Interview with Gary Mundy

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Gary Mundy is unique among ‘alternative’ musicians who have served the test of time and has continued making hard-edged experimental music since the early 1980s and I am glad to have the opportunity to get some insight to the man behind many projects, including his latest (ongoing) work under the moniker Kleistwahr. The multi-instrumentalist took the opportunity to share his ideas on the taboo subjects of politics, religion and power electronics in progress. Here’s what we talked about….


TJ Norris/Toneshift: It’s a pleasure to have a chance to catch up with you! Whereabouts in the UK are you located?

Gary Mundy: I’m in Croydon where I’ve always lived. It’s in south London.

TJ: I’ve walked those streets, searching for records, a good cuppa tea. The first thing I want to ask you is about your latest project under the Kleistwahr moniker, the recording Acceptance Is Not Respect (Fourth Dimension Records). What a timely title (especially for us here in the States). Can you first tell me where the title is derived from?

Gary: I was interested in the idea of the difference between acceptance and respect. Up until a few years ago, we were increasingly being told that people now respect many differences between people and are tolerant of so much but recent political events have allowed the more bigoted to show that they have no such respect and that they were merely accepting those differences because they felt that they had to and they certainly had no respect at all. Acceptance seems to be mostly superficial. Respect is much deeper. I was suggesting that acceptance is not enough.

TJ: Oh, I didn’t see it as veiled, just wanted your interpretation – and you have offered a clear distinction. You have been recording on and off under Kleistwahr where you even put out some cassettes as far back as the early 80s. What is the core of this project, how might you describe the central concept?

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Gary: Kleistwahr started as my solo electronic project. As well as making electronic music with Ramleh, I did these separate recordings solo. Solo recordings tend by their nature to be more personal and this has become more and more the case with the recent records. It’s for ideas that I feel don’t suit the group dynamic.

TJ: On this new recording it’s a bit of a fusion, ranging from an elusive ambient to a revved-up feedback noise. I noted that these tracks are separated into parts like chapters or vignettes. Can you tell me more?

Gary:  The first track is split into four parts that each represent part of a cycle of protest or resistance, where like-minded people come together to try to resist something bad and ultimately move forward and they all speak with one voice but it is human nature for that to start to splinter and become diluted by in-fighting over specifics and ultimately the group falls apart, but not always. Sometimes things work out and a genuine step forward is made. It hasn’t happened much recently and it feels like backward steps are being made but that is never a good reason to give up. Also, if the protests fail then new pockets will appear and grow and the cycle starts again.

TJ: When you say “where like-minded people come together to try to resist……”what or who are you talking about, have a specific example?

Gary: I’m talking generally about the way pressure groups and new political groupings or parties come together. It seems that initially there’s always the joy of the common cause but sadly it is human for factions and disagreements to start. It is very frustrating to watch the mistakes of parties opposing corrupt governments as they allow themselves to be taken over by in-fighting about things that are ultimately unimportant. All that should matter ever is getting rid of the bad guys.

We have to keep fighting for what we believe despite past failures – until we reach a place where we can genuinely feel that we have improved both our own lives and the lives of others. I refer to it as the Revolution of Defiance. It’s about never giving up despite the odds and ultimately moving beyond acceptance into the realms of genuine respect. The fact that it’s unlikely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

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TJ: Can you more clearly define “Revolution of Defiance“? And how does it directly impact the sounds you are making?

Gary: This really ties in with the previous answer. It’s not a philosophy, just a frustration, but a frustration that is tempered by the hope that eventually something good will happen. I’m talking about a situation that affects many countries at the moment, as we find people rejecting traditional politics and allowing fascists to take over their countries. Resistance needs to be focused and mustn’t get swayed by minor side issues. The opposition needs to stop going round in circles and focus on what really matters. We appear to be on a knife edge in the world these days and it could go either way. My records often reflect these bad times, but they always have some hope in them too. I haven’t given up yet.

TJ: This sounds like a deep philosophy, maybe you could say more? Additionally, as someone who grew up in an Irish Catholic family that has members of the church in it to this day, but being rather non-religious myself, I like most people am a bit hands-off when it comes to how religion, faith, and the like come in contact with the arts. But it’s accepted as part of life in general, universally. What is your relationship with religion and/or how does it weave its way into this project?

Gary: That’s interesting as, going back to the explanation for the album title, I realised I had my own example. I accept that people are religious but I don’t respect that choice, which is something of an issue for me to consider. I was brought up as an Irish Catholic too and although I lapsed at 16, much of what I learned is still with me and I resent it. However, I am also fascinated by it. Particularly the Catholic martyrs. This brought up the other theme for the record, what would you genuinely be willing to die for? I have respect for that level of commitment, despite having little for the actual religious beliefs. Musically too, I find church music works its way into much of what I do. This time it was intentional but even when it isn’t, it still happens. It’s just there and the music was the part I hated least I suppose.

TJ: You mention how ‘church music’ may have influenced you. Though I listen to a lot of variant takes on spiritual or ritual or traditional/tribal music, even Gregorian chants, Celtic music or Gamelan and though I’m separated from its origins still enjoy the way it makes me feel. How do you compensate for this dichotomy in your work?

Gary: I also enjoy the way it makes me feel and think that you can listen or even make similar music without a belief in God. There is something about those types of musics that is uplifting whether or not you believe. I feel that I am using the music as a way of creating either an ecstatic mood, or a sombre, reflective mood and sometimes even more harrowing sounding, discordant music that has less to do with religious music but does still sometimes borrow from it. I don’t set out to make that kind of music intentionally normally, although I did for the second half of the new record. It’s just what comes out of me.

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TJ: Noting your titling, what makes a martyr — and why does it matter?

Gary: To die for your beliefs. It’s the strongest thing. What would you die for if it came to it? I find that fascinating. You think “why didn’t they just pretend to give up their beliefs and survive, knowing inside what they truly believed?” that it wasn’t possible for them to do that though. They just simply couldn’t and part of me thinks that’s incredibly brave and part of me thinks it’s incredibly foolish. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to elect to die for anything. I hope I’ll never be tested but it’s fascinated me most of my life. To give up your life for a belief, or even for another person. It makes me feel cowardly because I don’t think I could do it but if it came to it, you just don’t know.

TJ: You’ve given this a cerebral workout for sure – its definitely food for thought. Now, the track ‘St. Margaret‘ is so much in my ears, in the wheelhouse of what I could have on repeat for hours on end. Do you use field recordings? What instruments are employed throughout Acceptance Is Not Respect?

Gary: I’m glad that track made an impression. It was the last track recorded for the record. I don’t use field recordings as a rule although I do sometimes incorporate recordings I make around the house with a Dictaphone which I then treat through effects. The album mostly uses organ, synth, guitar, voice and a lot of effects and a small amount of use of electronic percussion. I generally avoid percussion but sometimes it just feels right.

TJ: As a former member of Skullflower and a continuing part of Ramleh you have been in and outside the cusp of edgy power rock music since way back in the early 80’s. What do you find to be the most significant creative differences when working with a group as opposed to your solo projects?

Gary: The main difference is the obvious one. Working with other people allows you to bounce ideas off each other and playing live in a room with a group is my favourite thing to do. However, with a group there is always an element of compromise. Mostly, I don’t have a problem with that but sometimes you feel sure that your idea is correct and the suggested changes are wrong. That can be tough but you have to find ways around any differences. Solo recording is great because you can do anything you like but the danger is that you might get too self-indulgent. Sometimes you need other opinions. So the short answer is, they both have their faults and they both have much to recommend them. Doing a bit of both is ideal for me.

TJ: Right on. You’ve had some connections, maybe through shared band members with Whitehouse and other acts. It’s odd to lump bands together, however, it’s also quite interesting when a certain sound seems to emanate from a specific region or town. Do you think this applies to the bands you’ve been involved in?

Gary: Most people I’ve worked with have been based in London or the South of England. The early 80s power electronics scene grew around William Bennett when he lived in London. Whitehouse started things off and Ramleh, Consumer Electronics, Pure, Sutcliffe Jugend and others became pretty much a London based scene. It was very short-lived but very exciting. It felt like we were doing something totally fresh and new. I then worked with Matthew Bower in Ramleh and Skullflower and a new era of noise/rock was born, again London based mostly. Then I worked with Philip Best and these days with Anthony Di Franco, both people I had known and worked with for years through Broken Flag. These days everyone is spread all over the world but I still feel that connection with the Broken Flag family and everyone I worked with.

TJ: Definitely a lot of controversial figures in that lot. How have your influences on the core of your work changed over time?

Gary: As time has gone by, I’ve heard more and more music, so a wider range of influences would then result, leading the music down different roads but I’ve always been influenced by discordant music as well as haunting, melodic music and I like to combine those things in my work but it’s the same types of music that influence me now as always, I’ve just seen more and more possibilities over the years and I hope to find further different directions in the future.

TJ: In the early days of Ramleh and with Broken Flag you were somehow linked to fascist iconography and the like. Is that true, and if so how did that come about and given the quasi-resurgence of very right wing propaganda, even in the USA these days, where do you stand?

Gary: I was never a fascist and never could be. The imagery and subject matter of some early Ramleh music was to do with Nazism and the holocaust. It was about those things, not in favour of them. I haven’t done anything like that since about 1983. I moved on to other ideas in my work but the idea that I was some sort of neo-Nazi was very hard to shake. At the time, the neo-Nazis were at a low point and more figures of fun than anything else. I never saw the resurgence coming and it is horrible to watch unfold. My politics are mostly left leaning, sometimes socialist. It’s a frightening time.

 

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TJ: The work on your latest sounds as though it could easily slip into the soundtrack of a film, particularly the strange discordant harmony on ‘St. Stephen‘. Have you ever applied your work in other media or performing arts realms?

Gary: I’ve always wanted my Kleistwahr music to be used in films but so far it hasn’t been. Dominic Marceau makes great videos for me for Kleistwahr that show some possibilities of combining my music with visuals. I want to do a lot more of that in the future.

TJ: What are you working on right now, and what might we expect in the near future?

Gary: I’m currently working on a Kleistwahr album to be released on cassette for Jim Haynes’ label and then I’ll be starting on the next CD for Fourth Dimension. I plan to release at least one Kleistwahr album a year now, until I die. We are putting the finishing touches to a new Ramleh double vinyl album that covers a lot of different styles, some of which we’ve never tried before. It’s a very eclectic album. I’m working on guitar parts for a new Breathless record but that’s some way off being finished yet and there will be a Ramleh 7” next year that we are also putting together at the moment.

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