Broken Hands

After 14 years of sonic explorations the Liverpool kraut-psych four-piece Mugstar is finally getting the recognition that  deserved.

Last year’s challenging and visceral instrumental double album ‘Magnetic Seasons’, released on the Mogwai-run Rock Action Records, is the stunning culmination of years of boundless and adventurous experimentations, collaborations and recordings; a tripping “kosmische”, lysergic odyssey that relies on mesmeric repetitions, hypnotic oscillations, progressive dropdowns, expedited build-ups and sudden assaults.

Regarded also as one of the best, constantly improving, explosive live band in the circuit, their mind-blowing performances will take you away into a different dimension.

Thanks so much for the interview.

Please, let’s talk about the genesis of Mugstar? How did you meet? What attracted you? Who were your biggest influences that drove you to form a band and how did you come up with your name?

PETE: The name comes from a mishearing, it was originally going to be called Muckstack. Someone misheard it and said Mugstar. This happened before I joined. Around that time I remember seeing a lot of bands – Mogwai, Sebadoh and Napalm Death and just wanting to be in a noisy band. Then I found an ad in a music shop and met the rest of the band, the rest is history.

What’s your earliest music-related childhood memories? Do you remember when and where you started to get passionate about music and your early inspirations?

PETE: I really loved The Cramps as a kid and really loved the artwork of metal bands (Iron Maiden). I remember seeing my cousin’s record collection of mainly hair metal bands and being fascinated with them. Pictures of guitar warriors fighting demons with their guitars on the side of a volcano. I remember being very disappointed when hearing Iron Maiden and those bands for the first time. They didn’t sound noisy enough or evil. So after that I think from then I would seek out weirder bands, more of the noisier stuff. I still love The Cramps.

You are all scousers. Which inspiring impact has Liverpool had and still holds on your artistic creativity? Had you been a part of the local music community or did you prefer to do your own things avoiding anyone else’s scene or clique? What are your favourite Liverpool’s bands/artists at the moment?

PETE: Yeah we have been part of the music community in a small way, but intentionally. We have a definite connection to bands like Clinic and Ex-Easter Island Head. They’re great bands and good friends. There are a lot of great bands in Liverpool, it’s hard to know where to start. I am from Cumbria, so I’m an adopted scouser.

How has your approach to the music composition changed through the years? After your collaboration with Can’s Damo Suzuki, are you using his method of free long studio improvisations and subsequently refine them until ‘finding’ the song in its final form?

STEVE: Free form jamming and improvising has always played a part in Mugstar tracks. Mainly in the rehearsal studio and then working the tracks towards a more resolved composition. Recently though, we have become more comfortable with experimenting even more in the recording studio. It can be risky, but also rewarding – as you can surprise yourselves. The show and resulting album with Damo Suzuki was a one off. In that he told us in advance not to prepare or practice anything – “we start from zero”. It definitely sharpens your focus in a live situation like that.

Last year you released your ambitious double album ‘Magnetic Seasons’. What was the impetus behind recording a double instrumental album? Did you, thematically, have an all-encompassing vibe you wanted to portray with this release?

JASON: By signing with Rock Action Records we realized we had an opportunity to make something with a greater reach than previous releases so wanted to do a record that would live up to our self imposed expectations. Throughout our career we have mostly been instrumental so doing an instrumental double album was a natural progression. Some said the album was like the four seasons split over four sides, which brings light and dark as the seasons do.

What are the emotions that you personally feel when listening back to the album? Are you totally satisfied by it?

JASON: I think it takes me through a lot of different emotions. I find it takes me on a journey, as do a lot of our records, but ‘Magnetic Seasons’ in particular. It is music you can lose yourself in, can forget about the world outside.  It makes me feel happy and content and as I like emotive music I am totally happy with the record. Definitely our best yet.

You have had a long career spanning over 14 years in the music underground, eight full lengths, many collaborations and a plethora of split 7″s and limited CD-R releases… What’s the secret about such longevity? Which do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (records, collaborations), that you’re most fond of?

STEVE: I guess the most important thing is commitment. We’re all really into making music and give a lot of energy to the band. Not easy when continuing with day jobs etc. Also, we get on well as people. We have many areas of interest and music tastes that are similar and overlap, but also a lot that are different. So each of us bringing different discussion and ideas into the whole band situation helps to keep it interesting, engaging and enjoyable.

In terms of accomplishments, I am fond of a lot of what we have done for differing reasons I guess. To make our first 7” single was great – and to have John Peel pick up on that. Our first full length album brought together a lot of what we had been developing and so felt like a real achievement and statement of intent. And recently, yes doing a live album with Damo Suzuki and our last double album release on Rock Action, – really pleased with that.

Broken Hands

I’ve recently interviewed another long-standing band like Julie’s Haircut, that finally, like you, started having the appreciation they deserve, and they’re talking how, after so many years, the influences and suggestions from other forms of art like literature, cinema, visual art are more predominant than the musical ones, the same goes for you?

STEVE: All of those things suggest, inform and influence our music I’d say, – along with the natural world, the man-made world, life experiences and of course other musical influences. But I couldn’t say which are more prominent than others. It varies – and is actually more intuitively felt in how they might translate into our compositions and performances. The exception being, when we perform soundtrack to film images, of course in that situation there is a much more conscious response.

After a long pilgrimage through various labels, you’ve recently joined  Rock Action Records, founded by Glasgow finest Mogwai, a band that could be also considered psychedelic at times. How it happened? You had already toured with them, has it been a source of fresh creative hints?

STEVE: We have played on the same bill as Mogwai a few times over the years and they are a band who definitely had an influence on us from early on, – as a powerful (and mainly) instrumental band who also have many interesting facets to their sound. One night after a show in Brussels they said that they would be happy to put something out by us if we were interested. So, yeah we are really happy with being on Rock Action. They are great to work with as well. We went all out to stretch ourselves and make a double album covering new areas for us.

In comparison to your early years the attitude towards psychedelic music has changed substantially; On one hand there is a flourishing of a new breed of young exciting bands and psych fests, but on the other hand the tag ‘psychedelic’ is dangerously becoming an empty cliché. If you look around, almost every songs is tagged as psych at the moment. What’s your concept of ‘psychedelic music’ and what could be its future?

JASON: Early on I don’t think we necessarily found our place and we stuck out awkwardly at the time. So the changing attitude to psychedelic music has really helped us and to reach out to and meet likeminded bands and people. Psych festivals have been really great for us, we’ve got to play a lot, including Austin Psych Fest and Liverpool Psych Fest. For me though psychedelic music is something which can   alter the individuals perception and something which is expanding rather than just jangling guitars. Psychedelia will continue forever as people like to have their minds altered.

Which new bands around would you consider as kindred spirits?

STEVE: As kindred spirits I’d say a fair few of the bands we’ve shared stages with over the years really, for example Carlton Melton, Gnod, Oneida, Anthroprophh, Moon Duo, Mogwai, Liverpool bands old and new such as Clinic, Mind Mountain, Ex-Easter Island Head and Cavalier Song. And a great band that we have played at The Continental in Preston with before – Endless Boogie. All those bands are made up of great people too. I’m also playing a lot of Earthless and Thee Oh Sees at the moment.

After your already impressive shows at the previous Preston’s Un-Peeled events, next Friday 3rd March the band will be the headliner of the new exciting folk/psych/wyrd Vernal Equinox festival that will take place between Friday 3rd and Sunday 5th March at The Continental in Preston, what do you expect from it and what do we have to expect from your live performance?

PETE: A lot of noise, he he 😉

Thanks a lot for being our welcome guest, just the last question about your future plans.

STEVE: We’ve got a few things in the pipeline. We’re working on a singles and rarities compilation album that should be really cool. We are going to be in the south of France in the spring, creating a new show together with a dance troupe. And we are just discussing the possibilities of another exciting collaboration project, putting an album together in a different manner. As well as adding more shows and touring of course. We played our first show in a while last week and it was a blast, it’s always great to be playing live.

Photo credits: Steve Gullick

Fabrizio Lusso