Prelapse: An Interview

by Rich Ladew

The following interviews with Alex Lacamoire (keyboards) and Mason Wendell (bass, vocals) took place over the Internet and the telephone from late October to  mid November [1999?]. Visit their website often and order their CD.  You need to have it, like, say yesterday!!  You can also e-mail Prelapse to tell them what you think.

How long was Prelapse around before the NEC/Zorn artist in residence program?

Mason:   I guess we were together in some form or another for maybe two years or so before that show.  (The rest of the band might not agree.)  Alex & I first started this "project" when we transcribed & performed three Naked City pieces in a student show our first year at Berklee.  A few months later we felt like doing more with this "Naked City project'' and put together this band to do another Berklee show.  This time with a full progam of Zorn's music.  So far we were still just a cover band.

Prelapse in concertAlex:   The earliest moments of the band occurred in May 1994, when I transcribed a few of Zorn's Naked City charts and performed them live with Mason.  In 1995, Mason and I transcribed a total of about 35 tunes and did a Naked City Tribute show that March, billed as the "Prelapsarian Collective," with me, Mason, Dane and Andy (the sax player was Demetrius Spaneas).  Our next big gig was the Zorn-fest at NEC in Jan 1996, with RJ Rabin on drums and Jeff on sax.

[Ladew included note:  Stephen Drury, an excellent pianist and NEC faculty member, was instrumental in putting on this "Zorn-fest."]

How did the New England Conservatory Of Music performance come about?

Mason:  We gave Zorn a tape we'd made of us playing Naked City and showed him our transcriptions after a Painkiller show.  He was really impressed and sent us copies of his orlginal compositions and suggested we work up the pieces he had never played.  When NEC called Zorn about the fest, he called us to do the show.

When I saw you guys, initially at the NEC gig, and later on opening for the Mike Patton/Zorn show in Northhampton, MA, you played a lot of  unreleased tunes written for Naked City.  Your self-titled CD on Avant and your contribution to Zorn's Music for Children (Tzadik) also feature a large amount of music written by Zorn.  Was the music of Naked City a project for the band temporarily, or do you continue to play these tunes?

Mason:  The Naked City stuff was kind of how we got started. We didn't take it seriously enough to write for the band until later.  We try to do about half & half Prelapse / Zorn in sets now.

Alex:  We used to play Zorn's charts exclusively, until he said to us that we should write our own material and make an album.  I'm really glad he encouraged us to do so, because it made for some really exciting music that I don't think any of us knew we were capable of.  We still play a lot of Zorn's charts because that's where the band's roots are, and because it's killer fucking music!

Is Prelapse undertaking any new ideas/styles/formats for future projects?

Mason:  We don't have any grand plans for a new project right now.  We're kinda taking things as they come.  On a smaller scale we are exploring new directions.  Dane's most recent piece draws a lot from classial Indian music.  And I have some pieces that are much more free-form and some idiosyncratic ones that have almost nothing to do with genres or mixing styes.

Alex:  We're just taking it one step at a time, seeing where our music and our ideas take us. . . .

How does Prelapse's composition style differ from that of Zorn's? Can you explain a little bit about how the scores for both your pieces and Zorn's pieces are written and structured?  What are napalm clusters?

Mason:  All of Zorn's pieces for Naked City are written on one page.  At first they look like nothing but guidelines.  A riff here, a genre written there.  The exact arrangement is fleshed out in rehearsal.

Our pieces can be structured in any old way.  We have one piece ("Lachrym") that's just written rhythms and no specified notes.  I've written a couple that are completly through-composed and based on specific pitch-theories (especially "545: Mystery Hole").

Napalm clusters are short hard-core bursts.  I think the term comes from the band Napalm Death.

Alex:  I think it has to do with our individual influences.  Zorn's Naked City charts definitely gave us all a springboard to compose from, but I think each individual composer in the band brings out their own little musical tastes/histories into the tunes.  It's taking Zorn's concept and adding something else to the mix.  For example, in Mason's "545: Mystery Hole," you hear Zorn's dramatic texture changes, but you also see Mason's love of 20th century classical music/12-tone techniques; in my tune "Leper Sap," you hear brutal Naked City power-chord-Drop-D-tuning riffs, but also my influences of classic rock.

Napalm clusters are influenced by Napalm Death, and Zorn would notate them by scribbling dense, black blocks in the music.  You play what you see: dense, thick noise/rumbles.

Does anyone in the band find it more difficult writing/performing for Prelapse than in other musical projects the band members are involved with?

Mason:  For me it's just a different mindset.  Writing-wise Prelapse is a blank canvas for me.  They'll play whatever I write for them.  In that way it's kind of a composer's workshop.

In performance, in almost every type of show I've done, I just try to put my all into it.

Alex:  The most difficult part about it is finding out when we're all in town at the same time!  We've all got such different things going on in our lives, but the music really is a catalyst; we all come together and bond on it.

What are some of these musical projects?

Mason:  My main band is my rock band, Blinder.  We're a female-fronted trio (I don't sing).  We play a lot of odd-meters and our sound is pretty eclectic.  It goes from really crazy to some strange cousin of pop.  We're finishing our first CD right now.  (

Alex does gigs on Broadway.  Dane has his own studio.  And Andy and Jeff are both playing in a lot of different groups.

Alex:  Mason's band Blinder; one of Jeff's other bands, Skyflower; my projects in the Theatre realm. . . .   [Author's note: Alex plays in various broadway/theater style shows in NYC including Disney's The Lion King.  Who would've thunk it??]

I noticed a various artists recording on the Boston Sublingual record label.  Which members of the band are involved in that?  What is the name of the band?  Any future recordings for this label?  What are other projects that the various band members are in?

Mason:  That band was Sigmoid Flexure, a free-improv band I had in Boston.  Dane was in that with me.  I had to break it up when l moved to NYC.  Megan (singer) is also the singer / guitarist from Blinder.  Everyone else has gone their own way, like to LA or Europe.

Alex:  Jonathan LaMaster runs the label Sublingual, plays violin in the Boston-based Saturnalia, and is a friend of ours.  John is a major force in getting avant-garde music performances and recordings happening in Boston, and "Boston Underbelly" is one of the first releases on the label.  That disc features several acts and personnel, from Boston, NYC and beyond.

While I have a growing number of supporters and listeners for my experimental and modern music show the PCP House of Coffee, I will infrequently get a phone call or comment questioning the integrity of the music.  These comments usually focus around using the word "noise" or "anyone could fool around and make sounds like that."  Has anyone in the band  experienced this?  How do you respond to such accusations?

Mason:  If that's someone's attitude, then good for them.  I'm not out to change anyone's attitude, just make some art.

Alex:  I truly believe that everything is music, from the pieces of Cage to the sound of water flowing.  It all depends on how open you're gonna allow your ear to be.

I understand members of Prelapse are spread out between NYC and Boston.  Has the band played or toured anywhere besides these cities?  What is the typical reaction to your  music?

Alex:  We actually all live in the New York area now, after Dane's move to Jersey this year.  We get pretty good strong reactions to the music, because I really feel that there's a lot about the music we play that relates to people on a lot of levels.  The music really grabs your attention, and it changes so much that you're constantly surprised and intrigued, waiting to see what'll happen next.

Was it difficult for your saxophone player to work with Zorn (intimidation, or worries of being too imitative)?  Some discussion groups on the Internet have commented that the saxophone style is too much a copy-cat of Zorn's style.  Is it difficult to deal with Naked City comparisons, or being called a "Naked City-lite"?

Mason:  I'll let Jeff deal with the comparisons. I think he's pretty secure about his sound. I know his sound really well, and I think there's a big difference.

As for the band as a whole, I'd hardly call us 'NC lite.' We're different bands.

Alex:  It's funny - I met with Zorn a couple of times before the recording to discuss the directions of the pieces, the details, etc.  As the sax player for Naked City, he had a very specific approach as to how the sax should sound in context of the music.  He literally said that it's crazy to have a sax in thrash/metal musical texture, and the only thing for a sax *to* do in such a setting is to basically kick ass and go ballistic sound-wise.  I think that the way Jeff plays on the loud stuff is a mixture of a bunch of things: a continuation of Zorn's own approach on the music; a specific direction given by the composer himself; and Jeff's own style (check him out on the clarinet tracks: "Mintcrumb Rosette" and "Lachrym").  I think the world of Jeff, and can't think of a better musician to fill that spot in our band.

Zorn was *way* cool about playing on the CD; it was his idea to be on it, and on some tracks, rather than muting what Jeff had already done on tape, he just played along *with* it -- letting us be a band while adding himself as an extra ingredient.  How awesome is that?

After you had rehearsed and performend these songs live, how did the recording process differ?  What steps were involved in recording the CD?

Mason:  We recorded most of the disc live together in the same room.  There were only a few overdubs, like vocals.

Alex:  We were able to actually work it 'til we got it right!  Because the songs can be so short and erratic, and because the styles between tunes are so eclectic, it's sometimes hard to nail a piece on the very first run.  When you perform live, you have no choice, but in the studio, we could actually practice it a couple of times, try a few takes, etc.  There was absolutely no splicing on the disc.  We always recorded as a band, playing the basic tracks live.

For the uninitiated, the music of Prelapse and Naked City is extremely inclusive, eclectic, and explosively energetic.  Did the band have any disagreements about which pieces to play, or arguments of musical genres to include on pieces?

Mason:  Not really.  Zorn wanted us to record certain pieces of his that he never recorded.  So that half of the CD was all taken care of.  And for our half there were no arguments. We get along pretty well.

Alex:  We all get along really well as a band.  We've had some blowups in the past, but what band doesn't?  As far as arguments about genres and the like: we don't really collaborate when it comes to our original tunes, and each composer brings in the finished work to the band, therefore we don't really argue about each other's pieces.

Listening to this music has always made jealous of how much fun the performers playing it must have.  Is this an accurate assessment?

Mason:  Oh yeah.  This is a total blast!

Alex:  Yes, it's true: we have fun, dammit!  Our friends have pointed out that when we play live, every song ends with all of us laughing.  Some people may disagree with me, but I think that there's a real comedic element to the music we play.  I think that's what makes people enjoy it so much.  You have to admit that some of the stuff (not all, or course) is really silly, and I don't mean that in a demeaning way.  As heavy and as dense as the music is, it's really light at the same time.  It's music that's kicking your ass and winking at the same time.

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