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The Existential Reckoning: An Exclusive Interview With CARINA ROUND Of PUSCIFER

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Thursday, November 19, 2020 @ 10:43 AM

"I think that one of the joys of PUSCIFER, like if you take a song like “Apocalyptical”, that’s a bleak subject but at the same time if you can’t take a joke then fuck off."

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Band Photos By Travis Shinn

Serve the song. Now there’s a mantra worth guiding you through life, a concept of recognizing the rhythm by which you dance or sing or play your way through the familiar and unknown spaces of your chosen path, entrusting the song to carry you forward with the endurance and passion it takes to survive and transcend the trials of the present so as to ensure our own future. There have been and will come times when we struggle to hear the song we sing, our rhythm fails to sustain itself and we feel our balance shifting beyond our means to maintain alone. It is times like these – times like now – when inspiration is needed most, both to be given and found in order to help one another to survive and endure seemingly unbearable circumstances. And if you’re reading this you likely find your inspiration in music and service of the literal song to influence your own life’s song. It is with this dual service in mind that the masterfully talented Carina Round, sultry Siren of the electrifying artistic anomaly known as PUSCIFER, both maintains her grounding in her personal life and sustains a commitment to something far greater than herself: Her music. For one such as Carina the song serves her life as much as hers serves the song, and as you’re about to learn that dynamic cycle of both personal & extra-personal inspiration has elevated her to the heights of global Rock stardom with her ideals, humor and humility full intact due to one simple fact: Serve the song and it will serve you.

KNAC.COM: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, it’s an honor.

ROUND: Oh, well thank you! Just to let you know I’m having some cell phone trouble so if we get cut off just call me back.

KNAC.COM: Thanks for the heads up. So how are you doing in general, how has life been treating you in the midst of all this chaos that pretty much everyone is facing?

ROUND: You know that’s an interesting question. There was a minute there at the beginning of lockdown where I think everybody wanted to freak out and everyone was scared to even be in a room with their loved ones because they weren’t sure if you could contract COVID even from someone who didn’t have it. There was a moment there where we were all confused, and then I think there was also this moment at the beginning – maybe it was just people with an optimistic streak but I feel like it was everyone - where we were like, “Yeah! All of a sudden I'm going to clean up my garage or do this hobby that I always wanted to do or write my next record.” All of a sudden we could do all this stuff and I might actually be able to make my life the way I want it to be.

And I think everyone just quickly realized that…for me anyway, I have a three year old son, so what the biggest change of the pandemic meant for me was taking him out of school and having him with me 100% of the time. So I quickly realized that none of those things were going to get done. I think in terms of PUSCIFER all of us are the kind of people to more or less adapt to the situation, to get on with whatever we need to do but make adjustments to the current circumstances. So that’s actually what we did with the record, because quite frankly it has kept me sane throughout the last few months being able to have that ability to continue to create and work.

KNAC.COM: I hear you and I really couldn't agree more. You know, as you said it was scary for everybody. I mean this was something that didn't have boundaries, it didn't affect specific demographics or whatever, it was a free for all that makes you stop and think. As is kind of prevalent in PUSCIFER and all of Maynard [James Keenan]’s projects you have that optimism of knowing and reminding yourself that you CAN adapt, you WILL adapt - there's a reason we've been around here this long, you know? We always struggle with change at first, we just resist it and we just wail, we fret and we moan, but then eventually we adapt and we realize had we not experienced that we wouldn't have found this new will to survive or this new way to go about being creative, intellectual beings. There's always an upside to things and I think if you don't learn that out of any traumatic situation then you're really missing out on the whole point.

ROUND: I think that’s really true and it’s a great thing to remind yourself of in this situation. From what I can see as I'm talking to people a lot of good has ultimately come out of this, but I think right now it’s difficult for everyone psychologically because after so long of things going back and forth with communication being bad and leadership being wonky, it’s just like, “When the fuck am I going to get out of this?!” In terms of…especially being a parent it’s like, “When can I have my life back?” (laughs) And I feel like probably most of that is extra blurry right now with there being an election so it is being deliberately kept extra blurry so that people freak out and try to hang on to someone they think is going to be the savior. And like I said, its life and I think all of us - maybe it’s because we have the music and we have the means to create - but I think all of us realize that there's a joy to life and work no matter what situation and no matter what's happening that’s what we strive for, that’s the spark that we farm.

KNAC.COM: Absolutely, that's inspiration in a can and that's what you guys are so amazing with is being able to process and translate that through your personal experiences into something that can be potentially digested by anyone who's willing to think about it, to look at these kind of things and also take it with a grain of humor and salt.

ROUND: (Laughing) For sure.

KNAC.COM: (Laughing) That’s a big problem there where everybody's so serious but, yeah, I think it gets us through. That's how society has survived, it’s never pretty because I think we forced these situations on ourselves we are not going to learn, we're going to face this reckoning you know it's inevitable.

ROUND: The phone cut out, face this wreckage is what I heard.

KNAC.COM: Reckoning – that’s why we’re here, we have to face a reckoning for ignoring our choices.

ROUND: Well we have no choice. When we’re given these circumstances we just forge ahead, what’s the other option? It’s just what we do and I think art throughout history has always been a way to connect or feel heard or, you know, try to make sense of a crazy political dialogue or situation, or even an extremely personal emotional one. And I think what you said about Maynard always being really good at writing lyrics that appeal to people in that way, I think he has extreme…I mean it's just my opinion, this is not him talking, but he has a real knack for leaving it just open enough so that it’s your experience when you're listening to the music. It makes it almost an immersive interactive experience. Almost (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Absolutely. It at least inspires you to immerse yourself, there are openings everywhere with what he does and what the whole band does.

ROUND: It definitely serves that purpose, yes.

KNAC.COM: And then it's up to us and I think that's the major point - we all have to put in the legwork and contribute together. So, leading into that how did you meet [songwriter & producer] Mat Mitchell and Maynard?

ROUND: I was contacted by Mat about ten years ago asking if I'd like to go to Arizona and basically audition to be in the band. And after a while of listening to music and deciding what felt best for me as an artist and whether it was a good decision, [I decided to see] how it felt like to be with the people and how it felt to be a part of the music. So I met [Mat] here in Los Angeles and we drove to Jerome to meet Maynard and I actually sang on ‘Humbling River”, that was my first ever meeting. And that was the beginning of the situation and I just felt – even with having never met either of them and them not necessarily being… like, generally, they’re not the kind of people that you meet when you walk into a store - they're not trying to sell you something, you know? They don't have to be overly pleasant all the time, but even with everybody just being themselves and [the fact] that there's no big sell from any of us really, I just felt a sense of freedom with what I was doing. Already the door was open there for me to do what I felt the song needed and I guess they were just feeling out what it was I would do given the freedom. I just felt so comfortable and it worked for everybody, then I went on tour with them a couple months later.

KNAC.COM: Wow, that’s a pretty quick dynamic. I was watching the trailer for What Is Puscifer? [DVD/Album], and it has Maynard down in the wine cellars doing his thing where he mentions how much the dynamic of PUSCIFER fits with his insane cycle of business and work, how it coincides with his grape season and the availability with you and Mat, and the thing that really struck me was how he said, “It works because we're all adults”.

ROUND: (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: I mean, really a profound statement – so basic but look what can be accomplished when all the petty shit can be put aside. (Laughs)

ROUND: (Still laughing) Yeah it’s true, we’re all adults. We all got to the point where we just trust that whatever each of us is doing, it already has quality control because we're all our biggest critics. You know, we already know that whatever any of us is doing must serve the song above everything else, or whatever the message is that Maynard’s lyrics are trying to get across through the dynamic. It's just a matter of trust and a matter of knowing when you've got the right thing, being able to edit yourself and stop fucking getting in each other's way.

KNAC.COM: As an artist to be able to find that kind of safe, healthy environment where you can just completely expand like that and then beyond that professional level, that has to lend itself to…

ROUND: Yeah that’s the kind of relationship you want to be in with your partner and with your children. You know, you just want to be able to see their strength without judgment and get out of their way and support it somehow. I learned a big lesson, a big part of that lesson from being in PUSCIFER, and when I became a parent it was like a fucking epiphany (laughs) but there's a lot to be said for trust and getting out of the way.

KNAC.COM: Right. Not having to be the ego in the center of the room but still maintain yourself and have that breathing space for others to be themselves and still be organic – that’s really rare in any relationship.

ROUND: Yeah, I think within any artist relationship everyone talks about ego being a negative thing but honestly I think it’s needed to a certain extent, because there are times when you have to strongly fight for a decision that you think is right and why - we all have to do that sometimes but like I say that’s where trust comes in. You can’t fully eliminate ego when you’re an artist, I don’t think it would work. Maybe if you're one of those shitty, boring artists that have their artwork and…

KNAC.COM: Somebody is writing their songs for them? (laughs)

ROUND: (Laughs) Yeah.

KNAC.COM: I hear you, and that's a really good way to put that because I really struggle with ego, I have a pretty resentful perspective on it but you are right that it is necessary for the art of expression.

ROUND: I think you just have to be able to check yourself, “What am I doing here? Am I doing this for the sake of the song or is it just because I want to be right because I want to be writing? Shut the fuck up and take a step back.”

KNAC.COM: (Laughs) Well said! Actually that’s one of the lyrics that I love so much on the song “Fake Affront”“Shut the fuck up!”

ROUND: (Laughs) Yeah.

KNAC.COM: So how has the collaborative process evolved? It sounds like a pretty quick click with the three of you and that has quickly become the nucleus of PUSCIFER with all its other moving parts, but how quickly did you find your comfort zone and your home long term as far as your contribution to new music and writing and things like that?

ROUND: Honestly I think this record was the one for me. The character click was very quick but I had to work for trust I think. And also it’s sort of their thing - I think it was just a matter of maybe they slowly realized like, “Yeah, what she's doing is really good, actually, quite important.” Or maybe it was just a matter of trying something different this time - I don't know but I feel like I found my confidence. Yeah, maybe it was just me finding my confidence more within this dynamic but for me I think it was just this record where I finally felt like I had control - full control - of what I was doing.

KNAC.COM: So you also feel like maybe they developed that level of comfort with you where it’s like, “Okay, we don't have to worry or we don't have to have any apprehension, whatever she's gonna do is completely in line with our expectations”?

ROUND: Umm...I think it’s more that I just took the reins, I showed up from the beginning, I was just there and I did it and that's just how it worked out with this one. No, thinking about it more and talking about it, it was probably more a matter of my presence honestly. I was there from the beginning and last of stuff and, you know…the music starts with [Mat], he started writing music for this record like five years ago while we were on tour for the last record [Money Shot]. He developed a folder where he just constantly puts his ideas and songs into the folder until Maynard, within his schedule, gets time to listen to it. Then he has his emotional reaction or he develops a character based on hearing something Mat made. And then it might be a lyric or it might just be a rhythm or it might just be a little melody or it might be a whole song, you know? And then he puts that down. Then I in turn have my emotional or character reaction to whatever it is that he's done and then it just becomes this kind of ricochet of movement and creation until we get to the point where we feel like the song is served or until it’s delicious. Or sometimes [Maynard] will get stuck with something and hand it over to me and I'll deconstruct it, or Mat will deconstruct and add things to it to take it in a direction that might re-inspire him to do something else. So, that's how it works with the three of us. It’s kinda cool. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it’s very organic, very trusting and flexible.

ROUND: Yeah!

KNAC.COM: Again, get out of the way of everyone else, know when to shut the fuck up and still be there to support.

ROUND: Yeah I say that but also at the same time there’s no lollygagging, we have a deadline and we’re dealing with the focus a deadline creates. We can’t just procrastinate and say, “Oh I’ll deal with this next week.” Let’s fucking do this while we have that energy.

KNAC.COM: A lot of people don’t recognize that very much overall as far any form of success, but especially in music, especially when you guys reach a level where you guys have gotten or where Maynard has been – there’s no clue as to what goes into achieving and sustaining that, it requires such a high level of ethic.

ROUND: Yeah [Maynard’s] work ethic - and actually all of us in the band – it’s our drive, it’s our work, it’s our life, it’s what we do. So it’s not like, “Ugh I’m an artist this shouldn’t be happening to me, I should be able to do whatever I want to do.” It’s about working, it’s about maintaining something special.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of special, one of the most beautiful things about this album for me is there's a particular scarcity of guitar – at least that really jumps out, but what I find is more and more of the music being the rhythm and you and Maynard - especially you with your… just your awesome, subtle little vocal fills and different one or two notes that are just right, they're so accentuating and it's like the two of you are taking the place of the lead instrument. You have so much accentuation that you don't need a guitar solo, you don't need anything but a rhythm and you guys just run with it. So I just wanted to applaud you on that because it's a very, very distinct aspect of the record…

ROUND: Aww, thanks!

KNAC.COM: Your influence is all over these songs and it really carries some effect.

ROUND: Thank you, I hope I didn’t suffocate them. (Laughs)

KNAC.COM: (Laughs) No that’s the thing it doesn’t smother anything, it’s perfect.

ROUND: Well thank you. I guess that I’m my best or worst editor I will throw it all in there and just take it all back out until it’s just right. I think what we managed to do was…like I said Mat makes all the music and he discovered after years of listening to music that a lot of the music which he really likes the sound of used very specific 1980’s synthesizers, one of them being the Synclavier and the other being the Fairlight II. And what he did was, Mat being Mat, he fucking found one of each and bought them; actually he bought two of each - he had the Fairlight II & III and he had two Synclaviers – he used them all over the record and I think that's something that really adds to the uniqueness of the sound of the record. The way he uses technology is particularly amazing because his mind just encapsulates all technology, you could give him a brand new program and he'll know how to use it within hours - it's pretty amazing. So I think what he loved about those instruments was that they were very restrictive in what they could do and that was pretty inspiring for him in the writing process. The noise fell away and he could just experiment with that instrument for a few minutes, probably, and come up with a sound that inspired him to write a whole song. And his studio - I've never seen any studio that is so niche and specific to one person’s taste. And it's beautiful, it's amazing, you've got lots and lots of this old gear. So that played a huge part in the sound of the record. And I think what we managed to do was marry that kind of digital sound with the emotional, intuitive thing that we do. So it was about bringing those two things together, technology and intuition and I think really that’s the vibe and basis for the record.

KNAC.COM: There’s some serendipity here, I couldn’t have asked for a better lead up into this next question because it is regarding the themes of the album. Mat has always had that ability to… I mean I'm not the biggest fan of technological music as far as just simulated sounds, but for any artist if they have that true spark of creativity it's absolutely admirable and that's exactly what Mat represents. And I did see that one of these was used by Peter Gabriel in the 80s and you can definitely feel that niche, you know that little corner of specific music history which just gives its own uniqueness to these songs.

ROUND: Yeah, it’s true. I think where [Mat and I] converged on that is one of my favorite records is Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush. She basically used the Fairlight all over that record and that was her approach to vocals… I don't even want to call them backing vocals because even when they are, they can, you know, the turn of phrase or melody or rhythm or something could just blow your mind open and change your day. And that's what I was going for when I chose the vocal line for the rhythms and stuff that I put on this record I didn't want it to be backing vocal and I didn't want to be smothering [Maynard’s] lead but I did want my choices to be important. I think that's what you're talking about when you say you don't necessarily need a lead guitar solo or anything because the spaces are full.

KNAC.COM: Yeah absolutely you don't crowd it up, you've got that idea. I actually am very self-conscious about referring to you as a backup singer or something like that because I don’t see you that way. Your role is so integral, it's not just mimicking what Maynard saying you're doing your own thing; maybe you're not emulating lyrics as much as he is or whatever but it's such a core piece that it really enhances everything.

ROUND: Thank you. I think sometimes what’s called for is just the support or a double or a third or fifth and I'm not opposed to doing that, but I really just felt like what Mat had made musically called for a little spice, I’d say. I also bought an Eventide 400 which is like a vocal effects processor during the making of this record so that I could sing my vocals into the effects processor instead of just coming up with a harmony or a cool little melody or whatever, and just putting effects on it afterwards, I basically used the effects processor, as a way to make my voice into an instrument so it had a big part in the melodies that I chose and the things that I was doing [whispering as if telling a secret] which makes it a lot less boring for me. (laughs) Otherwise I get really bored with myself.

KNAC.COM: (Laughing) Oh you’ve gotta have fun and mix it up a little bit. So to return again to general themes - and I see this spread across all of Maynard’s music but I'm just kind of curious how much you know about the Kybalion and about the seven Hermetic principles, particularly the principle of polarity - it's showing up everywhere, you've got electronic polarized by this very organic vocalization and structuring to the music; or you have human philosophy contrasted by but connected to digital programming. There are so many seemingly contradictory things merging in this album.

ROUND: What I think you’re talking about is like alchemy and the different aspects that make it interconnected?

KNAC.COM: Yes, exactly.

ROUND: Ok maybe repeat the question so I’m not making an ass of myself?

KNAC.COM: (laughs) Sure. There are seven Hermetic principles, particularly there is the principle of polarity...

ROUND: What’s that, can you explain that?

KNAC.COM: It's everything has a dual and opposite representation, so you've got a digital music with these very organic vocals, you've got the concept of humor with some very deep introspective philosophy. There are so many things that would seem to be contrasting but they come together; in the promo it references that there's a connection between hope and proof and art and order.

ROUND: Yeah I think that was because of the music again, the marrying of the analog and digital – that became a real inspiration for Maynard on the lyrics. Also on top of that, with every other PUSCIFER lyric there’s a mix of comical and darkness, I think sometimes that’s the best way to get across an idea like that. Especially right now, everyone wants to have some joy and laughter. And I can’t talk for him but I think that’s something that he’s a master of and I know in my life it’s something that makes things feel more harmonic, more interesting or more inspiring. And I think anyone interested in art or reading is just generally more curious about the world and their significance in all of it and I think that brings another aspect into their lives, another dimension to the lives that we’re living, to have those polarized things bring themselves together.

KNAC.COM: Yeah I mean the constant theme for me are these different levels… as you said Maynard is a master of just enough ambiguity to leave room for interpretation so with any project – PUSCIFER, APC or TOOL - you get this opportunity to choose how far into the wormhole you go, how far down the rabbit hole you are or just presume the themes are just there for the sake of entertainment. And that's all there for the listener to pick.

ROUND: Yeah and I think that one of the joys of PUSCIFER, like if you take a song like “Apocalyptical” that’s a bleak subject but at the same time if you can’t take a joke then fuck off.

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