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Mahogany Head Grenade
Progressive Metal instrumentalists Mahogany Head Grenade recently sent a copy of their debut album Return to the Point of Departure for review, which can be read here. They were also up for an e-mail interview to talk about the recording and the band itself. So I sent some questions over, and yesterday heard back from guitarist Dan Hyer.

How is everything going for you? I hope all is well.

Things are good. We’ve had a great year, lots of live shows, and very positive feedback from the release of our first CD. We’ve got 5 songs written for the next CD we plan on recording in 2014. It’s been a blast.

First of all, I’m curious on the name. Where did Mahogany Head Grenade come from? Does it have a specific meaning?

About 14 years ago i got clean and sober, and was reading this book ‘Battlefield of the Mind’ by Joyce Meyer. It was, and still is, a great read. It basically explains the war we have in our mind in trying to cope with the challenges of life. That idea of a mental, physical and spiritual battle (most of which is in our minds) really resonated with me. Anyway, the name ‘Mahogany Head Grenade’ came to my consciousness as I was trying to adapt to the sobriety lifestyle. At that time, it was the name of a song, which the band may end up doing some day. Anyway, when we kicked around names, once Mahogany Head Grenade came up, we knew it was right for what we were wanting to do & the vision of the band.

What made you and the others in the band decide to come together and record an instrumental Progressive album? Also, is there any interest in recording future material with some vocals, or perhaps increased audio samples like on the title track?

The goals of the band from the beginning were to record quality audio and video of music that we love. I had written demos of all of tunes that appear on the CD. They were presented to the band as sketches. We took those original ideas, and built upon them. It was truly a collaboration in that each of the three of us offered ideas & input that built the songs into what they have become. The three of us have been long time fans of music in the progressive, classical, jazz, and instrumental genre. As we went through the process of getting to know each other and grow as a band, our influences shaped our style. We’re happy in the instrumental genre and there are no plans to add a singer, or other musicians to the project. The next CD has samples that hopefully serve the songs in the way that they did on this CD.

Do you find it challenging to write strictly instrumental material, or easier than writing a song with lyrics? Please explain.

In writing from the heart, truly digging deep down, then you go with what is given to you. Sometimes it’s an instrumental piece, and sometimes it’s a vocal piece. For me, it has most often resulted in instrumental music. Maybe that’s due to touching on concepts that can’t be verbalized. When there are no lyrics, the music has to connect with the listener in other ways – but you still can express something artistic. Dynamics, melody, emotive phrasing, tempo, groove, harmony – there are a lot of ways to communicate an artistic idea, but the fact is sometimes it will go over some listeners heads. And, that is ok. At this point in our careers we are more interested in writing, recording, and performing music that will outlive us. So it is far more important to be honest, and let it come out how it’s supposed to.

Who were some of the biggest influences at the time of writing the album, and are there any new bands you discovered that you’re perhaps pulling influence from?

Mike is the biggest Rush fan on the planet. He’s always channeling John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, and Neil Peart. It’s a blessing to be in a band with that dude. James is a classically trained musician as well as a jazz saxophonist, so his influences are vast. His contribution can’t be overstated – his lyrical and soulful bass lines add so much to the tunes. I was blown away by Symphony X’s “Iconoclast” – which came out when we were hashing out many of the tunes. All of our lifelong influences set the bar in terms of wanting to compositionally excite listeners the way that we were inspired. Lately there’s been some great work by Jeff Loomis & Guthrie Govan in the instrumental genre – but there’s so much good stuff out there, it’s impossible to list everything that drives us.

Return to the Point of Departure is only five songs, but obviously longer ones. Were these all you guys had down at the time of going into the studio, or were there more that didn’t make it to the album? If so, mind explaining what we didn’t get to hear?

We focused on the 5 on the CD, but there were also another 4 that we had been performing live that will go on the CD next year. They just weren’t quite ready at the time we recorded “Return to the Point”.

How about any new material? Do you have any new songs composed at this time?

We have another 5 songs that we are working on for a 2014 release. I would describe the new material as heavier, and more progressive. It’s still very riff & groove oriented, dynamic, with a lot of thematic development and changes.

With many Progressive instrumental groups out there, have you guys considered reaching out to various other musicians you either recently came across and liked, or influenced you guys in some way, and see if they would like to contribute anything to a future album? If so, who would you want to work with?

That’s an interesting idea, and no, we hadn’t considered having a guest appear on the CD. I’d love to have Jeff Loomis play a guest solo. The solo he plays on David Maxim Mimic’s “Bilo 3.0” is worth the price of the CD (and that whole CD is really pushing the limits of ‘progressive’ – it is awesome). It would also be ridiculously cool to have Per Nilsson from Scar Symmetry take a guest solo. I can’t imagine what either of those guys would come up with. It’s melting my face just thinking about it.

I loved the crisp audio quality of Return to the Point of Departure. Who did you work with on the technical aspect of the release?

Sterling Winfield (Pantera, Damageplan, Hellyeah) produced and engineered the CD. We reached out to Sterling in late 2011 about doing the CD, but we started making a bunch of live show commitments and before we knew it, a year had passed. We reached out to him again in 2012, he came out to a rehearsal, and after playing him ‘Return to the Point’ he agreed to do the project. He is an amazing person to work with. He’s super laid back, extremely knowledgable, and professionally driven. I will never forget how cool it was, cutting tracks with him, and how easy it was through the whole process. Maor Appelbaum (Sepultura, Angra, Halford) did the mastering. He too took the project to a different level. The way he and Sterling worked together to guide the final product to where it needed to be was otherworldly. We plan on working with both of them for the CD in 2014.

So, what’s next for Mahogany Head Grenade?

We’ve got a few live dates planned, and we’ll probably take on a few more over the next couple of months. Our focus right now is refining and polishing the songs for the CD in 2014. We’re pushing ourselves to put out something that is faithful to who we are as a band while being even better than ‘Return to the Point’.

Mahogany Head Grenade: Return to the Point of Departure
Interview conducted thanks to Mahogany Head Grenade.