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From Monument To Masses Part 1

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit FMTM, am: 21.11.2008 ]

Lange war es still um die Band aus San Francisco. Viele hatten schon befürchtet, dass man auch From Monument To Masses zu der Kategorie von Bands zählen müsste, die eigentlich viel zu gut waren, um von so wenigen Menschen gehört zu werden. Dieser Umstand hat sich auch mit der neuen EP „Beyond God & Elvis“ nicht geändert, will heißen: tolle, ausufernde, komplexe, zumeist rein instrumentale Songs im Post-Rock Gewand und die Stellung des Geheimtipps. Doch vielleicht kann die Band diesen mit ihrem im nächsten Jahr erscheinenden Album endlich abschütteln. Zu wünschen wäre es ihnen in jedem Fall. Wir sprachen mit der kompletten Band, also Francis Choung, Sergio Robledo-Maderazo und Matthew Solberg über Amerika, Politik und die Rolle der Kunst.


Musicscan: Please tell me a little bit about the new EP you recorded? Is it pretty much a teaser for a new album?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Sergio: Yes, essentially it's a teaser of things to come. "Beyond God & Elvis" is the first track released off the album, so we've included our own remixes of it. The other track, "The Role Traversal", is a B-side from our "On Little Known Frequencies" recording sessions with Matt Bayles.

Francis: The remixes on this EP are special to us as it's the first time we've remixed our own music. And one of the "remixes" is actually a rerecorded all-string cover of our single, recorded and mixed completely DIY.
Matthew: Yes, the EP (or "Maxi-Single") is meant to let people know how the new album production sounds.  Matt Bayles from Minus the Bear was our producer/engineer on the album and he did a really excellent job.  We also wanted to have something to sell on our European tour which would get fans excited about FMTM again.

Musicscan: Since your last album was released about three years ago, I was wondering what you guys did in the meantime? What are your regular day jobs and did you continuously work on new material during this time?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Francis: All of us have full-time day jobs, and being bicoastal, the process of writing and producing new music for release takes a lot of time and planning. It has become somewhat streamlined now, but it is still something that has to occur on our spare time. 1/3 of the songs on the album were written a couple of years ago, but the rest were actually written in a very brief period of time and finalized in the studio, primarily cause we set forth deadlines and dates, which often push us to complete something.
Matthew: We've been working as a high school teacher, a carpenter, and a video editor.  Our drummer, Francis, moved to New York City in 2007, so since then we've just been exploring new ways to write music together using the internet and touring intermittently.  We toured Japan the California with Don Caballero in late 07.

Musicscan: Do you still remember when you wrote your first song? Can you still remember how that felt compared to when you finish a song now? Has your relationship to music changed over the years?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Sergio: I remember it, and it's definitely changed. You get influenced by so many things and you also have a tendency to keep moving forward. So if you listened to the first song we wrote, it's a completely different beast with a different frame of reference for what FMTM's supposed to sound like. Francis: Technically, the first song we ever wrote has never been played live or recorded. It was more of a primer to see how we fit creatively and played with one another. Since then, our music has gone into many different directions, helped by technology. We have embraced the laptop and its ability to allow us to remain a 3-piece band, but sound like a 10-piece. We can produce fuller sounds, more layers, and incorporate new instruments.
Matthew: Yes, unfortunately.  Our first song was really bad - but I still have a cassette tape recording of it.  It was also our first experiment with using spoken word samples.  There are really out-of-place samples of Howard Zinn talking about historical class perspective and Ralph Wiggum from the Simpsons.  It was good enough however, that we felt it was important to stay together and keep writing music.  We've changed a lot over the years - It's funny, but when you play as a band for a few years and release a few albums, you start influencing yourself.  We're always trying to deconstruct what we've done in the past and find new interpretations of it.  Always finding new sounds while trying to retain that central theme and sound of the band.

Musicscan: How do you usually go about writing a song?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Matthew: Our process has changed over the years and the digital/laptop element has become much more central to the process. It used to be that I would write most of the song on guitar and then the band would workshop that song until it was finished. Now, since we live in different cities, and since we collaborate with one another in new ways, I will record several guitar parts with Sergio in San Francisco and together we weave extra guitar and bass layers together in protools or garageband and then start composing the entire song. We record it to a click track with a set tempo, so then we send it to Francis in NYC and writes auxillary instrument parts, suggests structure changes, and writes drum parts. The "francisization" phase is where the songs really start to take shape. We then start talking about things like content, whether they be sampled spoken word, or atmospheric sounds, or vocals. We spend a while listening to the demo version and refining our individual parts and hopefully improving the overall dynamics of the song. In most cases, the song will have been entirely written before we even play it together as a band. That makes it really exciting and fun when we get together and play a song together for the first time. In general, I'd say that the laptop and midi instrumentation has made FMTM much more fun for all of us, though we still enjoy playing our older material with more traditional instrumentation.

Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Sergio: It depends. You could argue that all music is a recombination of already existing forms and elements. Nothing drops from the sky, so to speak. But hey, never say never.
Matthew: I think the best part about music is when you find new ways to deliver old ideas. We love experimenting with ways to use old sounds - like a wurlitzer organ or an eighties-sounding synth - and bringing it into a new context with our aggressive-upbeat music. It doesn't only occur in the sounds you choose either, but also in the style in which you play your instrument. I can't say I've added anything new to the realm of guitar sounds... but I love the fact that I'm a product of my influences. I loved Jeff Mueller from Shipping News and June of 44, so I bought a Music Man amp. I loved George Benson's playing on a Lou Donaldson album called Alligator Boogaloo, so I taught myself to play octave voicing and to roll off my pickup tone while I play. I don't think the band is really out to discover new sounds -- we can leave that to the avant-gardists -- we simply want to find ways to interconnect current technology and modern musical ideas with anything from the last 50 years of music that is going to turn people on and make them feel good. It's all about trying to excite people, cuz if people are excited about our sounds, then they might get interested in learning more about our content... most of which also comes from the last 50 years of history - they're not necessarily "our" ideas ... we're just reintroducing them in a new context.
Francis: All 3 of us have extremely eclectic tastes in music, and so FMTM is naturally a musical product of all those different genres and influences. It is the hybridization of musical genres and the further mixing of those hybrids with one another that help to push the musical envelope and create new musical landscapes. And often, rediscovering and re-contextualizing forgotten or underappreciated music or samples is a form of creating a "new" sound.

Musicscan: What is the difference between art and entertainment in your opinion?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Francis: There is absolutely no difference between art and entertainment. They are inseparable, and it is often the division placed between art and entertainment or art and politics, that prevent those in the entertainment sector from expressing political opinions or whose politics are often invalidated because intellectualism or academia is constantly separated from the concept of entertainment. Entertainment can be insightful, educational and subversive.
Sergio: I don't draw lines. I think people who do tend to base the difference on the effect that the capitalist mode of production has had on art and cultural production. Sorry, that's overly fancy talk saying that the market economy has made certain types of artwork more sellable or "marketable", and usually that's what gets called "entertainment". Like Hollywood movies are "entertainment" while obscure short films are "art". But I think it's narrow-minded to draw these lines. It implies that mass-produced or mass-enjoyed entertainment products can't be art or vice-versa. With FMTM, it's a fine line for us. We want to do creative, out there music that challenges people artistically, but we also make sure our music's "fun" and accessible. It's that Popularizing versus Raising Standards question. I think it's entirely possible to do both at the same time, at this stage in the game.

Musicscan: Does art have responsibilities?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Sergio: Absolutely. I don't think it's just "art" though. I think people have responsibilities, whether or not we choose to accept it. It's not just "art" or "music" or any other subset of society. What I mean by this is I personally believe all people have a responsibility to each other to try and make the world better, as corny as that sounds. When it comes down to it, artists are people who live in the real world with non-artists; art doesn't exist in some vacuum. So when you're living in a world that isn't that great, or even worse, is actually oppressive in some way shape or form, to be an artist who refuses to acknowledge it is, well, "irresponsible". I'm not saying everyone has to be all super political and take on all sorts of issues like all the stereotypes. I'm just saying that at some point, you have to realize that even the silent witnesses who say nothing are essentially helping to maintain the status quo. "You can't stand still on a moving train."

Musicscan: I believe you are firm believers that music can have direct political dimensions. Do you think that the structure of music carries certain semantics already or that the political dimension of music solely rest on contexts and lyrical content?

From Monument To Masses Part 1: Sergio: Yes, I believe that music has "political dimensions" beyond context, lyrics or content. There have been periods of time when Africans have been forbidden by law and fear of death to play the drums. This sort of thing has happened in different times and places. In those cases, picking up a drum is inherently an act of resistance. But in the First World context, I think a band like ours that plays long, instrumental music that's generally difficult for people to categorize can be seen as a political act in some way.
Francis: I think anytime you have a rock/indie band in the US with the majority of its members being People of Color, that alone carries a lot of impact and political significance, regardless of whether the band has an overt political message or platform.

  From Monument To Masses
  Golden Antenna Records
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