Local band Masala's eclectic stew of sounds helps them move from covers to originals

Masala is an Indian word that means "a mixture of spices," according to Aravind Menon, who plays guitar and adds vocals to the Cincinnati-based Rock band of that name. "And we truly are (a mi


Masala is an Indian word that means "a mixture of spices," according to Aravind Menon, who plays guitar and adds vocals to the Cincinnati-based Rock band of that name.

"And we truly are (a mixture of spices)," says Menon, "as you can see from the age and diversity of this band."

Masala's members say they are currently a five-person band. About 10 or 11 months ago, Masala started recording their first CD, Who's the Monkey Now. At the time, Alice Au provided vocals. Au has since moved to San Francisco, but she commuted between Ohio and California in order to finish the album with the band. Despite her physical absence, they all agree that Au is still part of the band.

Even so, back in February, the band recruited its newest spice, Joanne Ray, who sings and plays keyboards and the occasional percussion instrument.

Ray says that it was bandmate Andy Shih who put her at ease when he told her that she wasn't replacing someone, she was adding more to the band.

So what does a mixture of these spices sound like?

The sound is "Pop Rock with Folk overtones," according to bassist Kevin Fogarty, "based on strong melodies and strong vocals."

Masala's drummer, Gavin Rees, adds that the band generally likes an acoustic foundation for its songs.

Masala started out as an all-cover band. Their goal, in the beginning, was to play lots of unknown songs by popular artists. Masala has progressively moved away from being a cover band and one of their short-term goals is to be closer to a 100% original band.

"The cover scene was a really great way for us to get our own identity," says Shih.

Because the members of Masala have such a diverse background, it is no surprise that they all have different influences and tastes.

"We don't limit ourselves to one style," says Shih. "But we definitely are looking for music that tells a story, has a meaning, and fits."

They are currently writing songs for their second CD, which they expect to release in the next year and a half.

Menon says the band are a lot smarter about the time involved in recording after making their first CD, so they really aren't rushing it.

As far as the writing process goes, Masala's is a collaboration.

"The great thing about writing in this band is that it's not about one person in the end saying it's going to be this way," says Shih. "It takes the rest of the band, in the end, to finish it."

"Everybody puts their mark on it," Fogarty adds.

The band is developing quite a following in Cincinnati, fans who have stuck with the band through their progression from covers to originals. Those fans are important to Masala. Rees says that the band often invites fans up on stage.

"We purposely go out and try to make a connection with the audience," he adds.

According to Menon, "all our gigs kind of turn into the United Nations of Cincinnati — a big mixture of people of different ages, races and backgrounds."

Masala have played at venues like Sloppy Joe's on the River, Salamone's, and Jefferson Hall. Actually, the band recently held their CD release party at Jefferson Hall. Ray says that they played to a pretty rowdy, packed house and that people were actually body surfing to their cover of The Ohio Players' "Love Roller Coaster."

Masala's CD, Who's the Monkey Now, is available at Border's Books and Music, Phil's Records, and online at EARBUZZ.com. Of course, you can also pick up a copy at any Masala show.

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