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Fred Mascherino

Taking Back Sunday’s MySpace page earned its share of brokenhearted fan sentiments over the past few weeks, following the announcement of guitarist and co-songwriter Fred Mascherino’s departure after four-plus years in the band.

But Mascherino, who’s gearing up to release the debut LP from his new project The Color Fred at the end of the month, has his mind focused less on endings and more on new beginnings.

“I’m very excited. I’m excited to get back out and do something that’s on my own,” he says. “I’m really happy with the new record—I think I made something that’s really honest.”

The record, Bend to Break, shows Mascherino almost entirely on his own, handling vocal, guitar, and bass duties (with rhythms courtesy of drummer Steve Curtiss, backing vocal help from The Color Fred touring bassist P.J. Bond, and piano from Clint Stelfox, who played bass in Mascherino’s pre-Taking Back Sunday band Breaking Pangaea). And the lyrical content certainly does smack of honesty—Mascherino doesn’t hide much behind metaphor to get across Bend to Break’s ideas, which focus largely on strained and crumbling relationships. The songs seem primed to prick up the ears of Taking Back Sunday fans wondering what led to his resignation.

The Taking Back Sunday fan response to early tastes of Bend to Break, Mascherino says, has been overwhelmingly supportive. And that makes the singer that much more energized for the first countrywide The Color Fred tour he’ll embark on this fall, alongside fellow former Taking Back Sunday members John Nolan and Shaun Cooper’s band Straylight Run.

“I always said that Taking Back Sunday had the greatest fans in the world, and everyone’s just kind of been that way,” Mascherino says. “And as I’ve been releasing more songs from my record I think it’s gotten even better, because they hear that it’s the same sort of music. I definitely wanted to make an album that the people who like my past music would still like.”

When you started compiling songs for The Color Fred, was it your intention to eventually make it your full-time thing, or did it just turn out that way?

I intended to make something that was good enough to do for years to come. I had originally intended to do it alongside of Taking Back Sunday, but it’s something that I made on my own, and I wanted it to be good enough to stand on its own. So yeah, with this project I can see 10 years down the road, whereas I couldn’t always see that in other bands I was in.

You were writing these songs alongside Taking Back Sunday’s stuff—what made you earmark a song particularly for either band?

Well, at the time I would always have something that I wrote, and I would ask the [Taking Back Sunday] guys if they wanted to use it. I always said my stuff was available to them. So some of the songs are songs that I had written for Louder Now, and they didn’t go on that record. Then there are a couple that just didn’t seem like they were going to fit what Taking Back Sunday was doing. Some of them are more just pop songs, and Taking Back Sunday has a legacy and a style that was already moving when I got into the band. And we’ve always tried to uphold that. With this I could go a little bit farther out than I could go with them. That’s why the song “I Didn’t See” is a very Motown pop-oriented song, and there’s a song “I’ll Never Know” that’s fingerpicking with strings—it’s very singer/songwriter-sounding, so that’s why it worked best for this.

You spent a number of years studying jazz guitar and teaching—how did those experiences inform your playing? 

The only reason I [went to school for jazz guitar] was because I thought I could play guitar for eight hours a day and not feel guilty about it, being that it was my homework. I wanted to go to school for guitar just to play all day and get as good as I could get. After that I started teaching—teaching makes you better because you’re taking apart what you’re doing and examining it, and normally you wouldn’t. It’s kind of like, I did it out of selfishness, but then it wound up repaying me anyway with just getting better all the time.

Fred Mascherino

What guitars were you using on Bend to Break?

I have this Gibson SG Special that’s been my favorite guitar since I got it. I have five SGs now, but the first one I got is still my favorite. It has this pickup that’s almost completely worn away by the high E string, because I put the pickups really close. And every tech I get, first thing they ask me is, “Can I switch that pickup out?” I’m like, “No man, that’s my sound right there.” Something about the way that guitar aged, it just sounds awesome. And I have a Goldtop Les Paul that I play for some stuff, and then this Les Paul Special that we used a lot that got that more classic rock sound, when we needed Jimmy Page-single-notes sort of stuff.

The lyrics on the record in a lot of places come off like brokenhearted love songs, but you’re a longtime family man with three kids. Are they character studies, or are you meaning something else?

Pretty much every song on the record is about leaving or something breaking apart, and I would’ve called the album 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover if it wasn’t already taken. Because that’s really what it was. Of course some of it is about my relationships in the band—anyone who’s been in a band can relate to the statement that being in a band is like having five girlfriends, or four I guess I should say. But it is that kind of relationship where you’re stuck together and you’re in something that you want to be a part of, but it’s not easy. It can be like being married to someone who’s impossible. So a lot of it was taken from that situation. There definitely are a couple of lyrics that were written during less-than-perfect times, and they’re not about the band. But I think the important thing of any relationship is whether you can make up afterwards or not—it’s how you work it out. Obviously in my band I couldn’t work it out. But it’s been 11 years with [my wife] Elena, and we’ve always gotten on track, kept it on the tracks.

The ones that are really obviously about the band—“Complaintor,” specifically—how are you feeling about people reading into that?

When I finally left the band for real, it was amicable and I went out to dinner with [bassist] Matt [Rubano] afterwards and everything was good. So I tried not to write these things toward any one person in the band or anything. It’s just something that I wrote while I was there in the heat of it. Lou [Giordano] the producer was kind of suggesting to me that we change a lyric here or there to avoid trouble. And I said, “No, it has to go on there the way that I wrote it on my acoustic at 2:30 in the morning, I’m not going to water this down.” I wanted to produce something that’s honest. I couldn’t write something and be concerned about who it was going to affect—that’s not why I started playing music. The music that I love did offend people and was sometimes hard to hear the first time. But that’s the stuff that’s honest and real. So that may cause trouble down the line for me, I’m going to have to answer questions about it. But it’s the way that I wrote it in my basement, and it’s the way it’s got to be.