Maudlin Of The Well:
~Interview by Matthew Heilman & Michael Johnson
[Photos: Erika of Dark Symphonies; Effects: Matthew Heilman]
Maudlin of the Well is not just another
pseudo avant-garde metal band. They may be perhaps one of the most
unique and challenging ‘metal’ bands to have ever been assembled.
Attempting to label, categorize, or even explain there music is nearly
impossible. They do not fall sway to the trappings of novelty, and
they present a vast spectrum of emotional and musical colour, ultimately
touching on nearly all the various emotions that humans grapple with.
Maudlin are not the easiest band to digest, they may not be for everyone’s
consumption, but they offer fans of dark music something extremely unique
and intellectually superior when compared to some of the leading bands
selling the most records and getting the most exposure. If you, as
a music fan, are looking for something different, something that will keep
you on your toes and provide layers upon layers of musical mystery, this
multi-dimensional band may be the answer to your prayers. Take a
few moments, and get acquainted with Maudlin Of The Well. This is
quite a lengthy interview, but our purpose is not to cause your eyes to
cross and drive you mad, but to give insight into a band that has thoroughly
fascinated us. We at Starvox come across A LOT of new music every
month, but nothing has ever captured the attention of these two writers
quite like Maudlin. We hope to show as well, that the musicians behind
this project are just as human and down to earth as you the reader are.
That they are not all wrapped up in themselves and too ‘cool’ to have a
laugh or two. Hopefully you will be intrigued enough to investigate the
band’s three weighty and epic releases, the two most recent “Bath” and
“Leaving Your Body Map” being a two CD set released through Dark Symphonies
Starvox: Well, lets just start at the beginning,
with the basics. How did the band form and whose idea was it?
Toby: I think we were really inspired by certain bands we had been listening to and wanted to just do music that those bands were ALMOST doing, but missing something.
Byron: Yeah, an almost spiritual passion.
Toby: Well, this is back at the very beginning of the project too- it's not really the same purpose anymore. I think very bluntly at the beginning Byron and I wanted to do a mix of Tiamat’s “Wildhoney”era, My Dying Bride, and Morbid Angel.
Byron: I was fascinated with MDB's lyrics at the time.
Toby: So before we actually knew WHY we were doing this... work... it was high school kids making music for music's sake. Actually - it was the summer between high school and college.
Starvox: So as the project developed, what would you say became the overall intent of the band? Specific messages, if any?
Byron: So far, our real intent, I think, is to inspire others, and to show them an artistic escape to a much better place than we were in.
Toby: Right- but very truly, a real place. A real and attainable state. That's the key.The uniting of the higher and lower selves.
Starvox: The higher being the spiritual, the lower being the physical?
Byron: Yeah, the lower is the ego, the senses, and whatnot; the higher is who you really are, why you're here, the being that everything is.
Toby: Along with the higher state of consciousness/unity with the astral body goal- there is the true understanding of what music is- as a goal
Starvox: How, as an average listener, could we refocus ourselves to achieve this astral state? To understand what we are missing?
Byron: Immerse yourself in the arts! Read, paint, and listen to music. Create, meditate, go for long walks and appreciate everything you see!
Toby: Eventually, it just hits you. All of a sudden, you'll be taking a walk, and you'll have an epiphany.
Byron: Seeing a shadow of tree branches on a fence, rain…
Toby: It could happen while you're eating your Cocoa Puffs!
Byron: Or breakfast...!
Starvox: (Laughing) Very Romantic, indeed. Toby had mentioned meditative/astral exercises in a previous conversation. Could you explain these?
Toby: Well, Byron and I have done lots of exercises since we were much younger.
Byron: Yeah, like skrying and projecting and lucid dreaming
Toby: We used to do them together, when we were first learning about astrality, but now we do our different things. For example, Byron studies Crowley, and meditates in that scheme, and I'm more focused on dreaming and figuring that scheme out then we converge into this collaboration.
Byron: And it works very well.
Toby: It's funny too-- because when we were doing these things of ours back in 1994 or whatever, we thought stuff was going wrong... now in retrospect, some pretty amazing stuff happened
Byron: Art is the highest form of magic.
Starvox: Is this whole idea of art as magick the concept behind 'Bath'?
Toby: Yes, that's one huge idea. There are other "lessons" in there-- it's pretty much a window into our philosophy.
Starvox: Hence the open and shut windows in the cover art?
Byron: Yeah, it's a puzzle and an adventure.
Toby: There's a line in “Marid's Gift of Art” - "I could make everyone so happy"-- this means: heed my philosophy and you'll find the truth of life, of art, of magick. The windows are like… <pauses> On the cover of the album, the window is closed (i.e. before you have listened to the music). Then you listen to the music from front to back, and on the back, the window is opened (i.e. after the album). The MUSIC has OPENED the WINDOW!
Starvox: I understand you "adopted" a music professor named Yusef Lateef as a mentor in college. Could you tell me how this came to be and what type of influence he had on the direction you took as a band?
Toby: Well, the whole Yusef thing is not as huge as the press release would lead you to believe. Terran and I were the only ones in the band who studied with him. He is a great example of a truly enlightened person- he knows his own voice. So the inspiring thing about him was his aura and his humility.
Starvox: And he coined ‘autophysiopsychic’ as a genre of music?
Toby: I was sure that he did, but if you look at an essay of his on his website, he talks about musicians before him who played autophysiopsychic music, but I think he coined the phrase. He's 81 years old-- so he's just got this amazing wisdom about him, and he has a unique way of looking at composition. What he did most was just be a springboard and an eye-opener. One of the ideas of APP music is that is comes out of you automatically. Which parallels our idea about the artist communicating art rather than creating it. The creative force of the universe speaks through you automatically.
Byron:…and you translate it to the best of your capability.
Starvox: Being that he is 81 years old, what does he think of the metallic aspects and the vocal grunts and such?
Toby: He thinks it's fantastic.
He's never heard the albums- but he's seen us perform live. Although,Yusef
is more into the idea about music speaking through you in performance,
but I believe it speaks through you in composition as well.
Toby: (1) Autophysiopsychic Music: Music that comes from one's physical, mental and spiritual self. That's lifted directly from his site. He's very much into the idea of improvisation, because when you improvise, you're in a very unique state, and very "in touch" with your source. It's very spiritual and attractive
Starvox: To again jump back a bit, for our readers who are first discovering you guys...How many musicians actually make up MotW and what are their duties?
Toby: I think we have nine official members, but there are moments when half the band lays out. We don't use every voice at once; it would be inappropriate.
Byron: And repetitive…but not redundant. ;)
Toby: Most of us play several roles in the band. I mean, on the Bath/LYBM project, six of us did vocals. Generally the lead vocals are Byron for the guttural vocals and me for the clean. The female vocals are obviously performed by Maria. But Greg also sang, as did Sam and Terran. Four of us played percussion, five of us played guitar. Terran did all of the wind instruments, and three of us played keyboards --- you know, we all did lots of stuff!
Starvox: How do you guys pull it off live then? I’d imagine you would need a LARGE stage!
Toby: Terran is generally the wind guy, I do the stuff like guitar, bass, cello. I did vocals, and keys, percussion. Terran and Byron did keys and Sam did drums, guitar, and vocals. We really haven't played out too much. I think we've played really well live.
Byron: But our sound usually sucks. We're a sound person's nightmare.
Toby: It's tough because to pull something like this off, you often need to tell the whole band what to do, and they want to have more say But if you let everyone just go nuts then it's not solid so it's a complicated political situation.
Starvox: Well someone must play the role of conductor for so large and complex a project.
Toby: Yeah, we kind of are like an orchestra. The conductor is totally necessary and every instrument is vital and plays an equal role, rather than being all guitars in the forefront.
Starvox: So I think a big question on a lot of people's minds is what does the band's name mean?
Byron: The word choice is, in my opinion, perfect for a working definition of what we're all about. Maudlin is the sadness and melancholy resulting from the desire and drive and passion to find the well, a symbol for all odd knick-knacks out in the woods, an escape that is just out reach. (They’re separated by "of the," two silly words)
Starvox: So with all of you in the band, as you said Toby, it is pretty difficult and 'political' so what is the writing process like? How do you guys orchestrate all the songs?
Toby: Originally, I would write the entirety of the song, and Greg and Byron would add their respective solos or vocals.
Byron: I write words, for the most part, separately, and Toby and I make them fit.
Toby: On Bath/LYBM however, I wrote, or "channeled" (laughing) the skeleton of the song. I wrote the whole thing as a sketch. Then Sam and I worked on the drums and made a solid drum/guitar foundation. Then we, as a band, drew maps of each song, charting out what goes where and when, what this needs to be like, what this mood is, what that texture is. Then following the maps, each other person in the band "found" their parts that were supposed to be there. It worked remarkably well and I think we'll continue to work that way.
Starvox: So Byron, since you write the majority of the lyrics, if you will, can you tell us a bit about the lyrical concepts?
Byron: I've actually been doing a lot of thinking about what I’m trying to say. Mostly, they are emotions that I’ve been feeling. I went through some emotional turmoil prior to recording so I needed to write about some miserable stuff to cleanse me. I'm through it now, so I can start thinking with a clear head again.
Starvox: Death seems to be a prevalent subject. That within death, answers not found in life could be determined.
Byron: I want to help people, not bring them down. I want to show people magic.
Starvox: Almost a Lovecraftian approach, searching the deepest chasms to find that 'magick'
Byron: Yeah, you're totally right. I've always been pretty obsessed with death, and I still am. It’s only recently become less dangerous to me.
Starvox: How so?
Byron: I've lived so strictly by that rule that it's kept me somewhat hemmed in. I was afraid to experience life. My eyes are opening, though, and I really want people to know that things don't end with some stupid relationship or other crap.
Starvox: Of the two releases, "Body Map" deals with these views more specifically, and I find it to be the better of the two albums. Much darker, more romantic…Some of the lyrics read, "I killed myself, because I was stupid,” "life means more since I’ve stopped thinking..."
Toby: Oh, that song I wrote lyrics for! <Laughing>
Starvox: Damn! <Laughing> But it seems to fit...at least for me.
Toby: Byron and I think very much alike, so it does fit.
Starvox: The tragic element in it, is that it seems that the Lady is what was keeping you 'going' and she is what ultimately brings destruction.
Toby: Hmm, what Lady?
Byron: Oops, gotcha!
Toby: <laughing> “Sleep is a curse” is not about love, or romance, or a woman. <Smiles> Nope, not at all, my friend.
Starvox: Well, women have been destroying me for 21 years, so I sort of see freckled female faces behind every shadow. It’s no wonder I would interpret it the way I have!
Toby: <laughing> Well we don't want to write about something so – earthly.
Byron: Yeah, we want to stir the imagination.
Toby: Well, that song is definitely okay to come up with your own interpretation of. I've heard four different interpretations of it, which is great. Because you can individualize art. If I tell you the specifics of it, it might lose the romantic imagery that you have.
Byron: Don't feel bad. I have no idea what's going on!
Toby: It's definitely about a very, very specific experience or groups of experiences I had, and I like that people can find their own experiences in it because no one would ever be able to relate to what I think about when I hear the song.
Byron: After all, aren't we all having different perspectives of the same experience, ultimately?
Starvox: Indeed, absolutely. Moving on now, I mentioned earlier about H.P.Lovecraft. You guys grew up in New England and I would imagine his work has had an eerie effect on the band.
Byron: Ooh, I adore Lovecraft! Toby's brother actually got me into him; I'm very inspired by him and the whole Gothic horror thing.
Starvox: The track ‘Catharsis of Sea Sleep’ [from the first release] springs to mind…
Byron: You got it!
Toby: Yeah, I haven't read nearly enough Lovecraft, but I've had this very odd secondhand inspiration by him, because my brother is SO into him.
Byron: Lovecraft brought about my love for the sea.
Starvox: Images of the sea is everywhere in the lyrics...very mysterious.
Byron: With good reason! It’s AWESOME, and creepy as all hell.
Toby: People don’t really seem to realize these godlike things that exist on this planet every magical thing is taken for granted.
Starvox: As we are interviewing you guys, we are listening to "Leaving Your Body Map" and I absolutely LOVE those hidden screams around the middle of the disc, buried in the background as track 7 changes to track 8. What are they meant to symbolize, if anything. They are fucking creepy!
Byron: Those are old...recorded back in '96, right?
Toby: In "Riseth He The Numberless?" Yeah, those are really old.
Byron: It was really fun, though, very atmospheric.
Toby: It's from the same "session" that track 8 on “…Psychobells” is from. They symbolize the congruity between our states of mind then and now.
Byron: We did it to record an experience, in an icy cold night in the middle of a giant field.
Toby: What you hear in them can be interpreted however you wish, but what I hear in them is nostalgia.
Starvox: I hear terror
Toby: We did terrify ourselves!
Byron: I think we were trying to think of what could hurt us the most.
Starvox: Yes, sheer and absolute terror...I bet the animals in the forest freaked too!
Toby: <laughing> It was too cold for any animals!
Byron: Except for the gremlins…
Starvox: You mentioned nostalgia. I get a nostalgic feeling from the sleigh bells in track #9 on the 2nd disc. They just make you stop and think about beauty, winter. All the ugliness is covered.
Toby: That track, to me, is the centerpiece of the albums.
Byron: The breakaway point…
Toby: The house on one of our promo poster’s is interlude 4. I don’t mean to sound flaky either, but that entire track was dreamt. It moved me to a musical point that I had never even been able to see before. I had this dream, I was standing in front of that house, there was a black void all around, it was lightly snowing, I had a paper bag of cranberries that I had just bought, and I was bringing home to my parents house to make cranberry bread and I walked up to the door, and I paused to look around and contemplate-- then that music started. I never even got to go through the front door, because I was so enraptured, and then, you know how the piece fades out-- well-- the dream faded out and I awoke very peacefully, Totally remembered the song and wrote it down! Usually when I dream music, I think it's amazing, but it's gone as soon as I wake up.
Starvox: That’s wonderful you were able to capture it.
Toby: Yeah I couldn't believe it. I was very lucky. I believe that when stuff like that happens, it's supposed to happen.
Starvox: And then that track blends into “Monstrously Low Tide,” another of my favourites.
Toby: Yeah, MLT is another really moving one for me. It’s an effective and powerful way to bring it all to a close. DO you like the kind of outro-ish thing?
Starvox: Yes, it’s very spacey and cool
Toby: Great- I got lots of raised eyebrows for that idea. I wanted it to be the type of thing that you drift away to after the window has been opened. By the end of that song, you're ready to go to sleep, so you drift away to sleep to the C major chord and you are totally serene.
Starvox: Well this brings me to another question, which I might have been better to ask earlier. The fact that both albums are released separately, but they have to be linked or at least you give a faulty impression they are by having the bath on the cover of "Body Map" and a map on the cover of "Bath!" That just MESSES with people!
Byron: That's because one needs the other. They're parallel
Starvox: So basically, an exploration of Death leads to stronger Art or something along those lines?
Toby: They are complete mirrors of the other. And no, Art is the REASON for LIFE.
Byron: An explanation for death, perhaps
Toby: They're released separately to kind of give the "where's my soul mate?" feeling
Starvox: Wow! That is really cool! Now we gotcha! Not to skip around too much, but what inspired the drumming on the surface of the pond?
Toby: A couple things inspired the percussion on the surface of the pond. The very root of it is the Yo-Yo Ma/Bobby McFerrin album. They do some of that on there. When I first heard that it touched me in a way that I have never been touched by music. I can't take credit for the idea of using a lake as percussion- but I thought it was really appropriate for what we're doing, as well I feel those two have the right idea about music
Starvox: Very cool. What were the thoughts behind it? It's an amazing track!
Toby: Well-- it may be one of those "you had to be there" things. I wish you guys could have just been there for that atmosphere-- it was early November, leaves were all colored, we were out in Western Massachusetts, I got into this reservoir naked, and did the percussion with Sam. It's more a beauty of nature thing
Starvox: Hippies <laughing> just kidding…
Starvox: All of this just causes me to shake my head in disbelief. There are infinite levels to these albums, some intersecting, and some independent.
Toby: Thanks guys, we really appreciate it, and the fact that you guys are so into it means a lot!
Starvox: I have sort of a 'flaky' question for Byron. It’s about your surname. I am sure you could have guessed this was coming: Are you mad bad and dangerous to know as well?
Byron: Just a little mad, maybe...but no incest here
Starvox: <Laughing> Is that just like, a nickname, or is that your real last name?
Byron: It's my real last name. I don't really have a first name...
Toby: It's his last name! But we all use it as his first name. The only people that call him by his first name are his parents
Byron: I think it's great
Toby: Byron actually looks like Lord Byron too
Byron: No I don't I look like a stupid kid
Starvox: Do ladies faint when you enter a room?
Byron: They usually run screaming
Seriously, guys, look at the picture. But our Byron has facial hair and
Starvox: Rock on, I wish my last name was Shelley. So on to other things. Were you at all worried that your ideas and philosophy in Maudlin of the Well wouldn't catch on? I mean, what made you think this would all take off like this and are you surprised at the reaction?
Byron: I'm psyched. Kind of surprised, and very glad
Toby: Yes, I am completely surprised as well. I marvel at the fact that we've played shows that I've always wanted to GO to, been in magazines, that I've always READ. It’s creepy
Byron: And awesome
Toby: It's creepy because, years ago, we said to ourselves, we can do this, and we did. The power of our will scares me. I hope it affects music in a BIG way
Byron: It's our Work
Starvox: We have NEVER thought so much about the lyrics and compositions of an artist...
Toby: That's a goal Thank you for the thought you put into it
Byron: Lyrics usually suck, too, so we can't have music with ridiculous words
Starvox: So what is on the horizon for the band? Ted [Of Dark Symphonies] says you are already recording for the next opus?
Toby: We're not actually recording- we're writing
Byron: And it's SO awesome!
Starvox: Give us the scoop!
Toby: Oh, the scoop! You asked for it! It's really tough to explain. One thing I can say is that we're really minimizing the use of riffs.
Byron: We're really maturing artistically, I think, experimenting with bizarre subjects. I'm more myself now as a writer than I ever have been
Toby: And the way it's turning out now, it's going to be awfully dark, and not very sweet. It feels like we are ready to make the record we've always wanted to make
Byron: These three were just the preliminaries
Starvox: Good god!
Toby: I have a few nice folky ballads that I'm going to do as a side project or something- this one's going to stay pretty EVIL and I THINK-- it may be short- maybe 6 songs or 45 minutes about, that's the vibe I'm getting so far
Byron: And really thought-provoking
Starvox: Great! So if you had a chance to persuade our readers to buy 'Bath' and 'Body Map', what would you say to them?
Toby: Well, the intention is to change your life for the better. To help you reach enlightenment, to open your eyes to wonder and it’s not music like other music
Byron: To leap into a landscape painting
Starvox: Awesome. So do you guys have any last words?
Byron: Every failure is an accomplishment; it teaches humility.
Toby: Forget everything you know. Listen with true ears and an open heart and move yourself.
Maudlin Of The Well is:
Jason Bittner: trumpet
Jason Byron: vocals, keyboards, percussion
Toby Driver: vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, cello, percussion
Maria-Stella Fountoulakis: vocals
Sam Gutterman: vocals, drums, percussion
Greg Massi: vocals, guitar
Nicholas Kyte: bass
Terran Olson: vocals, keyboards, clarinet, flute, percussion
Josh Seipp-Williams: guitar
Maudlin Of The Well – Official Site:
Maudlin Of The Well - Mp3.com Site:
Dark Symphonies Records: