Summon: How did the band get started?
Jon: Monsterworks originally started in New Zealand back around 1997. We had a fairly solid line-up until firstly the lead guitarist (Ian) and then I moved to London, UK, in about 2002. We restarted there with a local bass and drum player that I met through other bands.
Summon: What kind of music do you play?
Jon: We call it Supermetal because it takes elements from a lot of metal sub-genres. However, perhaps we are even moving away from that now as the music is becoming more organic (“supermetal” sounds really polished, and that we ain’t) and progressive, even. There have always been a lot of influences to the songwriting (from death metal to thrash to the classics) but….it is heavy metal man. That’s all that matters.
Summon: How has the fan response been?
Jon: It has always been great. I don’t think we are in danger of being widely popular, but we have always found strong support from people that “get” what we are doing.
Summon: Where did the band name come from?
Jon: It was a joke that stuck. A Christian chick the guitarist knew thought we sounded like monsters yelling at each other. We were looking for a band name so…. “Hey, ‘monster’ works!”. That is how I remember it. It might be a total fabrication.
Summon: Introduce the band members and what they do in the band.
Hugo: bass, and occasional acoustic guitar if we are in that kind of mood.
Marcus: lead guitar. He is the newest member although we have actually done four albums (!) together now, so time flies.
James: drums; he joined when he was about 18 and is still going strong. He is also the only one of us that makes a semi-living from music in various bands and projects as a session drummer.
Jon (me): Guitar, vocals.
Summon: Who writes the music? Lyrics?
Jon: I demo the basic tracks (except for an additional obligatory grind or black metal type track from Hugo on each album) using home equipment, i.e. programmed drums, POD guitar stuff. Then, when we start practicing for an album, Marcus gets more involved to start adding texture/leads with a second guitar. When the band all plays together things inevitably get changed a bit but still keep the vibe of the demos. The lyrics are written by me, usually after all the music is completed. But I am going to try and change that because they can get a bit rushed leading up to the recording sessions.
Summon: And where do the lyric ideas come from?
Jon: For the last few albums I started with a central theme and then wrote to that overall feel. “The God Album” was about religion. It is pretty easy to get an album out of that. The most recent release is “Album of Man” which is more about a person’s journey through life (birth, experience, death). It is quite abstract though and not intended to be a concept album with a narrative. The next albums (already recorded) are “Earth” and “Universe” respectively. Unsurprisingly these are about the Earth and Universe respectively, meaning a birth to death cycle for each. The Universe is a pretty big subject but we managed to get it down to 41 minutes.
Summon: What is your view on Satanism and Occultism?
Jon: Neither means much to me in my everyday life. I have sometimes thought that if the Christian mythology was literally true then I prefer Lucifer’s vision. He was the first and foremost of all the angels and wanted the best future for mankind (which I see in an altruistic light), whereas God wants servitude. However, I do not believe in that mythology. If Satanism and Occultism is about rituals and pretending you are a witch with magical power then I am not interested. It is of no practical use for making a better world for everyone. That can only happen through social/philosophical progress and technology. Definitely in my youth I had an interest in these things because I played role-playing games (still do), so it is a good backdrop for entertainment (Lovecraft stories are cool and spooky). But it is fiction. And, because it is entertainment, it makes good subject matter for heavy metal. Some of my favorite bands (like Deicide and Slayer) heavily used Satanic imagery and blasphemy as a cornerstone of their image and lyrics. I love all that shit. It’s fun and the music is awesome. I don’t choose to write those kind of lyrics myself because I need to believe what I am saying, but its fine for other people to do it. I would warn kids against getting too deep into Satanism and the Occult because if you obsess about anything with no basis in reality (like any religion) it isn’t healthy. People who gravitate toward either the occult or the white light religions (aside from those born into them with no choice) get there because someone convinced them they were missing something in their life. That is why education (learning critical thinking) and good relationships with family and friends are so important. Everyone feels a bit lost every now and then and it is healthy to question what you want out of life but: never trust the priest! (unless it’s Judas Priest). Life is about balance. Rock out but take time to reflect too.
Summon: How many albums/CD’s have you released?
Jon: About ten I think. We usually record something every year. Because we don’t tour there seems to be time to get it all done so long as I still have musical ideas and something to say. We are the most prolific band no one ever heard of.
Summon: Tell me about some of the songs on the latest CD?
Jon: We did a video for “Free Will” (http://youtu.be/AdQsULx9f5I), so that is a good place to start. The title kind of gives it away as it is about the concept of Free Will in relation to people i.e., considering the constraints of society, religion etc. Some think it is a misnomer and we are completely predestined for everything, in the sense that there is usually some cause you have no control over. That might have an element of truth but the illusion of free will is still important and for our own sanity we need to feel like we are getting somewhere. Other tracks on the album, which are not released yet in the current digital download (of only three tracks) are “It’s Alive” and “We Have Come So Far”. The former was prompted by a book I read called “The Philosophical Baby” while my wife was pregnant; it is basically about how babies and children have quite astounding abilities to reason. It gets deep. The latter is an epic ode to humanity. I am a pretty positive person overall (I have no excuse not to be) and I think we humans have had a pretty amazing ride so far, and so much left to achieve. There have definitely been errors in judgment and tragedy along the way but, on average, we are improving. It is a slow process but that is the nature of evolution. You can hear about themes behind other songs in my video blog: http://youtu.be/GETKL6J-1S8
Summon: Do you have any side projects?
Jon: I am vocalist/lyricist for The Living Fields (http://thelivingfields.com) based in Chicago. We have an album out on Candlelight released about a year ago and it has been quiet recently but I expect the machine will start moving again soon. The other Monsterworks guys play in several bands but outside the metal realm so they probably don’t want to publicize it!
Summon: Who are some of your musical influences?
Jon: The classic metal bands: Priest, Maiden, Sabbath; latterly: Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, Death. My only non metal influence really is Queen (and maybe Pink Floyd).
Summon: Which current bands?
Jon: Obscura, Obituary, Opeth …and that is just the “O’s” I like new music if I come across something really clever. Between The Buried and Me really impressed me because they seem pretty genuine and not afraid to take risks for the sake of popularity.
Summon: What is the band like when you play live?
Jon: Gritty. Usually a bit rusty because we don’t play live that often but when the engine starts to lubricate it is awesome. We tend to choose the faster songs for a live set.
Summon: Have you guys ever played in another country?
Jon: No, come to think of it. There is some interest playing elsewhere in Europe but it has just never panned out.
Summon: How big of crowd shows up at shows usually?
Jon: These are small clubs so if we get 100 we are ecstatic.
Summon: How is the crowd response when you play?
Jon: It varies. If it is a crowd there to see us (a release party or something) it is really great. Other times it is a bit confused!
Summon: What do you think of the US Black Metal/Death Metal scene?
Jon: To be honest most of the black metal I listen to is from Europe. Death metal was born and bred in the US so the quality of bands there is very high. The classics like Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus and Nile are still releasing great albums…it is like the creativity never waned or keeps getting a kick in the ass from younger bands. But, as for the scene, I don’t live there so I don’t really know….I just know the bands are good.
Summon: What do you think of the Overseas scenes?
Jon: I think metal is strong everywhere….at least by way of overall quality. Sometimes the fans can be apathetic though, in terms of coming out to gigs. Also, people will find bands to moan about that they don’t like….but just don’t listen to them. There is a tonne of high quality music out there. It is true enough that there are too many bands in every genre so an obscure band like mine kind of gets lost in the throng of trends. Monsterworks doesn’t fit categories well so it has been tough getting any media coverage and certainly no major label support. How do you market four blokes in jeans and t-shirts with a positive view on the world and not enough tattoos, that play heavy metal for the sheer hell of it?
Summon: What are some of your new favorite black metal/death metal bands?
Jon: I always liked Immortal. The music is catchy, if comical sometimes. Visually and musically Behemoth is great (fits in that category I mentioned above of a band using a kind of stupid blasphemous image but having great music to back up the absurdity). Oh, NEW? New discoveries like Blood Red Throne but they have probably been around ten years if I looked into it.
Summon: When do you guys plan on writing any new material?
Jon: It is constantly underway. I write an album a year. Songwriting normally takes place July to December and then we book studio time for around March. It gets mixed soon after….then I start again. I still enjoy it, particularly honing my songwriting ability. A smart man would probably have gotten involved with a talented producer along the way to help bring out the best parts of the music to make something more accessible…but I am not a smart man and have undertaken this journey mostly alone, with some further input from the band…..but they rarely have strong opinions that something sucks.
Summon: What does the future hold for the band??
Jon: I guess more and better music. I don’t feel we have reached a peak yet….basically because the musical style evolves and, as we say in Britain or New Zealand, “the goalposts keep moving”, which is self imposed in our case. We already have two recorded, mixed and mastered albums in the can waiting to go. I bet no other bands can say that, because it is logical to record something and then throw everything at it, tour etc, push yourself to burn out. But we don’t approach it that way; creating new music in the hope of reaching some kind of metal nirvana is the purpose. You might never get there but, damn it Jim, you can try.
Thanks very much for the interview!
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