AN INTERVIEW WITH MEGAN MONCRIEF:
THE 22 MAGAZINE: First off, let's get some history, where are you from? How did you end up in NY?
MEGAN MONCRIEF: I grew up in Monroe, Louisiana. I've been playing music since I was two. I had a wonderful piano teacher, a lady named Mrs. Stewart, who taught me chords out of the hymnal but also gave me a lot of freedom and constantly encouraged me to compose. I came to New York to go to school, thinking I was going to be a journalist or something, but ended up teaching piano myself. It's an awesomely fulfilling job. I started out playing organ and synth stuff in bands, which was always a little frustrating; I wanted to make this music that was a lot more abstract. I was recording that stuff at home, and it was kind of a secret project that I didn't show anyone. Then I started booking art shows in this little storefront, and met more and more people working in directions that weren't too far off, and I
realized that there might be places I could do this—at least that it would be possible to create them.
THE 22: Tell me a little about the ukelin that you play?
MM: A lot of people call it exotic, which is pretty funny. The ukelin's origins are foggy, but it's basically from New Jersey and was distributed by shady door to door salesmen during the Depression. It's a 32-stringed monster, meant to be half-bowed, half-plucked. There's a website, run by a guy named Bob Buzas who's done tons of research about the instrument's history. I came across his site when I was in college, absentmindedly reading some article about weird instruments on the internet late at night, and bought one off eBay for thirty bucks. The intended method of playing is pretty hard to pull off; there are a handful of folk musicians out there who can shred, but I do mean a handful; probably fewer than ten. I like playing an instrument with no canon, where you can't really take lessons—you're forced to figure it out by experimenting. I mic it with piezo pickups, and manipulate the feedback; I often use it as a percussion instrument, and sing into the sound hole, which makes this huge weird echo from all the sympathetic strings. People have said it looks like I'm chewing on it.
THE 22: What are you trying to convey in your music? What is your moment of perfection?
MM: The moment of perfection comes when I'm playing and I totally forget where I am, who I am, what I'm doing. I'm an extremely scattered and anxious person, by nature, and sound is the only form of meditation that's ever worked. I think my primary goal is reaching that state, and hopefully bringing the person hearing it along, even a little bit.
THE 22: What do you use to create your sounds and how do you use them?
MM: Contact mics on Chinese medicine balls; a promotional voice recorder toy from the movie Saw II (hacked by my friend Kristen, of the band Warcries, at one of Casperelectronic's workshops); a really simple little homemade synth I built, based off of a quad oscillator kit; kitchen knives, broken cymbals, screwdrivers. My loop pedal, a Electro-Harmonix 2880, is my baby. I have a little synth called a Pocket Piano, made by a company called Critter and Guitari in Philadelphia, and I've been using that a lot lately. I also use this weird thing I picked up when I saw it in the window of this Hasidic discount store; it claims to be Vietnamese temple percussion, but I haven't been able to positively identify it yet.
THE 22: What is your dream instrument and what does it sound like?
MM: I'd eventually like to create some sort of bastardization of the ukelin—something a little deeper and sturdier, maybe with geared tuners like a guitar rather than autoharp-style pegs. I retune a lot, depending on what kind of set I'm planning to play. The wood is really old, and and a few of my strings won't even hold a note anymore. Maybe sharping levers, like a harp, would work—either way, it'd be a lot of hardware, but there's got to be some way to make it work. I'd also love the chance to put gamelan pieces inside of a grand piano again someday. I did it once. I feel like I can't say where, because we sort of got in trouble and I don't want to incriminate my co-conspirator in a public forum, but it's on a record we put out. It made these crazy percussive clangs and rattles. I'd love to mic it next time and run it through some effects.
THE 22: What inspired this album and are there more in the future?
MM: I've got two things coming out in the immediate future; one solo release on Fabrica, and a split with my friend CS Luxem. I've just started recording stuff for the next one, which will come out on a mysterious tape label my friends Kate and Wes - Thermos Unigarde and Champagne Sequins - are starting up.
THE 22: Part of the album project was to send everyone a cassette tape of the work correct? Why did you decide to do this?
MM: There's a broad cassette community out there; tape trading's pretty common in experimental circles. I love cassettes as pocket-sized art objects; inexpensive to produce, very spray-paintable. The first cassette run of "Secular Geometry" was hand-painted and stenciled and dubbed on my deck at home; the next few things I have coming out are pro-dubbed and printed, but I'll probably do another handmade one after that. I started recording onto cassette, recently; I used to record everything digitally, but this summer I bought a Tascam recorder off my friend Drew—who runs a fantastic tape label called Solid Melts, while we're on the subject—and I don't know why I haven't been using one all along; I like the immediacy of that recording process, and the general sound of it.
THE 22: You also happen to be a co-curator of the "Ladies of Experimental Music," a loose collective in NY. Tell me a little about this project and what the goal is with it.
MM: LoXM was the brainchild of my friend Kate. She started this facebook group as a means of meeting like-minded female musicians to collaborate with, and it snowballed into a regular series. "Experimental" is kind of a catch-all term, and eclecticism has been one of the strengths of those shows. I know so many women doing great work in the circles I run in—psych, noise, drone, concrete stuff—and I think they usually do build up the respect they deserve, but there are still plenty of nights when you'll go to certain shows and feel like one of four women in a boys' locker room. I like hanging out in that locker room, but I feel like a diversity of perspective leads to more interesting work, in general—it's often a very, very white and hetero scene, and I'd love to see a shift there, too. I remember sitting at a show one night and overhearing one of my friends say "Yeah, dude! There's starting to be girls here." I loved hearing that. Everyone wins, right?