by Ian Thomas
For guitarist Roy Vucino, a long-time fixture on Montreal’s punk scene, the art is everything. Though he makes his bones as a musical journeyman, writing and recording tracks for television, his artistic ambitions are not limited to music alone. More than anything, it is Vucino’s sense of grandiosity that defines his vision. As such, his career to date has been prolific, to say the least. To date, he has over 100 releases to his name, not to mention the the tracks he’s written for the likes of bands like Duchess Says and King Khan, for whom he’ll be opening tonight at Club Cafe with his band Red Mass.
Vucino draws inspiration from a sprawling network of fellow artists, as well his self-penned creative ethos, a curated hodgepodge of occult spirituality. This creative creed is perhaps best reflected in Red Mass. Red Mass is not so much a band as it is a collective of the like-minded. In addition to music, Red Mass’ artistic mandate extends into the realm of illustration, animation, and any other media that suits the mood. Some Red Mass’ more established past collaborators include Mike Watt, godspeedyoublackemperor, and, most recently, indie darling Mac Demarco.
That’s not to say that Red Mass is a supergroup. Listeners are just as likely to hear amateur musicians, or even members of Vucino’s immediate family on a Red Mass track. As one might expect, the resulting Red Mass sound varies from track to track, encompassing all points between lo-fi punk and polished electronica.
For his part, the unwieldiness of Red Mass does not seem to phase Vucino. He seems to relish the unknowns inherent to the Red Mass concept. Any barometer for success he may have is measured in creative milestones, not commercial ones. In the interview below, he discusses the underpinnings of Red Mass, as well the practical execution of it. For Vucino, who draws equally from the pedestrian and the mystic, art is not a vehicle for spirituality, but spirituality, itself.
Given Red Mass’ range of media and collaborators, do you have a manifesto or guiding vision for what Red Mass could and should be? If so, can you speak to what that manifesto or guiding vision might be?
Art [and] music allow us to keep our minds open. We’ve shaped our society according to these dated principles such as “might [makes] right” and stepping on others, but art and music should do the opposite and bring us together. We should indulge,experiment and push ourselves and our craft.
We're actually influenced by occultists like Austin Osman Spare, who teaches Chaos Magik. Even though some of our imagery is taken from the black arts our creative process is in tune with Chaos Magik…It is [a] DIY approach to spirituality. All is that involved is focusing and channeling one's own thoughts and energy into a set of imagery, icons, spriritual paths, imagery and rituals that you create for yourself.
With so many working artists on the roster, I'd imagine that some of these collaborations take place when artists are passing through town; how do you convey your intent to potential collaborators in a manner timely enough to allow a full, fruitful collaboration?
There’s no set way I go about the collaborations. Some of them are planned ahead of time and allow for some preparation, [like] booking a studio in advance, but I’ve often had to travel to the collaborators’ hometown. I’ve done some while on tour with a 4 track and some have happened out of the blue. This allows [for] elements that are unpredictable, [though] certain musicians prefer to be in their comfort zone.
How did you build up and how do you manage such a massive and varied network?
I try to play with musicians of all backgrounds and calibers. You can learn as much from a schooled technical musician as from a naïve beginner. It’s really about the interaction. Because we avoid any elitist tendencies, people have [been] starting to approach us… I’ve also been recording for film and theatre, as well as playing free form music, so it broadens the spectrum of collaborations. We don’t stick to any genre either, so every type of sound is welcome.
Do you write material for artists with whom you'd like to work and present it to them?
Yes. Some of the songs were written with specific artists in mind, but other guests are due to circumstance.
I’ve also become self-conscious of my singing and enjoy hearing others giving it their own spin. I’m a good songwriter, so I want the track to be the best that it can be and if someone else can do a better job than I can, I go for [that].
As Red Mass gains steam, do you find yourself approached for collaborations by artists as much as you do the approaching?
It creates a ripple effect. When I asked Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) to sing and play bass, a bunch of my friends then asked to play on those songs. I had asked John Kastner (Doughboys) to do some vocals. Evan Dando (The Lemonheads) was over at John's place and he dug the track, so he ended up singing on it. But that’s what’s fun about it. I have my dad and father-in-law on our next record, as well as some of my heroes and tons of my friends, people I never thought would be working together.
Do you think the temporary nature of any given iteration of Red Mass hinders its commercial appeal?
When I started the project, friends of mine that work in the industry said I was shooting myself in the foot, but I think the fact that we are constantly changing our sound is what is unique about the project… I’m proud of what we’ve created and the sacrifice was worth it.
I haven’t found the one formula I want to stick to. Our music should evolve and change as our lives do. My life and my thoughts are all over the place, so why wouldn’t my music be a reflection of that? Formulaic music is easier to market, but I think in the long run this variety allows the project to have [a] longer lifespan. It’s also more fun and interesting.