Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Interview: Monsterworks Is Staying Metal

Monsterworks
Over the past 18 months, I have been lucky enough to be privy to, in my opinion, one of progressive metal's shining lights;

Monsterworks.

Too few people have heard of this band. If the Dave Mustaine quote "I wish we were as popular as we are talented" was real, Monsterworks would be literally walking on water or lakes made of gold.

Their music is mountainous, voluminous, ethereal, and wrenching.

Yes, I am gushing a bit, but I'm always in a current state of waiting for their next record. So few bands can put together an album like they can.

Vocalist, guitarist, and principle songwriter of Monsteworks, Jon, was quite kind enough to answer more of my silly questions and give us some perspective....



Glacially Musical: Can you tell me about the current state of your writing and material in the can?

Jon: Ordinarily when we are releasing a particular album we already have the next one
completely finished.

 However, we are finally catching up with ourselves so, at present, there is a follow up album to ‘The Existential Codex’ written, but not yet recorded.  The demos have been done (music-wise) for a few months and we are just working through it as a band to prepare for recording sessions.  I have the flow of the album mapped out, but not started on lyrics yet; other than reading and making notes.

Every band states that their new album is the best yet.  The Existential Codex was ambitious
and I am pleased with how it turned out but the next one is even more monstrous.

We might take a bit more time to think about how we are going to promote it, but it will still be
out within a year.

GM: How about that North American Tour? I know there are a few of us over here that are
waiting to get that Bands In Town update email.

Jon: Nice of you to say.  However, touring is just not a priority for me, so there is not a lot of
motivation to make something happen.  I pour all my energy into new material, whereas
grinding away on the tour circuit is a different beast altogether.

That said, we would always consider opportunities if they arose.  I have said before that if
Metallica wanted to take us on tour I would quit my job tomorrow(!); but in the meantime
there is a pain-in-the-ass called “reality” that gets in the way.  We all have bills to pay and
various responsibilities so some kind of extensive tour is just too much of a risk on a number
of levels for a band like ours.

It seems to be generally accepted now that artists can only have any hope of making a living
from music if they go out on tour and push as much merch as possible when they are on the
road, but it is a hard life and you might end up with nothing to show for it other than a lot of
debt and memories.  I am a different breed altogether with a professional career which is
able to accommodate, not to mention finance, my musical endeavours.  But the flexibility I
have does not extend to a six month leave of absence to disappear away on tour!

That may not be very ‘metal’ in terms of lifestyle but I was only ever in it for the music
anyway.  Besides, I honestly think I would burn out with relentless touring and hate it which
would kill the creativity.

That is not to say that it won’t happen one day, but I will wait for someone else to be the
driving force behind it.  My passion is with new music.

GM: Are you using any new equipment on this album?

Jon: In the studio I think everything was the same as for Overhaul.  We use a bunch of effects
pedals but I don’t believe I even had any new ones to add to the collection this time around.

Hugo had some problems with his bass EQ-type pedal dying but he found a way around it
and rigged up something which worked.

The Existential Codex ended up 73 minutes of music and all the main guitars, bass and
drums were recorded in four days – to 2 inch tape.  James and Hugo nailed about half the
tracks in first takes.  It was phenomenal.

All the main guitars had been recorded in the studio with big amps (Diezel and Marshall)
turned to 11 and mic’ed up but guitar leads and other textures are often done at home
because we run out of time in the studio. For these post-production sessions both Marcus
and I bought Laney Ironhearts which are like mini valve amps that can be DI’ed into a DAW.

I recorded all the vocals by myself in a local practice room close to where I live and once
those were done everything is sent to the guy at the studio for mixing.

GM: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Jon: On the musical side I have no idea.  Some days I just sit with a guitar and the ideas flow out
like a torrent and other days it is forced trickle and lame.  I think the key for me is not having
too many distractions or stresses that subdue the passion for metal, rather than any positive
inspiration that drives it per se.

On the lyrical side I keep my eyes open for topics that interest me and then read into them
which inevitably inspires certain aspects of the concept I am going for.  The albums we do
are themed and, in a way, the themes run into each other and continually evolve.  So
perhaps it started with an inspiration I have forgotten and has grown from that over a
number of years.

GM: Who are your top five influences?

Jon: Rob Halford for vocals and Judas Priest in general on the music side.  That has to be worth
two in terms of the overall importance to me.

Queen for the diversity.  Chuck/Death for aspects of the vocals and philosophy.  Black
Sabbath; all eras, for everything else.

Most of the reviews we get bang on about how diverse Monsterworks music is but to me
Black Sabbath were doing that from the beginning (and Priest too actually), although the
sound did get more streamlined later on.  An album like ‘Sabotage’ (1975) has acoustic bits,
choirs, crushing heaviness and a lot of progression so what we do is not that out there
compared to that.  Granted I try to throw in more vocal flavours but that is only one small
piece of it.  My favourite album is Priest’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ and, again, that is all over
the map in terms of style and delivery.  I guess I just always wanted to do that too.
I am not sure I can think of any specific influence outside of musicians I have never met that
has really affected how I approach music.  Although I guess I was influenced by my friends in
high school and particularly the original Monsterworks drummer, Jared, in terms of taste in
music.  But then he never liked Queen (or admitted to it!) so I have always had my own
ideas.

It is worth mentioning that Twisted Sister was my proper gateway to heavy music.  It is not
an influence as such, but I might never have taken an interest if it wasn’t for the
combination of catchy heavy tunes and tongue-in-cheek music videos they made in the Stay
Hungry era.

GM: As we're in Middle America, what's the weather been like over there in the UK?
Snowing like the dickens here in St. Louis.

Jon: Mild.  That is all its ever like where I live (just North of London).  We had a tiny bit of snow
but “extreme” just is not in the vocabulary here when it comes to weather.

GM: If you were a Canadian, I'd assume you liked hockey, but as you're in the UK, I'm going
to assume you're a football fan (read soccer). Who's your team?

Jon: I am from New Zealand originally so rugby is our thing, although I feel a long way out of the
loop on that.  There is a World Cup this year so I will probably get a bit more interested.
Sport is one of those bizarre anomalies in modern life because it taps into a tribal mentality.

I enjoy watching sport for the pure physical nature of it but I don’t think it matters in the
grand scheme of things.  However, it is really amusing how you naturally gravitate toward
supporting one team or competitor no matter how hard you try to be neutral.  It fascinates
me that I fall for that even if I don’t consider myself “a sports fan”.

GM: How do you unwind from all of this?

Jon: I don’t think I do, not in the sense of consciously trying to escape it.  But it is hardly like I
work 12 hours a day on writing music and all the other associated band stuff.  I listen to
metal almost exclusively too (except a bit of Genesis here and there and classical music my
wife makes me listen to).  However, I like to think my whole life is fairly balanced between
work, family/friends and music so it seems to run quite smoothly.  Long may it continue.

GM: Why did you decide to release half of the album for free on bandcamp?

Jon: I only came up with that idea maybe a week before deciding it was time to go ahead with
release.  I had been working hard on the 5.1 mixes of the album and really immersed in the
whole thing, but reckoned that maybe the full 73 minutes was going to be a bit too much for
the wider world to handle.  Also I had noticed that when selling stuff on Bandcamp, since it
has a permanent stream available, your music is up on torrent sites literally hours after
release.  Someone (who is a cocksucker) just rips the stream.

So, if the music was going to be available for free anyway, why not just give it away?  BUT
save the complete set of songs for the fans who still buy physical product.  As a fan I would
be happy with that, especially because I really like having 5.1 mixes of a particular album.
Opeth do it with all of theirs but not many other bands do.  It is something different, niche
perhaps, but I like it.

If a fan wants to dig deeper and follow the storyline etc. then they can pick up the CD/Blu-
Ray but, otherwise, it can be argued that the 42 minute digital download is more digestible
and, in any event, gets across the same idea.  Of course, giving it away for free is just in the
hope of reaching more people, although I appreciate it is not helping combat the general
problem of music being devalued by illegal downloading.

GM: What else do we need to know?

Jon: Perhaps something about the theme of the album itself?  The Existential Codex (pretentious
title – I am well aware) is intended to be a journey for someone exploring existence by way
of a dream; not just the human condition but also the nature of the Universe.  In this way it
ties in evolutionary themes that were explored on past albums and also the Overhaul idea
from the last album where society has to fundamentally change in order for us to survive.

Except this is more about how each one of us has to evaluate ourselves and make positive
changes.

It does not really have a conclusion, other than waking up from the dream, but I had a lot of
fun thinking it through and, even after the lyrics were written, fitting a kind of narrative to
it.

But on a wider scale than the album…”what do you need to know?”…

All generations think they are living in the End Times; i.e. biblical Armageddon shit, and this
one is no different except that our understanding of the world is much better, literally we
know more about our predicament than any other time in history.  And so, we must
successfully navigate our way through the dark labyrinth of the present to find a better
future.

If I can give one piece of advice it is to become more engaged in what is happening around
you.  Personally I am quite lazy and not in any way an effective activist other than what I am
good at, which is writing music and lyrics.  But if you (like me) aren’t going to be the one
shouting in the street protesting corporate tax avoidance (a big topic in the UK right now
leading up to elections) or some other injustice, support those who do: sign petitions,
contribute money to campaigns etc., so that maybe, just maybe, the world can be changed
for the better – for everyone.

Oh, and tell everyone you know about Monsterworks because we mean well and live for
metal!

1 comment:

  1. I'm always interested in hearing the voices behind the music, particularly when it's a genre in which I'm not well versed. Thanks for keeping me "in" on new (to me) stuff, Nik!

    ReplyDelete