called pop and lock, but I didn’t want to see her in typical hip hop gear: baseball cap, baggy jeans, cropped t-shirt.    I wanted to see her dance like this, but with a totally different costume and aesthetic.  I was inspired by a look I had seen among Japanese butoh dancers:  white body paint, minimal, gauzy clothing—no lipstick or eyeliner, or anything glamorous.  The butoh dancers I had seen had an otherworldly look, somewhere between a ghost and a stone.  I thought this would work really well with the type of dancing she was doing and the white paint made her body a perfect canvas for the projections.

[youtube http://youtu.be/qMBcN3oCi3E]

With “So Right” I was inspired by my nephew, who loves to play with our iPads and pretend he’s DJ-ing.  We filmed him just for fun one day and then that became the inspiration for the video. Before we started the actual shooting, I looked at my storyboard and wondered if I was nuts to think a 22-month old could perform all the actions in the sequence.  We knew if it was a game and he was having fun with it, we had a chance.  And it worked.

[youtube http://youtu.be/tsAoQfvV0Fo]

Lastly, one filmmaker that inspires me a lot is Wes Anderson, every frame is a great piece of art.

Izzy: You have an upcoming record release party at Mercury Lounge.  What should fans expect of the live experience?

Haleh: Expect to enjoy yourself, to dance, to feel the bass vibrating in your bones.

Izzy: What are your plans and hopes for 2014?  Any chance of a full-scale tour, or just getting to see you down here in Philly?

Haleh: Yeah, we’ll be making more music, more videos, and touring.  It would be great to go on a national tour, def including Philly, and tour in Europe this year.  Focusing and creating wherever we go is the main goal.  That’s what gets us high.

Band Interviews

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.