Valentin Mayasmin (Montfaucon)
Interview with Valentin Mayasmin from Montfaucon
by Devin Baker at 15 March 2017, 1:27 PM
Earlier this month, I shared my thoughts on “Renaissance”, a breathtaking debut by duo MONTFAUCON, who began their career in Uzbekistan and now operate across the distance between that country and the San Francisco Bay area. That's where guitarist-vocalist Valentin Mayasmin resides, and he was kind enough to speak with Devin Baker from Metal Temple about the album, getting technical assistance from a Tech-Metal star, and that old Dan Swanö magic. We began, though, with French Lit 101.
While literary themes are not unheard of across the metal spectrum, fantasy and sci-fi seem to dominate. What drew you to Victor Hugo and French Romanticism as a thematic source?
(Victor Hugo's Les Misérables) just struck me as very dark and beautiful novel. It is filled with so many interesting details about medieval society and their traditions. I took just a few ideas out of many available: imprisonment in stone boxes for “Prisoner”, gallows for mass execution for “The Last Night”.
In the states, unless one pursues a university course in French language or literature, students likely never encounter such work. Is it more common material in the Uzbek educational system?
At some point, ‘The Hunchback of Notre-Dame’ got popular because of French musical ‘Notre Dame de Paris’. It was translated into Russian and was aired on TV and radio. This is how I learned about it. Speaking of education, there were a few books of Victor Hugo in school program, I just didn’t study well.
While nothing about your sound reminds me of them, your dramatic, narrative storytelling put me in mind of CARACH ANGREN among others. Are there bands or musicians whose approach inspires or informs your music, whose sound we wouldn't necessarily detect in your music?
Definitely CARACH ANGREN is among them. As well as OPETH, LUX OCCULTA, CRADLE OF FILTH, MAUDLIN OF THE WELL, MY DYING BRIDE, ANDROMEDA, CANNIBAL CORPSE, SATYRICON, SADIST…
Before employment circumstances led you to live in the U.S., you guys were active as a band in Tashkent, even getting airplay on metal radio, as I understand. Is it a generally supportive metal scene?
Yes, it was very supportive and inspired us to continue working on new stuff and perform live. The community is pretty small and everyone knows each other, like a big family of like-minded people.
Are there a variety of genres represented, or does there tend to be an emphasis on one dominant genre? (For example, Québec is known for Technical groups, though there are certainly other styles there)
Good question, I’ve just realized there was some mysterious emphasis on progressive. There is a prog rock band, FROMUZ, which you can actually checkout on Spotify. There were a few other metal bands with progressive elements like 4TH DREAM and AUTIST.
Have there been any talk of Michel joining you in the states, or you returning to Uzbekistan?
Well, talks are just talks. Everything’s possible.
Any talk of assembling a full live band for potential touring?
Yes, we’re looking into this possibility. It would be fun.
You're very fluid dynamically and even stylistically—easing between tempos and evoking different genres even within one song. Does that approach to songwriting come naturally to you or was it a concerted effort to bring together disparate styles and rhythmic sensibilities?
Our songwriting process starts with Michel’s piano. He puts a lot of emotions into his compositions; the music actually tells stories as opposed to stating statically something like “Blow Me A Kiss”. Guitars and lyrics are supporting this line. Maybe if we cut our songs into multiple pieces and put them on repeat it will look more like traditional music. But it is not what we want to achieve.
Perhaps I was carried away by the Francophile inspiration for the album, but I felt my ear was detecting elements of characteristic French music—flavors of cabaret, tempos and structures from musette, for example, which employs rallentando and accelerando for dramatic effect. Is my imagination overactive, or were these intentional elements?
Haha. I had to lookup those terms to understand what did you find in our music. These elements were put intentionally to achieve certain emotional effect. But any connections with cabaret are unintentional. Again, everything starts with Michel’s piano composition. He is the only one who has gone through music school and I’m pretty sure he studied Bach, Mozart and other classics and perhaps you can hear these influences.
There's a distinct theatricality to your music—does either one of you have a background in the theatre?
Nope. I’d also attribute it to Michel’s music school. Or some natural theatrical talent within him.
Is one of you the primary architect of the music, or do you each develop ideas independently before expanding on them as a duo?
I think Michel is our music architect. Guitars and lyrics are just to support his ideas. There is only one track on the album where we kind of switched roles: “Mastermind”. You can see the difference.
Describe for us a little of how your long-distance collaborative process works?
Everything on the album has been composed in 2000’s, I guess I’ll be ready to talk about remote collaborative process after we finish our next album. It sucks so far as we have 12 hours of time difference. We used to sit next to each other, Michel on piano and me on guitar and composed music piece by piece. It was interactive process and very productive.
Michael Keene of THE FACELESS helped you put together a quality-recording set-up. What kind of studio rig is Michel using back in Tashkent?
He uses old MIDI Casio keyboard and connects it to a computer with a MIDI enabled sound card. That’s pretty much it about his rig. Michael Keene not only helped us to assemble the rig, he also helped us to get started because we were absolutely clueless on how to approach recording.
How did Dan Swanö come into the picture?
Well, I had no clue how to make good mix either, and decided to trust this to a professional. I searched the Internet and contacted a few studios, but when I found his studio, I knew he’s exactly who we need.
Did you just hand him raw tracks and let him go at it, or had you arrived at a preliminary mix before he got to work? Was there collaboration with Swanö on the sound of the final mix, or does one just trust the genius in that situation?
We had a draft mix of our songs just to get an idea what is this all about, but it went straight into trash. Dan just made it right. I didn’t have an idea what the sound ultimately should be like, but I knew piano has to take prominent position in the mix. That’s all I had to communicate to Dan, the rest was taken care of by him. I was very impressed with the result, especially comparing to our draft mixes.
The first time on “Renaissance” that you really open up with a guitar lead is on “I Was A Warrior”. That tone is fantastic—warm, pumping and elastic, very tubey. What's going on there? Are you mic'ing amps in your home studio? Any direct-in guitars happening?
Everything is recorded direct-in. Dan took care of re-amping guitars. I’m blown away by the sound too.
When can we expect new material from you guys?
I’m not ready to give any estimates right now. We are going to work in our own pace and we will take our time to ensure new stuff is high quality.
Any more literary movements to be explored?
Absolutely! Books are a source of my inspiration.
Anything at all you'd like to add that I forgot to ask?
Yeah, just want to give credit for our logo and album artwork to Vojtěch Moonroot Doubek. It was very inspirational to work with him. I encourage you to buy our CD to fully enjoy his artwork.