MALACODA: Utilizing Darkness

Lucas Di Mascio

Malacoda is a brainchild of Lucas Di Mascio, guitarist based out of Oakville, Ontario. He has recently released a debut album titled “Malacoda,” and Prog Sphere talked with Lucas about the band’s beginnings, the creative process behind the album, and more.

How did you go about forming Malacoda? Define the band’s mission.

Originally I was working on this as a solo recording project. I wasn’t too sure if I was going to ever play it live, or really do a widespread release of it. The guys I’ve found for this all came after the album was finished being mastered, and I found them all over the place… some of them were friends of mine from before, some were teachers of mine and others were recommended by my producer. I think that we have a simple goal that’s just never do something for the sake of doing it- everything we do needs to have a strong purpose behind it.

You’ve just released your self-titled debut album. Tell me about the creative process that informed the record.

Generally when I write a song I try to make sure I have an idea for what I want the song to be about or a general emotion that I want to convey and then I start writing. After the core song is done I’ll write the lyrics with that original idea in mind. Some of the songs on the album – like Outback, were written when I was a teenager and I kept the really bad recordings I did as reference because I liked the riffs or lyrics I had come up. I then gave the ten best songs that I had demos of to my producer and we sat down and tried to figure out how to make the songs have a sort of “unison” with each other. The one rule that I had was that the core of the songwriting needed to be focused on dissonance and that if we were going to change anything it would be to make it more dissonant or more melodic instead of faster or heavier.

MalacodaDescribe the approach to recording “Malacoda.”

When I recorded the album I didn’t have a ton of cash put aside for it- but I had worked out of studios in the past and had a lot of contacts with studio guys. It was just trying to find the right guy for the job. My mentor, Joel Kazmi, had just moved to my town and after not seeing him for a few years, I had to get in touch with him! He told me he was working on building a home studio and at the time I worked at a guitar shop. He asked if I could help him pick out some stuff for the studio. After a year of work, the studio was done. I asked him if I could use his studio and if he would produce the album- thus it began! I think the people working on it are sometimes more important than what equipment is in the studio because they have their own approaches and nuances to things. Joel treated this album with such care, it was a labour of love for him too. On a more technical aspect, we didn’t use any amp modellers for the guitars, focusing on utilizing tube amps only and using a wide variety of different guitars and basses to get various tones and textures for aspects of songs. I like doing it as “old school” as possible. It’s more rewarding that way I think.

How did you document the music while being formulated?

When I come up with a song I usually record it right away. For me, that’s the best way to write and document it. I have somewhat of a home studio with enough gear to do a full rock band here, so when I have a song idea I just crawl into the basement and plug in my guitar into my recording interface and start playing. I’ll try to make it as complete as possible, so with bass, guitar, some loose drum patterns and basic vocal melodies and harmonies. I like to get the songwriting and demo recording process done in one go.

How long “Malacoda” was in the making? Tell me about the themes this release captures.

I could argue that Malacoda was in the making since I was a teenager! I always knew what kind of music I wanted to write but I needed to get better at my technical skills and songwriting abilities. Everything I’ve worked on has been building up to Malacoda. I think the closest iteration to this though was a band I started maybe three or four years ago which actually had some early versions of some songs that are on the album now. That band never got out of the garage so I just kept the songs I had written that I liked and rewrote them until they were “perfect” and put them in this. As far as what the themes are on the album, a lot of it deals with making the mundane into something magnificent. I don’t think a single song has a happy meaning behind it though. The songs aren’t angry- the most they’ll get is annoyed, but a common theme is to take tragedy, negative emotions or other negative aspects of your life and allow them to empower you or learn from them. Don’t let the darkness drag you down, utilize it as a power to strengthen yourself and drive you forward.

What’s the meaning behind the band’s / album’s name?

Malacoda is Italian for “Evil Tail”. My favourite book is Dante’s Inferno, and Malacoda is a character in there who only appears briefly and not much is known about him. He’s essentially a fallen angel or demon who’s job is to throw sinners into a pit of boiling liquid. He’s deceitful, dangerous, but has a job to do. I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and religious mythology- which is littered throughout the album’s lyrics as extended metaphors for things, and I wanted to pick a name that would sound alluring and would be a cause for discussion. What Malacoda means to me is something different all together, but that’s what the “text book” definition would be. It’s something evil that doesn’t sound evil! A fan once said it sounded like an allergy medication or an Italian dessert!

What were the biggest challenges you faced when working on the album?

I actually didn’t find working on the album to be that challenging. I went into it knowing what my parts were, what we were going to change and what we were going to be using. It was meticulously planned out by Joel and I- having studio experience in the past helped me prepare for this undertaking. The parts that took the longest were the mixing and mastering. I think I did all the bass in a day or two, the vocals only took two or three days- including all the backup vocals. The guitars probably took the longest, that took us a few weeks I think, but it wasn’t weeks of constant work either. It was pretty easy- everything went so smooth it was like I was on autopilot. Joel was super easy to work with and we were able to talk out ideas and bounce things off each other no problem, so there was no clash of the minds there. I think the most challenging thing for me was finding the right guys for the live show aspect to be honest, but that’s a whole different area.

Speaking of challenges, is there a creative challenge to deal with in that the band members occupy similar sonic spectrums?

Well for the album since it was all me I didn’t really need to worry about other band members stepping on anyones toes either creatively or sonically! However, in practices and our more recent songwriting sessions there can be times where we need to keep the goals on track. As I said, we don’t ever do anything for the sake of just doing it, and there needs be a pretty damn good reason to have something the way it is. For the most part the guys I’ve found now are all seasoned musicians, and if they aren’t they look up to me or the other guys who are for advice. We try to make sure nothing is too loud and that we can hear every element as clearly as possible when we practice. Personally, I prefer a more treble or mid sounding bass- like Steve Harris or David Ellefson, so that the melodic bass lines I write pop out. Of course you have to compensate with the guitars but the key is just to trust your ears to find the balance.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries as the time passed during the creative process? Do you think that at some point of that process your writing approach changed drastically?

Oh for sure. When working with Joel on the album there were a few parts of songs that we cut out completely because they were either too complicated for the rest of the song, or sometimes just too simple. It was finding a balance of what would be interesting to listeners but not overwhelm them with over-complexities. I’ve definitely used chords on the album that I never would have thought of using! I think working with Joel opened my mind up to not be afraid to try to do something really different- a lot of people can’t actually label us. Some say we’re melodic hard rock, but then they hear Abandon All Hope and are like, well maybe their thrash metal and then Cutting comes on and they call us goth rock! No two people have given us a consistent label and I think that’s worked to our benefit because it’s different and it stands out. Sure, there are some parts of songs that you can say are something, but then it takes a slight left turn into some other territory that’s undoubtedly “Malacoda”. The dissonance ties everything together and we’re still experimenting on ways to make that the forefront of our sound- it’s only going to get more dissonant from here folks!

Provide some insight into the group’s chemistry that allows this music to emerge.

Well originally it was just me bouncing ideas off of Joel and getting insight from him and vice versa. So the chemistry between him and I was really easygoing and natural. Having him be my mentor a long time ago meant I felt comfortable with him and trusted him- I’m sure he felt like he was teaching me all over again! While I haven’t done a lot of songwriting with the guys I have now, there came a moment where we had like ten demos or so of stuff that Jessy (lead guitarist) and I had cobbled together and while it was all stuff that we were happy with, it just seemed too safe. Jessy showed up with a fairly fast song and I wasn’t digging it. So I told him to slow it down and play it without distortion- and he’s looking at me like I’ve gone bonkers. We record it and I grab a guitar I have that has a Sustainer pickup in it and I come up with a really ominous, slow feedback-filled melody with lots of delay and reverb and it just starts to come together. Jessy’s eyes light up and he gets where I’m going with this. We’ve since written some more stuff that follows that principle of keeping it more melodic and ominous- we’ve been using the Sustainer a lot more. The other guys then add their insight to their respective parts or to other things. We try what we think may work and if it does then great, if not then whatever, we have all the time in the world to work on this stuff. If they have a full song with all the parts already done, then great! We just have to try to make sure it fits with the sound we are trying to achieve.

Where do you draw the inspiration from and how do you go about channeling it into writing?

For the first album it was all about aspects of my life that I just wasn’t happy with. It could have been about a bad break up with a girl, a band that had potential but fell apart when I was in high school due to egos, or the death of someone I looked up to. But I had to mask it. One thing I’m not crazy about is when musicians force feed their audiences what the song is about. Sure, have a general theme that people can relate to but don’t tell them it’s all about you! People don’t want to hear me bitch and whine on stage- they wanna rock out to some good tunes! So I had to make the songs vague but still relatable. Thus the idea of making the mundane (being me, my life, the regular stuff that everyone goes through) into something magnificent (mythology, superheroes, religious imagery, etc.). For example, the song Lamia is about a band I was in that fell apart due to some pretty ridiculous circumstances. You would probably never get that from the lyrics, since they are referencing the character from Greek Mythology who got turned into some sort of snake person due to jealous Gods. Take what you will from it with this knowledge, but it’s more about what the lyrics mean to the listener.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

My biggest influences for guitar have always been Anders Nystrom from Katatonia and Jon Schaffer from Iced Earth. Nystrom just has such a unique playing style and can really make the emotion show in his phrasing. He is the king of dissonance! Jon Schaffer is probably the most intense rhythm guitar player- period. I spent most of my teenage years learning Iced Earth songs by ear, picking up on all his rhythmic nuances which sometimes show in my playing I’m told. Peter Steele of Type O Negative was one of my biggest musical heroes though, his composition skills are genius and their albums are filled with off the wall production techniques. Our song “Deafening” is actually in reference to him. I was always fascinated by the goth rock scene of the 80′s and 90′s, and while we aren’t a goth rock band we definitely have elements of our sound that are inspired by that scene.

What non­-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

I’m a huge movie buff and I absolutely love horror and sci-fi films. That said I also love to read- be it comic books or otherwise. Obviously Dante Aligheri, the author of Dante’s Inferno, inspired me and authors like Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft have always been staples in my book collection. I found that paintings made by Giger and Beksinski always spark moments of creativity and get my imagination running. Video games, at times, give me ideas too if the imagery or story is something that grabs my attention. At University I’m an English major and taking Philosophy and Religion as minors, so some of the stuff I learn there gives me ideas for songs.

What kind of gear did you use for recording songs from “Malacoda”?

Well I worked at a guitar store for a while so I had a ton of my own gear, and since Joel bought a lot of equipment from the store I worked out of it was all stuff I was familiar with. However, it was a boutique store, so there was no Gibson or Fender there. Instead we had Heritage and G & L- arguably these brands are more “Gibson than Gibson” and more “Fender than Fender” if you ask me. I brought over a bunch of my gear to Joels and used some of his equipment as well. We combined our pedal rigs for something truly epic as far as effects go. The Strymon Timeline has always been the key to my sound- it’s the end-all-be-all of delay pedals. It can create synth-like effects, and every weird sound that’s on the album comes from that pedal- so no keyboards! As far as guitars went… we had a lot of guitars! All the solos (played by Matthew Phillip) were played with some old Charvel super strat he had. I think we played the solos mostly through my Egnater Vengeance, but I could be wrong. The rhythm guitars were either through my Engater Vengeance on one side and Joel’s old modded Ampeg amp on the other side. Sometimes we used a 3 Monkey’s Sock Monkey for certain parts of songs for different flavour. Rhythm guitars were mostly done with my Schecter She-Devil or modded Charvel DS-2 and Joel’s Heritage Les Paul. Though we did use my Indie Les Paul and my Kenny Hickey signature Schecter for some lead parts that required a cleaner tone or Sustainer respectively, and occasionally used a G&L telecaster for when we needed a bit of twang in our cleaner parts. As for bass, early on Joel’s Genz Benz bass rig melted down so we got maybe one or two tracks with that, but used a DI for the rest. I think we ended up using a DI for all the bass tracks. It was either my 5 string KSD Burner Ignition bass or his proudly made in Germany Warwick. As far as mics and stuff used, it was a lot of stuff that anyone could get their hands on, but also a few modded microphones and some rare equipment. We used a Universal Audio Apollo to record almost every aspect of the album on- so it wasn’t recorded using super expensive SSL Recording Consoles or Neve Mic Pres. Not sure what the drums were since Da-Rell Clifton recorded them elsewhere.

Malacoda

What is your view on technology in music?

Technology is a double edged sword. It can make the recording process easier, but if you rely on it too much it becomes more programming and less music making. I’m not into using auto-tune or amp modelling outside of demos. Auto-Tune is great for writing out a vocal melody- I can just do a rough vocal take and then fix all my mistakes digitally! However, that “auto-tune take” is only a guide track so that way when I record the part that is actually going to be on the album it’s all me just going off of the “digitally perfect guide” so that we have a reference to compare it to what works best. Honestly, I usually don’t even bother using auto-tune for demos- it’s too much of a hassle to work with and I can usually nail a decent demo-worthy take in one or two tries. Personally, I’m not a fan of the Kemper or Axe FX because it enables laziness. It sounds great and is an amazing tool, but why would I bother experimenting with different pedals, or amps or pickups when I can just dial in Devin Townsend’s preset, make a few tweaks and have a killer tone? That isn’t to say that I don’t think musicians should stay away from it, but I just think that you shouldn’t use it as a replacement for the other stuff- take the theory from knowing what pickups work well with what amps, what pedals work well with others and apply it to what the Axe FX can do and come up with your own sound based on your own knowledge. I’d probably use an Axe FX live because it’s not cumbersome and easy, but I don’t see myself recording with it anytime soon. I don’t get the same sense of satisfaction like when I’m dialling in a tone on a tube amp or when I’ve finally got my pedal settings all working in unison with each other.

Do you see the band’s music as serving a purpose beyond music?

I would hope so! Some parts of songs have been utilized for advertisements for things and I’m hoping people will use it for soundtracks to either a video game or short film or something. I’d love to write a song for a video game soundtrack. There’s many other aspects to the music business that Malacoda has opened the doors to that I’m working behind the scenes with. Overall though, I think the purpose I want it to serve the most is to make people feel something when they listen to the songs and inspire them to do great things.

Lucas Di Mascio

Lucas Di Mascio

I’ve always found this an odd question, because I don’t think there is much of a struggle when it comes to monetizing music. It’s never been easier to get your music out there. I can create a free youtube channel, a free bandcamp store, a free soundcloud account, a free facebook page- and more, to get myself out there. I can spend a few bucks a month to setup a website or I can utilize free trials to test out my own online store and then pay as little as ten bucks a month to get the store running. Making CD’s isn’t that expensive… I think it’s like three bucks per CD for decent packaging, but most people download anyway so just get your stuff on iTunes or some other streaming or download service at the very least… it’s only a couple of bucks to get your music on there. I think getting your stuff out there isn’t the problem, it’s getting the right people to listen.Think about it: it’s so easy to get it out there now that everybody can do it! It’s over saturated. As a music fan I often find that I have to dig through a lot of stuff I don’t like until I find something that I do these days. I think the key to it is just always watch what’s happening in the scene and realize that you aren’t just competing with the band down the street these days, you’re competing with the band who has their online presence setup already- and oh yeah, they are in a completely different continent than you are! Something that I think every musician should think of is this: we’re all in the same boat here so spread the love and don’t make it harder for your fellow musicians than it already is. You’ll benefit by making more friends than enemies in this “business”.

What are your plans for the future?

Things are fairly touch and go, it’s tough to think too far ahead with the way things are these days. We’re just focusing on our live show right now and on getting our stuff out there in various places. I’m looking into trying to get our music out of North America and more into Europe and Asia. We’re getting our press kits ready and working on a slew of youtube videos that we’ve been neglecting for the past little while. Other than that, just more demo writing and building up the brand name! We hope to do a tour in the states next year if it’s possible for all of us, but as I said it’s tough to look that far into the future with everyone’s lifestyles. Regardless, Malacoda is only going to grow in power and intensity! We’re going to try and do what we do every night: try to take over the world!

Malacoda’s self-titled debut album is out now on Bandcamp. Like the band on Facebook.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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