Guelph guitarist M. Mucci works in the American Primitive style—sort of a blend of classical, jazz, country and folk traditions. Or, since people have been playing acoustic guitar this way for 60 years now, the genre is more popularly knows as “a person playing a guitar.” Though most known for his acoustic works, Mucci also knows his way around an electric guitar. Indeed, the two albums Arachnidiscs is reissuing on one cassette (The Secret Is Knowing When To Close Your Eyes and Midnights) are electric guitar albums veering towards ambient post-rock.
The Modern Folk Music of America blog says about the release, “…the notes are soft and round and drenched in reverb…the songs, melodies and musical ideas fade in and out of one another. This one is recommended for both active and passive listening.”
Arachnidiscs Recordings: You recorded Midnights literally in the middle of several nights. Were the sessions shaped by their nocturnal nature?
M. Mucci: Yes, the sessions were very much shaped by the time they were recorded. The time of night was one factor – I didn’t want to wake my sleeping family upstairs, so I deliberately played very quietly. I was working in a mode somewhere between improvisation and song writing that I had first tried out on the other recording reissued on this tape (The Secret is Knowing album), where I try to quickly come up with a fragment of… something, record it without really any thorough composition and then in most cases, quickly overdubbing one or more additional guitar lines, hoping for some happy accidents. If a piece didn’t work in two or three tries, it was tossed.
The time of year Midnights was recorded was also a factor in how it turned out — it was one of the coldest winters I can remember, with really long stretches of sustained deep freeze. I really like working on music at that time of year because there isn’t much reason to go outside, even though I do like the cold and snow, at least for the first little while. I also distinctly recall hearing quite a few strange noises during the recording; at the time, I didn’t know what it was, but it kind of freaked me out the first few times. A couple of days later, “frost quakes” were all over the weather reports and I put it all together. After that, there was a lot of listening between notes to see if I could hear any during the recording.
ADR: Your notes for the Secret Is Knowing say “Words inspired by the island of Malta.” What exactly about the island of Malta inspired you?
MM: The Secret is Knowing tape was recorded after my second visit there. My partner is half Maltese and still has lots of family there, which we got to meet and spend time with on both occassions. The stories they told us, the history of the tiny island and the scenery were all in my mind. It’s a lovely place and we love going there to visit.
ADR: I used to live in Little Malta on Dundas West and read up a little on the history. Like all of European history, it’s very storied but seems like it’s not very widely known. I feel like there needs to be a “Knights of Malta” movie or TV show.
MM: That’s a nice little pocket of the city. Vicki’s grandfather still lives there in the house he bought back in the 1950s when he first came to Canada. The history of Malta itself is quite amazing for such a tiny little island – to put this in perspective, I think Toronto is bigger in area than the whole island. It seems like every empire has wanted a piece of it at some point in history, but they’ve still managed to carve out a unique culture.
Interesting facts: there are ancient temples and stone structures there older than stone henge. It hosted the ‘Malta Summit’ which was a meeting between Bush the first and Gorbachev and helped broker the end of the Cold War. Malta also seems to be a place for vacationing world dictators. We heard stories about people meeting Ghaddafi and Kim Jong-un water skiing there. And Brad Pitt seems to visit a lot and film there. I’m not making this up!
ADR: When I saw you at a show in Toronto recently, you ended your set with some unexpected drone metal tones. Are you planning a recording of that material?
MM: Since that show I’ve been thinking about recording something like that a lot. There are ideas that I have that I can’t pull off live, at least not alone. So I hope I can start working on a recording like that. I’ve been playing more of these semi-improvised electric guitar shows recently, rather than the acoustic finger picking and Ive been really enjoying the process of putting the pieces together. I also do love the drone/doooooom… but i think that’s the first time I ever tried something like that myself.
ADR: You certainly pulled it off that night. Getting back to the frost quakes for a moment. That strikes me as a quintessentially Canadian musical experience. Do you feel like the Canadian landscape directly influences you music? Or the Canadian cultural experience in general?
MM: I’ve never thought of the landscape as a direct influence. Maybe that’s not entirely true, as I’m thinking back to my first album (Under the Tulip Tree) and a lot of the songs were named after landmarks in Guelph – I had moved to Guelph just a few years before that album was made. But, I guess in the case of the frost quakes that’s probably true, even though I didn’t know about this phenomenon before that experience. As for the Canadian cultural experience, yes absolutely.
Something I’ve thought a lot about the last 4 or 5 years is my family history and immigration to Canada and the way that has shaped my experience. My grandparents came in the early 1950s from Italy and I’ve become really interested in that story, both the actual story of their journey and the wider experience of Italian Canadians (the subject at times has dominated my reading lists, novels, academic studies, history etc…). It ties in nicely with my interest in Malta too because the Maltese Canadian experience is pretty similar from what I understand. So it may not be readily apparent in anything I’ve release thusfar, but its always there.
ADR: At the same time your music stems, ultimately, from the American Primitive scene. Do you consider yourself to be part of that tradition?
MM: I think so. Anyone who picks up an acoustic guitar and plays instrumental tunes at some point is going to get the Fahey comparison, and rightfully so as his influence is undeniable. But that simplistic description I just gave of ‘American Primitive’ overlooks a lot of what Fahey was doing while reimagining what the acoustic guitar could be — tape collage, noise, totally wild studio edits — just being wonderfully weird!
ADR: Sandy Bull as well. When I first heard E Pluribus Unum a few years ago I said, “Well, why are we even bothering? He did everything that needed to be done with improv guitar back in 1968.” I have similar feelings with The Fripp/Eno album No Pussyfooting in regards to all the loop pedal-core albums out now. No one’s significantly improved on what they did 40 years ago. Are there any albums whose brilliance makes you question picking up a guitar or committing something to tape?
MM: I get that feeling too sometimes! But then I also think there are so many more reasons to play music than solely trying to make the next groundbreaking guitar album. Its about the joy of creating something new. Its about community and I think about all of the amazing people I’ve met through playing music. Its about pushing boundaries of sound too and challenging yourself to create something new — but if we were only stuck on that, we might never leave the basement.
But back to your question, three acoustic guitar albums come immediately to mind: John Fahey — The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick (a live album with various tracks from his first few albums, his playing is top notch and so is the recording. It was a show with Sandy Bull and his set was also released by the same label). Jack Rose – Kensington Blues (every time I listen to this one it gives me that feeling you described….why bother??!!) Harris Newman – Accidents with Nature and Each Other. And further to those three albums, I always have to mention the work of Loren Connors — his music has had an immense impact on me. Two albums I’d highly recommend are Portrait of a Soul and Airs. Oh and Bill Orcutt A New way to Pay Old Debts is an absolute ripper. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone in any era sound like that.
ADR: I think Loren Connors had an immense impact on all of us who work in improvised guitar, at least indirectly, whether we realize it or not. Those are all good reasons to make music. And trying to make every recording “ground-breaking” would certainly be an unrealistic goal. But something I ask myself more and more frequently as someone who runs a label is if the world needs new music at all. At least in recorded format. Do you think music in recorded form still has value today?
MM: As someone who can’t get out to live shows as much these days, yes I need new recorded music. I do love seeing live shows and I also love listening to recorded music. It is harder to sift through the immense amount of music we have at our fingertips these days, so I see what you’re getting at with these questions. I’m not sure I can answer to the value of recorded music question in a general sense, but personally, when I find a recording I like, I value it very much and I’m very much willing to pay for it. I don’t want to get into the whole physical vs digital, but I do tend to prefer a physical copy of something if I can get my hands on it. The whole package is important, not only the music and I appreciate it when someone goes to great lengths to put a good looking package together. I have purchased quite a few digital albums though — usually from overseas artists that I’ll probably never see live and that don’t have North American distribution; postage these days just pushes certain things out of reach.
ADR: I think Canada Post has a mandate from Stephen Harper to destroy Canadian indie labels through postal rates. I really do. That’s not hyperbole. Myself, I don’t really do digital albums unless it’s not available at all in physical format. And if the postage seems too high, I take that as an indicator I don’t really need the album. But for me, it’s definitely physical over digital. Which is probably why, despite there being too many instrumental guitar tapes available already, I really felt like these two albums of yours deserved to be available in physical form again. Frankly, I wanted copies and I didn’t want to just buy the digital files off your Bandcamp. It just isn’t the same to me.
Also I realized at some point recently, I don’t really enjoy live music very much. Not a whole night of it at least. The venues are usually uncomfortable on some level even if they’re not bars or night clubs. Most performers outstay their welcome on stage by at least ten minutes and I begin to feel I’m being assaulted by their ego (present company excepted, of course). Then there’s always some jerk in the audience being inappropriate and making people squirm. The opening act talks loudly through the everyone else’s set. Bah, I’d rather sit at home with a record. Or your tapes. But they’re also in the past. What’s coming up for you in the future?
MM: Thanks so much for the kind words about these two albums and for putting them out again in physical form. I’ll have at least two more releases out this year — another tape on the Ambivalent Soap label of two live recordings and an acoustic album titled Don’t Be Afraid should be ready very shortly.
But first Secret Midnights 2008-2o14 comes out on June 15, 2015 and can be ordered here.
Interred Views is a series of interviews with Arachnidiscs Recordings artists. This interview was conducted by Jakob Rehlinger.