By Andrew Bansal
Hailing from Bordeaux, France, Mars Red Sky comprises the trio of Julien Pras (vocals, guitar), Jimmy Kinast (bass) and Mathieu Gazeau (drums) and started out in 2007 as a psychedelic heavy rock band, purely out of a musical experiment, not knowing the impact they would make on stoner/psych rock fans worldwide. They released their self-titled debut album in 2011 and landed on our radar, followed it up with an equally stellar album called ‘Stranded In Arcadia’ in 2014, and this year, took themselves to new altitudes with the release of the third full-lenth ‘Apex III (Praise For The Burning Soul)’ via Listenable Records. Pivoted on their appearance at the Psycho Las Vegas festival, Mars Red Sky recently completed a North American headline run, and visited the Los Angeles area for a show at the Viper Room on August 30th 2016. We had been hyping up this band all year and the moment had finally arrived to witness them live, and they exceeded sky-high expectations with a captivating performance. Before the show, Metal Assault had a detailed chat with Julien, Jimmy and Mathieu about all things Mars Red Sky. Enjoy the conversation below, along with a taste of ‘Apex III’.
First of all, good to have you here in LA. I’ve been looking forward to this show for months, ever since it was announced. How has this US tour been going for you so far?
Jimmy: Really cool! Really happy to be here and doing so many shows. East Coast was very good and Las Vegas was a real blast. So far, so good!
You’ve been doing shows one after the other without any days off. Coming from so far away, it must be your aim to do as many shows as possible.
Mathieu: Yeah, that’s exactly what we are here for. That’s the best way to do it in this country, to play shows every day. It’s not easy because you have to book these shows, and you hope to have a good booking agent. So, our agents did their job and now we have to do our work, playing shows. As Jimmy said, the East Coast was good, Canada was very good too, Montreal and Toronto. Chicago was very nice. We had a couple of shows that were a bit so-so, in front of less people, but it was Monday and Tuesday in small cities. So, we’re very happy with the whole tour so far, and tonight should be fun, I guess.
Talking about Psycho Las Vegas, how was that experience for you?
Julien: It went really fast. We arrived early in the morning and we played 45 minutes which is a really short set for us. We played just four songs, and had very little time to notice what was going on. But we played the set and got to meet some friends, and I think the reaction from people was good. So, it was stressful in the moment but great in the aftermath (laughs).
The place here, the Viper Room, what do you know about it and what do you feel about it so far?
Jimmy: I know it’s a French word ‘viper’ which means snake, and I knew the name of the club, but I don’t know the story behind it. It was very funny when we arrived to load in, and saw a tourist bus. They were taking pictures of the club and I guess somebody with a mic said, “And this is the Viper Room!” Many of them probably did not know what goes on inside but they took pictures, so I guess it’s famous!
Mathieu: We actually took a picture of the bus, because it was kind of like, when you’re watching TV the TV is watching you. It is the same concept. But yeah, we only heard about the place from friends and they told us it’s great. It’s really good to be in LA and we’ll see how it goes at the Viper Room tonight.
Talking of your new album ‘Apex III’, it’s been one of my favorite albums of the year, and when I listen to it I have to listen to the whole thing. You cannot really break it into songs. Do you agree with that and is that how you approached it?
Mathieu: It’s funny because some of the basic material was composed on the road during soundchecks, and then we took a month-and-a-half to get ready and mess around with the music we had. Some songs have been written by Julien himself and some of the material has been created out of jams. I can say the writing process was very short, and we had some time in the studio to experiment some things. Some of the songs we finished in the studio, so may be it created this kind of coherence.
You said you got 45 minutes at Psycho Las Vegas. For you that’s definitely not enough. What do you think is an ideal set length to be able to present your music?
Jimmy: I think 75 minutes is good for us, and I wanted to say when you were talking about the album, that’s the reason we were a bit frustrated in Vegas. You said that you like to listen to the whole album, and I think it’s the same for the live show. We experiment a bit, and we try to do some hybrid stuff between material. When you do a tour and play ten shows in a row where it’s 75 minutes, you have to readjust yourself to 45 minutes and with songs between 5 and 9 minutes, that’s really complicated. So, that’s the only point that was a bit so-so in Vegas, because otherwise we were really happy with the crowd. But you get the idea of our music. It’s not songs after songs.
Mathieu: When we left that festival, we were smiling and very happy because it’s something to play a festival in Vegas. The tricky thing is that, the last six months everywhere we were going, in France, Germany and in Europe, people were talking about this festival a lot, like “See you in Vegas!” Now, you are here and it’s only 45 minutes, it’s strange because we spent way more time talking about it than playing it (laughs). But it’s always like that. It was the same thing with Hellfest in France. A lot of people were talking about it but then we played just half an hour. It’s crazy. But yeah, as Jimmy said, we take more time to do some interludes between the songs in our show, and we kind of like that. In 45 minutes you cannot do that. You just play four songs and that’s it.
On this tour you’re not playing the whole of the album, and it’s a mix of songs old and new. I think with each album you’ve created a new mood. Would you say that your live show also goes through that transition?
Julien: Yes, it’s not exactly chronological because we start with new stuff and then we play a few songs off of the second album, the EP before that, and near the end play a couple of songs from the first album. They’re kind of intertwined with samples and noise bits too. So there’s always sounds going on and it’s a little bit like the feeling you get from the album. It wasn’t meant to be a concept or whatever but we like it when songs on an album sound coherent. That’s what we do on stage too, and I’d like to think our live set sounds just as coherent.
These days there’s such a wave of psychedelic/stoner rock and doom metal stuff, but you started quite a few years ago and I’ve been listening to the band for at least five years now. How do you feel now being in the middle of all this stuff? Psycho Las Vegas was like a 100 bands playing this kind of music.
Jimmy: We’re really happy to be part of it. In the beginning when you discovered our music, it was kind of a really good surprise to see that we were getting approached and supported by a scene, a family we didn’t know before. It was kind of an accident, because Julien has been playing music for a long time doing more folk or pop stuff, and we decided to do more heavy stuff for fun, with the same way he used to sing in those projects, but just add some reverb and delay on it and add really heavy guitars. He asked me to play in the band and tune my bass as he tuned his guitar. We didn’t really know what it was becoming, and it’s still really surprising to be part of that, even though now we’ve toured a lot in Europe and stuff. Things also changed when Mathieu came into the band five years ago for the second album and the first EP we did in between. Between the three of us, that’s when we changed the mood. The music is composed by Julien a lot of the time but at other times we can feel that it’s a common project. The trio has worked good for us and we feel good about it. We’re pretty happy and I think we’ll still continue a bit (laughs). We still have much to say.
Exactly. So, in this genre of psychedelic rock, a lot of people say that Pink Floyd were the starters, but it goes further back to the Beatles, even. I hear some of that even in your music. Would you agree with that?
Mathieu: Yeah, totally. We all listen to very different kinds of music. We don’t only listen to Black Sabbath. We do love Sabbath, of course, but it ranges from ’60s psych pop, to black metal, to jazz. So yeah, I don’t think it all started with Pink Floyd, even though we love them and they did break the wall, I can say (laughs).
People describe your music as stoner rock. What do you feel about that label? Do you think it’s accurate?
Jimmy: Stoner rock is full of different kinds of bands, but we prefer to introduce our music as heavy psychedelic rock. But this stoner rock label did help us in the beginning in France and in Europe. We were like the strange stoner band, in a way. We started as an accident, like I told you, but if we started in the more indie or pop scene and stuff, I don’t know if we’d be the same band as we are now. May be we’d be another band trying to do something different. In the stoner rock scene we sometimes look like aliens, and we didn’t want it to be that way, but a lot of people tell us. In Vegas, we played at the same time as Sleep, but the place was still full and people said our music sounds fresh and that they need new stuff. It’s happened a lot and it’s so cool to hear that, because that was not really the purpose at the beginning. It’s just the way it is, but we feel really comfortable to know that people like what we do because for them it sounds a bit fresh.
It seems like a lot of American bands get big in Europe first before anyone notices them in America. Were there any American bands in particular that you guys grew up listening to in France?
Mathieu: Well, in our younger years we listened to a lot of American bands but now I can feel that it has kind of turned and there’s a lot of European bands doing this kind of music.
Jimmy: I don’t think there was anything special about the idea of seeing American bands but I’ve always had something personal about New York. I started to listen to music around 17 or 18 and I always found something special about bands from there. I’m a big fan of Sonic youth, one of the bands from New York that were really seminal, and The Strokes too, who are more mainstream but there’s just something unique about the way they were that was inspiring.
Mathieu: I saw The Jesus Lizard when I was 14 years old, and Fugazi too, and those bands just blew my mind. It was because of those bands that I wanted to start playing music and to play in bands. The way those guys were going on stage, plugging in and playing and just blowing the house away, it was just incredible. And now we kind of understand why they were like that, because here there is no soundcheck, you can’t show up at the venue at 3 in the afternoon to do a soundcheck of two hours. Nobody gets to do that. Now we can feel that, being in this country. We understand how it’s different from touring in Europe. Of course I can imagine a band from the US getting to Europe for the first time and thinking it’s so easy, because most of the venues in Europe have money from the government and it’s not the same as it is in the US. Here it is definitely more alternative.
That’s an interesting take on it, and it makes sense. Finally, after this tour what else do you guys have in the works?
Jimmy: We have a tour coming up in France, and for the first time it’s a full tour of bigger venues as a headliner, so that’s new for us. After that we’ll still do some countries we didn’t go to so far with the new album, like Poland, Czech Republic and Ukraine.
Mathieu: Yes, and other than that we have plans we cannot really talk about because we’re not sure, but we have plans, we have ideas, we have things to do still, and some ass to kick! (laughs)
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