Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Munsens Interview

The Munsens have been earning regular play in the stereos of The Burning Beard's staff since their first EP, Weight of Night, was released back in 2014, and with the appearance of the follow-up Abbey Rose EP, they set themselves even deeper into the pantheon of bands we've been thrilled to discover.  After their recent US tour, The Munsens were kind enough to share some time with us and answer a few questions, shedding light on the band's background and giving some indications of what they've got planned for the future.

The Burning Beard:  Hi, and thanks for taking some time to field our questions!  First off, how did The Munsens initially come together as a band?

The Munsens:  The Munsens started a handful of years ago in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  At the onset, we weren’t a band in any official sense, we would just jam in our original guitarist’s basement after the bar, generally just playing one riff forever, and then another riff forever, and then another…  Over time it evolved into whatever it is now.  It was slow moving, however; for the first few years Shaun (current guitarist) and I lived in Denver, while our former guitarist, Jon, still lived in New Jersey.  He would come out west for a chunk of time and we would tour or play locally or record.  Whatever the time allowed for.  It was hectic.

Following the release of the Weight of Night EP and subsequent tour, we didn’t play for quite a while, as our original guitarist, Jon, decided he was going to live in Asbury Park, NJ full time and wasn’t going to be able to come out to Denver to join us permanently (or even periodically as we’d done throughout the history of the band).  Shaun and I continued to write and were set on finding the right person to join us, rather than rush a new lineup together.  Ultimately we decided Shaun would move from drums to guitar and we would bring in a new drummer.  We met our current drummer Graham through our friends in Cloud Catcher and we’ve been running with it from there.  We are thrilled to have him in the band.

TBB:  What are the musical backgrounds of each of the members?

Mike:  Shaun and I (we are brothers, in case that’s not clear) grew up playing piano, and then come middle school or so we began playing guitar and bass and playing in shitty “bands” with our friends.  Once I moved to Colorado in 2007 (Shaun in 2009) and we got our own place we started jamming more frequently, with more people, picking up different instruments along the way.

Graham:  I grew up in a musical family and picked up drums at a young age.  I played in garage bands through high school and a couple bands in the Denver area after that.

TBB:  Around what age did each of you start developing a taste for doom metal?

Shaun:  I was always into heavy ‘70s stuff like Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Cream, but I think it wasn’t until I was about 18 when I started listening to more modern doom.  Bongripper's Hate Ashbury and Satan Worshipping Doom were very influential albums for me.  I was really into the way they would build their riffs into these epic climaxes.  That really stuck with me in my songwriting.

Mike:  Somewhere in my teens as well.  I was pretty into faster genres of metal, punk and rock and roll when I was younger.  Got into Pentagram, Witchcraft and some of the better known bands that lean to the doomier side at first, and it rolled on from there.

Graham:  Around the age of 14 or 15, after flipping through my parents records and taking a liking to the imagery and sound of my mom’s Sabbath records.  After that I honed in my taste with heavier bands like the Melvins, Eyehategod, Grief, etc.

TBB:  What are some of the members' favorite bands?  And what are some bands that you think fans of The Munsens would be surprised to know that you dig?

Shaun:  I've been on a ‘60s-‘70s Argentinian rock n' roll kick lately.  Bands like Pappo's Blues, Vox Dei, Color Humano, Manal, etc.  I've listened to an extremely wide range of genres throughout my life, but perhaps some of the more unexpected might be classical compositions from Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, and New York hip-hop such as The Diplomats (Dipset).

Mike:  Favorites are tough.  I’ve been all over the map, but two that come immediately to mind and I will always hold dear are Pentagram and Lightnin’ Hopkins.  Turbonegro - particularly the Ass Cobra album - is another I am always coming back to.  Denim fuckin’ Demon!

Currently, I am really into a band from Portland called Lonesome Shack.  And to throw out two random ones that people might find surprising, one from the past and one I just came upon - The Chariot and Lebanon Hanover.

Graham:  Some of favorites include The Clash, Converge, Melvins, Annihilation Time.  And not to mention my guy Phil Collins and a love for mainstream hip-hop.

TBB:  Are there any other bands which you feel have probably had an influence on The Munsens as a band, whether in musical style, album presentation, or other ways?

TM:  Neil Percival Young.  That’s the first which comes to mind.  In our early days, Electric Wizard, Witchfinder General, Weedeater, and those sort of legends for sure, though the influence grew far wider as the band evolved.  We listen to and play all kinds of music these days, and I think that bleeds through in our music.  In terms of overall approach, we’ve always respected the DIY avenue that bands like Bongripper take.

TBB:  How did you settle on the name 'The Munsens'?  And is it, as I've always kind of assumed, meant to be like the Manson family meets the Munsters?  Or am I totally off-base with that?

TM:  We’ve yet to hear that one!  But that’s pretty good!  When we moved to Colorado, we had a few friends using “Munsen” all the time, like, “Look at this fucking Munsen” in reference to someone they found ridiculous or someone who was blowing it.  Presumably they got it from the movie Kingpin and the character Roy Munson and the implication that comes with it: “A born loser, a real Munson.”  “To have the whole world in the palm of your hand and then blow it.”  We found it fitting.

TBB:  What was the experience of recording Weight of Night like?

TM:  Recording Weight of Night was a blast.  We worked with our buddy Mike Moebius at his former studio, Moonlight Mile in Jersey City, recording it live and adding vocals and another guitar track afterword.  We recorded that one to tape in a room without air conditioning in the middle of the summer.  Every once in a while we’d have to let the machine cool down and we’d walk to the corner store for beers and pizza.  It was all-time and an experience we will never forget.

As with most of the Munsens stuff from that time, we were on a tight time frame.  I think we went in for two and a half days or something in that range.  Mixing was a bit more tedious as we had to to it all over email with Mike since none of us were staying in New Jersey.  He crushed it regardless and we are psyched on the whole thing.  HOPE YOU’VE GOT SOME FREE TIME THIS SUMMER, MIKE!

TBB:  Looking back, are there any adjustments or full changes you'd like to have made in putting it together?

TM:  Sonically, we were thrilled with that EP.  As far as any wholesale adjustments, it’s always been wishing we had more time to experiment with different sounds and ideas.  If I remember correctly we had to put all the vocals down pretty quickly (no time for pause once the voices were going) and then do the mixing and mastering via email because I was heading to work a job in France and Shaun was headed back to Colorado.

TBB:  How did the process of making Abbey Rose compare to creating that first release?

TM:  We recorded Abbey Rose in Denver with Jamie Hillyer at Module Overload, which was also a good time.  We did this one live as well in the same way as Weight of Night but recorded it digitally and in a smaller space this time around.  The equipment used on this one was all completely different - different amps, different cabs, different drums.  Jamie has a lot of cool equipment so we messed around with some of the stuff he had in studio.

Again there was the time issue due to some of us traveling, and ultimately that is why we released Abbey Rose as an EP.  Though it may be longer in running length than a traditional EP, we weren’t able to put all the time we wanted into it since a couple of us were heading out of town.  We wanted to get it out before we toured this past January, and liked what we had so that’s the path we settled on.  We will put out a full album this summer.

TBB:  What led you to make a part two for “The Hunt”?  Was that something you had planned from the start?

Shaun:  It was an idea shortly after we released the first one.  Both the ending riffs are more or less modeled after each other.  They are very similar in structure.  It’s a bit of a mini story, with The Hunt I being the first half. but they were both just meant to be long, monumental songs.  It was a song we had written before the other three on the EP, and that’s why it kind of sounds a bit different and doesn’t mesh with the theme as cohesively as the others.

TBB:  Since you recently toured the US West Coast, how did you feel about the audience reactions?  Any particularly memorable experiences from that or previous live shows you wanna share?

TM:  This recent tour was hands down the best we’ve done.  Thank you to everyone who came out and to all the bands who helped us out.  Y’all rule.  The last show in Tempe at the Palo Verde Lounge was particularly memorable, both in show and venue.  We’ve played Palo Verde once before and this time we were lucky enough to play with Goya, Twingiant and Grey Gallows.  We were familiar with the former two, but Grey Gallows caught us by surprise and blew us away.  Also, hosted us, so thanks a ton for that!

The show was insane, in our opinion.  Getting to see everyone play on the floor face to face with the audience was so cool.  Reminded me of basement shows we used to attend in New Jersey when we were younger.  One of the regulars at the bar, perhaps an employee but I have no idea, was running some sort of scam there where she overcharged people and just kept all the money.  Not the margin she overcharged.  All of it.  When Shaun called her out on it she denied and denied and denied keeping our $20 for three PBRs.  Finally she folded, pulled the money out of her bra and looked me in the eyes.  “Fine, steal from my children.”

TBB:  You released both Weight of Night and Abbey Rose on cassette.  Was that due to a special fondness for the format, or was it just the best-suited option for a physical release for the band both times?  Any interest in putting either or both out on vinyl/CD/8-track/whatever else?

TM:  More than anything, we couldn’t afford to press a record, and preferred tapes to CDs.  Having some sort of physical product was most important, though I think we all do really like tapes.  We are certainly hoping to put our upcoming release out on vinyl.

TBB:  Both releases were also mastered by Dennis Pleckham of Bongripper, at Comatose Studio(s).  What was that experience like, and how much input did you give him on what you wanted the end product to sound like?

TM:  Dennis is the man!  Both were done via email, and the beauty of working with Dennis is that he knows exactly the sound we are after.  We provided a couple examples and a bit of input and he has nailed both of them.

TBB:  In a world where visas, booking fees, and the like were of no importance, what would be The Munsens' dream gig line-up in which to play?

TM:  We’d take our buddies in TOKE and play an end of the world party in a castle somewhere in Eastern Europe.

TBB:  On a similar but more realistic note, any currently-active bands out there with which you'd be interested in doing a split or collaboration?

TM:  Oh man, so many.  We’d be humbled to be included with any number of bands.  Hopefully we can cut an extra song for something like that.  I was just introduced to a Slovenian band called The Canyon Observer - for the sake of staying topical, let’s say them.

TBB:  So what are The Munsens' plans for the near future?

TM:  We will be headed on a short tour this March on the way to SXSW, starting in Denver for a handful of dates with our friends in Cloud Catcher.  We will be playing a couple Denver shows after that, including Electric Funeral Fest, June 16-17, before we head back on tour in July.  I’d love to say our new record will be out by then, but realistically, that will probably happen a bit later in the summer.  There are a few other dates we are booked on, yet we are unable to announce just yet.

TBB:  Anything else you'd like to say to our readers?

Mike:  Personally, read more.  Don’t get caught up in all the bullshit that is flying around.  Read books.  Make your own decisions.

TBB:  Thanks very much for your time and the excellent music, can't wait to hear what you'll have for us in the future!

TM:  Thank you for taking time for this!

~ Interview by Gabriel

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