Interview: Tim Mungenast
Guitarist Tim Mungenast has been exploring psychedelic and avant-garde music in his own unique way for many years now. His unconventional guitar style is powerfully creative and he has delved into everything from eccentric song-based pop on his early albums to completely improvised psychedelic music both on his own and with his band Timworld to ambient and experimental jazz. In recent years Tim has become involved with the warped and crazy world of Astro Al, as both a guest player and a collaborator. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his debut album, Birth of Monsters. I had the recent pleasure of catching up with Tim via e-mail, and what follows is a very candid, funny and in-depth interview on his life and his music. So, strap in and get ready for the ride as Psychedelic Waves explores the colourful and fascinating world of Tim Mungenast.
Photo courtesy of Peter Lauria
Psychedelic Waves: Tell me about some of your musical heroes, the ones that inspired and influenced you, both past and present.
Tim Mungenast: I was a grade-school kid in the sixties and early seventies, a precocious little guy with big ears and a serious love of music and thank God we had some good radio stations in our area (and older siblings with good taste!). The stuff you love as a child touches you the deepest. So, yeah, Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, Cream, Zeppelin, Monkees, Doors, Bowie’s Space Oddity, Thunderclap Newman, and even this Blues Magoos hit that surfaced in 1968, did well, and disappeared: President’s Council for Psychedelic Fitness. I always wondered why it seemed omnipresent and then dropped like a stone…decades later I find out it was yanked for drug references.
Before and during rock-n-roll, it was my dad’s West Meets East Shankar/Menouhin LP, and his Manitas de Plata 3-LP flamenco set. That sank into my DNA and never left. To this day, flamenco and Indian music are stuck inside me. There was also TV soundtracks (like Avengers, Star Trek, Columbo, Wild Wild West) and movie soundtracks (Mary Poppins, Jungle Book, anything by Mancini or Herb Alpert), my dad’s album of Bach pipe organ pieces, etc etc). To this day TV and movie composers have a big effect on me. Some of it sucks, sure, but you can say that about ANY genre. Those people have BIG ears, and even bigger grasp of all the cool chords and scales. They can get as exotic as they wanna be. In my teens I discovered Pink Floyd. Like a lot of Yanks my age, I started with Dark Side of the Moon and was blissfully unaware of the man who would later become one of my guiding lights: Syd Barrett. Syd wasn’t a jaw-dropping guitar god like Jimi but he was every bit as big an influence on me. Just wonderful! There’s a little Syd in everything I do. Sometimes a lot. Other prog gods included the Moody Blues, Yes, Genesis, Renaissance, too many to name. King Crimson, of course. Around that same time my big brother turned me on to fusion; the usual suspects like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Larry Coryell, Chick Corea. Big influences who really left a mark. I also liked some punk too, even though that crowd despised all my favorite bands, hahahaha!
Later came further immersion in “ethnic” music, first from Nonesuch LPs that I borrowed from the library and then stuff I heard on college radio programs on WMFO, WZBC, and WERS. Gamelan left quite a mark. I also came to love the blues, even if it was relatively late in life. Some country blew my mind, and big-hearted country-pop like Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues, and anything by John Denver.
My current influences are David Torn (a major ingredient for about 30 years and he becomes more important every year), plus veena players, and some noise and circuit-bending guys, and I dig Ben Monder’s Bloom album, and old cool jazz like that ancient Charlie Mingus LP -- you know it had to be old because I heard he hated being called “Charlie,” hahaha!
PW: Your music seems to branch off in three main areas, song-oriented stuff (more on your earlier releases than later ones), improvised space rock jams, and ambient/avantgarde/experimental work, and of course, often those cross over into each other. How did your interest evolve into those three areas of music and how do you approach integrating all of them into your sound?
TM: Oddly enough, I was interested in all three from the get-go, and the amount of time spent on each varied depending on whether I was playing with like-minded people. For instance, in my first band (the Hub Cats, 1986-1988), my bandmates had a mild interest in listening to exotic/experimental music but wanted to keep it out of the band, so we focused on a half-and-half mix of our original rock tunes and 1955-1965 classic rock covers, and I had to limit my sonic adventures to bedroom 4-track experiments, many of which survive today as dusty cassettes that need rescuing. Another example was my next band, Skysaw (1988-1992) -- those guys (Derek Blackwell, John DeGregorio, Jonno Deily, and Mac Randall) loved artsy noise and catchy pop with equal gusto, so most of my crazy ideas found a happy home there, gelling with the other crazy ideas they came with. We’d even swap instruments to keep ourselves fresh! Then I was under my own name, often with my old Skysaw bandmates, like guitarist Mac Randall, who appeared on my first 2 albums and has been my friend since 1987. He and I shaped each other's styles, and when I needed a great complementary part done that required more chops than I possessed, he never failed. After the first 2 albums, there was no money left for real rock-n-roll studio recording, but I wanted to keep making albums, and it was much cheaper to make albums based on field recordings of my performances, usually the experimental stuff that I loved anyway. The Timworld Dhoom album of 2012 was a blend of psych band improv and really good artsy mysterioso “gas music from Jupiter” caught live, and I am very proud of it. My pal John DeGregorio was absolutely vital to all these releases, as he was my recordist, archivist, and great friend. Frank Gerace and Cheryl Wanner (the duo known as Dreamchild) were also key members of my inner circle, having recorded and produced my 2nd album (The Un-Stableboy), and been involved in mixing and production of other projects.
For the last several years all the albums I’ve been on have been low-budget gems of inspired lunacy based on field recordings of jams with creative mixing (and added parts in the case of the Astro Al collaborations).
PW: You’re often credited with instruments other than guitar, electric sitar being a prominent one. What other instruments do you play, and what exactly is a ‘cheese trampoline’, and a ‘phorenzyk horowitz’, credited to you on one of your latest releases, My Other Car is a Flying Saucer ?
TM: Don’t forget the Harmonic Waffle Iron and the Ultra-Hydrogen Oreomatic Skis! hahaha!
I love words as much as music, and I strongly believe songs and albums must have interesting names -- in fact, sometimes my songs start out as an odd combination of words that just come to me, a sort of brain misfire that amuses me. Then I have a title that sometimes is evocative enough for me to build the song around. So, it’s only natural that I would run wild with imaginary instruments, yes?
To answer the other part of your question, I also play bass, hand percussion, singing bowls, kalimba, overtone singing, my 1920s banjo-uke, my 6-string balalaika, my Scott Beckwith electric balalaika, my slit drum, anything I can get a good sound out of. And I love to mess around with keyboards -- I must buy one someday. I am also inventing and crafting some instruments that never existed before, made from broken objects nobody wanted. They sound wonderful and I want to use them on an album soon. I also have a perfectly good student-grade clarinet that I can get some decent tone out of but still can’t actually play yet, ditto my pennywhistle. Those are “someday” instruments.
My great friend and collaborator Michael Knoblach (ex Cul de Sac) is not only a world-class percussionist but also a buyer and seller of curios and instruments, and a lot of my wackiest musical knickknacks I got from him.
My friendship with the avant-garde impressaria Vanessa LeFevre was instructive, too, as she not only bought wonderfully insane homemade instruments from local artisans like Jason Sanford of Neptune, but actually made one herself that is frankly better than the stuff she bought. Years ago, I encouraged her to perform publicly with these remarkable machines, and over the last several years it has been a true joy to watch her get out there and bring insane sonic happiness to her audiences.
...and yet I want more... I want a baglama saz soooo badly, and a veena, and a goatophone, and a cheese-trumpet, and a....
PW: Lyrically, you sing about some pretty interesting and unusual topics. What kind of things inspire your lyrics?
TM: Sometimes it’s dreams, but my waking state has always been eerily dreamlike anyway. It’s almost like the wall between my conscious and unconscious minds is too porous, or like a doggie door that opens back and forth. Having said that, I think my favorite source comes from the half-awake state, the transition between sleep and wakefulness, when I am either just waking up or just dropping off. I think it was David Crosby who said of this state “that’s when the elves take over the toyshop.” Space Goat was one of several tunes that came to me that way. Going for long walks has created some good songs for me, but sadly nothing I was ever able to make a professional-grade recording of. (Avant/experimental things work well with lo-fi/budget production values, but to my ear, rock and pop need more polish, and if you listen to even the snottiest garage-iest rock recordings, they are still recorded way better than what I could do on my own, so I am glad I made those first two albums while I still had a little money.)
Sometimes it’s personal experience that provides the inspiration, filtered of course through my goat-colored glasses. Sometimes words come to me in a torrent when I am just fooling around with the guitar. That’s fun, too! Rarely do I get political, but there was more than a little of that (thinly veiled) in Mahatma Wheel, which I think is one of the best songs I have ever written. Spirituality and mysticism inform almost everything I do, at least a wee bit, and sometimes it is the main driving force of a song. Other times, it is in the background, offering support. And of course, goat cheese and Moon Pies are always a reliable source of inspiration! As always, I am sure to forget something or someone obvious, like pets, friends, family, etc.
PW: You mentioned that spirituality and mysticism inform almost everything you do, and through our conversations, you’ve struck me as a very spiritual person. You even refer to yourself on your bandcamp page as “a surrealist guitar shaman with an almost messianic sense of purpose”. What do you mean by that, and how does your spirituality inform your music?
TM: I should probably have a nice big cup of coffee before I tackle this one, haha! On the other hand, my current “gawd, I’m knackered, time for bed!” state might actually be more conducive to an honest and useful answer.
Well, to start with the first half of your very good question, I have naturally gravitated towards surrealism (and its cousin, Dadaism) since childhood, long before I heard either term, partly because children are naturally surrealistic, aren’t they, and partly because I was born... different. I saw possibilities where nobody else did, and sometimes there WERE no possibilities and I saw them anyway. While I saw things others could not, I also missed out on a ton of stuff that everybody else could see easily, so it was kind of a harsh swap the Creator made with me. I used the term “shaman” in my bio because of my affinity with the unseen, that which cannot be detected with the senses nor exactly defined, or things that *can* be detected by the senses but are still otherworldly and create a sense of wonder. I have powerful things course through my being at times, especially during a performance, and sometimes it leaves me feeling burned out, or at least crispy around the edges. As for the “messianic sense of purpose,” it comes from recognizing that I will not live forever, nor anywhere near as long as I’d like, so I’d better do The Work as often and as well as I can.
My spirituality cannot help getting into the cracks and crevices of my music, my words, my drawings. Throughout my life, I have seen tantalizing glimpses of something limitless and beautiful, and it wants to help, and I let it. There are many entities who want to help: whether it is my favorite entity Jesus Christ, or Goddess Artemis, or Allfather Odin, or Saraswati-Ma, or Gurdjieff, or especially the spirit inside a big boulder... they all want to help, and I am always glad to exchange energy with them.
PW: A couple of your albums, The Un-Stableboy and Steam-Powered Mars Lander feature some striking and unusual cover art. What can you tell me about those?
TM: Those albums feature art by my daughter Jillian, who now goes by Sky. The Un-Stableboy she did when she was 2 ½ and Steam-Powered Mars Lander she did when she was 11. When I came up with the title Steam-Powered Mars Lander, I asked her if she could draw me one. She understood the absurdity of a space vehicle powered by steam, and she also knew my love of goats, and she skillfully incorporated all this into the art.
She always had a unique and fabulous gift as an artist, and I feel very lucky and blessed to have her art on those albums and others too. She's on most of them except the albums I did with Astro Al and Eric Dahlman.
PW: You’ve been involved for quite some time with the Y2K International Live Looping Festival. How did you get involved with this? What was your experience at the 2017 festival like?
TM: I first got involved with the Looper’s Delight web circle through my dear friend, former engineer and former producer, Frank Gerace, a master guitarist and looper extraordinaire. (He and his equally loop-savvy wife Cheryl Wanner form the uniquely magnificent band Dreamchild.) This was in the early days of the Internet. I met some really fascinating people in that cyber-neighborhood, people like Rick and Bill Walker, Andre LaFosse, Douglas Baldwin, and the late, great Richard Zvonar. I also started running into, performing with, and befriending loopers in the Boston scene circa 1999-2000, people like Joe Brown (a.k.a plasticrazorprotector, a.k.a. 2000 Joe Browns, a.k.a. 2KJB). I had to get in on the fun, too, even though the idea of me looping on the fly in front of people just scared me sh*tless. I bought a then-new DOD DFX-94 delay/loop pedal and went to work.
In 2012 I asked the West Coast loop guru (and Looper’s Delight hero) Rick Walker if I could perform in his international loop festival Y2K12 -- well, honestly, I can’t remember if I was invited or if I just asked him. Either way, he said yes, for which I remain extremely grateful. It was a truly wonderful, life-changing experience! (Rick Walker and Stan Card were/are just as cool in person as they seemed in cyberspace.) The next time I played the loop fest, in 2017, I met even more of my cyberpals for real (Rick’s brother Bill; Mikko Biffle; Michael Klobuchar; my host Jule Potter, the amp builder and his lovely wife Marsha McCrory; Rejyna Douglass-Whitman, who videoed the whole thing, et al), and it was just a complete joy! I got to play two sets (one to fill someone’s cancellation) and decided to use all that jet-lagged stage fright to try to make my performances one of the weirdest, most out-there things anyone had seen in a while. I was happy how it turned out -- I got a lot of high fives and attaboys, which felt really good!
My looper was one of the simpler ones used in the festival -- a TC Ditto X2. I used it in conjunction with a small handful of very strange pedals and some “prepared guitar” tools. I hope to release the audio as soon as I learn how to edit it into separate tracks. I really look forward to doing this again, assuming I am still welcome and I can scrape together enough sofa change for airfare!
PW: You refer to Mike Campese as your teacher. Tell me about that relationship.
TM: It was over 20 years ago, circa 1996, that I first saw Mike’s instructional columns in Guitar Player magazine. I liked the ideas he was trying to teach in those columns, even though (or maybe because) he was so very far above my level. Back then I had no idea that I was going to meet this guy and become his friend and student. Years later, in the early 2000s, my oldest brother Steve introduced me to Mike’s music. (Mike was teaching one of Steve’s friends in Albany, NY.) When I heard Mike’s albums, especially Total Freedom, I was blown away not just by the guy’s chops but his IDEAS, his creativity. Here was a world-class shred guy who knew the importance of memorable melodies and strong emotions, and he delivered. Like Buckethead or Satriani, he had wonderful concepts, melodies, emotional content, and some slow, lyrical playing to keep things varied, because, as he later told me, “shredding’s great but it gets boring if that’s all you do.”
When my brother introduced me to the man himself, at a concert, I was struck by Mike’s genuine friendliness, his sense of humor, and his centered, balanced humility. I mean, he knew he was skilled, but he was not egotistical at all. This impressed me even more than his advanced musical ideas, his unbelievable speed, or his delicious guitar sound. When I moved to Albany in 2015, I asked Mike for lessons a few months later, and here’s why: I had been playing for 35 years by then, and I realized that while I had created a fairly interesting style by working around my limitations (like relative lack of speed, and some sloppiness due to trouble synchronizing my hands), I was getting sick of that approach and wanted to crush my limitations, not just work around them. Mike was just the guy to help me through these neuromuscular limitations, and my bigger problems, namely my lack of focus and lack of discipline, haha! ...not to mention my suboptimal knowledge of theory. I knew what a major 9 chord was, for instance, but there were (and still are) so many holes in my knowledge -- I was tired of being so bloody ignorant!!
I was also tired of being the guy with good ideas but sh*tty chops. That was just getting old.
Before I started learning from Mike, I could not play briskly and cleanly unless it was some special night when all the planets were aligned, but now I feel much less clumsy and more coordinated.
It is still a struggle, but in the nearly 3 years since I have started with Mike, people have given me unsolicited compliments about how my playing has improved, and honestly in spite of my harsh self-criticism, I can hear an improvement too. It’s also a hoot to text him a chord or scale that I come up with and have him identify it for me: “Cool scale, Tim! That’s a phrygian dominant with a missing 5th!” etc. etc. Everyone should have someone like Mike Campese in their corner.
PW: For a long time, you recorded and performed with one-time Cul de Sac members Michael Bloom and Jon Proudman, both in the live setting and on albums such as Steam-Powered Mars Lander and Dhoom. How did that fruitful collaboration come about?
TM: I actually had to share Michael and Jon with Cul de Sac for a few years, when both of them were in that band and my band Timworld at the same time. It was hard, sometimes, when I would land a gig for us and they’d say “sorry, we’re booked with Cul de Sac for a tour of Europe.” -- I certainly couldn’t ask them to give that up to play some crappy Somerville bar and make $25 to split 3 ways. (chuckle)
I met Michael Bloom in 1991, long before he was in Cul de Sac -- I was often invited by the late Sean Patrick Murphy to play and talk on his WMFO “Folk n Good Music Show,” which was scheduled just after Michael’s “Classical Variants” show. Michael had written for the Boston Phoenix forever, and he struck me as a man with strong opinions and a MENSA IQ to back them up. We bonded over a love of the obscure, genius guitarist Hans Reichel. Over the next couple of years we gradually went from friendly acquaintances to friends, and he started attending my shows. I am proud to say that one of Boston’s most feared rock critics loved my music so much that HE JOINED THE BAND, and he stayed for 20 years, from 1994 to 2014.
He was and is very talented on many instruments, but in Timworld he mostly stuck to bass and harmonies, plus other cool stuff like his marimba and a malfunctioning reel-to-reel that oscillated beautifully. He was quite an asset to the band for all those years and provided a lot of good advice. He was a tremendous musician and really helped drive us forward. By 2002 he was also in Cul de Sac (an amazing and unique band that I always liked), and when my band found itself between drummers again, Michael recruited his Cul de Sac bandmate, the amazing Jon Proudman (ex Men and Volts), so now I had one of the best rhythm sections in America. Jon is an absolutely astounding drummer, one of the best ever, although his cubist grooves could sometimes be a challenge for me. (He liked to keep me on my toes, keep me sharp, like Kato in the Pink Panther movies.) We slowly, slowly shifted into more and more band improv at my urging, and the better we got at it (and the more people liked it), the more Michael and Jon were psyched for it. We started mixing more and more experimental stuff into it, sort of becoming an alternate-dimension version of Cul de Sac.
In 2014, Michael quit after 20 years with Timworld; he had every right to a change of musical scenery, especially after two decades, but since we played in his basement, that was pretty much the end of the band. But I decided this was the start of a new phase for me, when I would concentrate on my avant-garde stuff with Astro Al and Eric Dahlman and Emile “Dr T” Tobenfeld. As for Mr Bloom and Mr Proudman, our friendship has survived the band, and we still get on very well.
PW: You’ve performed and recorded with a number of jazz artists, including Eric Dahlman, Pete Levin, Ken Field, Dave Bryant and others, but you yourself seem to primarily identify as a rock artist. Perhaps your deepest adventure into jazz, at least in the recorded realm, was the Ken Field collaboration, No Such Animal. How has jazz influenced your music, and what jazz artists in particular have been inspirations to you?
TM: First off, recording with Ken Field was a great honor and a lasting pleasure. I met him through my then-bassist Michael Bloom, but I had been aware of this saxophone hero since the eighties, and in the early 2000s he and I had gotten to be friends through Mr. Bloom. No Such Animal was done in Bloom’s basement in one perfect session: me, Jon Proudman, Michael Bloom, and Ken. We did it all in one pass, no edits except we cranked out a crazy tune (Barrage a Trois) when Ken was taking a break, and that noisy number later went on the Steam-Powered Mars Lander album.
Jazz got into my blood indirectly back in the early seventies when I was maybe 13, when my big brother Steve turned me on to his Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever albums. I loved that stuff instantly, and perhaps due to earlier exposure to Ravi Shankar, I was able to accept odd time signatures and scales without reservation. The Marshall-driven fury of the guitar sounds hooked me as much as the gloriously challenging compositions. Later on, in my early twenties, my friend Dennis Celentano turned me on to Coltrane, and that blew my mind apart. Then I wanted more, much more, other great masters who expanded my mind and soul. You hear Nica’s Dream, and it changes you. You hear Tal Farlow playing You Don’t Know What Love Is and it changes you. Lenny Breau’s Five O’Clock Bells? Pure art, man.
Many of my psychedelic heroes (e.g., Mitch Mitchell, Roger McGuinn, Robbie Krieger) were under the spell of jazz, and by the time I was in my early twenties, I was, too.
PW: You’ve been doing quite a lot of work with Astro Al in recent times. How did that happen?
TM: In the early 2000s, Paul and Deb Angelosanto heard my music on Internet radio (I think it was Jerry Kranitz?), and they found out that I lived not far from them, so when they heard I was playing in their area (I believe the now-defunct coffeehouse known as Java Jane’s), they made sure to attend, and to introduce themselves. I got a great vibe from both of these sweet people right away. We went to as many of each other’s shows as possible, and eventually started including each other’s bands into concerts whenever we could talk the club booking agents into it. I dug Astro Al’s very literary blend of grade-Z movie lore and other pop culture with their zany “why not” humor and their big 3D imaginations, and they have gone from strength to strength over the years. Their live shows are very multimedia, very visual, and always big fun. It wasn’t long before we started playing in each other’s sets onstage, and only a bit longer before I was invited to participate in their recording projects. Our differences really did (and still do) make us a very strong combination.
I had to move to upstate NY in 2015, but Paul and Deb have kept the collaboration and the friendship alive, often making the 3-hour drive to see me and record with me, since I don’t get out nearly as much as I used to due to Mom-care responsibilities. We jam, we record the jams, and Paul and Deb put fun layers on top of the jams. Paul has some serious editing/processing Kung Fu, and Deb does a super job on the artwork.
PW: So, what’s the concept or idea behind one of your most recent albums, My Other Car is a Flying Saucer, and how did you go about realizing it?
TM: Well, if there was a unifying theme, only Paul and Deb knew what it was, hahahaha!
For each album, before they drive over to my place to make the foundational jams with me, they choose the instruments and noisemakers and background pads they’re going to bring, and some of their great scripts for recitation, but I am seeing most of that stuff for the first time each time we do these projects, and I get to respond and interact in a very fresh and spontaneous way. Sometimes I get to lay a bed of sound in real-time, kinda like looping except I just play the same repeating figures, shifting them a little on each repetition. I will do daft things like choosing my least-played guitars on each session, the ones that I fear might be feeling neglected at the time of the session, and they seem to be on their best behavior and sounding very good.
Actually, all three of us play in a very free and freeing way while listening hard to each other. There is vocalizing during the jams, and most of this chanting and joking and caterwauling is what we feel at the time, but then there’s carefully written spoken-word stuff overlayed later. sometimes it's Paul, sometimes it's Deb, sometimes both, and sometimes me -- they are both very clever with words and imagery. Sometimes Deb sings -- she is quite good, a great voice well suited to both old-timey music and more sci-fi stuff.
As for the album title, well, they look to me for crazy song titles and album names, and I am happy to comply, although they both have a wonderful way with words and are quite capable of coming up with good stuff on their own. It is a rewarding creative relationship and a rewarding friendship as well.
PW: Another recent release for you was your collaboration with saxophonist Eric Dahlman called Tunnel Session (MP: 34.74) . Tell me about that unique session and what was the experience like? What does the MP: 34.74 in the title refer to?
TM: One of the things I love about trumpeter/flugelhornist/composer Eric Dahlman is that we have more in common than music and surrealism: we are both hardcore railroad geeks. Eric and I often go train-watching and record the mighty sounds of trains going by. We use these sounds in our audio projects, both as enhancers and sometimes even building blocks.
He had done some recording in this acoustically blessed abandoned railroad tunnel in Clinton, Massachusetts, and suggested that he and I do a duo recording there, and in 2014 we made it happen. It is a steep climb off a road in the middle of nowhere, but very much worth it for the ghostly natural reverberation and the overall vibe -- and the wild graffiti! I played my Teak Wonder guitar through two of Eric’s battery-powered guitar amps (not both at once, just one at a time for different flavors), plus bells and a whirlie and overtone singing. Eric did overtone singing, too (he and Erik Nugent taught me how to do it circa 2013), and of course he played trumpet. He also played a toy saxophone designed to sound like a train whistle, and some really nice bells, and also played a recording of trains going through the very same tunnel back when it was active -- he did this as a sort of offering to the tunnel, and as a foundation for an improv piece that I think went really well.
We had a very strange, supernatural experience in the tunnel -- halfway in, we were suddenly choking on exhaust fumes, which was physically impossible because one entrance of the tunnel was 100 feet above a low-traffic road, the other end of the tunnel opened up into forest, and the air was pure when we stepped in and only got hideous very suddenly in the middle of the tunnel, as if someone had thrown a switch. When we ran to the other end of the tunnel the air was pure again, and when we walked back through the tunnel there was no hint of any fumes or impurities at all, as if it had never happened. I don’t think any of the tunnel entities were angry with us -- it is more likely they were just playfully jerking our chains, as there was no harm done.
Eric and I each recorded with our trusty Zoom H2 handheld recorders, and his friend, engineer, and archivist Mike Mayo took these captures and helped us turn them into a record that we were all proud of. Eric had the idea to hold the CD release party in the same tunnel, and to make it a session as well, so we could have enough material for another tunnel record. Summer 2017, we made it happen, this time with our talented friend John Baylies blowing multi-phonics and didgeridoo technique through his sousaphone, and this worked very well with what Eric and I were laying down. As before, Eric and I used our handheld recorders to capture the sounds with wildly varying volumes and distances. Making these recordings into an album will take a lot of hard work, but based on what we hear in the raw recordings, it will be worth it!
As for that title, like most of the titles on the album it is railroad-oriented. MP means “mile post,” a marker of where you are along the railroad.
PW: What is your current gear set up? Any favourite instruments or pedals?
TM: With Eric Dahlman, I most often use my Teak Wonder, a guitar I designed and had built between 1986 and 1987. It has a hidden pickup to get sproingy metallo-banjo-roboto sounds, as well as humbuckers for more normal guitar sounds. On his Glacier album I used an very old and very tiny Yamaha solid-state combo, the one that tried to look like a miniaturized first-gen Mesa Boogie. For the tunnel recordings, I borrowed two of his small portable battery-powered amps, one of which I loved so much that I later bought my own: it’s a wee-tiny 9-volt toy Marshall stack that clips onto your belt. Someone at Marshall must have put the hours in during design, because it well and truly has “that sound.”
For Astro Al, I use as many of my guitars as possible so that none of them feel neglected, especially my electric sitar and my solidbody balalaika (made by Scott Beckwith and most often used as a sort of tanpura) and my Great Cedar (also made by Scott Beckwith), but I keep gravitating to my number-one axe for 34 years, my 1983 ESP strat copy, heavily modified with two hidden pickups and some routing options one seldom sees in even the most adventurous strats.
With Eric, I keep the FX simple: an ancient Boss 3-knob compressor, an equally ancient Boss Super Overdrive, a Schaller Fusschweller volume pedal, and more recently my Afterneath echo-reverb-chaos pedal. With Astro Al, anything goes, so I use the aforementioned effects plus my modified Roland Space Echo tape unit, various fuzzes old and new, and some pedals that defy description, like the EHX C9 ... I haven’t even uncorked my early-nineties Lexicon rack gear yet, hahahahahaha!
No matter who I am playing with, I make most of my insane sounds through various hand techniques I stole from David Torn and Adrian Belew, and a few I dreamed up myself. In such cases I also ask myself “What would Hans Reichel do?”
HINT: A good compressor brings out the subtleties of such techniques.
PW: Tell me, what’s up with the goats?
TM: I adore goats for many reasons, chief of which is their duality: they get to be warm and cute and cuddly and whimsical and playful, and at the same time they get to be randy and voracious. Also, as a martial artist, I totally respect their athleticism and balance, as well as their fearlessness.
PW: So, where next, musically, for Tim Mungenast?
TM: Welllllllllll, on Cinco de Mayo of last year, I had a lovely recording session with my prolific collaborators, Paul and Deb of Astro Al, and then we recorded more music later that summer. We did some great work (enough material for 2, perhaps even 3 CDs!) but we delayed the editing and finishing until this January, because we'd released so many albums in the last 3 years. I am listening to the first edits of the 5/5/18 stuff and I think it's gonna be a fun record! The music we recorded later that summer will also be good fun, with plenty of cool sounds, I promise!
As for my other great collaborator, Eric Dahlman, we did some really exciting work in the same euphonious tunnel in which we recorded Tunnel Session a few years earlier. This time Eric had the sousaphone hero John Baylies play with us, and it sounded magnifico! After a bit of a delay due to IRL issues, Eric and I (and Eric's engineer, Mike Mayo) are very nearly done massaging the raw files and turning them into an album, so look for a release later in 2019, perhaps even the Spring! It sounds very lush, very good indeed.
I am also talking with the gifted percussionist/inventor/builder Ken Lovelett about another project. To get an idea of what Ken and his friends are capable of, and what they sound like with my guitarness, check out the Youtube of our Weather Station project with Pete Levin (Tony’s brother) and Anais Wolf... it is triiiiipy!!
I keep creating because I love it. It is what I was put on this planet for, and I am very blessed to have some creative and talented friends who enjoy creating with me.
PW: Thanks Tim!
To check out Tim's music, visit: https://timmungenast.bandcamp.com/
Birth of Monsters (1999)
The Un-Stableboy (2002)
Steam-Powered Mars Lander (2008)
with Astro Al
Water Crawling Up the Stairs (2015)
With It, Without It (2015)
Scapes of Sound (2017)
Radio Free Mars (2017)
Apostles of Vibrating Cheese (2017)
The Transonic Buffalo Opens the Vortex (2018)
with Wisteriax and Astro Al
My Other Car Is A Flying Saucer (2018)
with Eric Dahlman
Tunnel Session (MP: 34.74) (2017)
with Ken Field, Michael Bloom and John Proudman
No Such Animal (2005)