Thursday, December 30, 2021

An interview with musician Tim Mungenast

 I am not only a collaborator with psychedelic musician Tim Mungenast, I am also a fan. Tim was kind enough to answer some questions for me via email. Here we go.

Q: How did you first become interested in music? What were your early inspirations?

A: My interest in music was innate, something I was seemingly born with.
My younger brothers and I loved to mess around with the out-of-tune upright piano in the basement, and the unplayable junky electric guitar that my big brother had rightfully given up on, and one of those plastic electric "chord organ" things (like a Harmonium but with a wee electric compressor inside).

The very early (preschool and early grade school) inspirations were movie and TV themes and their incidental music, and a little later came the psychedelic era, which was getting into full bloom around the time I was in first grade. It was bold and exciting!

My older brothers brought home albums by new acts like Jimi Hendrix (my number one!), Cream, and the Five Americans; I think my older sisters bought most of the Beatles and Monkees LPs and 45s; and my dad blew my mind when he bought that Ravi Shankar/Yehudi Menuhin album "West Meets East"... my God, to me, that may have been just as tectonic a shift as "Are You Experienced?" -- both albums left a mark that is still there well over 50 years later.

The same can be said for Dad's two other great purchases: a 3-LP set by flamenco hero Manitas de Plata, and the Beatles gem Sgt Pepper's! (He bought that Beatles classic partly because he loved the album art, but also the man knew good music even if it wasn't his usual classical.)

Radio oughta get credit, too, in two ways: 1) we had some VERY hip and eclectic stations in Syracuse, and thank God the signal was strong enough to reach us in the nearby cow towns, for those of us growing up surrounded by corn and needing good music so desperately; and 2) on family road trips, when an AM channel grew weak, Dad didn't change it... I think he really liked the crazy "between channel" sounds, which in a very real way are The Voice of Space. Everyone else hated it, but I dug it, and that, too, left a mark that endures to this day.

Non-musical stuff got thrown into my musical blender, too:
my favorite TV shows (from Hogan's Heroes to Jacques Cousteau);
National Geographic;
making model cars;
modifying them;
blowing a few of them up on the back porch (and other daffy boyhood sh*t);
reading books about the space program;
just running around outside like kids used to do.

Q: What made you start playing the guitar?

A: As a kid, I always wanted to sing, make up little songs, and fool around with instruments, but the interest in guitar kicked in around first grade, when I started becoming aware of the great music of that era (the so-called "hippie days"). That music was guitar-driven and very exciting, a very different world from the movie themes and commercial jingles that had floated my boat before then.

In the years that followed, I'd hear all sorts of music that made me obsessed with guitar. By the mid-seventies, I was reading Guitar Player magazine, talking to friends who played guitar, drawing pictures of people playing guitar, and envying people who played guitar. (chuckle)

Still, I didn't make any serious attempt to actually learn​ guitar until May 1980. Before then, I had the desire, for sure, but I simply lacked the focus and the discipline.
Summer 1980 was different: by then, I was ready.

I'd seen this hot local player named Bob Piorun play in a great cover band and also jazz shows. I finally walked up to him after one of his jazz gigs and asked if he was taking students. To my relief, he was!

I was off and running. He was a great teacher and I was finally ready to learn. I almost practiced too much, to the point where I was really wearing out my tendons, because I felt I had to make up for lost time.
Driven, I was.

Q: Tell us the story of your first band.

A: I tried starting a band way back around 1975, a whole 5 years before I learned how to play -- it was really just going to be fun, artsy incompetence, with one friend playing signal generator (his dad repaired electronics and had several such tone generators); me "playing" my older brother's unplayable guitar by just bashing it and making it feed back (I also had a kiddie drum set from a few Christmases earlier); and we were gonna ask the only actual musician we knew to be our sole talent, our "ringer," but he was a classical cello player on a career path, and I was too embarrassed to ask him.  I was going to say that I long to start a project to recapture that "why not?" devil-may-care spirit, but I realized Astro Al really checks those boxes for me.

Fast forward a decade or so, to 1986, in Greater Boston, and I finally got the nerve to start making some phone calls, trying to start a band. My friend Jae Ha Chong had a friend, Bill Casey, who was a very talented guitar player and singer who could write catchy pop tunes. Bill and I were the cofounders. He was funny in that he was a giant King Crimson fan but his own songs were very very poppy, albeit superbly crafted. He brought in his friend Sean Farrell to play bass (very well, I might add), and I forgot how we found Jamie Cail on drums, but he was superb. We settled on a name (The Hub Cats) and played a couple of well-paying cover gigs -- about half Beatles and Stones, and half originals, and that was about it for our 3 years together besides a picnic gig where we were paid in good food. We broke up over artistic differences, or more accurately I was fired from my own band and they went on without me under the name Tenebrism. I wasn't butthurt about it, though, because I knew it was for the best, and they were good people. Sadly, I can't find a single one of them online. I have the phone for Jamie but it just seems so weird, the idea of calling him after 32 years. Still, I might just do it.

Q: When you migrated from New York to Boston what were your first musical experiences?

A: Being exposed to the great radio hits of the early eighties, and great buskers like kora master David Gilden and blues hero Kenny Holladay, as well as underground sounds from records (Gang of Four, Crawling Chaos, Mission of Burma, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, etc) and concerts  (Minutemen, the U Men, O Positive, Winter Hours, Cavedogs, Zulus, Salem 66, November Group, and Pleasure Pointe, featuring the friendly and amazing Reeves Gabrels). These are just my early experiences. Much more came later.

I also started to do reconnaissance on my local music stores, like the now-defunct Daddy's Junky Music and Cambridge Music, meeting my fellow players, seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard.

That plus practicing, practicing, practicing., and the occasional jam.

Q: You were in Tim Mungenast and his Preexisting Conditions, then Timworld. What are some of your favorite memories of those bands? When you changed the name to Timworld how do you feel it changed the dynamic of the band?

A: I should back up a couple of years before that to illustrate the picture more clearly.

In 1989 I'd co-founded this great jam band called Skysaw (not Yuri Zbitnoff's band of the same name), with multi-instro hero Derek Blackwell, and when we added then-child-prodigy axeman Mac Randall plus multi-instro badasses Jonno Deily on drums and John DeGregorio on bass, we were a mighty quintet. We only played 2 shows (Middle East and TT's -- I have recordings!) but I have many happy memories of hours-long jams in Jonno's basement... and these long jams were actually GOOD and INTERESTING! We'd swap instruments to keep ourselves fresh, make up songs on the fly... one time, Derek made this synth loop, and I played a crazy thing over it, to which he replied drolly, "congratulations, Tim, it's in 13..."  I wrote lyrics then and there, about flying to the moon in a sunbathing chair with big helium balloons tied to it, and we kind of group-composed the rest as we went along .  That's the kind of band we were. We coulda been great, I think. One of those jams made it as a hidden track at the end of 1999's Birth of Monsters album.

That band imploded in 1992 over booking buggery that I shouldn't get into, but later that same year, when I started playing out under my own name, all these same very talented people were kind enough to volunteer as my backing band, which was very lucky for me. As various people quit and were replaced over the years, I got multi-instro hero Michael Bloom (Cul de Sac) as my bassist, and IIRC he was the one who dubbed us Tim Mungenast and His PreExisting Conditions.

We had a couple bars whose booking people believed in us (thank you, Hank Susskind and Mickey Bliss and Anders!), but we really loved playing the Bookcellar Cafe, an extremely comfortable, hospitable bookstore/cafe that always treated us right, even though in retrospect it was kind of a fire trap and was closed down for that reason. I understand why, but we were sad to see it go! We had all those terrific memories of playing there! Superb coffee, too.

TMAHPC had a lot of very talented people join and quit, but my favorite period was 2002 to 2014, twelve years as a psychedelic power trio with Michael Bloom and Jon Proudman (also in Cul de Sac, as well as Men and Volts). I had to share these two geniuses with Cul de Sac, so whenever CdS had a tour, I had to take a break or see what shows I could get solo, but the important thing was we were a TRIO now, no defections, no substitutions.

Over time we started group improv -- telepathic automatic composition -- and we got better and better at it. We recorded a lot in the practice space (Bloom's basement) and no kidding, an awful lot of that stuff was amazing -- even Michael and Jon liked it, and those cats were never shy about telling me when they hated something, haha!

I also fondly remember the honor of recording No Such Animal with the sax god Ken Field. Everything made it to the album the same way it went down in Bloom's basement, no edits except a little extra reverb on my guitar, and the removal of one song we did while Ken was using the bathroom. (That song, Barrage a Trois, was used later, on the Steam-Powered Mars Lander album.)

The name change to Timworld happened in 2012 during the production of the Dhoom album. Michael and Jon finally levelled with me that they'd quietly despised the TMAHPC name for years and were afraid to tell me. I jokingly shot back "Since when have EITHER of you EVER been afraid to tell me you didn't like something?" but I knew they had a point. They were giving me their honest opinion, and I knew they were right -- the title was clunky as f*ck, plus we'd been using Timworld as shorthand for the band (and band business) for years anyway, so I was OK with the change, especially since I wanted to keep my amazing rhythm heroes happy. 

John DeGregorio had been doing cheap-but-skillful recordings of our shows for years, and Timworld's "Dhoom" was 6 hours of those recordings distilled down to one CD's worth of material. A lot of hard choices, yep, but the finished product did a great job showing off our ensemble improv chops. I love that album!

Two facts: 1) Proudman and Bloom were one of the best rhythm sections in the United States, and I was lucky to have them on my team as creative partners, and

2, When it came to group improv, we may have been the best in Boston. Unfortunately, nobody in Boston really cared about that, so 12 years of our trio playing to 5 people and making $20 a night took its toll on band morale, until we finally broke up.

But we had a good long run, with some moments of true transcendence, moments where I felt a portal opening. Mystic transport had been my goal all along, and some audience members (you and Deb among them, bless you!) shared with me that they had experienced something beautiful and strange during our shows.

Q: Lately you've been focused on experimental music. What is your approach to that style of music?

A: I was bitten by the experimental bug long before I got serious about playing an instrument. Years later, in 1984, when I got my Fostex 4-track cassette recorder, I was off and running, ready to commit some craziness to tape! Nowadays it's my trusty Zoom H2 and my smartphone.

I have this huge pile of ideas in my head, all being churned and sifted, some mingled with others and others being aloof and determined to stand alone.

I have this constant urge to make these ideas real enough to share with other people, so they can (I hope) enjoy the same sensations that I do when I hear them in my head.

Q: What are some of your favorite sounds that you've created?

A: I'll try to keep this part manageably short, since sounds are my great love and I tend to get carried away.

I love my sound on "The Shaman Welcomes The Sky Gods," haha!

Like the thwapping of a giant spring! B-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D!

Also, I dig my un-sane "cry for help" tone on "Barrage a Trois," from my release "Steam-Powered Mars Lander." (Because it is on a label other than mine, you won't find it on my bandcamp page, only  That sonic blasphemy was a one-off custom pedal that required one tech to begin and two more to finish! It's been one of my secret weapons for over 15 years.

I also love my Fuzz Face and its diligent Roy Goode clone. Those two have been on a lot of my best stuff going back to the mid 1980s.

Q: Your lyrical content is usually surreally Roald Dahl-esque. What do you attribute this to?

A: Genetics (hahaha!)   The barrier between my waking and dreaming selves, between my conscious and my unconscious minds, has always been very porous, easily flapping back and forth like a doggie door.  That famous Dali quote -- "I do not do​ drugs! I am​ drugs! Take me​, I am hallucinogenic!" -- really sort of describes me as well. Clearly this is a detriment in many life situations, but for creative situations it is a big help.

Q: How would you describe your music and your guitar playing style?

A: My music, whether it's my actual songs or my more out-there sonic statements, all boils down to an attempt to share my inner world with others. I have been lucky enough to get several glimpses of "the Beyond," and I want to share it, whether through my psych tunes, or my spacey pop tunes, or the wonderfully unusual musical poetry that I make with Astro Al.

Q: Where do you see yourself going on your musical journey?

A: I hope to continually improve my ear, and my hand-soul coordination, to more accurately get my thoughts through my hands into the listener's ears and mind and soul.

I have a lot of avant garde music left in me, but I hope to play some rock and roll again, too. It's been nearly 10 years, and I miss it. I also want to keep learning more about Indian and Asian musics, jazz, flamenco, various Native musics, everything!

Summoning an ET presence with my guitar would really be something!

Q: What other artistic aspirations do you have besides music?

A: Aside from my obsession with photography, I have been getting back into drawing and writing, both of which I've been told I have some talent for, except they are both much harder for me than music. Perhaps that's why I ought to continue exploring them, eh? Work those neurons! haha! Maybe then they won't get all rusty with age!

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