Catching Up with Monster Movie (Christian Savill and Sean Hewson)
Monster Movie, after the release of six full-lengths beginning in 2002 and a handful of singles and eps, needs no long introduction. Christian Savill (Slowdive) and Sean Hewson once again returned this year with the release of Keep the Voices Distant (read my review here). I hadn’t talked to the band since 2005 (read here), so I was pretty excited when Savill and Hewson agreed to a catch up interview where they answered questions about their new album, what they’ve been up to since the release of Everyone is a Ghost, reminiscing about their back catalog, Monster Movie becoming four members rather than just two, and much more.
Hello Christian and Sean! The last time I talked to you was in 2005. Amazing that it’s been over a decade. It’s also been seven years since Everyone is a Ghost. Besides the Whirr split, could you both talk a bit about what you were up to in those intervening years musically?
Sean: I think we both moved house a few times. There was probably a bit of chaos in our private lives. There usually is, though we’re quite balanced at the moment. Obviously, Slowdive reformed. Which is brilliant, partly because they let me see them for free and sometimes let me have a free drink and a cuddle.
We also got James into the band, which made everything 100% better. After the album we got Kev in too, so we’re quite a nifty live band now and the next album will be a full band affair.
Christian: The usual monster movie mix of divorce, moving country, and generally making a mess of everything. Once we got some time to do the record, it happened pretty quickly.
Since forming as The Geeks in the late 80’s a lot has changed technologically in music. For you both personally, what has been most significant for you in terms of these changes in recording and the sort of tools you have at your disposal? Is there anything that you dislike about the changes?
Sean: We don’t have too much dealings with technology. That’s what engineers are for, right? I have to say that from very early on Martin Nichols, our engineer, was brilliant with vocal correction. And he needed to be. Christian and Kev are brilliant with effects pedals.
Christian: Nothing has been that significant because I don’t use any modern recording technology. Apart from GarageBand or my phone. I remember Ryan from Graveface very kindly brought round a computer with recording software on it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I miss my 4 track recorder. I found it, but it doesn’t work anymore. I just make up tunes on an electric guitar not plugged in whilst watching tv. Then I record them on my phone. Then six months later I return to them and have no idea how to play them.
You’ve both been involved in music in one form or another for some time now. How do you both view music and its purpose at this point in your musical career? What is it that keeps you coming back to construct songs, record them, and release them and what is it you hope that happens to those songs once they are out in the world?
Sean: I always feel like we haven’t done a whole album properly yet. That’s why I keep doing them. I don’t think either of us ever think about what happens after the album’s released. We give them to our parents and they ignore them, so we think everyone hates us. Although, some friends told me the recent album was quite good. So, I’m happy with that.
Christian: It would be so great to do an album or maybe even just one song that we’re not completely embarrassed about once it’s finished. I’m always amazed when I see some bands announce they are proud of their latest release and I listen to it and think Jesus you’re deluded you should be apologizing. At least we’re honest. So we keep trying and hope we’ll fluke a good ‘un.
Looking back over your six full-lengths, what among your output really sticks out to you in a good way? What would you rather not be there anymore? Why to both questions.
Sean: I don’t remember most of our songs. I think the first album was pretty good. The second wasn’t, because we had some daft production ideas and ruined it. There are some good songs on there though, like 1950DA. I like Transistor. I think that might be re-released soon, sounding even better. The Ghost one I don’t remember at all. I think Silver Knife is a good song though. The latest one actually hangs together pretty well. I wasn’t sure that Into The Light fit in, but a few people like it, so I stay quiet.
Christian: The problem is that some of our songs are good but we tend to completely ruin them. Like Sean says, once they’re gone, we don’t listen to them. I reckon the first album was maybe the best.
As you listen through the Monster Movie output, each album has a distinctive sound. I mean, it still sounds like Monster Movie, but there is a certain amount of, at least from listening, experimentation with each effort. How do you both go about finding that sound and what sort of things you may want to try when approaching a new LP?
Sean: I think it’s us trying to learn from the previous albums. A lot of it was dictated by there just being two of us. Now we’re a full band, Christian and I don’t write all the parts, so you’re getting other people’s input.
Christian often has a sound in mind. I generally feel my way towards a sound.
Christian: We liked the way that a band like yo la tengo would have all sorts of things going on a record. We mostly didn’t want to have 10 songs that all have the same sound. I guess that sometimes means it sounds a bit unfocused to people.
Keep the Voices Distant is a great album. Can you talk a bit about the writing and recording process for this album? Was there anything in it that was different from prior work on Monster Movie releases?
Sean: Having Nick, Ryan and James there to help us was new. We’re sensitive souls and it’s a lot of pressure when it’s all on two of you. I think the writing process was the same as always. Christian writes some songs, I write some songs. Then we book a studio so we’re forced to record them.
Christian: This was the first time we played the songs as a band in a rehearsal room prior to recording. Think at least it sounds a little more coherent. We also had Ryan in the studio editing us. He was great for cutting out fat. The main regret is always that I wish we had more time to iron out things that aren’t right, but we’re not ELO so we have to just go with it. Maybe if we had more time it would just get worse.
I like to ask bands about specific songs on their most current release. Can you talk a bit more specifically about the writing and recording of “In the Ground” and “Dead in the Water”?
Sean: I think we only got the idea to break Dead In The Water in two at a practice with Ryan at my house. It might have been his idea as it’s not something we’d ordinarily do. He put the bass-line down as well, which really drives that end bit.
Christian: Ryan arrived in the U.K. the day before we started recording. I was driving and remembered this tune that we’d never even rehearsed. It was Dead in the Water. So I played it to him on an acoustic and asked if we should chuck it in at the last minute. Ryan said absolutely so we went straight to Sean’s to work it out. Then James just had to get his head round it in the studio in about 30 minutes. As I was doing a bit of guitar overdubs on the ending Sean was playing a nice acoustic part so we decided to put that on as an outro. Think that song turned out pretty good by our standards. Can’t remember much about in the ground other than I don’t think it turned out as well as it sounded in rehearsals.
Do either of you have any song that you enjoy playing most live from the Monster Movie catalog? What is it and why?
Sean: 1950DA is fun to play. The bass is really easy too so I can look up a bit and see if anyone’s watching us. Dead In The Water is a lot of fun. Especially if Christian goes nuts at the end. I generally try to pass out each time we play it because I think it might get us some headlines. I’d do that for these guys.
Christian: Was thinking the other day that it would be nice to play a big version of star city to open our set.
For the gear heads that read the site, what are you all using for equipment both in the studio and when you play live?
Sean: I’ve got an Epiphone Allen Woody bass, a Fender Rumble amp and I use an MXR d.i. and a Rat. I have three levels of distortion and I use them like gears. I have a white Fender Strat and I use whatever pedals Kev and Christian tell me to.
Christian: We use loads of stupid and probably unnecessary tunings but have managed to get the set down to using three guitars. Just use a couple of pure Salem reverberations and an old strat. Neil found it in his studio where it had been sitting around for 20 years. He very kindly got it fixed up and brought it over. The monster movie live sound is mainly just a bit of overdrive and space echo with volume boosts.
So, what’s next for Monster Movie?
Sean: We’re going to see Slowdive play at the Roundhouse. Everyone should come, see a brilliant band and give us a cuddle. When Slowdive have a rest, we’ll do some recording and a couple of gigs. Most of the songs are written. Until then, James will be playing with Code Ascending and Kev and I will be playing with Head Drop.
Christian: Slowdive is touring pretty much though till December but after that hopefully we can get to work on a new album.
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