The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic Interview with Ed Mundell: Freedom and the Cost of Rockets (Plus Track Premiere!)
It was a surprise to fans when following the release of 2010′s Mastermind, lead guitarist Ed Mundell announced he was leaving New Jersey-based hard rockers Monster Magnet after a tenure that stretched back to 1993′s Superjudge. Mundell‘s persona on stage was certainly lower key than Magnet frontman Dave Wyndorf, but you could say the same about nearly everyone on the planet, and though Mundell showed a love of heavy power trios in his work on The Atomic Bitchwax‘s early albums, he’d long since left that band and moved to Los Angeles. An instrumental track called “Hello to Oblivion” from the Mundell-led trio The Formula showed up on 2004′s High Volume: The Stoner Rock Collection compilation, but that was just one song, and it’d be more than half a decade before Mundell actually left Monster Magnet.
During the last couple years, however, the cumbersome name The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic has been popping up, and as 2012 takes its shape musically, that will no doubt continue to be the case. The instrumental three-piece is comprised of Mundell on guitar (duh) joined by bassist Collyn McCoy of Trash Titan (who released a killer self-titled EP last year) and drummer Rick Ferrante, also of heavy rockers Sasquatch. They’ve been jamming for a while now and playing sporadic but rare live shows — just enough to gain a reputation — and they’re in the midst of finalizing their full-length debut at Mysterious Mammal Recording with none other than Snail bassist Matt Lynch (his band’s new album, Terminus, is reviewed here) at the helm. The goal is to translate the live chemistry between Mundell, McCoy and Ferrante to the yet-untitled album, and then layer on top whatever the hell they feel like.
That sounds like a joke, but to hear Mundell talk about the backwards guitar, wah, echoplex and loops that show up in The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic‘s jam-based songs, it’s abundantly clear that these traditionally psychedelic effects and the lengthy solos he crafts from them are indicative of the higher ideal of complete creative freedom, something he obviously relishes about working with McCoy and Ferrante, and his feelings of being refreshed creatively come through unabashedly. He sounds not just excited about the prospects for his new band or about his joy in working with these players, but also like the idea of being able to do what he wants on an album without being second-guessed is a novelty, and without saying so explicitly as regards his work in Monster Magnet, the guitarist hints that indeed that’s the case. It is a novelty.
All the more thrilling, then, is the prospect of the album the band is in the midst of recording. In our interview, Mundell discussed his feelings post-Magnet, the jams at the roots of The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic and the process by which some of those jams are turned into songs, working with Lynch as producer and engineer and just what goes into mixing a track that has so many layers cast on top of its original live recorded base, and much, much more. This is the first time I’ve interviewed Mundell, but his excitement about the band was palpable (if I haven’t yet made that clear), and he seemed completely in touch with what he wants this band to be, as well as admiring of McCoy, Ferrante and Lynch to the output that is as yet forthcoming. It was more than enough to make me look forward to the record.
By way of a teaser for that, I’m honored to have been granted to host an exclusive stream of the track “Rockets Aren’t Cheap Enough” from The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic‘s debut. They’ve had a rough version of a track on their website for a while, but to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time audio from the album itself has been made public. Special thanks to Lynch for making the connect that allowed this to happen.
Please enjoy “Rockets Aren’t Cheap Enough” and the complete 3,800-word Q&A (people from Jersey talk fast, no matter how long they’ve lived elsewhere) with Mundell, as well as photos of the band in the studio, after the jump.
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I know you played on the last Sasquatch album. Is that how you got to know Rick?
I met Rick at a Nashville Pussy show years and years ago, when I first moved to Los Angeles. And then we started playing together, and Sasquatch had a rehearsal place and he needed somebody to go in on it with them, and there’s a lot of room in there, so I went in on it with them, the room, and there’s a couple other bands in there as well. Then Rick said, “I know this guy Collyn and we should call him up,” so we called him up, he came down, we just started playing. We played together a while before we decided – we were doing 20-minute jams for like three hours (laughs), just free-form stuff — and then all of a sudden, after a year or so, we’re like, “Maybe we should start taking some of these riffs and start writing songs out of them,” then we started doing that, and then we started playing a few shows, and now we’ve been playing for at least three years, maybe longer. We do shows every once in a while. Finally, I was like, “We should record some of this stuff. Why not? It’s going to be instrumental power trio stuff, and we can layer over-top of it. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I’m sure some people might like it. It sounds cool to me (laughs). It’s all like acid rock jams, so why not?” It just kind of happened like that. It wasn’t, “Let’s start a band and make a record,” or anything like that. It was, “We have all this stuff, let’s do something with it.” But basically Rick being proactive with saying, “Let’s get a bass player,” and “Let’s start doing some of this.” I think we’re going to go back into the studio again, back into Matt’s place in a couple weeks, and have Keith from Sasquatch do a lead on something too. We’ve got three more songs. We rehearsed last night. We got three more songs together, and in order to finish the record, we’re like, “Let’s put one of these on there.” It’s been fun, anyway.
So the record’s not actually done, then? It seemed like you were back and forth on the idea of putting more material on there from what I read.
Well, it is done. We have these three other songs, and I’m like, “Well, maybe, you know, we should take one of the jams off.” We have five actual songs and two jams. One of them’s kind of a song and kind of a jam. I’m like, “Maybe we should do these three songs, record them, and then reevaluate the whole thing.” They’re old riffs, but we finally arranged them, and I thought the newer stuff was pretty good, and I thought, we’re not on any time schedule. We don’t have a label, we might end up putting it out ourselves, let’s go in in a couple weeks, we’ll go in for one day, knock out some stuff and have more to choose from. I just don’t think an instrumental guitar acid rock should be more than like 47-50 minutes, tops. Maybe. Maybe even 44, because it might get to be a little bit… I don’t know (laughs). But I figured having more than enough material rather than just enough is a good idea. We do have 47 minutes mixed and done, ready to go, if we wanted to. But I figured one more day in the studio won’t kill anybody.
If all the songs are born out of jamming in the first place, what goes into deciding what becomes a song in terms of something more structured, and what stays a jam?
You know, we can kind of pick out – because Collyn has one of these little field recorders, and we record every practice. He emails it to everybody and we listen, and you can kind of tell what works together and stuff like that, and you’re like, “Let’s build on this idea,” and then another riff gets added. It’s just that kind of thing. It’s kind of like nobody goes home and goes, “I’m gonna write a song,” or anything like that. It’s just kind of like, whatever happens, happens, then we forget about it because we’re just playing, and when you listen back to it later, it’s like, “Well, let’s take that and put it with that and put it with that,” and “Okay, cool.” We just piece them together from pieces of jams or take entire jams. In the case of the record, there’s two tunes that are entire just whatever happens, happens, and it happened to sound really cool and it worked, and we just put a couple layers here and there over top of it, and we did a space-rock kind of jam that worked out pretty well, and I put some oscillators over top of that. I put the rough mix of that, of just the band and one extra guitar, on the website, but since then I’ve added eBow guitars and oscillators and stuff. But it’s pretty much a live band playing together and then other stuff over top. So anyway, it just kind of happens. We just all sit there and go, “That riff was pretty cool, remember this one?” and, “Oh yeah, that was cool,” and someone’ll have another part or Rick’ll do something and it’ll lead everybody in a different direction. It just kind of happens, so it’s cool.
Seems like a very organic, gradual process. It does not seem like a hurried thing.
(Laughs) Yeah, well, you know, we’re not trying to get a hit single. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a “hit single” unless you’re Rihanna or whatever. We don’t care if we get on the radio. If it sounds cool and we all like it, then it works. We don’t have a label. (Laughs) We don’t have anything, and we all have been playing forever, so it’s like, “Play whatever you want.” We can do whatever we want. We’re limited by our imagination here, because we don’t have to please anybody but ourselves. So basically, most of the songs – there’s a couple 11-minute songs. “Rockets Aren’t Cheap Enough” is a little over five, and that was pretty much, “Alright, let’s try and do a Captain Beyond kind of thing,” so that was cool. Basically, we don’t have to write a two-minute-and-50-second single or anything, so we can do whatever sounds cool. Rick wanted to do backward cymbals on [one of the songs], and I was like, “Hell yeah, let’s do it! Let’s put a flanger on some backwards cymbals and throw them in there.” There’s tons of backwards guitars, because I can do whatever I want, and I love the sound of backwards guitars. I love the sound of feedback, and I love the sound of eBows and echoplexes. So it’s like, “Alright, let’s go crazy.”
So why pick one when you can have all of the above?
(Laughs) Exactly. And when you hear the record, you’ll hear there’s a lot of “all of the above” on everything. We all love power trio riff rock, too. That’s one thing that we have in common. We kind of start there and take it where we want to take it. That’s the idea, basically.
You say you don’t have to write the hit single, and you’re very much steering your own methods for doing things, what’s included, what’s not. Is this especially for you coming off of Monster Magnet?
Oh yeah, yeah. Not to put anybody down or anything, it’s just, I can finally do whatever I wanna do. There was a lot of really great music, but there was also a lot of things that I wasn’t really into doing, and I really regret doing – and even at the time going, “Why are we doing this song? Why are we putting this on the record? This is really not my thing.” But, you know, alright, team player, let’s go. Now it’s like, we don’t have any of that. We have all been in bands where we had to do what we had to do, and we do what we wanna do now. We’re basically rebelling against everything, so it’s instrumental, for one thing. There’s not necessarily a melody in a lot of things – sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t – but we can pretty much do whatever we want. But it is very refreshing, and it’s really, really cool to have the freedom to do whatever you want. I wanna do all backwards guitars on this song. Okay, cool. Let’s do it. Nobody’s saying, “Well, you know, I don’t know…”
I’m not looking to incite any shit-talking or anything, I just mean in terms of creatively, for you, it’s got to be refreshing to be able to do that kind of thing.
Absolutely. And I think for everybody, because you can do whatever you want. Nobody’s telling you at all. Not like anybody was ever telling anybody what to do, but in certain things, a song called for certain things, and if I want to do a part like this, we’ve got to write a part like this. You know what I’m saying.
How did Matt Lynch get involved?
I had seen an ad online for his studio, and I knew it was real close to the house. I was looking for somewhere to record, because we did a song for a compilation a while ago, and I called him up, and I went down and checked out his studio, and I loved it, and it was 10 minutes from the house, and he was great, so we went in and recorded a song for a compilation, and I said, “Wow, when we do a full-length, I’m going to give you a call,” and he said, “That’d be great.” And then I went in and I recorded a lead on a song for a French band called Abrahma. They sent me the track and I called Matt up, and I was like, “Hey Matt, I need an hour or two. I just gotta go in, get a sound and throw down a lead and email it back to these guys,” and he was like, “Sure, come on in!” And then I was saying, “Hey, we’re getting some songs together, are you in?” and he was like, “Yeah, just give me a call.” He’s great to work with. It took like an hour and a half to get the coolest drum sound ever. Before we even say it, he knows what we want, and he’s a bass player, too, so that kind of helps, when engineers are musicians too. You don’t have to say, “I need more of the 60 Hz to the right.” You can say, “I don’t know, it’s not hairy enough,” and he knows what you mean. I love that place too, though, so I think we’re going back in there May 19 to do a couple more things.
Those other three tracks?
Yeah. And we’re probably going to try and do a sitar tune as well. We’ll probably try and get four. We work really fast. That’s another thing I like about Matt. I hate sitting in the studio for – when we did the last Magnet record, it was 12-hour-plus days every day for a month. No days off. I sat there and read books most of the time, and a lot of engineering stuff had to be done, I understand that, and the record sounds great, and that’s cool, but it’s just like, “You know what? I wanna go in, do what I wanna do, and leave.” Matt’s really fast, and we’re really fast, and it’s just like, bam. That’s a plus as well.
Do you do the basic tracks live with the three of you?
Yeah. It’s 90 percent of the leads and the rhythms. Maybe 95 percent. We didn’t fix much, I just added to what we already did.
Layered more on top, you mean?
Yeah. So it’s a power trio recording all live. My amp’s in the other room, miked, isolated. Collyn, Rick and me are all in the room together, and we’re just playing and it actually worked out really well. I’ve never in the past kept my scratch tracks. I look at the track that I’m recording first like, “I’m gonna replace that later,” and this time, there’s no need to replace it – that’s exactly what I wanted to do anyway! It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever done that, so that was kind of cool and that worked out really well. And Collyn is just great. That kid never makes any crams or anything. He just goes in, every take of the song – they’re all different, and they’re all insanely great. Everybody’s got really good instincts, I think.
He plays in Trash Titan, too.
Yeah. They’re actually playing a show in a couple weeks. They play once in a while. Their EP was great. That’s him singing, too. His voice is so fucking amazing. He doesn’t look like he sounds. To me, anyway.
Was there ever any thought to having vocals on some of these songs? Having him sing?
Not on this one. The first thing I want people to hear was going to be instrumental. But we have done some Hawkwind songs live where he sang, and I think we might’ve done a Funkadelic song where he sang as well. I know we’ve done instrumental Deep Purple songs live. I know he said the Hawkwind stuff anyway. We did “Psychedelic Warlords Disappear in Smoke,” and he sang that. We did that for a Hawkwind tribute show, and we had Pete Stahl sing. So we’re going to eventually have guests come up and jam and stuff, because we’re going to start playing live shows.
It sounds funny to say, but it sounds like it’s becoming more of a band band. You’re making a record, you’re talking about doing shows. Before you know it, you’ve got a real band going there.
Yeah, well, it always has been, but kind of low-key. I like these songs, and they’re gonna be different when we play them live, and there’s gonna be a lot of improv, so a song that might be five minutes long on the CD, on the record, it could be 11 minutes one night, it could be six minutes the next night. Whatever we feel like doing. Which is kind of cool. I like that freedom. We used to do stuff like that in The Atomic Bitchwax before people started getting weird and, “You’re playing too long!” and I’m like, “What’re you talking about? That’s what we always did.” Anyway. Yeah, it is a band, but I don’t think we’re gonna go on tour or anything like that. I haven’t played a live show in a long time.
Speaking of the Bitchwax, I thought I caught a little of that classic Bitchwax bounce in the track you sent.
Oh, right on. That song’s an old song that I had, that I did for a High Times compilation years ago. The name of the band was The Formula. That was the original version, and then we redid it for this band, because we play it a lot different. It’s still the same song, but I think that track had all backwards guitars and this one, I do a lot of fuzz-direct guitars, and there’s the big jam at the end, the “Manic Depression” jam kind of thing.
How involved are you in the process of mixing this stuff? If you have all these layers of guitar, is it hard for you to sort out what goes where?
Working with Matt is great, because we recorded everything together, and I’ll go in an afternoon at noon, and we’ll work until like six o’clock and, “Alright, we’re doing all layered guitars today,” so I’ll go, “Okay, I want to do this kind of thing,” get the sound right, and we’ll start doing it, and we’ll mix as we go. I’ll say, “You know, I think that should be on the right side a little bit,” and his instincts are so good that I usually don’t have to say anything. He already has it dialed in, to where, okay, this should go here, this should go here, this should go here, so by the time we’re done, before we’ve even mixed, it’s already kind of pre-mixed. It’s already there, so it’s just tweaking with EQs and stuff like that. He knows where I’m coming from. I barely have to say anything. I think it sounds pretty good. We have the seven songs mixed and ready to go, but I just think it needs one more song (laughs). So we’re gonna do at least three and try and pick one or maybe put a couple more, I don’t know. If it’s too long, that’s alright. I don’t care. But now I have to find a home for it. Either we put it out ourselves, or we put it out through someone. I know Small Stone had already offered to put it out, but I haven’t really played anything for anybody yet. You’re pretty much the first person besides my wife and Rick’s wife and Collyn’s girlfriend and Matt to hear it.
I think it would certainly fit on Small Stone. Scott’s about as straightforward a dude as you can ask for.
I’ve known him for years and years. When we used to play Detroit, he always worked for the clubs or with the clubs on our shows. Even before there was a Small Stone, he was always hanging around and him and the Five Horse guys would always come down and hang out, have a beer and chill and whatnot. Run around Detroit (laughs).
I guess then you don’t really have a timeline on when you’d do a release?
I’d like to get it going as soon as we have everything, I think. We all agreed that we should have one more song on there, instead of these e-jams or whatever. We should have one more, at least, song song. As soon as we get that together, which should be in the next couple weeks – by the end of May at the latest, I’d like to get it going as soon as possible, just so we can start working on the other stuff. We still have a lot more stuff to do. I’d like to just keep on putting out stuff, and even if we just do it ourselves through a website or whatever, the people that want to hear it can hear it, the people that don’t want to, don’t have to. That’s fine. We’re gonna be playing anyway, so we might as well just keep on working.
How do you balance that mindset – keep working, keep putting stuff out – with the natural ideas of songs growing out of jams and that process? Do you guys just jam all the time?
Nah, we’ve been doing once or twice a week for the last couple months, just because we knew we were going to be recording and stuff. When we do jam and it’s not working on arrangements or anything like that – from out of the jams – we’ll just go in at five o’clock at night, and play until 8:30 or nine, and nobody remembers what we did, so we take it home and things just sprout out. We just play and stuff usually happens. Even when I don’t feel very great, like, “Boy, I don’t feel really good about how I played tonight,” I’ll get the mix from Collyn the next day in my email, it’ll be like, “Wow, we sound great! Holy shit, I didn’t feel like that at all.” We’ll always have pieces. We have so much stuff, it’s just crazy. But they’re all mostly 20-minute jams (laughs).
Hey man, there’s plenty of bands out there who do nothing but 20-minute jams.
I’m worried that if we do start playing shows again, we don’t know how long we’re playing for, so we could end up playing three songs and it’s like over an hour. “Shit, I didn’t even realize it.” I might have to get a clock and stick it on my pedal board, because sometimes Rick’ll play something funky or weird that he never played before in the middle of something and then Collyn’ll pick up on it, then I’ll pick up on that, and we’ll start working, then all of a sudden, it’s like, “Holy crap.” This one song. We did a Robin Trower-ish stony jam, with the mega-vibes and things going on, and the original version of it, that was out of a live jam, was 22 minutes long. Rick’s like, “We gotta record it, just like that!” “I don’t know, Rick. 22 minutes is a bit much for me, even.” “If we can cut it to 14 or 15, I’ll be happy.” “I don’t know where we’re gonna cut it, but I’ll play a little less guitar, that’s cool.” We ended up, on the record, it’s 11 minutes long. I don’t know how we got it down to 11, but it sounds solid at 11. I wouldn’t cut anything else out of it. But that just happened. That was weird. Sometimes it will be 22 minutes, but sometimes it’ll be 11. We did two takes of that one, and I think the first one was 14 or 16 and the second one was 11, and that was the one that everyone was like, “Well, that’s the take, right there.”
Have you figured out what happened? Where that extra five minutes went?
You know, I don’t know. We have certain cues. You can go as long as you want, just when you’re getting ready to wind it up, give the cue, either a playing thing, or a nod or whatever. I guess I just went a little long on leads and then that one, Collyn has a bass intro kind of thing, where I’m just doing volume swells on the guitar and echoplex noise and stuff. Maybe he went a little bit long on [the other] one. Nothing’s really written in stone, we just give the cues and there you go. That’s kind of all you really need. If you look at the Hendrix jams, they have parts and they have cues, and when he’s winding it down, everybody knows. One night, “Voodoo Chile” could be 14 minutes long, the next night, it could be seven. That’s where we’re coming from, sort of. There are actual arrangements, even though it doesn’t sound like it.
Tags: California, Los Angeles, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, Unsigned bands