Bristol four-piece Munch Munch have been dissected a number of ways by different DiS staffers. One has remarked that the band’s quirkily hyper indie is akin to Friendly Fires’, if the tipped St Albans trio were roughly 300 per cent better; another has made comparisons to Man Man and Klaxons in an attempt to pin down their eccentric sounds. The conclusion: Munch Munch are a brilliantly awkward lot to describe.
One fact of the matter is that they’re universally admired by the core team at the DiSopolis – this led to their previous single, ‘Wedding’, earning our Single of the Week accolade (review). Another: that they’re playing – headlining, indeed – the second DiScover Club show of the year, at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club on February 2 (full details here). It looks set to be one to remember if the precedent set by last Saturday’s Johnny Foreigner-headlined bash is owt to go by.
Raw facts, before we get ahead and DiScover this great band: they are Thomas, Richard, Jack and Sarah; they featured on the recent Worried Noodles compilation from David Shrigley, alongside the likes of Deerhoof, Islands and Hot Chip; their song ‘I See Sexy Dead People’ features on an OIB Split 7” with Gay Against You, The Tumbledown Estate and Lonely Ghosts; and they’re great. Did I say that already?
The band began as a two-piece, Richard and Thomas, yes? Has the band been through many stages of evolution to reach the point its presently at, as a four-piece?
Thomas: We started out as just two people writing songs on a laptop, but we’ve never actually performed live as a two-piece, only ever as a four-piece. It’s worked well so far because we can fit ourselves and all our equipment into my Peugeot 206.
Richard: When we started recording songs as Munch Munch we never even thought about playing songs live; we were just bored and living in halls and had no space for real instruments, so we started doing these songs on a laptop. I think it was only about a week after we met – we obviously had nothing better to do with our time. We started by recording covers of ‘No Limit’ and Lighthouse Family songs, then started doing our own stuff with ukuleles and tiny keyboard because that’s all we had space for in Tom’s room. We only became a four-piece in the summer when we moved out of halls. We booked a load of gigs because all our friends had just started university and we thought it would be fun to travel about and sleep on floors and play gigs every night. It was only about a week or two before the gigs that we had some time and started thinking about how we'd play live, so we asked Jack and Sarah to help us out because we were all friends and into some of the same bands.
Actually, we asked Sarah to be in the band because she told us she could play drums, which turned out to be a lie. We just got together in a room with all the keyboards and drum bits we could find and tried to work out between the four of us how to play the songs live. I think it was the most we've ever practised in such a short space of time. Jack and I weren't even drummers though, and our first show as Munch Munch in the summer of 2006 was our first time playing drums in public. It was pretty scary.
T: Actually, we’ve been thinking about adding more members. We want to get people who can play woodwind instruments. I’ve always had a dream of being in a massive touring band, a bit like Talking Heads when they played with loads of musicians and backing singers. But I guess we’d have to get a bus and a sound guy, and those things cost money.
What initially prompted you, Rich and Tom, to form this band – boredom with previous acts or projects, or a like-mindedness for eccentric pop?
T: I think Rich originally thought that we were going to be a hardcore band. But when we got together we realised that we were definitely hugely influenced by pop and we weren’t going to try and hide it.
In the beginning the stuff I was writing for Munch Munch was really influenced by the fact that I was writing on piano for the first time, when before I’d always played guitar. I found it really liberating – like I’d reached a dead end with my guitar playing but now I was breaking free into endless possibilities and sounds.
I think that one of the things we talked about when we started was that we didn’t want to repeat any section of a song. We were looking at song writing from the point of view of, “I’ve already played this section, why do I need to repeat it?” It’s like in a film: you don’t repeat the same love scene over and over again just because it’s really sexy.
Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that songs can actually be more powerful if you repeat stuff, and if each section of the song actually relates to the other sections. I guess it’s good if you mix it up a bit though, because it can get boring to stay in conventional pop song structure.
R: We were both in other bands before we moved to Bristol two years ago and were both guitar players, so it just seemed fun to start recording together with keyboard and electronic bits. I'd never done that before. But yeah, as Tom said, a lot of the songs we play now were written in different parts and we used to come together with different ideas and put them in the same song and tie them together lyrically to form some kind of story. Maybe if you read the words it makes more sense.
‘Wedding’ was recently our Single of the Week – that’s the first review of you we’ve had on DiS, but what releases, if any, have preceded that Tomlab seven-inch? What drew you to Tomblab – or did they come to you?
T: We made CD-Rs and sold them at gigs – our friend Alex designed the covers and then we coloured them in ourselves. We were also on a split 7” with Gay Against You, Lonely Ghosts and The Tumbledown Estate, on OIB records based in Brighton.
R: Actually, one of the songs we recorded before we ever decided on the name Munch Munch, called ‘grrrrrl’, was put out on a Caff/Flick records compilation and that was reviewed on here – we were pretty excited! But yeah, our friend Alex – who’s in Kotki Dwa – designed a sleeve for us and we gave them out to all our friends to colour in, so of all the 100 we sold over that summer everyone got a different cover which was cool. My friends’ five-year-old brother Dylan did a couple which were my favourites. I got really into the idea of releases which were special in some way, like with those – no one person’s CD will look like anyone else’s, but it gets kind of hard to do with 7"s. We did think about it though.
Oh yeah, and Tomlab – we finished recording ‘Wedding’ the morning we went off for a week to do shows with No Age, and Tom sent it to this amazing blog, 20 Jazz Funk Greats. They put it up and Jan, who is one of the two guys who runs Tomlab, heard it and offered to release it. We were so psyched because it was just a demo we'd recorded in my bedroom; for ages my main aim in bands was just to release a 7".
Video: an older song called 'Celebrity Engine'
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Are you with the label for the foreseeable now? Album – can we expect to see one this year, perhaps? Do you feel there’s a growing anticipation for it?
T: We want to release some more singles or an EP or something. We'd love to work with Tomlab in the future because they are a great label. Not sure about an album this year, don’t want to rush it!
R: Yeah, we were so happy when Tomlab wanted to work with us just because they've released records by a lot of our favourite bands. Hopefully there will be more releases in the future, but we haven't signed a contract or anything. Everything’s pretty laidback.
Regarding your rising profile: how have you found your lives shows of late? Busy? Is there any noticeable shift in attendees – friends remain but new faces show, too?
T: It’s hard to tell because we never headline.
R: Yeah, and we play a lot in Bristol where we're based, so a lot of the same people turn up to our shows. We need to get out more! Hopefully we will find more time to do some proper tours this year.
T: It’s always cool when someone comes to your gig and is really psyched to hear your music. In my old band at school we used to play gigs to a lot of our friends, which is really fun and definitely worth doing, but we’ve just found it so much more rewarding playing in places we’ve never been before to people we don’t know. Like, occasionally someone might come up to one of us at a gig and say they like our music, and that will mean a lot more to us.
One of the most nerve-racking gigs I’ve played was when we supported Dirty Projectors, and I knew they were in the crowd watching us play. They are probably my favourite band at the moment and I know it’s dumb but the whole time I was onstage I was kind of thinking how shallow our music was compared to theirs, and wondering what they were thinking, which is pretty ridiculous when you’re playing a gig to a room full of people. But seeing them live really inspired us and made us step our game up.
People will, of course, always compare Act A to Act B for review purposes – are there any usual suspects that regularly crop up in articles about you, as reference points, and are these acts ones that you’d hold up as influences?
R: We all have similar ideas about having fun doing shows – we try and swap round instruments a bit live to keep it interesting and we all like bands with. Weird live set ups like Animal Collective and Man Man. I think if you're going to be two guitars, bass and drums you have to be really good to pull it off. But I like comparisons, especially when I've never heard act B then I get into an awesome band because of it.
T: People always compare us to Deerhoof. I guess for better or worse we share the same whimsicality. But they are more rock-based with amazing guitar riffage, which we don’t have. We all love the drumming in Deerhoof though. Someone said we were like The Fall. They were wrong!
R: I ready recently that we were rhythmically inspired by trip-hop... that's an odd one.
How can you see the band developing from its present form – can you see your music shifting in a wholly organic manner? You don’t seem to be fellows enamoured with trends enough to influence your own material.
T: I think our first demos were quite twee in a way. I don’t think we are that twee anymore. We used to play a song called ‘grrrrrl’ which I really hate now. We used to have a ukulele but it got smashed up at a gig.
From here I see us expanding the range of instruments and sounds we use. I always want to use more reverb on our recordings but Rich hates it. Actually, I always manage to sneak some in at the mixing stage. Sarah is learning how to play flute, so we’re gonna use some of that. We wanna get more members playing more interesting instruments. We would love to get a real organ because at the moment we just use the preset sound on a Casio.
I think our songs are getting more dark, but also more poppy at the same time. It’s weird. I hope that trends don’t influence us that much. Actually, I think they definitely do influence us, but only because we actively try not to be influenced by them. We we’re talking about trends like new-rave and we thought that the next logical trend will be something like ‘new-nu metal’, where indie bands will take on elements of bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn, but play them in an indie-pop way like Klaxons did with rave music. That way they will get written about in both Kerrang! and NME so get twice the exposure.
What doth the rest of 2008 hold in store for Munch Munch? Any touring activity? Anything happening personally that’s dang exciting?
T: Rich playing without brace.
R: Yeah. This year's gonna be Megatron. I had an operation on my back in the summer so for the last six months I've been wearing a back brace which is pretty annoying when trying to drum, but I've just had it taken off so the gigs we're doing this weekend will be my first without. I can't wait. It was a massive piece of plastic but no one noticed – some people just complimented me on my good posture. But I do have a titanium rod going up my back so it makes sense.
We want to get out and do more shows, hopefully get to play a bit further away from home, around the UK, hopefully a bit in Europe and some festivals would be nice, but we'll see what happens.
See Munch Munch live this Saturday, February 2, at the second free-entry DiScover Club of the year at the Notting Hill Arts Club, London. The show – held in conjunction with Rough Trade Shops/RoTa – opens at 4pm and closes at 8pm, and is open to over-18s only. Support comes from Elle S’Appelle and One More Grain.
Find Munch Munch on MySpace here. Shows:
2 London DiScover Club (details above)
7 Bristol Start the Bus launch party (invite only)
12 Bristol The Croft with Gay Against You, Lonely Ghosts
15 Cardiff UWIC with Casiotone For The Painfully Alone