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Interview - Julien Pras (Mars Red Sky)

Interview with Julien Pras from Mars Red Sky
by Daniel Fox at 25 July 2014, 12:10 AM

Uniquely-enjoyable fuzzy tones utter forth from French Stoner Rock band, MARS RED SKY. Their new release, "Stranded in Arcadia", has landed in the band in a good light; vocalist/guitarist Julien Pras talks to Daniel Fox about the new album and the band's muses.

Hi Julien, I'm thankful for the opportunity to ask you a few questions on behalf of Metal Temple. Congratulations on the album release, but I know you guys have made quite a name for yourself in the Stoner scene. Do you see the genre as some sort of resurgence movement now?

Well first, thank you very much! We're pleased you like the new album. I'm not sure I got your question right; but if you meant that stoner rock, or 70s'/psychedelic music is trendy these days, you're damn right. It's really funny actually, a matter of cycles. Apparently there is a FM Glam Rock revival going on, so grunge will be next. It's already the case actually…  But it's really exciting in a way, a lot of interesting bands are out there, and I'm sure that 5 or 6 years ago no one would have paid attention. I guess it's a matter of nostalgia, a fantasized era, the 70s', when freedom and hope prevailed. I totally buy into that actually.

Let's talk about "Stranded in Arcadia"… What does this album title mean to the band?

It has different meanings. We had scheduled a tour in Brazil (plus one show in Argentina), followed by a week's recording in Palm Springs and then a little tour on the west coast. Due to immigration and work permit issues we were not allowed to board and fly to LA and ended up being stuck in Brazil. We drove back to Rio where we spent over a week at our friend Felipe Toscano's place, the brazilian promoter. He helped us find a studio, Superfuzz, where we eventually recorded the entire album (minus the vocals). At first we were really down and frustrated with the situation, being stuck with nowhere to go and nothing to do, but it ended up being a happy incident since we met some amazing people, including Gabriel Zander who runs the studio, and we managed to record the album there. We were staying in a very nice area of the city, so it was a bittersweet experience. The title refers to that in a way. But if you read the lyrics, especially "Join The Race", you'll see there's a different meaning to the title. We were on a roll with the band, everything seemed great from the outside, still I was feeling down and out, depressed and stressed out. I could not appreciate all the great things that were going on. I think it's something a lot of people experience unfortunately.

It might just be me, but it sounds heavier than previous albums, on tracks such as "Hovering Sattelites". Could this be the doom influences? What Doom artists does the band draw from, if any?

Matgaz joined the band a couple of years ago, and we started writing new songs pretty quickly. His drumming is different than Benoit's, the original drummer and founding member. That has a lot to do with the fact that we're definitely heavier than before. He's more into metal (amongst many other styles of music) than Ben. It was fun, like crossing a line. From the start we were into Doom, especially Sleep, Electric Wizzard, etc.. But Mat added a metal edge to our music, something we would not have allowed us to do before. It was exciting to go down this road.

Honestly, I've heard a lot of Psychedelic Stoner I'm not too impressed with; to me, many rely far too heavily on hazey, noisey atmospherics. But you guys remind me more of Spiritual Beggers with a dash of Floyd; are there specific artists or bands you guys look up to?

The Floyd yes, for sure. I hadn't heard of Spiritual Beggers before, I'll check them out! The thing is, we all come from different musical backgrounds, but we've always listened to a lot of different styles of music. Mat likes to sum up our music as "Simon & Garfunkel meets Black Sabbath". I think it's pretty clever. We've always been into folk, songwriting, complex chord changes, orchestral arrangements, harmonies. I guess that's why we sound different than the average stoner / psychedelic band. We've put out six albums with my band Calc, more Robert Wyatt / Elliott Smith / Guided By Voices influenced, and also released two solo albums, pretty much in the same style. I love the Flaming Lips for instance, which are a good example of how you can mix classical songwriting with experimental sounds and textures, weirdness and traditional composing. And the Beatles of course, their music and evolution, their incredible experiments that changed the world.

I really only know three French metal bands, one of them being a well-known name (Gojira). But I have never heard Stoner from there. For the unaware, what is the scene like for your "genre" in your country?

They're not exatly stuck in the stoner rock scene, but here are a few bands we love and toured with; Glowsun, Datcha Mandala, Year Of No Light, Last Train, The Socks, and Sleeppers or course….

"Circles" I think was my favorite track; the riff similarity to "The Light Beyond" verse was a nice connection. Again, I could be imagining things. What I liked most were the vocal melodies on this track; do you see yourself as the band's 'frontman' and 'lead vocalist' or part of the general atmosphere?

Well thanks again! it's funny because the vocals on Circles are the only ones that were recorded in Rio. It took a couple of hours to get everything right. I even had to finish the lyrics in the studio. I came up with the harmonies on the spot. I usually double or triple the vocals, and we did that on this song too. Then back home I had to find the same mic Gabriel Zander used in his studio; we rented one from a friend in Bordeaux and recorded the rest of the vocals in my tiny studio, in my basement.

I'm not the frontman, in a trio like ours everyone is the frontman. But I'm for sure the lead vocalist, main composer, and apparently the way I sing is what makes the band stand out , even though some people dislike it. But whatever, from the start, we were into creating this contrast, heavy/fuzzy 70s' riffs and eerie, spaced-out vocals; and most of the time people say that's why we have something special compared to the rest of the stoner breed.

Who are your personal influences regarding vocals and guitar?

They'e so many, it's hard to tell. I'll focus on singer/guitarists; Nick Drake is a major influence for sure; his singing, his wonderful lyrics and vocal lines, and his guitar playing; complex finger pickings, unique tunings and chord changes, that have more to do with classical and baroque music that the average folk style, same with Karen Dalton, Judee Sill… Neil Young is one of my biggest inflences too of course! Jimmy Page, Tommy Iommi, Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Hendrix, Robert Fripp…  As a teen I learnt a lot by decyphering J Mascis's guitar works, his mixture of arpeggios and power chords, the famous quiet/loud formula. Elliott Smith has been a huge influence too, but he was way up there; he was totally fluent on piano, guitar, drums… Just like Paul McCartney, probably one of my ultimate musical heroes. Robert Whyatt, Brian Wilson, David Bowie, Chet Becker… I could go on forever. Regarding the lyrics I'm mostly influenced by my readings, Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen, Edgar A Poe, Paul Auster…

Never have I interviewed a psychedelic band; I'm more in touch with the heavier side of music. But of course, psychedelic is a different kind of heavy. What is your personal opinion on the 'Stoner' label? Regarding its obvious connotations, does it have any truth and merit? I am not a regular listener of the genre, and I know how some other metal bands can get about their labels.

Indeed it's a very trendy and common label these days. I guess we should be banned or sued for being labeled as "Stoner" since none of us smoke weed or do any kind of drugs at all! Mat has a couple of tattoos but that's about it… Like Pink Floyd, after the Syd Barrett era. I used to be a huge fan, the first singles and the Piper album, and Barrett's solo albums… but the story is so depressing, it makes it hard for me to enjoy the music nowadays. Anyways, I guess too many bands are labeled "stoner", it doesn't make much sense. We usually say we're a heavy / psychedelic rock band. Whatever that means…

Live shows! I asked earlier about French bands; as far as I see, the stoner fanbase nowadays is fairly small and secular, even though I'm hearing of an abundance of the actual bands. But please, correct me if I'm wrong! Has your band been much of a touring act? I know of lots of bands that stick to studio work for whatever reason.

Of course we tour a lot, that's the only way for a band like ours to survive. We've played in over 20 countries, hundreds of shows, and still counting… We're mainly a live act actually; even though there's a few things we can't recreate on stage (especially some of the vocal harmonies) we record live as much as possible, and we tour all the time. We'll be playing Hellfest this week (june 20), and a bunch of festivals over the summer, then we have a big european tour scheduled for next fall. You can see all the upcoming shows online.

Thank you for indulging my endearing 'interrogation'. The band's sound is really something I think the world of pure music needs to hear more of. Any last words?

Thank you very much for your support and this interesting interview! We're really hoping to meet you someday! Cheers


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