- Hello, Jason! Alright, let's start this interview with some of the insights of your childhood. Do you remember when you got involved into metal music? What were first thrash metal bands they you discovered? And how did it happen?
- Thank you Dima, I started playing guitar around 8-9 years old. I was a huge Kiss fan, loved the spitting blood, shooting fire and all the pageantry. I picked up the guitar, got one lesson where the teacher taught me basic hand positioning, a chromatic scale to practice and jotted down a few open chords for me to learn. From there I started playing guitar. It wasn’t until I was in Jr high that I started to get bored with regular rock and metal (plus the whole Glam Scene was starting) so I started seeking heavier, faster and more physically challenging music. It was a normal progression from the early Metallica, Megadeath, metal church, testament to the heavier side like Death, Possessed, Sepultura, Pestilence, etc… That’s when the underground tape trading scene was pretty heavy so I got exposed to more and more heavy underground music. I was always open to other styles of music and always had an ear out for anything that was good. If the music was good, I would listen to it regardless of the style.
- How could you describe the local metal underground at that time? Florida was the epicenter of the metal movement with so many bands popping-up almost every day. Did you have any favourite acts?
- I feel like the scene back then was pretty spread out. We had a few bands here in Miami and we all knew each other but it still felt small. There were a lot of bands from Orlando/Tampa area that were popping up, Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide
(known by the name Amon back then) for example, but we didn’t feel it as much in Miami. Maybe because Miami was such a big and multicultural city that had so much already going on, it just felt that way.
As far as favorite Florida bands… Atheist, Death, Deicide (Amon), Solstice, and Obituary were a few of my favorites.
- You joined Cynic in 1988. How did it happen? Did you have any audition? And when did you hear about the band for the first time?
- In 1988 my brother was in a band and here in Miami they used to have big keg parties out in the rural areas and have 4-5 bands play throughout the night. So I went to support my brother and funny enough, Cynic was the band playing the set before them.
For me it was refreshing to see a heavier band in the midst of all the rock/metal bands playing. My brother on his own, approached Paul/Sean and asked if they were looking for another guitarist because his little brother was into the same style of music as they were playing. They said they were looking for another guitarist and from there we connected and set up an audition/jam session. I remember showing up at the warehouse, it was just Paul and Sean there. We jammed together a bit, and then I played them some of my personal material. I remember it was between me and another guitarist and they decided to go with me after jamming that day. The rest is history…
- In 1989 you recorded your first demo, "Reflections of a Dying World". Where did you record it? Was it your first experience in the studio? Did you manage to contribute any ideas to the songs, or has all the material been already written by that time?
- To be honest I can’t even remember the name of the studio. It was a small private studio here in Miami. We ended up having challenges with the engineer because he was coming down off a cocaine binge and was falling asleep at the mixing board. For the music side. Yes, as soon as I joined the band we started all new material and I contributed music immediately. Writing was always my passion, so I always had a ton of material to offer.
- Do you remember any of your first concerts together with Cynic? And in general, how often were you able to play live? Did you go outside of your state too?
- Yes, I do remember our first few shows. We were always well rehearsed and ready but its always tough breaking into a local scene. We played everywhere and anywhere we could. Back then there were more live venues in Miami/Ft Lauderdale/West Palm and the rock/metal scene was still strong so we would slide into those gigs also. We would also contact other bands upstate and out of state and set up little 10-20 show tours up the east coast of the US. We had shows with great responses and we had shows with minimum responses, but either way we kept playing.
- Together with your next demo, you changed your play style, introducing more technical riffs and complex rhythms. How could you comment on that progress? Was it anyhow related to the fact that Tony Choy joined the band?
- We were always pushing each other musically and technically. Whether in the beginning when we were writing and learning each others riffs to when we joined college and started studying music and going taking classes together. So as far as the style changing or the music becoming more intricate, it was just a natural progression that was reflected in the music we were writing at that moment.
Tony Choy was a great addition, joined the band and jumped right in as well. We all pushed each others limits and we were always challenging each other to do more.
- Also, that was your first time experience working with Scott Burns. What was this cooperation like? Do you think that was also the crucial moment for you as the band?
- Scott Burns is the man. Not only from his incredible engineering side but from a good person side, he is a great guy. He always wanted the best for the music. He didn’t care if you were a huge name band or like us a few kids (the first time we worked with him) trying to record a demo and get signed to a record company. He always did his best and helped us immensely. And yes I do think it was crucial for us because he had the ability to capture our sound with all the crazy parts we had going on in the song. In the end you could hear all the parts in the mix and nothing was lost in the wash. Of course the production was also budget related and we were self financed so the demos were recorded and mixed in a couple days…
- By the way, why Tony didn't stay for long in the band? And how and where did you find a replacement for him, Sean Malone?
- No Tony did not stay to long. What had happened is we recorded demos and shopped them, we played every gig we could and still no record company interest. We were to technical and no one wanted to take a gamble on us and give us a contract. We started getting interest from other bands that were missing members and needed help to finish their albums. Death, Atheist, Monstrosity, Master, Pestilence, so we decided to take these opportunities to play with these other bands and get some albums under our belts and ultimately get exposure for our band. We planned to get back together to continue the Cynic thing, we never considered breaking up, this was all part of the plan.
Eventually, we all played with the other bands and when we got back together to do Cynic, Tony decided he wanted to continue playing with Atheist and Pestilence and at that point he left the band.
We had a couple other bass players as we were working on the material for “Focus” and ended up with Darren MacFarlane. Long story short it did not work out with Darren and we parted ways in the studio. We had recorded all the drum tracks and rhythm guitars in approximately 1 week, we were out a bass player and were heading home to regroup and get ready for solos, over dubs and vocals.
So Scott Burns walks up and say’s, “you guys need a bass player, how about this guy and points over to his engineers’ assistant standing there at the mixing board”. It was Shawn Malone. He was working as Scotts engineers’ assistant in while going to college in Tampa. We started talking with him, checked out some of his recordings and started going over the material with him so he could write his parts while we went back to Miami for 2 weeks to get ready for the next session.
He was a perfect fit. Shawn is an amazing musician and when he presented his bass parts we were super happy and he was in. His fretless bass technique was incredible not to mention what a great added sound the chapman stick was.
- Somewhere in between, you joined Monstrosity, to help recording their first full-length, "Imperial Doom". Tell us, how did it happen? How challenging was it to learn their material? And you recorded all the lead guitars, didn't you?
- As mentioned above we all took the offers to play with other bands. Monstrosity was down a guitarist, had an album to record and asked if I would join them for the album. Of course I jumped at the opportunity and recorded the “Imperial Doom” album with them. It was a great experience, they are all great guys and we had a lot of fun. The speed of their material was the most challenging, they were hauling ass and it was always a brutal forearm work out session every time we played. They had most of the material written already but I did contribute a few riffs to help finish off a couple songs. Solos were split up between Jon Rubin and I. I don’t remember how many each but they were kind and let me have a fair swing at the solos.
- How long did you stay with those guys? Did you play any gigs too? And did you consider staying with Monstrosity or did you intentionally want to get back to Cynic?
- I did not stay long, it was mostly to record the album with them. I would have gladly toured with them but the Cynic thing was coming around and it did not work out. I did play one gig with them, it was the Milwaukee metal fest. Fun times and great memories..
- In 1993 you released the debut Cynic album, "Focus". Tell us about the recording sessions, how did it go? How long did it take you to record everything?
- The recording session were long rough days. We were well rehearsed and ready to go but we had a lot of material to record in a short period of time. We booked 8 hour days but Scott would stay on his own time with us and we would continue recording into the night until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Scott lived almost an hour away from the studio so he would come crash with us at the hotel for 5 hours and we would get up shower and head back to the studio for another long day of recording. We couldn’t have pulled the album off in the amount of time that the record company provided in our budget if it wasn’t because of Scott Burns helping us, not going home for a few days and doing overtime with us in the studio. Props to Scott Burns… The album took a little over 2 weeks to record and mix and then another 2-3 days at Criteria Studios for the final mix.
- Musically, that was (and still is) just something beyond the imagination. Those decisions, like adding jazz elements, exotic instruments and different rhythms, where did they come from? How did you manage to combine so many different elements into one masterpiece?
- By the time we were writing and recording “Focus” we were no longer listening to much death metal. We were exploring all different styles of music and it was coming through in the music we wrote. We didn’t hold ourselves to any musical standards. It didn’t have to be all metal. So we just wrote what we wanted, we contributed all kinds of ideas/rhythms; heavy, soft, odd metered, classical, jazzy, melodic etc. It didn’t matter as long as it was good, if it wasn’t good enough we voted on the idea and most of them were thrown out. We threw away more rhythms and ideas than were on “Focus” to make “Focus”.
- Due to the problems with Paul's voice, you hired Tony Teegarden to perform all the screaming vocals, while Paul was singing with his clear voice. Did you discuss just the possibility of Tony becoming your lead vocalist? At the time, what you did, was pretty risky, so what were your expectations like?
- We did bring Tony in when Paul was having problems with his vocal chords. At first it was just to record the vocal parts and may be tour. It would have been great to have Tony as a full member but it wouldn’t have worked out either way as the band disbanded in 1994.
- In 1994 Cynic was disbanded. At what conditions did it happen? Was it because the public wasn't ready for such music?
- There were a lot of reasons for the disbanding of Cynic in 1994. We had been going at it for a long time already. I met Paul and Sean when I was 16 and at this point I was 24. We had to many problems with Roadrunner Records, the album release was delayed due to a “printing” issues. Pestilence broke up mid European tour and cut the tour in half, we were all struggling financially and were getting no support. The next album with Roadrunner did not look any more promising, and we were in a 7 album contract with them at the time. That along with escalading personality differences and the want to go in different directions musically, we decided to call it quits with Cynic.
- After breakup you created Portal, with Aruna Abrams on vocals. Tell a bit more about this project, about the whole idea behind it and why it didn't really work out for you?
- After we spit up we got a lawyer and we were trying to get relinquished from our contract with Roadrunner Records. We decided to start a completely different band and go in a more commercial radio friendly direction musically, in hopes of landing a better record contract at a major record label. Hence the addition of Aruna Abrams on vocals and keyboards and Chris Kringle on bass. Both are very talented musicians and were a great addition to the band. We started Portal and recorded a couple demos and started to shop them. We ended up getting some interest from Atlantic Records but due to our previous contract with Roadrunner which we could not free ourselves in time and we lost the deal with Atlantic. After all the work and frustration, we finally decided to break up and head our separate directions, the demos weren’t released until many years later when Paul and Sean reformed Cynic and released the demos as “The Portal Tapes”.
- And at some point you also appeared on another Cynic reincarnation, Gordian Knot, which became your last work with those musicians. That was a very interesting and diverse music. How did you like working on it?
- What an cool and interesting project. Working with Malone is always a learning experience, the man is a technician. The Gordian Knot “Emergent” album was all recorded at different locations in the musicians’ home on their digital studio and the album emerged into the final product that we have now. The scratch tracks were recorded and then the tracks were sent digitally to the other musicians all over the world and then they would record their tracks and send them back to Malone to add to the master copy and mix. The main rhythm parts were recorded at Sean’s home in Eugene Oregon on campus at the University of Oregon. I would drive over from Portland and he had his basic parts and drum scratch tracks recorded and we would record the rhythm guitar parts there. My solos were recorded at my house on my digital studio, Reinert recorded his drum tracks in L.A. at his home digital studio. Malone flew to England and recorded Buford’s drums at his home. Long story short, the whole band never played together, we all added our layers and the album emerged. Note with some incredible time and work by Malone orchestrating and mixing the whole project musically and physically. There were a bunch of guest solos and players and keeping it all together was a feat in it self. I think the finished product is a great prog-metal album and it was an honor to contribute and participate on it.
- After the comeback in 2006, Cynic released 2 more albums. Which one do you prefer? What is your opinion regarding this evolution in music? Are you still in touch with those guys?
- To be honest I have only listened to “Traced in Air” a couple times and only parts of their later releases. Still incredibly talented guys and they evolved and progressed as musicians, but the mellower direction wasn’t for me. I was the one leaning towards staying edgier when we broke up. I still speak with Reinert, Malone, Teegarden, Choy and Kringle on occasion. Paul I only speak to on business related issues when needed.
- What are you up to now? I saw some of your paintings, and they look really good! Tell us more about your arts, how do you create them?
- Now I work a normal warehouse job, own a small photography business and create art. I like to keep busy and have more than one financial resource. I am happily married, my wife works at the hospital delivering babies, she is also a massage therapist and owns a small organic non toxic soy candle company we run out of our home. My daughter is 25 yrs old, works in advertising and my son is 17 yrs old finishing up school. I have my photography clients, still play a little guitar, help with the candle business and create art on my spare time. I have a beautiful family and a very blessed life.
My art is created by photographing small amounts of different types of acrylic paints, food coloring and metallic paints while being poured into water or water with objects in it. The images are captured and manipulated in Photoshop to create unique pieces of art. Any interest in purchasing a piece, you can find me on Facebook – Art By Jason Gobel send me a message and I will help.
- Thank you for this interview, Jason! Would you like to add anything in the end?
- Thank you Dima for the interview and the chance to be in Tough Riffs. Thank you to all the fans for your years of support and appreciation. Keep a look out for a upcoming project with Sean Reinert in the next year. Cheers…