100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions
Part Sixty-Nine: Jonas Munk of Manual, Causa Sui
instigated by dave heaton
As Manual, the Danish musician Jonas Munk creates absolutely epic electronic daydreams - as gorgeous as the sun-set and beach photos that adorn the album covers. Recent releases include Bajamar, Azure Vista, The North Shore (with Jess Kehr) and Golden Sun (with Syntaks), all released by Darla. His music is awe-inducing and also emotional, plus more diverse than you might expect from such seriously blissed-out music. He's also in a free-rock band called Causa Sui. For more information, check out the Manual website, Causa Sui website and MySpace, and Jonas' own MySpace page.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
At the moment I am truly excited about pretty much every single aspect of making music. I've got my hands in several different projects and feel I am doing the best I can. But if there's one thing that have inspired me more than anything and given me goosebumps continually throughout the summer it has been working with Causa Sui (my acid rock band), working on the new album for the last three months. For me it is a bit of a "back to basics" thing, trying to create something truly unique and evocative with very few and traditional means. So I guess what has excited me the most about music is playing not just the idea of playing in a band but really PLAYING improvising in the moment, creating something out of nothing with other really gifted musicians. Also, getting into recording and producing rock music has excited me a lot lately. There's a purity in micing up a drum-kit to in the right way to get the perfect sound. How to get the richest tone out of three instruments in a small room. For me it's still completely new ground, and I feel like I have been learning something new everyday while working on this album and besides I feel I am doing it pretty damn well.
But then again, this last week I have mostly been fiddling with something entirely different, trying to come up with ideas for another drone-like album, and that has been pretty damn exciting as well. So how to describe only one aspect of something I love so much and am truly thankful for being able to work with the way I do it???
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
I rarely get discouraged. Specially the last three years has been nothing but inspiration-fueled hard and constant work. If anything discourages me it is outside-factors, like not having enough time (but how can there ever be enough time to work on five projects at the same time?) having to think about exams at university etc. Of course a lot of the things going on in the music scene can get me down the continuous rise in number of labels, bands, releases despite the lack of quality, I wish we had fewer, but more serious, musicians instead of thousands of half-spirited hobby musicians. Specially the electronic music scene has been over-flooded with a lot of soulless bedroom products that I'm not afraid to describe as crap. The indie-scene has always pissed me off in its lack of seriousness. Because the indie scene has a rich tradition for giving too much credit to half-hearted bands with no soul. We live in a time where bands like Radiohead, Flaming Lips and Interpol are seen as gods, rulers of the zeitgeist. I mean, what's the big deal? I certainly am not able to see the genius. But maybe that's just me. Image seems to be just as important in the indie-scene as in the hip-hop scene or even the mainstream scene. I don't want to spill too many words on the latest post-punk/new-wave resurrection trends or all the other soulless retro movements we have seen the last 5-10 years, but it seems to be that music is generally becoming more and more superficial. I really have a hard time finding new artists that are truly dedicated. Everything has become too easy somehow. Everyone seems satisfied with soulless junk as long as it looks cool or makes it possible for people to discuss it in post-modern terms. It seems that there is very little space between the superficiality of the indie-rock scene and the pretentious over-theoretical mentality of the left wing avant-garde of, for example, The Wire and such, that states that the only true music is the one made by old Japanese guys who create soundscapes with broken dat-records etc, which is of course every bit as superficial as the indie rock scene if not more. Bunch of old farts still stuck with the puzzle of how to come to terms with John Cage's "4'33" and other "brilliant" concepts. These people might benefit from the intellectual rigour that a first-year philosophy course can offer. So basically the rising number of artists and the lack of realness and quality gets me down. But I wouldn't say it discourages me. On the opposite it makes what I do seem so incredibly important and forces me to work disciplined and focused. it forces me to consider how I work myself do I want to use all ten experiments or just the single one that works? How do I fit my own work in between the two evils of zeitgeist and retro hipness? How can I produce something personal, progressive and real?
What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).
I am up to a lot of different things at the moment. As I mentioned I just finished a new Causa Sui album, which I am pretty damn proud of. I know that readers of Erasing Clouds are probably more familiar with the Manual stuff, so I'll talk more about that. I have been working with German producer Ulrich Schnauss since last year and we are almost finished with a small album. It is great working with Ulrich. He's an extremely talented and dedicated musician and we have a good chemistry working together. Also I recently started project with the wonderful space rock/ambient outfit Auburn Lull. It'll be much more minimal and dronish. I am sure it'll be something very special. I am great admirer of them. These days I am scoring a documentary. But that music probably won't be released anywhere since it's quite uninteresting. Me and two of my old Limp friends, Jakob Skψtt and Rasmus Rasmusen, are also rehearsing for a one-off show at the moment, where we'll create over an hours of stretched-out semi-improvised music. Nice to do something more laid back. Also, I have been writing songs for an acoustic-based album for over a year. I have wanted to start this album for a while (which is probably gonna be the first album in my real name) but somehow it always end up down the priority list. I wish I had more time and could get by with only sleeping two hours every night....
What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?
I have played in some pretty strange places. One time I played a show directly on the beach in Southern France. Perfect setting for my music! They had installed an underwater soundsystem in the ocean that made it possible for people to listen to the music while snorkeling or whatever. And it actually worked! While I played people where chilling on the beach, drinking beer, checking out girls, throwing freesbies etc...I've never tried anything remotely like that! After my show I went directly in the water and listened to the next band's entire set under the water. It was a spacy dub act so it was a completely surreal experience. Great stuff!
Another time I played in a small city somewhere in Russia. It took forever to get there. It was a twenty hour trainride from Moscow with the trans-Siberian trainline. I was travelling with some fun people from Iceland. At the festival no one knew our music but a lot of people showed up anyway and completely dug it. That was a really joyful experience, playing my music to people who had never heard anything like it. The rest of the weekend was great fun too; lots of Absinthe and fun with the local girls...haha.
In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?
Hard to say. I live in a pretty small city in Denmark with basically no music scene, so it's difficult to state any direct influence. But indirectly I think it has been very important for my work. Since there has never been much of a scene here I have always had a sense of freedom from scenes and trends. Basically me and my friends have always tried to create our own thing and stay as far away from institutions as possible. It is not a hip place at all like, say, Berlin, London or anything like that, so there has never been this kind of vibe, you know, where something is happening and everyone is joining in on it. We have always been doing our own thing in our own little place. When I was younger I thought about moving somewhere, for example Berlin, where there was more of a scene, where I could be surrounded by other artists and musicians, but these days I really appreciate living somewhere that is basically devoid of those things. It keeps me motivated somehow. It keeps things fresh for me. When there are no cultural movements you feel more obliged to create something, at least for me, it makes my own relationship with art more pure, cause I can stay true to myself and my own ideas.
But here in Odense we have Europe's largest music library and that has probably meant a lot for my musical "education". It's responsible for me getting to know huge amounts of alternative, jazz and classical music at a very young age. I used to work there for a while some years ago as well. So if there's anything around here, besides my friends, that has had a direct influence on me musically it is the library.
When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?
I write songs everyday. It's not a process I can singulize in any way, cause it's constantly going on in my head not just the moments where I'm actually sitting with the guitar in my hands. Like this morning I went for a good long swim and when I was done I pretty much had worked out the basis for an entire song in my head. That's quite typical for me the best ideas can easily arise when I'm not in the studio or actually playing. And besides, my songs never get fully written at any specific instant.
As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?
On the one hand I feel that other peoples music, new or old, has less and less impact on what I am doing myself, which is probably due to the fact that I am maturing and become more and more dependent on my own ideas and my own musical language than on other peoples whereas earlier, for example on my first album, I was completely dependant on other peoples way of creating music. On the other hand I find myself buying a lot of music I still can't leave the house without coming home with a stack of cds. But it gets rarer and rarer that I discover something that truly amazes me. I am probably more interested in other peoples music than ever but the fact is that my own music is maturing and getting better all the time, so the connection to the music I buy probably becomes less and less important, even though I still have interest as a listener.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)
Everything. I definitely don't listen to a lot of music similar to my own specially not if that means "electronica with guitars"...haha...actually I can hardly think of anything worse than those tons of electronica albums that have been released the last 3-4 years that all have these clicky, glitchy beats with sweet repetitive synth melodies and some simple guitar figures on top. Strangely enough I have been listening to Jimi Hendrix for four years straight. I don't think there has been a single week the last four years where I haven't gone through several Hendrix live concerts. I certainly didn't see that coming back then. I listen to a lot of different stuff really. My record collection is based around huge stacks of 1980s pop and rock, 1960s folk and acid rock, modern classical, loads of Eno and Sylvian, lots of 1970s jazz, lots of electronica....and lots of U2 actually. Lately (judging from what is lying on the table next to the cd player) I have been listening heavily to late 1960s early 1970s pre-fusion jazz, such as Tony Williams' excellent Lifetime albums, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jack DeJohnette, stuff like that. Also a whole bunch of Javanese Gamelan music, which is completely wonderful! Everything by Tim Buckley has been spinning heavily throughout the summer. His albums are some of the stuff that I come back to year after year and stun me more and more each time. Amazing musician. Such a rare talent. I guess most of what I have been listening to lately is quite different from what I do myself. But it all depends on how you listen to and categorize music. Should one group artists together by likeness of sound? or composition? or the nameless spirit that somehow ones through some of the music we love those special ingredients that we are unable to translate into words but are maybe more important than any other aspects of music? or by personal association, subjective meaning and memory?
For example I don't think my music has a lot to do with the artists it shares a likeness in sound with, such as other electronica acts. The spirit that runs through my music is something entirely different and therefore it can also appeal to entirely different people. In my opinion you can distinguish the material of the music and the "soul". Soul is what makes us categorize music together that doesn't have anything to do with each other on the surface. Soul-wise my music could very well have a lot in common with all the artists I mentioned above...haha. I think it's very possible that one kind of ideas in one genre can inspire completely different ideas in a completely different context in a completely different genre, although this kind of inspiration would very often be deeply unconscious but hey, that it is obviously the only real kind of inspiration in the end.
Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?
If there's one album that has meant more to my music, or at least to the Manual albums, than anything else, it has got to be Type O Negative's October Rust. I wouldn't say that I love the band, most of what they have done is absolutely terrible, but this album...my gawd....is absolutely wonderful! I bought this album when I was 14 and still gets inspired by it. There's something about the songwriting on this album that I haven't found anywhere else. The sound is big and majestic, the compositions are epic, surprising and continually goosebump-inducing. It's funny, whenever I talk about this album to people they are like: "isn't Type O Negative that nasty fascist metal band with that lame idiotic teen idol singer??" and they are actually in some way right, but for me October Rust most definitely isn't a metal album. Soundwise it fits more rightfully in category with dream pop or shoegazer bands, songwise it's somewhere in between Pink Floyd, The Cure and Sisters of Mercy that's the only way I can describe it, although I definitely wouldn't buy an album of that description myself. But there are moments on this album that goes beyond genres and categorizations. There's a kind melodic unrestrainment and striving energy in places that is unmatched anywhere else. Sure the lyrics are dumb (about sex, death, dark forests...uhuh...scary stuff), and sure the jokes that take up three cuts of the album are idiotic, but in the end the only thing that really matters to me, on any album by any artist, is the compositions and the sounds. Lyrics are always just words, and no matter how good they can never match the beauty of tones words are of this world, music of something unspeakable so why bother with lyrics, or image or opinions for that sake, anyway? Music is always music, and that's what makes is pure and gives it value to us. Everything else surrounding the music can only be secondary at best. When I listen to "Love you to death", "Burnt Flowers Fallen" or "Wolf Moon", I honestly don't care what Peter Steele is singing about. I couldn't care less. But that guitar sound, those synths, those melodies growing bigger and bigger, the layers and layers of of vocals...there's nothing like it! So few artists really go over the line when it comes to songwriting. The bands of the indie rock tradition always compose cute little three-four minute songs that don't even try to go anywhere or annoying 10 minute Sonic Youth-style pseudo-avant-garde pieces that do even less, but October Rust is rooted in the melodic sensibility of the 1960s, the epic grandiosity of the 1970s, and the overproduced swirling, dizzying sound of the 1980s. It is not afraid of stepping across the line it's way beyond anything that just reminds of musical coolness and it sure as hell isn't trying to be hip in anyway. When it hits a peak it wants to peak again right after, only this time even bigger, with more layers added! You sure as hell don't get rushes like this on a Radiohead or Sonic Youth album! Let them have the understated coolness, the pseudo-experimentalism and the hip factor, I'll prefer anything from October Rust any day!
This album has got personality, it's got something that transcends what it is.
Actually it's a bit of childish, unsophisticated way of writing music, and this album has done nothing but begged for criticism since it came out in 1996: their fans have always hated the album, cause it wasn't heavy and because its sweetness and otherworldly beauty doesn't go well with long hair and leather jackets. on the other hand the non-heavy fans have always failed to see its beauty, cause for them it is exactly what it isn't to the heavy crowd: a metal album. Indie kids don't want this kind of direct beauty, they don't want to buy anything with longhaired dudes on the back of the cover and they certainly don't want songs that continually go way over the top in emotional explosions like this. So, in the end I guess October Rust is an album for no one. But it has a special place in my heart, and more than any other album it has influenced my way of putting songs together the influence is probably mostly visible on my "Azure Vista" and "Isares" (which both has direct hints to October Rust in places) but even aspects of Until Tomorrow and Ascend are dependant on the strange, mindblowing beauty that is October Rust. I highly recommend everybody to check out this fantastic album. It's a piece of music that doesn't belong to any genre and its intense melodicity is sure to go down well with everyone who enjoys my own work. But first one has to move focus from secondary factors, like words and image, and onto the soul of the music itself not only will one be able to enjoy the beauty of one the best albums ever, but one will maybe learn how to look at music from different angles, across genre categorizations and zeitgeists cause that's that what this album did for me. Besides, it's perfect for this time of year...
What's the saddest song you've ever heard?
It depends on what we mean by "sad" music. Does one mean music that puts the listener in a state of sadness? Or music that seems to display appearances similar to that of a sad or depressed person? Personally I've never really been able to see the sadness in music that other people call sad such as for example The Cure; for me that's extremely rich music, and even though often slow and haunting, I experience it as expressing an intense and dizzying feeling of joy or happiness. But that's the beauty of music: we can never really put it into words (at least the good music), never really describe what we are hearing. Cause music is really not able to express anything clearly or "say" anything. It doesn't have meaning and that's exactly why it can, sometimes, mean anything....everything.
To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.