Interview w / Steffany Johnston – Vocalist Masqued
Houston Texas now has to its credit a progressive metal band that owns my Top 10 Progressive Metal Albums Of 2017 with Masqued -The Light In The Dark. Coming off a year where the area has damaged on a wide scale to Hurricane Harvey the band Masqued puts out a very positive and uplifting progressive metal album that seems to be lacking in the genre at times. Well this is not the case if Masqued’s lead vocalist Steffany Johnston has something to do with it. Trained at the University Of Houston in Voice and Music and expressing her lyrical ideas with a lifetime of experience at her back Steffany Johnston brings a level of positive enlightenment in the bands debut album The Light In The Dark.
She recently gave Power Of Prog some precious time with the interview you will read below. Bands like Nightwish, Epica, Within Temptation and Delain are on notice that another band with a powerful minstrel are on the way up.
First of all Steffany it is great to have you here at Power of Prog. Welcome !
1) This is one of the more obvious questions, what or who influenced your journey into music and how young were you when that had taken hold of you?
It always did. As far back as I could remember, I always knew what I was going to do since I was 4. The first song I remember writing was when I was 6 years old. I always wrote songs. When I got a little older they would come to me in my sleep and in the middle of taking test, when I would write papers, when I would watch t.v., when I would eat, when I was driving. I can’t tell you how many times I had to pull over to write, record or notate my song ideas. I remember being late for things because an incredible song idea would appear as I am getting ready to leave for some event. It was a blessing and a curse all rolled into one lol. I also started playing piano when I was 6 and continued throughout the years and still do today aside of the band, and at the age of 12 I started playing the guitar. I would lock myself away in my room chunking away at rhythms and lifting metal guitar solos. When I was 18 I got a bass and bought some recording gear and would be late for dinner due to writing and recording original songs. I knew that one day I would form a band when I was old enough. I remember running an add in the paper when I was 14 years old, looking for other musicians to start a band with. When I turned 20 I started making a living playing bass guitar and singing locally and internationally. I have performed in numerous bands through out the years and am now grateful to have my place as the vocalist of Masqued.
2. Are you formally trained in music and if so where did you begin your study?
Yes, I have a Vocal Performance/Music degree from the University of Houston. Studying vocal performance, orchestration, arranging and opera. I would perform with the orchestra and with many famous conductors one of them being world renknown Robert Shaw. I remember driving to school listening to Jazz and fusion then staying at the university all day practicing classical music with the chorus and opera then heading off to practice or to gigs with my rock band. I was like “where do I really fit in? I liked it all and wanted to do it all, I remember feeling so different from most of the people I knew.
3. Do you have any influences outside music that influences any instrumental or lyrical passages in your music?
I believe everything I have encountered over the years has embedded itself in some way in my state of being and comes out to play in my writing. I see a lot of injustice all around and it affects me deeply. Its hard to keep silent when I can demand better for myself and others, to fight for a noble cause or to see the hurting and to bring them a sense of hope. We are all human and are in this mad house together.
4. Your debut album The Light In The Dark is loaded with a lot of very positive and uplifting music, this is something that is becoming lost in the metal or progressive metal communities. Where do you get your lyrical inspirations from?
I feel that there is so much darkness and chaos in the world that it is important to present the trials and then provide a solution, a way of resolve. Music is so powerful, it can give you the will power and strength to get up out of bed after suffering spells of hopelessness from a loss, an injury or failure, sparking new life into you that inspires you to live on. Music also has the power to curse you, to sentence you further into despair when your already down, sometimes so much so that you lose the will to live. You have to be careful with words…there is so much power in what you allow into your mind on a daily basis via words/lyrics and what you speak out into existence. Our themes lyrically are those of liberation, speaking out against hate crimes, fighting for our freedom, finding hope and the strength to live when you have lost the will. We are not going to just lay down and die. Its all powerful stuff. I have heard numerous testimonies of people finding solace in our music. It makes me feel like this is what its truly about, being a bright light in a very dark tunnel, hence the album title “light in the dark.” Life can be brutal.
5. What band or who would be a dream for you to open up for, co headline with for a live show?
Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Nightwish, Within Temptation and so many more.
6. If you had any concept album in you what or who would it be about ?
That is a fantastic question Robert and requires more thought on my end. Perhaps our third release will be a concept album. You have sparked my interest
7. I noticed that Light In The Dark as a album are pretty much straight away rock and metal tracks with hardly a hint of anything like a ballad, was that intentional or just how the album came to it creation?
Haha! Yeah, it just kind of happened that way. However, we have been working on a new collection of songs and yes, there are some brooding ballads. We are all really enjoying and are excited about this stuff.
8. Where did the name Masqued come from?
Choosing a band name was most difficult lol. It is kind of a blur, though I do remember one of my band mates throwing that name out there and it took off in my mind. I found the name rather intriguing with an element of theatrics and mystery. I really like the name and am glad we all agreed.
9) Out of all the music festivals that seem to come back around in Europe and the USA every spring and summer, what would be your dream festival to appear on?
Gosh there are so many…hmmm…I would say any of the Prog Power festivals would be great and definitely Wacken Open Air Festival would be stellar along with Chicago Open Air. To have a prime time spot would be the dream of dreams.
10. What are plans for Masqued by way of touring and performing in 2018? Are you booked for any shows yet?
Absolutely! We have some great shows in the processed of being solidified and will be making announcements soon though I can say the Female Metal Event in the Netherlands is one of our stops. Sooo exciting! Is there any ideas brewing for a follow up to your debut album? Yes, we definitely have a second album cooking right now. I am loving the new stuff, it just keeps getting better and better. So exciting, more great Masqued music IS in the works!!
11) When most bands with both a female and male vocalist are going with the more harsh growls ‘Beauty & Beast’ style vocal, you are your male counterpart Shane DuBose have chosen to go against the grain as it is and remain with clean vocal styles. Was this always the goal of Masqued or did it just happen this way through the evolution of the band?
We admire a great growl and scream but I think we do what is most natural to us. Who knows what will evolve in the future, anything is possible. I can say that we pride ourselves on such a melodic construct and rich harmonies. There is a lot going on in our music, a ton of musicality is what you will find from each Masqued member.
12. The final question, do you have any parting words for your existing fan base or any future fan base that takes interest in Masqued?
First of all I want to thank you all for your love for music and keeping the scene alive. We thank all of our existing fans for your unfailing love and support of us and we Masqued, are looking forward to reaching out and connecting to all of you new fans out there, all over the world. Where ever you are in your journey of life we hope to share it with you through this music; the human experience is very real and can reach great states of joy and punishing sorrows. In all the laughter and tears, we can travel this road, through music that bands us all together. We love to hear from you, messages us anytime, You can connect with us via
Women In Rock Series # 2 Amanda Hammers Bass/Vocals | Sunshine & Bullets
There is a lot of very talented women in today’s musical atmosphere. However in a era that is so overly bombarded by how a woman comes off in her physical appearance it can become very monotonous into overkill where true talent can not be appreciated at its true value. In this 14 part Women in Rock Series here at Power of Prog, I have chosen to spotlight women who prove that music is far more than ‘Eyecandy’. In music there is substance and grace. That is where Amanda Hammers, bass player/vocalistof Florida’s very own Sunshine & Bullets fits the bill.
Lyrically Sunshine & Bullets are as introspective as The Cranberries meets Grace Potter. Melodically the band is this side of the heavier more hard rock version of Portishead meets Paramore. There music is partially science fiction from there debut Triangulum Mechanism to very heavy social commentary on their latest EP release Centauri Conspiracies Part 1both available on Melodic Revolution Records. I recently caught up with Amanda Hammers for a interview. The following below is the interview. ‘SORRY’ guys Amanda is spoken for !
POP – Hello Amanda thank you for joining us today?
AH – It’s a pleasure to be here!
POP – What was the very thing that started your musical journey and how long have you been on this journey?
AH – It all started in 2nd grade. I had an inspiring music teacher, Mr. Carter. Without him, I wouldn’t be joining you today.
POP – What kind of musical background do you come from? What did your parents have as music in the home during your upbringing ?
AH – My mom loves to listen to music to dance to, and my dad is more of a rock guy. I like both, but when I got older I kept “borrowing” CDs from my dad’s collection. Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic was my gateway drug.
POP – What band , artist or genre allowed you to fork off into heavier rock music?
AH – Although Aerosmith was good, I needed music of my own, so I developed an addiction to Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
POP – Probably a question most asked, how did you find your way into the creation of Sunshine & Bullets?
AH – I had been in bands with both Rich and Kyle before, knew they were both ridiculously talented and fun to hang out with, so all I had to do was introduce the guys, get all 3 of us in a room together with some instruments, and the musical chemistry just sparked!
POP – For the fellow musicians out there, describe your musical gear you use in both studio and live in concert?
AH – Live, I use a couple of Dean Pro Edge 5 basses. The red one is standard tuning, just dropped half a step on all the strings, but the black one is drop tuned further, depending on which song I need it for. My Darkglass B7K Ultra is my lifeblood pedal! The character on that thing is beautifully dirty but still clear and low. I also use an EHX Micropog for that 12-string bass feel. I love the new D’Adarrio NYXL bass strings, and my current head of choice is a Hartke LH1000 with a Hydrive 8×10. If it’s good enough for Wooten, it’s more than enough for me!
I use basically the same things in the studio, but I’m not afraid to experiment with different things to get different sounds and tones if the song calls for it.
POP – Is there any current band or artist whom you would like to guest on their project and why?
AH – I’d love to work with someone like Eminem. He’s got this energy about him that is manic crazy yet bare bones honest.
POP – What are your goals going forward both with Sunshine & Bullets and solo?
AH – We’re continuing to write new material, release a new album, make more videos, all that good stuff. Rich and I are starting to make our wedding plans, but no date yet. As for goals, I like to keep it open-ended and simple: Have fun, and hopefully inspire others to do what they love!
Ever since Cradle Of Filth introduced me to Lindsay Schoolcraft, she has become a very interesting musical enigma to me. For being involved in such a Extreme Symphonic Black Metal outfit, Lindsay’s musical interests are very vast. Her classical music influences contain some of the very legends responsible for modern contemporary music, and classical musical influences that are still very relevant in the 21st century.
In a world culture that places such high and yet superficial regard on appearances, women like Lindsay are challenging the conventional wisdom. Women in Rock & Metal have been measured with a two edged blade on body parts and actual musical talents. In the first installment of this Women In Rock Series, we will talk and focus more about talent and training. We will also see how a young aspiring Canadian musician made her way into one of Heavy Metal’s most legendary bands in Cradle Of Filth.
Thank you Lindsay for joining us. It is great having you.
“Thank you so much for having me!”
What was the very thing that started your musical journey and how long have you been on this journey?
“Music was in my life from a very young age, but I didn’t decide to take it seriously until my mid teens. As cliche as it may sound, I got my biggest inspiration from the movie Josie and The Pussycats when I was 15. It sparked the fire in me and I’ve been hungry about my passion for writing and performing music ever since. Of course many other artists have inspired me along the way to keep going.”
You come from a classical background, who in the world of classical music influenced and inspired you?
“I would have to say Bach, Wagner, and Carl Orff have been the biggest contributors to my love of classical music. My training has been through the Royal Conservatory of Music and they have exposed me to so many composers. I’ve even done studies in jazz and folk through them.”
What metal band , artist or genre allowed you to fork off into metal?
“My first exposure to metal was with Kittie when I was in high school. I had mainly taken a lot of influence from post 90’s nu metal during that time. In my early twenties I was introduced to Kamelot and Nightwish, but I didn’t get extremely passionate about metal until I was shown Dimmu Borgir. They were everything I loved about classical and black metal forged together. I’m still anxiously waiting for their new album.”
Were you inspired by more than just musicians as artists ie, painers, acting, book authors ?
“Absolutely. I’ve always gravitated towards visual arts. There was always a style I had in mind for my drawings and paintings and in high school and then I found out it was very close to the style of art nouveau. I adore Alphonse Mucha and his legacy. There also movies that have inspired me over the years. Mainly the horror rock opera “Repo! the Genetic Opera”. So you can imagine I was over the moon when the creator and main actor Terrance Zdunich contacted me earlier this year and asked me to be part of his new art project: American Murder Song.”
Probably a question most asked, how did you find your way into Cradle Of Filth?
“To this day I still have to pinch myself and ask if it ever even happened, because it’s changed my life forever. I was connected to them by a friend over good old Facebook back at the end of 2012.”
For the musicians out there, describe your musical gear you use in both studio and live in concert.
“In the studio I use my Yamaha portable grand piano with midi through Protools. For vocal and harp tracking we use . You’d have to actually talk to my producer Tyler Williams at Monolothic Productions. He is a real gear head and I am still just learning, slowly. Live I use my Shure in-ears along with my Sennheiser wireless pack. I play a NuMotion Revo 1 keyboard. There is more gear to list, but I don’t want to overly bore the readers with it.”
Is there any current band or artist whom you would like to guest on their project and why?
“There are too many. My top ones would have to be possibly getting a guest vocal spot on a song with Dimmu Borgir, Chevelle, or Kamelot. But I’d also love to collaborate with The Weeknd! I know that sounds crazy, but I enjoy copious amounts of trip hop and, for some reason, The Weeknd’s work really resonates with me. Passion speaks through music no matter what the genre, you can hear it in his voice and songs. And I’ve always wanted to sing a duet with Jon Crosby of VAST and Adam Roth of Broken Iris.”
What are your goals going forward both with Cradle of Filth and solo?
“For Cradle there is less stress on me when it has come to writing our new album together. It is a group effort and we all split up the tasks fairly. I am mainly back to working on strengthening my voice so it can be strong for this next album and live. The live show with Cradle will be my biggest focus this year. As for my solo project there is more pressure and responsibility since it is currently only a two person venture. I am just half way through demoing the new album and working on collaborating with a big name that I think a lot of people are going to be very excited about, once announced. No word of live shows yet, I’d rather just get the album sorted first for going into production this year.”
Thank you for joining us, is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
“Thank you for having me! Be sure to check out my social media for lots of big announcements and new music coming this year!”
NK: How does it feel to finally showcase the band Live?
GW: It is an equal portion of Exhaustion, Excitement, Exhilaration and Endomorphatcicsmness. Well, not that last word. I must have taken a lot of Vitamin E this morning.
NK: What are you doing to prepare for the upcoming tour? GW: I would like to tell you Sit-ups and yoga, but it has been more about keeping me caffeinated so I can work later into the night. I am doing this at the same time I am trying to cut my caffeine by drinking half-caf coffee in the morning. We are rehearsing as a band. Not 4-5 days in a row like most bands, but on Sundays. Also, 1-2 of us get together at other times during the week and rehearse specific passages. It is not hard to perform the music, but quite a challenge to figure out who is doing or singing what and when, especially for the older songs we haven’t touched in so many years.
NK: Any plans for upcoming US dates?
GW: For the moment we are taking it one-adventure-at-a-time. Presently, we are still booking dates in Europe. We are certainly discussing a US tour, trying to find the gaps in all of our schedules. Of course, if we really want it to happen – as a group, then it will happen. I would say look for some news on this in November.
NK: Why has it taken 25 years to perform live?
GW: Is that all? It feels much longer! When I auditioned for Shadow Gallery, it was for a tour of Japan in 1993. It got postponed so we could finish our album, and then more records kept coming. It has been a fun ride but we have all been very busy with non-music work as well. We prefer to live in the NOW and make it all happen now, so we don’t think about why it didn’t happen sooner- although I would ask the same question if I were you.
NK: Tell us a little bit about the new album?
GW: It is dark and damp like Carl’s basement… OK, that is not true, his basement is dry and cozy. It is a challenge for us to address this. We like the new disc. There are many obvious changes and some not so obvious. We like the writing. We like that is a bit more on the heavy side coming off of ROOM V, which had a good share of less aggressive, symphonic moments. As far as the record being “new”, that is an odd sounding word, as some of the songs were begun as long as four years ago, in 2006. I would say I am ready to write some new material as soon as we get back from Europe.
NK: We I asked you the band to pick 3 tracks off each album for the 7th Day how did you pick the tracks and why these tracks?
GW: We did this in the car on the way back to my studio from a radio station interview. Our promotion manager was driving as asked us- Brendt Allman (Captain Awesome) and I picked them quite easily. In some cases we were influenced by what we might be playing live (but do not read into this too much – or you may be surprised)
NK: How has the internet and social networks affected and or befitted Shadow Gallery?
GW: It makes promotion a game everyone can play.
NK: What’s next?
GW: Other than this question, I would say your next Question. ;-P After that, another interview and then more tour promotion. If we have time to breathe, we may shoot a new video when we are in Greece. We hope to film the shows in Northern Europe. If this happens, we will be mixing the audio for that once back in the states. We will then talk about more shows in 2011 and start writing and demo-ing new songs. I think it might be time for another new exciting SG adventure so we will drum up something different and unique. And I do not mean the songs…
NK: Anything you want to tell your fans?
GW: We read your emails and try to respond to every one of them. If we have not yet, we will. The respect we have for the feedback we receive is enormous. It drives us when the moments come that say “It makes no sense to keep doing this in a collapsing music economy.” We are then reminded, by your comments, your emails, cards, and letters- that while we write music for ourselves, we record them to share with you, our fans! This is the essential point of Shadow Gallery’s existence as a band. Thanks for helping us define our role and for your guidance on our musical journey. We hope to meet you all along the way and share a laugh.