An Interview with THE MOOD MANUAL

The Mood Manual

The Mood Manual autonomously creates authentic and unique art with the elegance to amplify awareness for those who absorb it.” This is how Madison, Wisconsin based quartet describes the music they create. The band released their full-length debut titled “Authentic Tensegrity” in May this year, and Prog Sphere talked with them about it, and more.

Define the mission of The Mood Manual.

To autonomously create authentic and unique art with the elegance to amplify awareness for those who absorb it.

Tell me about the creative process that informed “Authentic Tensegrity.”

In general, we like to allow different influences to coalesce into one end-product that creates a seamless whole. For Authentic Tensegrity we gave each other the freedom to do anything we wanted, which brought our creativity alive. Many of our ideas started as guitar or bass riffs, and other ideas were composed in notation first before we ever played them. On the other side of the spectrum, some elements came out of group improvisation. In several cases, songs already had the form defined before Tyler added his vocals. The album underwent a lot of revision and evolution over several years, which allowed the music to grow and take shape.

Authentic TensegrityHow did you document the music while it was being formulated:

Whoever came up with an idea usually created a rough demo and shared it with the group for experimentation. Often times we recorded ourselves at rehearsals, especially when trying out new ideas. Also during rehearsals we often made use of a large whiteboard to draw out musical form or dynamics visually. And we transcribed most of our songs into sheet music.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected or is it an organic outgrowth of performing them together?

A healthy mix of both, really. On individual tracks there are some deliberately planned dynamics and textures. The track Architect is one example of that. We often discuss and decide what the textures within a particular track should be. There are also plenty of “nuggets” that come about just from performing the songs over and over again. Honestly, a lot of our best music comes out of the fact that we tend to get bored easily. That sense of restlessness helps us keep the music alive, making changes and improving the songs over time. As far as as the track order on the album, that was very intentionally planned.

Describe the approach to recording the album.

In 2013 we recorded a few singles and then completed writing the rest of the album in 2014. Recording and mixing continued through 2014 and early 2015. We recorded drums first, and then somewhat unconventionally we recorded vocals second, using the scratch bass and guitar that we captured while recording drums. This was out of necessity rather than creative vision–we had a very short amount of time to record vocals and Tyler actually had to leave for military training immediately after the recording session. We re-amped the bass guitar for most of the tracks, which we had never done before. That process was surprisingly quick and easy–it let Jim focus on getting a good performance at home while he wasn’t on the clock, and then focus on getting tone out of his SVT Classic rig in the studio. For financial reasons we felt pressure to get everything recorded in as few sessions as possible, which was challenging.

How long was “Authentic Tensegrity” in the making?

It took about 20 months from the time we decided we create an album to its release. As far as music composition goes, some ideas date back to 2008.

Tell me about the themes the album captures.

There are many different stories and concepts throughout the album. Broadly, it’s about exploration into different aspects of the human experience, both on a personal and at a more symbolic or metaphorical level.

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

There are many roles one can take on in the context of a band, and our individual roles tend to fluctuate depending on the situation. We generally fall into these roles intuitively and dynamically depending on what’s happening in the moment. There is a sense of trust that we all have different skill sets and are supportive of bringing out these skill sets in each other.

How do you know when a piece is complete?

As Matt says, the album is not done until you can lick the physical copy! It’s about acceptance really–there’s a delicate balance between being okay with a certain level of imperfection but also knowing when to make needed changes. There is a sort of intuitive sense of when we’ve reached a “critical mass” and have enough material that’s worth sharing.

The Mood Manual

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the album?

Everything but the kitchen sink, which is in keeping with our theme of tensegrity. We don’t try to “filter out” certain influences to make our sound fit a particular schema. There are tons of hard rock and prog artists such as Tool, Porcupine Tree, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Rush, Pink floyd, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dream Theater, etc. Some less obvious influences include Bjork, Tinariwen, Talking Heads, Radiohead and various Middle Eastern influences.

How would you describe what you create to someone who didn’t hear you before?

Hard rock with a vintage tone and a modern mainstream edge. If Tool, Radiohead, and Steven Wilson had a baby.

What kind of gear do you use for recording your music?

We worked with Paul Vnuk who is a professional reviewer for Recording Magazine so we got to use some gear that wasn’t even on the market at the time. Below is a list of some of the gear we used:

With the exception of a the toms and overheads which were tracked through a Millennia Media HV3D, and a Chandler Redd.47 on the room mic on the guitars all of the rest of the album was tracked through 5 channels of Chandler TG2 which is an exact copy of the mic pre used on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Mics used were by Neumann, Shure, Audix, AEA, Telefunken, Royer, Cloud, Avante, Audio Technica, and probably a few we’re forgetting. Overall the Shure SM7 was a staple, being used heavily on vocals and bass guitar.

Mixdown was through Chandler Little Devil Eqs, Great River/Harrison EQ32 Eqs, Daking Eqs, Empirical Labs Lil Freq Eqs, Kush Audio Electra Eq, Manley Massive Passive Eq and Louder Than Lift Off Chop Shop Filters.

Compression was UA 1176LN, Teletronix LA-2A, Empirical Labs Distressor, Retro Instruments STA-Level, Daking 500 Series Compressors, Chandler Germanium Comps and an Empirical Labs Fatso Jr.

The Master Bus was a Dangerous Bax Eq into an A-Design’s Nail.

Conversion was an Apogee Symphony I/O at 24/96.

Plus various plugins from Universal Audio, Sound Toys, PSP and Boz Digital Labs.

What is your view on technology in music?

There will always be a necessary amount of electronics involved in the creation of recorded music. We utilized state of the art software along with cutting edge plugins and editing techniques but also made use of some “classics.” We use technology to realize our vision and that’s it. We edit and tweak just enough to make it sound like the music we want in the world. We don’t do it just for the sake of editing or making it sound inhumanly perfect.

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

We’ve all had experiences where pieces of music have changed our world view in some way. And some of those changes can persist even when you are not listening to that piece of music–they affect how you act and who you are in the world. This is what we strive for. We believe real change starts from within, and great music and art has the ability to act as a catalyst for growth.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Have an extremely clear vision of what you want to create and actively develop that vision as a group away from your instruments. Follow your passion and ask yourself whether or not you love what you’re doing. If the answer is yes, keep doing it. Otherwise, make changes until you love it.

What are your plans for the future?

In the immediate future we plan to promote Authentic Tensegrity as much as possible, book tour dates, and research record labels. Now is the time to look at all the possibilities. Most importantly though, we won’t take on anything that truly gets in the way of doing what we love.

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