Interview: Chicago’s Pink Monkey

Pink Monkey (originally reviewed here); are three cheeky, expert musicians who love irreverance and the musical manifestations of said attitude toward reverence in the form of musicianjs like The Ramones or Frank Zappa. Fortunately, for music in general and me specifically, they also just happen to play jazz. What follows, as perhaps the above lede suggested, is the Interview.* If you yourselves could interview one musician, who would it be, and why?

[All] Frank Zappa, he was one of the original musical smart asses.

Your music seems dangerous, like jazz seemingly hasn’t been in decades (to most modern listeners, particularly kids)–  like Coltrane and Dolphy getting in shit with Downbeat magazine in 1961… do you ever consciously consider precedents like that? What do you think of more “extreme,” comparted to most jazz musicians anyway, musicians like John Zorn or Peter Brötzmann?

[TK– Tim Koelling, Saxophone] A big reason why Pink Monkey is so simple and out is kind of a rebuttal to the modern jazz scene. I love going to jazz clubs, but eventually I get bored – there is no reason “jazz” has to be accessible to only other musicians who understand what’s going on, or as background music. We all want to be rock stars!

[MK- Mike Koelling, Bass] Like Tim said, a lot of modern jazz gets boring. It’s just so cerebral that the common guy at the bar doesn’t get it. We would much rather be playing to a crowd of smiles than a few heads nodding in appreciation. We listen to a lot of John Zorn – We’ve even covered a few of his tunes. The Bad Plus is also a huge influence. Most importantly though we try to have a good time and keep things accessible and interesting.

Why “Pink Monkey”?

[MK] We had been playing for a few months and as a band bonding exercise we headed to mayfest in Chicago. After a lot of german beer, I ended up buying Tim a Pink Monkey and told him he had to wear it around his neck for the rest of the festival. A few steins deep I proclaimed “Let’s name our band Pink Monkey until we think of something better.” Five years later, we still haven’t come up with a better name.

For sax:
What type mouthpiece/ sax/ reed?

[TK] I play a Selmer series II alto, Otto link 7 mouthpiece, usually vandoren java 3’s with a vandoren optimum ligature

The sax work on Ink suggests a bit of Zorn with Jackie McLean (particularly the intro to “A little bit off”) and Rosco Mitchell… influences?

[TK] John Zorn is a big influence in my approach to pink monkey songs. Ne’eman from Masada was one of the first pink monkey “covers” I brought to the group. It’s funny you mention Jackie McLean, one of my jazz professors my freshman year of college noted the tone similarities, but I had never listened to him at that point.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[TK] My favorite player, who doesn’t really come out in the pink monkey project is Cannonball Adderley. The guts that are present in everything he plays, and sheer fluidity of all of his ideas are something that I continually strive towards. Other influences are Eric Dolphy, Andrew D’Angelo and all of the AACM guys. I want to sound like me though. My approach towards playing focuses more on melodic and sonic interpretation and manipulation rather than technical perfection or speed. It’s about more than the notes I play.

If just alto, why just that? Many current sax guys use many types….

[TK] I play alto because that’s my voice… It’s also the only horn I owned until buying my first tenor last year (I added a soprano to my lineup last month). I’ve tried playing tenor in the group, but I hear everything on alto, and tenor gets lost in the bass and drums. I don’t feel like the other horns speak the same language.

How does that growling through the alto hurt your throat, or does it? (I admire you, by the way, for that. I personally hate to growl.)

[TK] Growling doesn’t hurt… It comes from the back of my throat, and at first was the byproduct of playing really loud and overblowing. I started learning to growl when transcribing cannonball in college trying to get the same intensity of his inflections and aggressiveness of his playing.

For Bass:
What type of strings/bass? Influences?

[MK] I play an american P bass special with La Bella flatwounds that are about 5 years old. James Jamerson got a great tone out of it, so why can’t I? My biggest influence is hands down my first bass teacher, Sam Greene. Sadly, after a little over a year of taking lessons with him, he was in a motorcycle accident, and most likely will never play again. I noticed him as the stand out player in the Chicago blues scene at the time. I went up to him after a show and asked him who I could take lessons from to sound like him. He gave me his number and told me to come by on Tuesday afternoon with $20. Still to this day every few months or so, something I learned from him will sink in and I’ll have one of those ah ha moments where something he told me 4 years ago will finally make sense.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[MK] I’d love to play like Victor Wooten. Sure, technically the guy is amazing, but the thing I like the most is that with all of his skill, he always seems to be having a blast no matter what he is playing. I also absolutely love Mingus. Nobody can swing like Mingus! I suppose I’d like to be somewhere between the two of them, but there are so many great bass players that I discover every day. I’ve really been digging Nathan Navarro lately. That guy has been pushing the boundaries of what live bass is supposed to sound like. I end up playing a lot of rock in my other projects though, so I suppose I sound like Nate Mendel trying to sound like Nathan Watts.

For Drums:

What type of drums…?

[NK– Nick Kokonas, Drums] I play a Gretsch new classic four piece with zildjin new beat hi hats, a 20″ zildjin flat ride, my main ride is a Sabian 20″ artisan series, and a Ludwig speed demon bass pedal from the early 80’s at least.


[NK] All the jazz greats, I gravitate toward elvin, art blakey, tony williams (before he went into fusion), current Dave king, ?uestlove, Matt Wilson then billy cobham, Alphonse mouzon, and Peter Erskin.

Whom do you think you sound like, versus who you actually wanna sound like (besides yourself, I mean)?

[NK] I am really not sure who I sound like. I know I don’t have the clarity of some of those guys, I play a little bit sloppy for what i want but fell in love with Dave king’s playing and I’m constantly working on control and clarity in my playing. Rodney Holmes is always a strive with his tone. The thing that really inspired me was seeing Dave Brubeck at the Chicago symphony center. Hearing command of an instrument like that was an outstanding experience. (more…)

Interview:Dave from Southern Discomfort [Also: free album!]

Released 5/1/11 (and reviewed here and here) Kassel, Germany’s Southern Discomfort put their blend of New Orleans-style sludge and Sodom/Kreator thrash together in the form of a monster called Confrontation. We recently internet chatted with singer/screamer Dave, who very politely entertained our questions.

What inspires Southern Discomfort? What music (metal or otherwise)? Books? Other artists?

Dave: First, our music is inspired by bands like Pantera or Down, but there are also thrash metal influences. For me the biggest inspiration making that kind of hard music is to create a valve for things you can only scream or shout– and I love the energy that is behind that music.

Why do you play the music that you do, and not, say, jazz or classical? What made you want to play heavy metal?

I started playing music (first as a guitar player, now a singer) in a punk band: in those days me and my friends listened to German punk stuff, Nirvana and stuff like this. One day the older brother of our bass player showed me a song from Apocalyptica (Do you know them? They play metal music with three heavy distorted cellos)– it was a cover of Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist,” and I thought, Wow…I want that heavy sound on my guitar. So I found a new band called “Silent Violence,” and start putting my amp to eleven (you know what I mean) and start screaming and shouting into the mic. That’s my story….

Why do you play music, instead of painting or writing or sculpting or whatever…?

Today I’m a singer in a metal band and I love that. For me there is no better way to express bad thoughts: while you play a song you can focus on the problem which your song describes and you can scream, sing or shout it away from you…it’s a feeling of freedom. This is why I play that kind of music.

Southern Discomfort has seemingly been very influenced by New Orleans’ bands and imagery. This imagery seems very different from “typical” German bands like Sodom, Kreator, Rage, Helloween, KMFDM, Accept, and so on– in fact, there is not much doom or sludge metal coming out of German today (arguably besides The Ocean, Ahab, or Lacrimas Profundere). Why are Southern Discomfort so into doom metal in general, and New Orleans-style metal in particular?

These New Orleans influences came from our guitarist Sascha. He is the one who has this New Orleans sludge/doom style in his guitar playing. Of course, we like the music of Kreator or Sodom, but it’s not our way to express ourselves. Especially for me, the sound of Down or Eyehategod has that heaviness I like and need to express myself.

How do you think Germany has influenced your sound? Or has it?

Hmmm.. I don’t think that Germany has some influence to our sound… because all of us listen to so much music from all over the world and from so many genres.

What’s your favorite part of Confrontation?

There are so many favorite parts for me… the slow intro off “Driven by the Moon” and than that heavy start… the breaks in “Coronis”… the feeling in “Snake Eyes” (which was the first song we played as band together)… the memories in “Storm of the South.”

What’s your favorite song to play live? Why?

For me, it’s “Fuck ’em all,” because this song [says] exactly what I mean about creating a “valve” [to release pent-up aggression]… it’s against so many fucked-up things in our society… and I love it to put this attitude to our audience and see them screaming FUCK ‘EM ALL…!

Do you ever play covers live?

Oh, yes: at our first gig we played Pantera’s “Walk” as [our] last song. All the people totally freaked out… It was totally amazing. I love this song, it has so much power.

With whom would you most like to play?

Of course as supporting act for Pantera… or touring with bands like Weedeater, Eyehategod, Down… yeah, this would be great.

Why did you choose the guitar tuning you did? What type of guitars do you like to play the most? How do you get your guitar tone?

[Guitarist] Sascha plays a Randall transistor amp with many effects, like the whammy, Dimebag distortion and the Dimebag crybaby. He plays Dean guitars tuned down to D. In our new songs, it’s more a chainsaw than a guitar, so we created a very big distorted bass sound to get a kick-ass sound.

If you’re going to worship a guitar player’s setup, Dime’s a good choice.

What questions, during interviews, do you most dislike?

It was fun to answer every of these questions… thank you.

What questions have you never been asked that you’d like to hear?

Only: WHY? Haha.

Dave’s got that German sense of humor that I dig. Second favorite, if you wanna know.

And since Dave’s fave song is “Fuck ’em all,” check that out below, and click the link to hear the whole album.

Like what you hear? Dave gave us 40 free downloads of the album. Just leave your email address here* and we’ll email you back a download code and where you can redeem it.

Free Southern Discomfort! What more could you want at this second?

*We don’t spam. To avoid bots, leave your email address like this: johnsmith [at] yahoo [dot] com (or whatever your domain name is; just make sure you write out “at” and “dot”).

Interview with VYGR

Perhaps one of the true tests of the depth of a record is if it piques your interest beyond the album itself; e.g., makes you want to know more about the subject matter of the lyrics, or the musical style, or gets you interested in picking the brain of the creators of said music. Fortunately for me, the Ripple Effect and you, Ben from Creator-Destroyer records and guitarist/ vocalist PJ Mion from VYGR were open to fielding my is-he-slightly-autistic-or-just-a-geek questions.

Read my reviews of Hypersleep here and here.

Obviously I’m biased, but I think the questions reveal the greater than usual depth to both VYGR’s new record Hypersleep, as well as its creators.

Give a read and see for yourself:

What inspires VYGR? What music (metal or otherwise)? Books? Other artists?

P.J. Mion: I can really only speak for myself as far as this goes.  For me, musically, it’s a fairly wide range, probably a lot more than you’ll hear in the finished songs.  I think that almost everything that I spend a lot of time listening to, new and old, influences my songwriting in subtle ways at least.  Admittedly, I’d be real surprised if anyone listened to the new record and came to me with “I can really tell how much Echo & The Bunnymen and Portishead you listen to,” but in my mind there are some little things in terms of mood and structure that carry over from the albums I listen to frequently.  I guess some more solid inspirations would be a few 90s “space rock” type bands like Hum, Failure, Year of the Rabbit etc. as well as some contemporary bands that I really like such as Editors, Guiltmaker, Katatonia – For our newer material, there was a conscious effort to incorporate some of the catchy, delay-heavy leads and melodic but relatively simple rhythm guitar stuff that all of those bands make such great use of.  Obviously, I think some the heavier bands I love influence my writing too, stuff like Old Man Gloom, The Minor Times, Helmet and Crowbar.  Anyone who expected to see Isis listed in here is going to be disappointed, that comparison is getting pretty tired and personally I don’t think it really applies anymore if you listen to the stuff on Hypersleep.

As far as books go, I read a fair amount and watch a hell of a lot of movies, but I don’t think that really tends to inspire things with the band past maybe imagery that we might use.  I know that Devin (vocals) is into a lot of pretty rad graphic novels, movies, and obscure sci-fi stuff and I’d imagine that it inspires some of the concepts in his lyrics and artwork to some degree for sure.  All of the other guys bring in a lot of relatively diverse influences, and I think that’s definitely a good thing when it comes to working on songs.

Why do you play the music that you do, and not, say, jazz or classical?

The short answer for this one is that I’m not the type of inherently talented musician that would be able to do anything worthwhile in the realm of jazz or classical music without putting in much more work than I think I’ll ever find the time to do, unfortunately.  Keith is a great drummer and is a lot better with improvisation and music theory, so he might be the one who’s slumming it with the kind of stuff we play, but we all are into what we’re doing with VYGR or else we wouldn’t be doing it.  As long as this is still a lot of fun, I want to stick with it.  I’ve always preferred jamming and writing out my own ideas vs. practicing for technical proficiency, and I think that for all of us the whole punk rock ethic still holds up pretty well.  Everyone in VYGR has played in bands that are fairly different from what we’re doing now, and I think we all have ideas about experimenting with other types of stuff on our own, but I know that I’m not ready to give up playing on floors and screaming my head off just yet.

For that matter, why music instead of art or writing or sculpting or whatever…?

Devin actually does a lot with other artistic mediums, he does some great graphic design & illustration work and has recently been getting himself established as a tattoo artist.  I used to be pretty good with drawing/painting but never kept up with it.  What I like about playing “indie” music is that it allows for more or less unchecked creativity but also presents the opportunity to perform and produce something that people will (hopefully) want to come and see and get into without the degree of overt criticism and blind luck that seems to go into getting your work noticed as a painter, sculptor, etc.  But I’m not real well versed in that type of thing.  For me, playing a few shows on the weekends is less of a time requirement than spending hours on end perfecting a visual piece, and that’s a big help when you’ve got a day job involved.

How do you think Boston has influenced your sound? Or has it?

Hard to say, never really thought about it too much.  I suppose if anything the miserable winters we tend to get up here, especially when you’re living in the city and the snow never even stays clean enough to look anything but ugly, could lend a little bit of the gloomy/melancholy sound that a lot of our stuff has.  I don’t know how much of our material has been written in the winter vs. the summer months, but I’m always loving life up here when it’s warm, there’s a lot to do.  I guess it’s possible that what we write could have some mild seasonal affective disorder, haha…. Devin and I are both originally from NY though, so you won’t hear us dropping any R’s in the vocals.  There is definitely still a strong punk/hardcore scene up around here, and a lot of those bands put on great shows, but we don’t necessarily fit in with it all that well and I don’t think that we’ve really got any noticeable elements of whatever would be considered the “Boston sound” these days.

What’s your favorite part of Hypersleep?

Tough question.  Half of the record was written in little spurts over a really long period of time with an older lineup, and the other half was finished up in a much shorter time frame so that we could get into the studio with a full record – but a lot of effort was made to ensure that everything was cohesive and that the record would flow well – so hopefully that’s the case when people listen to it through.  I don’t want to be lame and just say that I like it all as a whole… Recently we’ve been opening our set with exactly how the first four tracks run into each other on the album, which I think works really well, so if I have to pick something that stands out to me it’s the way that it starts off.  Also I’ve gotta give our friend Zeuss a plug for how perfectly he fit the production to what we were looking for… to me it sounds huge without ever being overproduced or losing elements of how we sound as a live band, which in my mind is no easy task.  The man knows his shit.

Favorite song to play live? Why?

This is another answer that would probably be different for everyone in the band.  Especially now, with the split we put out last year (w/Monolith) and Hypersleep being released in addition to our 2008 record that we released while we were still called Voyager, there’s just way more material than we can fit into a live set.  Some people definitely still want to hear older songs at shows and I personally still enjoy playing them, but we want to work in a lot of the material from Hypersleep too, so it’s led to a little bit of butting heads over set lists lately.  But most of us enjoy headbutting each other when we’re drunk anyways, so it’s ok.  For me, the best live songs are “Shapeshifters” from the new record and “Surfacing” from our first EP.

Ever do covers live?

Somehow, this has still managed to never happen for us at a show, but I’m sure it’s something that we’ll do eventually.  We had a pretty solid cover of Crowbar’s “The Lasting Dose,” but never ended up playing it live and now that those guys are active again it seems weird to do it.  One of the songs we did for our split w/Monolith is a cover of “Cold” by the Cure, but we’ve never talked about doing it live.  I’ve got a few songs in mind that I’d like to cover at some point, maybe someday….

With whom would you most like to play?

Are we talking sky’s the limit here?  For me it’s pretty easy, It’d be Faith No More or mid/late-90s-era In Flames. Could go even further out on a limb and say Sabbath or Pink Floyd.  Back in the realm of reality, getting an opening spot for bands like Goatsnake or Cult of Luna would be pretty incredible for us.  We’re also really looking forward to doing some West Coast dates this summer with our labelmates in At Our Heels [Facebook here], real cool band, fast blackened hardcore stuff.  I suggest checking them out for people who are unfamiliar.

What amp/ guitar/ effects setup lets you be “as loud as humanly possible?”

Our individual guitar/bass rigs have been known to get switched up or tweaked fairly often.  I’m a Gibson guy mainly, I like SGs, even though recently I’ve been using an older Guild that I picked up, essentially just an SG copy but with a little bit brighter sound.  Currently, I’m running a VHT Deliverance 120 through Orange and Mesa cabs, but I’m looking to replace the Mesa cab soon.  Harry (guitar) and Brian (bass) have both recently changed amps, it’s been a while since we’ve played and to be honest I’m hard pressed to keep track of what everyone is using most of the time.  We all have our own little personal effects setups, but if you listen to the records you can probably pick out that we use delays and octave pedals a fair amount of the time.  Mostly being “as loud as humanly possible” comes down to balls more than gear… we have enormous balls.  We tend to always play with full stacks for both guitars, and two bass cabs, even in real small venues, which has been seen by some as overkill.  That’s alright though, they make fancy earplugs for people like that.  Pussies, that is.

I remember reading about Helmet’s setup way back before they were signed and how they blew up the PA at CBGB’s; you’re in good company.

Why B tuning? Isn’t that hard to keep in tune? What kind of strings do you prefer?

We’re tuned in drop-B for all of our stuff with the exception of some of the songs on the split LP.  It isn’t really an issue with the guitars holding tune as long as the instruments have been setup properly.  The guitars that I use for VYGR I wouldn’t go tuning back up higher to play for something else, they’re pretty much set specifically to stay in the tuning that we use for this band.  I use heavy gauge strings, .12-.54 or similar.  I’m not necessarily brand-loyal.

What kind of electronics does Devin Toye use? How’s that work live?

Up until this past year we had a complex rig that included a double keyboard stand, a big midi sequencer hooked up to a macbook, everything routed through a mixer into a DI box, etc.  It became too much trouble for venues that didn’t have good sound setups (or VFW halls with little PAs) and it was keeping Devin sort of trapped behind a bunch of gear, so nowadays it’s just a Microkorg and a sampler, which still allows us to pretty much take care of everything that we would need to play the songs we play live from all of the records.  It also gives Devin the chance to be a free-mic vocalist for a lot of the parts that aren’t synth-heavy, so that he can get out and yell in people’s faces, which gives a little better stage presence in my opinion.  People like to get accidentally spit/sweated on, right?

I can only speak for myself, but yes. What’s the symbol on the cover of Hypersleep, why does it look like a 12-sided die, and did I just out myself as a former D&D player?

It’s a mysterious anomaly, an “eye of the storm” at the center of the nebula that makes up the rest of the album layout.  Honestly I have no idea really, we had the idea of using a geometric or 3-dimensional-looking graphic as the centerpiece of the cover, and that thing is what Devin (who also handles our artwork) came up with to fit the overall sci-fi theme of the record.  Looks pretty interesting though, right?  Even without all of the little spikes coming out from the center, I think if you were to map it out fully there would be more than 12 sides for sure, probably closer to a 20-sided die.  Luckily for you, it’s metal, so I don’t think too many people will be upset with any D&D references.

[Curses self] I should’ve known it was 20-sided…! Stupid stupid stupid…! [rubs “Who died and made you Dungeon Master?” t shirt sadly]

Best sci-fi author? Movie? Best comic?

Again, this is all just me, everyone in the band has their own stuff that they like… I think that Devin and myself are probably the ones most heavily into the sci-fi and graphic novel stuff though.  For me, the best author in terms of ideas/imagination is Philip K. Dick, hands down.  The guy wrote literally hundreds of short stories, about 80% of which had ridiculously progressive concepts that arguably did a lot to shape the genre as it is today.  A lot of movies have been based on his work, not all of them that great (no fault of his…), but a few of the ones that did end up staying fairly true to the source material are also some of my favorites:  Blade Runner, Minority Report, Screamers, A Scanner Darkly.  Devin and I are both big fans of Cronenberg’s movies… most of the visual effects that were used in the 80s/early 90s blow the CGI that’s so heavily relied on today out of the water.  John Carpenter’s The Thing is a classic too.

Trying to keep up with the graphic novels/comics that come out is impossible for me, but I still read some when I can find the time – Mike Mignola’s stuff is usually pretty good (Hellboy being his best known), and most recently I’ve been into Jason Aaron’s series Scalped… not exactly under the radar, but it’s popular for a reason.

Do you think your work influences your music? If so, how?

I don’t know, haven’t ever thought about it.  On some level, I guess, sure.  There’s nothing real creative about what I do as a geologist, but rocks are heavy and so is most of what I write, so there’s a connection for you.

What questions, during interviews, do you most dislike?

Yours have all been good, which is why you’ve got real answers here vs. rambling about outer space and drinking too much.  The only questions I’ve seen that I hate answering are the “what are your favorite bands right now?” “What are the top ten things you think people should be listening to?” etc.  No one’s going to give a shit what we listen to, and they probably shouldn’t.  It’s not like I’m Jack White or someone people obsess over, and even in those cases I think almost anyone would be better off figuring out what they want to be listening to on their own.  No lack of ways to find new music to check out these days.

What questions have you never been asked that you’d like to hear?

No one so far has ever inquired about where they should paypal their donations to my Friday Night Bar Tab Fund [Editor’s note: you can do that here].  It probably isn’t a legit tax write off, but with so many semi-shady causes accepting money via text and all that nowadays, at least with mine you know where your dollars are going.

Also wanted to take a minute to thank Ben & Creator-Destructor for helping us out so much with getting this record finished up and released, definitely check out the label’s site –  People can listen to a few songs from Hypersleep at, and for artwork/screenprinting related things give a look too.  Lastly, thanks a lot for the interview and for giving our new record a shot.

It was distinctly my pleasure. Thanks for entertaining my attempts at nearly-journalistic questions.

Thanks again to Ben Murray and PJ and VYGR for their time and hospitality. Now stop reading this, hit the links up there and get you some VYGR.

Interview: Sloath!

Cooooolneeeeeeesss Park…!

Perhaps it’s not obvious, but I don’t make anything for my writing– I only review bands I really like or really hate, and I definitely don’t squander my Life’s Time interviewing bands I don’t love.

Sloath, from the south coast of England and on Riot Season records, made (unless something radical happens in the next few weeks), my number one album of 2010, inching out almighty sludge and doom merchants Dark Castle, Salome, Howl, Cough, and Conan. See reviews of Sloath’s massive wax herehere, and here.

I was, maybe needless to say, PSYCHED to interview them.

Thomas House plays bass guitar and Leon Marks, guitar. DIG, baby, what they say…!

I’ve described this album, among other ways, as massive ambient. How do you describe and/or think of your music? (more…)