Mugstar :: Interview presents:
As we’ve played so long together now it just seems to have progressed to this and I think we are still progressing as we move forward. So it’s exciting for us as well as we don’t know where we will end up … — Jason Stoll
I first heard Mugstar when I came across a video clip of a track off of … Sun, Broken …. I think I spent less than a minute watching before I hunted down … Sun, Broken … and got it winging my way. And I’ve been hooked from day one. Luminaries, from Aquarius Records to Terrascope to the late John Peel, have all chimed in and championed Mugstar and their brand of relentless swirling psych/art-rock.
2010 has been a banner year for this Liverpool-based juggernaut, making them one of the most exciting outfits to shoot a flare over our horizon: … Sun, Broken …, the vast and deep In Search of Hawkwind, their Ad Marginem film project and now their newest transfixing freakout, Lime. Mugstar took some time out to fill us in on this flurry of activity to give us a peak into their orbit and creating records that could easily be the soundtrack to planets giving birth.
Mugstar is Peter Smyth , Neil Murphy , Jason Stoll , Steve Ashton .
I’ll ask the ubiquitous background question: How did you guys all hook up?
Jason: Mugstar, in this form, has been together since 2003, me being the last person to join. But we had played shows with each others’ bands before. We all loved similar bands, Sonic Youth, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Dinosaur Jr, etc, so it seemed likely that this was gonna happen one day. The band was initially called ‘Muckstack’ which when asked by someone what the band was called, it was miss heard and the person said ‘what Mugstar?’ So the name came into being. I’m glad of that person, whoever they may be!!
Mystery solved … the name is somehow appropriate. Mugstar and … Sun, Broken … are both heady brews of ingredients. You sound like a lot of potentially opposing forces somehow holding it together towards a common, explosive goal.
Steve: There is a huge central area of crossover, but we each bring different facets.
Jason: I think that’s important as we all bring different things to the mix when we’re coming up with new material.
It all gels into a fierce deliverable … whatever you call it — post-rock psychedelic, experimental, freak space art-garage …
Pete: If it falls into genres, that happens by accident and not design. We’ve never set out to do anything that ï¬ts into a particular genre.
Neil: I think a lot of the music that we like is quite difficult to categorise and that’s something I admire.
I agree. I think once you place yourself into a strict way of thinking or being, you’re kind of cast in stone with not much left to say.
All your records, at their heart, just ï¬‚at out rock. … Sun, Broken … sounds live.
Jason: We record the basic track live, but use a lot of overdubs. We work better that way and it adds the ‘live’ sound to the recordings.
Pete: The way that we play dictates that we record live. The structures are quite ï¬‚uid, so building the track one part at a time isn’t an option, although there were a couple of the early singles that we did like that. Something of the live feel and spontaneity is lost in the studio and overdubs are a way of compensating for that, making it more rich and layered without (hopefully) overdoing it. We do seem to get more “live” with each recording though.
… Sun, Broken … really upped the ante from an already volatile full-length. I’m still trying to get my head around how something that consistently goes supernova can hold together.
Jason: As we’ve played so long together now it just seems to have progressed to this and I think we are still progressing as we move forward. So it’s exciting for us as well as we don’t know where we will end up!
Steve: There is definitely something about those moments – playing in a band with a huge sound, running at full tilt and on the brink of collapse – that is pretty exciting. I guess in all the apparent chaos, one or two of us are keeping a toe-hold … somehow. With regard to recording it, yeah, we’re definitely aware of trying to capture something of that. We know its a big part of what we’re about. We’ve also recorded with Rob Whiteley a few times now, and he’s also very keen to remain faithful to what Mugstar is – encourages that live vibe in the studio for us. The more we work together with him, as Jase says, it seems to progress, yeah – feels positive.
Everything I’ve come across about … Sun, Broken … is very positive … Everyone who has it seems to really respond to it.
Steve: There’s been some great reviews. We we’re blown away being “album of the week” for Aquarius Records out of San Francisco, to have someone really listen that closely through the stuff, understand it and translate it into text, and in such glowing terms, yeah, that’s encouraging. I guess we still miss John Peel, when he started following and supporting the band, that was also – not just an opinion, but an opinion of some one you respected .
I can’t imagine what a joy that must have been having him in your corner. But you’ve got a rich history of crossing paths with some impressive folks … on a bill with Faust … I’m sure it’s a dumb question, but how was that?
Steve: We’re all big fans of “Krautrock” – that whole cosmic scene and sensibility of the late sixties/early seventies. The gig was in the Masque theatre in Liverpool, and as with most shows the whole arrival, set-up, play thing doesn’t give you much time to get acquainted unfortunately. When we got there Faust had already set-up and soundchecked, ï¬lled the stage with percussion and industrial pieces of machinery – yeah, they we’re great, the show was very rhythmic and sparks ï¬‚ying – literally. We decided to set up on the ï¬‚oor in front of the stage in the centre of that ampitheatre-like space and played in a thick fog from the smoke machine saturated with coloured light. Went really well, Faust came up to us after and said “we really liked your sound … it was… intense” … you gotta be happy with that.
And now you’re moving into ï¬lm … Can you give us some more details about the Ad Marginem project?
Neil: I’m a big ï¬lm buff really, although the idea to make a ï¬lm came from Jason. I wrote a script but nothing seemed to be coming of it. Then we happened to meet a ï¬lm maker, Liam Yates, who involved us in a project he was working on. We discussed the script I had lying around and he was keen to do it, and was able to pull together the necessary resources. It’s been a steep learning curve but it turned out better than I dared hope.
A steep learning curve how, in relation to making music?
Jason: Yeah, very much as so far that we had to focus on the timing and structures of the music than ever before. We normally play very free and open and are more likely to go off the feel rather than a rigid structure. So, songs which may be 10 minutes on an album could last anything between 7 – 12 minutes depending on the feel of time at that time. Whereas with the ï¬lm soundtrack we had to focus on timing, but yes, we like a challenge!
From the trailer it’s obviously not a point A to point B straight script …
Jason: We premiered the ï¬lm last week at the Bluecoat and it was a great success. The venue sold out so we were really happy with that. We will record the soundtrack soon and then tour it next year.
Unfortunately I haven’t seen you in the ï¬‚esh, but it seems like there’s a big visual component to Mugstar. The music is certainly visual …
Pete: The visuals feed the music, it creates an atmosphere and the experience becomes more immersive.
Steve: Since most of the music is instrumental there isn’t a frontman in the normal sense, whatever that may be. When we did gigs with projections it seemed to complement what was going on nicely. Feels good to be immersed in something like that.
Your Tam Lin split with Red Panda … When I got that, it seemed like a really odd song for you guys to take on. But after hearing it, it really was a natural ï¬t … how did that pair-up come about?
Neil: It was a suggestion from Dave Hand of Red Panda to do a split single of Fairport Convention covers on his label. We were drawn to Tam Lin and as it turned out, that was the song they’d chosen, too. Since it’s such a long ballad we decided to split the song in half, so it became a split song rather than a split single.
Jason: We played it live at a show like that too. Red Panda were on before us, they finished their set with the beginning of Tam Lin and we immediately followed by going into the second part.
That I adore this band probably goes without saying. That this is a contender already for one of my favourite albums of the year definitely is worth bearing in mind though. — Phil McMullen, Terrascope Online
Tell us about the new one … due this October?
Pete: It came together in the studio much more than the other albums. The songs we’d prepared were in a fairly unfinished state, and as it happens, some of the songs we’d prepared … most didn’t make it onto the album.
Steve: There are less overdubs than on the previous albums too, maybe as we become more used to playing in the studio there’s less need to add layers to ï¬ll out the sound.
Jason: Hartley from Clinic guests on one of the tracks, too.
Steve: The album will be titled Lime. There’s four tracks, two of which are pretty long excursions, deï¬nitely moving into some new territories. We’re really pleased with the results – looking forward to playing it all live too. As with … Sun, Broken … it will be released on Important Records. We’re putting together a set of gigs for October/November as well.
Lime definitely feels like it’s moving into new territories. It cooks, start to finish, but it seems like some of your pulsating is moved up front a bit more … When I ï¬rst heard it, there seemed to be enough of a tweak that it not only added something, it really put your other strengths in a new light.
Jason: Yeah, we are really happy with it and have had some great reviews for it so far. It is deï¬nitely more immediate than Mugstar and … Sun, Broken …. I’m excited about where we will end up next …
These days that seems like a veritable sprint between records.
Neil: There was quite a delay in the release of … Sun, Broken …. We’re not that fast workers actually.
You certainly seem like you got a lot on the burner; Ad Marginem, Lime …
Jason: We’re going to release a split album with Kinski (on vinyl) with Will Sergeant from Echo and the Bunnymen playing guitar on it, so we’ll be recording that soon. Also we’re recording a soundtrack to Ad Marginem, with hopefully a DVD/CD box set release at some point next year.
Is Mugstar doing all the music for Ad Marginem or did you bring in other artists?
Jason: No, we are doing all the music for it. We like to push ourselves!!
Being a soundtrack, is it a departure at all for Mugstar?
Jason: Yeah, it is a departure for us in terms of how we have written the music, but I do think our music would be quite suited to it anyway.
… and there’s In Search of Hawkwind … Having given birth to that project, you must have been blown away by the end result. That’s a staggering roster of bands. The press release makes it sound like it was a very organic snowball effect, from how it started … ?
Jason: Well, it started way back in 2005 when I had the idea to do a split 7” with another band doing a Hawkwind cover each. We asked Kinski and Acid Mothers Temple ï¬guring that the more we ask the more chance we would have of someone saying yes. They both said yes, which surprised us, so we asked some more bands and it grew and grew. Stephen from Trensmat Records in Ireland said he’d do a trilogy of 7”s which really got our name out there, especially with doing our split with Mudhoney. It has gone really well and now we have an idea to do a series of tribute albums to our favorite bands.
Any plans to get over our way, maybe after the release of the new record at the end of the year?
Jason: We’d love to play in the USA, but it costs so much for flights, equipment and work visas, so if any listeners out there who fancy paying for us …
:: … Sun, Broken … review
:: Lime review
:: In Search of Hawkwind review
:: Podcasts for Sunrise Ocean Bender … many featuring, you guessed it, Mugstar … can be found here.
Masque Theatre Photo: J. Timmons
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October 4th, 2010
Posted In: Music