Caural: My head has been exploding with ideas, so 2018 promises to be a shift back into sound

September 28, 2017

Zachary Mastoon aka Caural is a Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist who’s been active for more than two decades, creating music on a vastly wide spectrum between punk-influenced jazz, live hip-hop and melancholic lo-fi shoegaze with Boy King Islands. After having studied jazz improvisation and experimental electronic music at New York University, he began fusing his diverse influences together quite literally in 1999 with what became his signature instrument: a Yamaha SU700. Since then he released a critically acclaimed catalog of original material and remixes for labels such as Chocolate Industries, Mush, Plug Research, Eat Concrete. We haven’t heard any new Caural material for more than a decade now, so we figured we would get in touch with Zak to see what he’s up to and to tell him – we want him back! Not only we found out more about this talented genius but also convinced him to create a mix for us. 45 tracks in 55 minutes, deconstructed masterpieces reconstructed, we reckon you will love it.


Zachary Mastoon aka Caural (Photo: Shaun Roberts)

I discovered Caural when I fell in love with “Re-Experience Any Moment You Choose” from the 2006 album Mirrors For Eyes. That was the last full-length Caural album, which was released more than a decade ago. Feeling old yet? What have you been up to since? What happened to Caural?

I like to think of time as astrophysicists do so I don’t feel so guilty about the illusion of passing linear time, yet yes, part of me definitely feels old. Seriously though, I was a much different person in 2006: I was a total drunk living in Brooklyn, touring solo and with my then label-mate, Busdriver, and I just started thinking about the bigger picture for me – not as an artist, but as a person. Turning 29, my Saturn’s return was in full swing. I gave the digits of my age too much significance and felt I had to have everything figured out, or at least try to find some sort of grounding. I did an organic farming fellowship in Connecticut after a lot of touring in the first half of 2007 and literally connected with the earth, then moved back to Chicago where I told myself I’d stay for a year before moving to Japan to teach, largely because I had absolutely no idea what to do, but also because I love the country. In the end however, I had decided that my motivation to move abroad was insincere and confused, so I withdrew from the teaching program a month before I would have moved to Kobe.

Did you take total abstinence from producing music during this period?

No, I didn’t entirely retire then; I was still working on remixes for folks and writing some new songs as Caural (the material from that year ended up on Die Before You Die, released by Eat Concrete in 2011), but I soon switched focus to what had been a side project for years (Boy King Islands). As I became more entrenched in the noisy world of bedroom/studio shoegaze, almost on a whim I became a technical project manager to make me feel better about having a “grown up job”. That career took me from Chicago to San Francisco and back again, but music was always there for me; however, when my sampler was stolen out of my Chicago apartment, that was sort of the nail in the coffin for my electronic alias for a while.

Three albums with Boy King Islands later, I moved to Oakland with the lady who became my wife and started revisiting bigger life questions again, mainly: if I hated my day job so much, why was I still doing it? I then happily left what had been my career of project management and opened a door to the world of wine. I interned with two great winemakers in Berkeley, and worked a harvest in Napa at Cakebread Cellars. That year, I was putting together a collection of Boy King Islands outtakes, demos, and song sketches (entitled Pastels and recently released on Youngbloods), and doing so inspired me to comb through live Caural material and mine for ideas. I released Handmade Evil in 2015 and vowed to return to more music making.

It’s a really interesting question you’ve raised: “if you hated your day job so much, why were you still doing it?” I think so many creative minds struggle with the same issue and most of the time there are no answers to be found. Like, how one does discover what their true passion is – say, besides music in your case – that would also pay the rent and then a bit more?

That really is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Even returning to acting again last year and realizing I absolutely needed a job that was flexible enough to allow me time to audition at a moment’s notice… I mean, there is a reason almost every actor works in the service industry. The alternative is having a boss at some weird and likely dead end job who lets you run off for an hour to spend less than a few minutes showing a disinterested casting director who you are. I met a guy on set who said he had that, but you know how weird background actors can be. Actually, maybe you don’t.

I often wonder how many people in any profession are truly passionate about what they do, and when they “clock out” at the end of their work day, do they occupy themselves with something that gives them happiness and grows them as people, or are they stuck in the hamster wheel of celebrity worship, alarmist news programming, social media feeds and other pointless escapism? You need to live and breathe what you love to make taking a job that insults your intelligence day in and day out worth it, yet I’ve come to appreciate that anyone lucky enough to have found their passion is already living a richer life. Money is – at its root – useless and fake, but not making it certainly deters plenty of talented people from doing what makes them happy. Still, “we are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”


With the beloved Yamaha SU700 (Photo: Christy Claire Katien, 2005)

The winemaking period ended when you moved to Los Angeles and jumped into new adventures.

Yes, very sadly, but also because making wine in LA County is actually illegal unless you work for the single winery downtown that got grandfathered in. So, I started acting again, giving energy to another childhood passion instead of setting up a music studio. Life got in the way in other ways as well: my wife and I got married; we traveled in South America for a month; and I produced her first short film “Word Is Bond” the same weekend we moved from a one bedroom apartment in Studio City into a two bedroom house on the east side.

2017 has been crazy even without the gut-wrenching political satire that has made “Murica” the dangerous laughing stock of the world that it is. My wife and I are in a very serendipitous – albeit temporary – situation now that allows us time to focus on art and finish her film, take care of trees and plants, and again have time for the sort of “bigger questions” discussion. Yet even as I have become more a part of the film world – both in front of and behind the camera – I have never felt more inspired to create music again. That’s definitely the plan for the next year even though a lot more is in orbit alongside it.

Where do you get your inspiration when it comes to music production?

I am a huge proponent of the philosophy of the Italian Futurists (fascist ties aside), Fluxus, and a lot of the hip 20th century folks from John Cage through Afrika Bambaataa who erased lines between media, so answering that question is really addressing the act of artmaking itself. Creative expression is one of the most spiritual endeavors possible, because the artist is part prism – refracting what Shuggie Otis called “Inspiration Information” coming from everywhere and “nowhere” – and part vessel for the synthesis and resulting record of each unique transmission. Everything everywhere becomes art as soon as someone says so. Art frames our experience of the material world.


Caural played a vital part in my music taste back in the early 2000s. When I revisited Mirrors for Eyes and just wanted to check out your Facebook page to see what were you up to nowadays, I noticed your page only had 337 likes. Social media plays such a massive part in promotion and I felt that number was just really irrelevant compared to what your music was worth. What are your thoughts on this like-madness?

“Likes” are absolutely irrelevant period, as should be participating in the necessary evil of social media itself. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud were in their infancy when I was really active as Caural; instead, it was MySpace, and I had my ego boost of thousands of “likes” or whatever mouse clicks were called back then.

I bowed out of music for the most part shortly after that and then never really bothered to re-engage with the contemporary platforms when I began to resuscitate Caural… In all honesty, it has only been very recently that I have begun to do either. I created my Caural Facebook page a couple of years ago but haven’t released anything new, nor have I toured, so really it is going to demand a lot of nostalgia and curiosity by listeners like you to find my lazily updated page! I would expect that to change as I share new music, but maintaining sanity requires you to dissociate popularity with any sort of objective worth: the majority of the time – with even a cursory glance at YouTube and without mentioning any names – you can see the opposite is true.

Swallowing a dash of healthy bitterness about the realities of our corporate and otherwise imploded industry, I have become comfortable defining success using different metrics. For me, it is about finding joy in manifesting creative works from my “origin”: the truest definition of being “original”. If what becomes of that labor of love resonates with someone else, it makes me grateful that others connected with me on my journey as an artist.


Photo: Shaun Roberts


What are you working on currently? Maybe it’s time for Caural to return?

I have been focused on film for the past year and am really learning a lot, but yes: returning to music is long overdue. While I am putting together another mixtape of sorts – this one collecting my remixes as Caural  – my first new music will be the soundtrack to the film I produced with my wife this year, “Word Is Bond”. She and I will be traveling quite a bit over the next couple of months but, this December, we are going to work on some new music together in addition to the soundtrack. I had her sing on a cover of a New Order tune I did as Boy King Islands when we were living in the Bay Area (“The Him”, released by The Blog That Celebrates Itself), and I want to revisit that sort of stripped down setup with guitar, voice and field recordings. Since we’ll be taking a little hiatus up north, I think the silence will give us an inspiring palette. Outside noises aside, my head has been exploding with ideas, so 2018 promises to be a shift back into sound for me – as Caural.

You made an absolutely fantastic guest mix for us. How did you pick the tracks?

Well first of all, thank you! Um, songs and their textures just started to emerge from my collection – not in order of their final appearance or even as stand-alone compositions I wanted to keep intact – just as colors that fit a certain undefinable aesthetic to me. If I am picking records to play out, it’s the same process, but the wonderful thing about making a mix digitally is that I am able to make entirely new songs out of the building blocks in some cases, especially since I really deconstructed most of the source material.

To be honest though, much of what I chose is by people who stand out to me as having carved out their own sound. That is the highest hope you can have as an artist, so the compliments are really due to the 45 folks that inspired this hour of music.














Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *