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Progressive Rock Interviews

Hildegard

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Hildegard from 2015
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Sasha Masakowski: I have pretty deep roots in the New Orleans jazz music scene through my father- renowned seven-string guitarist Steve Masakowski. He was one of the pioneers of jazz fusion and modern jazz back in the 80s and 90s, touring the world with his band Astral Project. He now runs the jazz department at University of New Orleans, and as long as I've been involved in music, he's been pushing me to improvise, to compose, perform and record as much as possible. He's a mastermind and I have him to thank for helping me develop musically. We still perform together all the time, and he never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

Cliff and I met in high school. We were studying at this great performing arts high school in New Orleans called NOCCA. I was a few years older and used to pick on him. (laughter) After high school we both went to University of New Orleans to study jazz ,and that's when Cliff asked me to join his band, which was then the "Cliff Hines Quintet." We've been making music together ever since!

MSJ:
If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Cliff Hines: I'd be a teacher.

Sasha Masakowski: I'd probably do something with animals, working in a wildlife refuge in South Africa or something. I've always loved animals- my brother and I had lots of exotic pets as a kid, everything from snakes to turtles to birds even to pet rats.

MSJ:
How did the name of the group originate?

Cliff Hines: We had been contemplating band names for a while, and one day we were sitting around laughing about embarrassing middle names and Sasha said "You guys my middle name is Hildegard! How old-world Germanic and epic is that, right?" And we all stopped and said, “whoa, maybe that's our band name.” After researching, we discovered Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century German   Saint who is cited as one of the first female composers, herbalists, and visionary theologian. We were fascinated by her story, learned that the word Hildegard means "battle maiden" and thought it was the perfect fit for our band sound, which is powerful in force but still holds this feminine quality.

MSJ:
What's ahead for you?
Sasha Masakowski: More writing! We've been working towards incorporating more electronic elements into our live shows, and the new batch of songs we have are really gorgeous. H?ope to record a new record this winter as we keep developing our sound.

Cliff Hines: And more touring! We are road dogs. We love the feeling of being in the tour van traveling across the country, bringing our music to new cities and new people every night. It's exhilarating.

MSJ:
I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Cliff Hines: It combines so many of our influences- from rock/pop to world music to shoegaze to EDM to metal and even classical. If we had to label it as one thing we'd probably say art-rock or avant-pop. 

Sasha Masakowski: Our music is rooted in strong composition and this dichotomy of sound. I think Cliff and I are both really great songwriters. We take pride in our ability to write, and the songs are carefully crafted with both acoustic and electronic elements, balancing the rock/metal element with delicate female vocals and strings.

MSJ:
Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Sasha Masakowski: Daedelus! Also this drummer/ producer who I really admire Nate Wood. And Thundercat. 

Cliff Hines: Thom Yorke, David Byrne, Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, and Flying Lotus. That's my bucket list (laughter)

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Cliff Hines: I agree with Neil Young- internet piracy is the new radio.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Cliff Hines: I think it can only lead to good exposure for the band. I know I've bootlegged recordings and learned a ton from them. If it's a band you admire then listening to them perform live can lead to so much growth and development in your own band.

Sasha Masakowski: I agree, as long as they aren't trying to make money off of you and it's just for personal inspiration I think it's totally cool.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

Cliff Hines: Kenny G. Because Kenny G.

Sasha Masakowski: Probably the money-hungry record label executive who knows nothing about music and is just looking to craft some talented young kid into a product.

Max Zemanovic: Bootsy Collins because it can't be a party all the time.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

Max Zemanovic:  Baby Dodds, Diplo and Van Morrison trio.

 

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Sasha Masakowski: Well the Dodds, Diplo, Morrison trio would be headlining, obviously. But other than that, probably Hermeto Pascoal, Big Freedia, and Rory Danger and the Danger Dangers.

Cliff Hines: Sigur Ros and King Crimson!

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Sasha Masakowski: I just bought the latest album by this band Sonnymoon. Saw them play in NYC a few months ago and was blown away - really great songwriting and lyrics and very refreshing original electronic music. The lead singer, Anna Wise, collaborated on the last two Kendrick Lamar records (which I love) and she a phenomenal vocalist and performer - very inspiring.
MSJ:
Have you read any good books lately?
Cliff Hines: We both love Chuck Palahniuk. I read Invisible Monsters and immediately passed it to Sasha, and she loved it.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Sasha Masakowski: We just went to see Hiatus Kaiyote two nights ago!  People have compared our music to theirs, but we'd never really checked them out so we decided to buy tickets on a whim. They were amazing! Highly musical, really inspiring. So good to see a packed house singing along to this really great, harmonically and rhythmically rich, intellectual pop music! Maybe there's a future for good music after all! (laughter)
MSJ:
Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Max Zemanovic:  The Emeril Live theme song.
MSJ:
What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Cliff Hines: Probably this time we were on tour in the winter in New Mexico, and I decided to take the band along this "scenic route" not realizing it was basically a death trap because we got stuck in this violent snow storm along the route, and the sun was setting so halfway through it was totally dark, up this giant mountain. No one else on the road, none of our cell phones had any signal whatsoever, we were too far to turn around by the time the storm was in full blast so we had to keep driving in order to not get snowed in and totally stranded. Our twelve-passanger was van filled with four musicians and a tib of gear, slipping and sliding through this windy mountain road, no snow tires for us, no railings on this road, top speed five miles-per-hour most of the way, all of us white knuckled and terrified because at any point we could slide off the side of this mountain. It took us almost five hours to get down, and when we finally reached the interstate again the first town we came across was called, no joke, Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico. Stopped in a gas station and told the clerk what we had just driven and his jaw dropped, stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the van we had just driven that mountain trail in, and he told us to count our blessings, that people die all the time trying to drive that route during the winter.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Cliff Hines: Aldous Huxley and Kurt Vonnegut 

Sasha Masakowski: William Burroughs and Alexis Texas

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Sasha Masakowski: Tell everyone to keep chasing their dreams no matter what. Artists make the world a more interesting place, so keep growing and developing and learning! Find things that inspire you and shed everything else. As an artist you become your own currency. The more you develop your art the higher your value, until one day you leave this world, priceless, and leave your stamp on this little wormhole of humanity.

 

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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