Written by Jessica Klausing
Since forming in 1986, Monks Of Doom remain one of the most unique surrealist bands out there today. Their combination of post-punk tendencies and 70’s psychedelic grooves is a breath of fresh air to the progressive rock genre. Their widely imaginative lyrical ramblings have been intentionally left open to interpretation. Twenty years later with their newest release, The Bronte Pin, the Monks prove to be heavier and perhaps, weirder than ever.
Victor Krummenacher caught up with us to discuss the new Monks Of Doom album, his musical influences and upcoming tour plans.
This is the first new material from Monks Of Doom in twenty years! Why the long hiatus?
Victor: (laughs) You know, it’s a hard band to get together. The drummer lives in Sydney and the lead guitarist plays with Counting Crows. He’s inevitably on tour for three to four months out of the year, and we just try to fit things around. Camper Van Beethoven always works in the winter. The other thing is the Monks Of Doom is the only band that I’ve ever structured like a democracy; everybody gets a vote and everybody has an opinion. Things have to be arbitrated. It’s an extremely long process that also yields rich material. You just have to be patient. Although, I told David Immergluck that I’m not doing another one this way, because If we do another one this way, I’ll be seventy when it comes out!
I’ve always admired the band’s progressive rock sound. How do you capture that in the studio?
Victor: Well, the drummer and Immergluck grew up in a time of pre-punk rock. Chris grew up seeing Genesis and Led Zeppelin. Immy was maybe a little more drawn towards bands like Mott the Hoople. There’s a pre-punk rock informative side to those guys. I grew up seeing LA punk rock, and so those guys just kinda dragged me backwards. I was very much like, nah, this stuff is awful and they were like, no it’s really good! They could see it and I couldn’t see it because of the cultural bias.
The sound of the Monks is the two younger guys fighting with the two older guys. The age range is two of them were born around 1960 and the other two of us were born in 1965--something weird happened in those five years! You were either fifteen when punk rock came out or you weren’t; Greg and I were and Chris and David weren’t. The sound of the band is the tension between the sound experienced as fifteen year olds and the prog rock sound won.
Also, there were always obscure influences like Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe. Now that was a band because they were prog rock but they were like blisteringly fast and tight, which is kind of what we wanted to be.
The Bronte Pin has a lot of instrumentals. Do you go into the studio with a blank slate or an already mapped out musical blueprint?
Victor: Both. This record we deliberately went and did both. Greg does a lot of structured writing. He showed up with a lot of these structured pieces. We decided to jam along in some kind of proto John Wetton-Bill Bruford-King Crimson-esque style and I was gonna edit in Pro Tools like the Radiohead guys. Next, Immy was like, I’m gonna try and play with no time signature at all with a lot of delay on guitar and we’re gonna improvise to that. We had a long 12 hour day in the studio where we did just that. Afterwards we just tore it apart and put it back together and responded to that by writing new stuff.
The Monks always were initially just instrumental and we felt that was one of the coolest things about the band. At a point when we tried to get a record deal, back when that mattered, we ended up becoming more of a vocal band. Some of that stuff was very strong but I don’t think it was our strongest. The band is primarily instrumental first and that’s the language we speak. I just come up with a general thesis. I try not to get too specific because I feel like the Monks’ music is better when it’s indigenous. You can just go with your own impression and let your imagination fill in the blank. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but that’s how it works.
Where do your song ideas come from?
Victor: I usually have some kind of an agenda in mind. I gotta say this new album had no agenda in mind. It was just time for us to get together and work things out. I was inspired by the Nells Kleine influence in Wilco, the Thom Yorke solo records, Tricky, and Massive Attack. Their music is kinda like rock n’ roll but it has a lot of weird ass shit in it. I wanted our stuff to turn out like that.
I’m not an electronic music guy by any nature. I’m not gonna bring up a Linux screen on my Mac and run a Super Collider program because I don’t want to do that. However, I will buy a looper, which I hate people using looping stuff to play a brunch of grooves. I can’t stand that concept but I like what Warren Ellis does in the Bad Seeds. He takes a looper and does some Morpheus ambient loop. We tried to emulate that concept.
For Immy, he has a deep love of things like Roy Harper and Pentangle. He wanted to bring a late 60’s early 70’s sound--that weird area where folk was getting proggy. We have this synthesizer and this mid 70’s Pink Floyd kind of groove, so it’s like putting the chocolate with the peanut butter on a certain level.
What’s it like to self release an album in 1992 vs 2017? Do you feel that the internet and modern technology have helped?
Victor: No, they have not helped (laughs). They just haven’t, I’m sorry. More people hear my music now and I make less money. Here’s the economic numbers--for a very long time I ran a small label out of a PO Box in San Francisco. I would release solo albums and sell 3,000 copies at 15 dollars apiece. Do that math and I could make enough money for myself, pay all the expenses and do it again. Most of the same fans are still around, it’s just now that don’t necessarily have to buy our stuff. They can listen on iTunes, Spotify or wherever. The royalty stream is much lower and you also don’t make the mechanical royalty of selling to the distributor.
Now it’s just calling in favors or dropping money out of pocket or running yourself like an LLC. All the money I make as a musician goes into my LLC and that money goes to pay for other music. On occasion, I get media placement which is the bread and butter of it. You know, get a movie or commercial license of some sort. You can’t make money on the road and you certainly can’t make money re-releasing stuff.
I noticed some Fairport Convention and Neil Young elements within The Bronte Pin. What bands have influenced the MOD on this album?
Victor: Well, there is a Sandy Denny cover song on it so the Fairport Convention clan is in there. I would say definitely Pink Floyd. There’s a definite nod to that Nick Cave side project, Grinderman. King Crimson and Be Bop Deluxe were a really big part of that sound. We were also inspired by the African and Ethiopian music scene. A riff from an old Ethiopian folk song is turned into a jam on the record. I wouldn’t say exactly Radiohead but I would definitely say the guitar work of Jonny Greenwood is in there.
Beyond the band influences there was the studio environment. We went in with the free conception that everything is an instrument. The Mellotron, Buchla Synthesizers and the analog delay pedal were inspirational. It was all a matter of what sound can you make with this tool and how to respond.
You’re quite the trail blazer with solo projects. You have nine albums out now! Can we expect another one soon?
Victor: I’m working on one right now. I feel that I am lucky enough to have many musical personalities. In Camper, I am just the bass player. I have written many songs and done a lot of arrangements, but I am just the bass player, and I’m good with that. There are enough strong personalities in the band and I don’t want to get in a cat fight. The Monks is an experimental side that I do adore, strongly. It’s a huge part of my life and it has yielded some of the most interesting and best executed work that I have ever done. I am fairly an autobiographical writer when I do songwriting of my own. The more I’ve written the more honest I have become.
The people that listen to my stuff are like, what happened to you? Well, on this record, I got a divorce and had health issues, and this record is moving past that, and the record before is when I was on tour with a couple of drug addicts. Those are sub texts and I just try to write about it. Marty Stuart has a new record that sounds like a 60’s Byrds record. My new record has some Marty Stuart elements. I’m trying to do something that’s not nostalgic but feels contemporary. The music hints at stuff that I grew up on like Pete Townshend and first wave British punk rock. I went off and was more folky and blues influenced with my writing on my past albums. I want to try to incorporate more aggressive elements but still keep that comfort.
On that note, your solo work is dramatically different compared to MOD and CVB. How do you mentally prep for each project?
Victor: Camper, I don’t prep for it. I treat Camper like a baseball game. I just go out there and play the field for fun. For the Monks, I would shed a madman. The Monks is like running a marathon! For my solo stuff, I take it quite seriously. I don’t drink and I make sure to get plenty of rest before a show.
"Osiris Rising" was a standout track. It was such a compelling balance of vocals and instrumentals. Greg's solo just made the heaven's open up! Can you discuss the making of that song?
Victor: We needed a straight closer and I wanted to write a David Gilmour-esque song that was a little sad, not morose. I have not really analyzed it entirely. It’ll take me a bit to figure out the Freudin- Rorschach test to pin down the psycho dynamic of the record. It’s thematically rooted on Egyptian theology of unlocking the underworld, and that the underworld takes over the living world. The song is a greater metaphor for ecological catastrophe, which is the conundrum going on in the world today.
Will there be an official MOD tour soon? 2012, I believe was the last official show.
Victor: Yes, 2012 was the last time. We really want to play, so I’m going to say yes, there will be some shows! It may be 2018 before we can pull it off but I imagine there will be some shows soon. We have talked about doing it in such a way where it’ll be a west coast run with some Chicago, NYC, Austin, and Georgia dates too.
I know the album just released but it’s not available online. Where can those that did not participate in the Kickstarter campaign purchase one?
Victor: In July, you will be able purchase one on the Monks of Doom official site. The album will be released through Pitch-A-Tent Records, which will be available on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes. We wanted to get the supporters their copies as soon as possible. We held off on an actual release until we were confident that we could secure the rights of our old catalog. We just wanted to make sure people had access to all of them. The back catalog will release the same time as the new album. You will now be able to find all the Monks of Dooms music on all music streams.