Advertise with The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover Issue #94
MORE Interviews >>
Subscribe to The Big Takeover


Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs

Follow us on Instagram

Follow The Big Takeover

Monty Munro (Preoccupations)

19 January 2023

Preoccupations (Monty Munro top right); Photo Credit: Erik Tanner

Preoccupations’ fourth LP Arrangements, cheekily as it is titled, may subconsciously refer to more than the mere objectivity of a track listing. The COVID pandemic scattered us all in its inception. For musicians, touring became unviable and record pressing plants slowed nearly to a halt. Collaboration itself was a risk. What does a band, in the middle of an album’s making, do in such instance? Arrangements had to be made.

In September of 2022, I spoke with multi-instrumentalist Monty Munro over Zoom, where we dove deep into the mania behind their latest recording process, the bad luck streak of their 2018 tour, and most importantly: tons and tons of gear. For some stretches, this interview almost reads like it was held for Guitar Player Magazine. This is an unabridged version of a shorter piece that appeared in Big Takeover’s Winter 2022 issue.

Ryan Gabos: I had read in an interview years ago that the inspiration behind Preoccupations’ urgency is attributed to the sudden passing of [Women guitarist] Chris Reimer. Is it stymying to you that four years have gone by between the release of New Material and Arrangements?

Monty Munro: No, it was kinda just how it had to be. This record would have come out a lot faster had it been under normal circumstances. We were on track to be getting it out in a reasonable amount of time but everything got all mangled from the pandemic. Then me and Matt [Flegel] took a long time where we were just kinda waiting around to see if things were gonna die down. I was in Calgary during the lockdown and Matt was in New York, and we had done the bed tracks at my studio in Montreal. Probably almost a year had gone by and we were like, “We might as well start trying to figure this out over the internet.” We didn’t know how we were gonna get it done otherwise. We kept working on it that way, online. Sending stems back and forth, I’d make a couple little bounces for Matt and he’d sing and send all the vocals back. It actually worked pretty well in a way, I would do that again for the vocals in the future to be honest.

It all feels okay. That’s true about Reimer. I remember [around his death], he had been working on a bunch of songs and we were gonna start working on stuff with him, and him and I had talked forever about working on a project too. Then when he died, I remember Matt and I getting drunk at my house one night just like, “Well… we better do it. Let’s do it right now. Let’s try to take this seriously and get it done for real.”

The rest of the records though, we were trying to get them out as fast as possible, but there wasn’t necessarily… if it took a bit more time, that wasn’t a big deal, we just were quick with it at first. Those first two records, we had a lot of time. We recorded that Viet Cong record and then there was a year lead time before it came out with Jagjag[uwar Records] so by the time the Viet Cong record got released, we had the blue Preoccupations record almost completely done. Just ‘cause the lead time was so long and we weren’t touring that much until the record came out so me and Matt just hit the studio and kept going at it.

RG: It’s a great ethos.

MM: Yeah, it’s either I do this or I go get a job at a warehouse, so I’d much rather do this.

The Cassette EP and those first two releases we sorta had a bunch of the stuff done before we were properly a band in the public circle. So I feel like New Material and Arrangements took a little bit longer because we had to commit to our tour schedule and try to get everybody together, or at least get me and Matt together. In the case of New Material, that record was pretty much me and Matt in a room the whole time. Mike [Wallace] and Danny [Christiansen] played a bunch of stuff on it too, but Matt and I worked on that record for months and months, in between tours and whatever. This record was a little more like: let’s put everybody in a room, we’re gonna make some demos like we used to, like where we have a shit demo of us playing all the instruments and then we’re gonna jam it a little bit and then re-record it. That was kinda the idea and we did it, but then everything shut down and that influenced the back end of the recording for sure.

RG: I remember reading about the strife you went through during the New Material tour, having your van broken into and your gear stolen. It must have been debilitating. How did that affect you going forward and did that experience paint the writing of Arrangements in any way?

MM: Maybe a little bit. That time was pretty dark and it was a crazy week. We had our trailer broken into in Vancouver and then we bought a bunch of new shit. Went to Seattle, we were like, “This isn’t gonna stop us! We’re moving forward confidently!” and then we played in Seattle, played in Portland, and then the van got stolen in San Francisco. Matt brought his bass in luckily; his dad gave him that bass and if he’d lost that bass, that might’ve been BAND OVER to be honest. [laughs] It’s a late 60s [Fender] Precision Bass that his dad bought in the 70s at some point. All of Women had this post-hardcore band called Veritas; Matt and Pat [Flegel] both played guitar. When they were starting [Women], Matt was like, “Pops has that bass in the basement, I guess I’ll grab that.” That was the bass.

Luckily that didn’t get stolen and we all had some stuff in our hotel rooms. My sampler, thankfully, didn’t get stolen again because I just got it all loaded up again. After that, now I’ll copy my SD card onto my hard drive at the beginning of the tour and then I just email the zip file of it to myself in case some shit goes down. I remember the first tour we did with Absolutely Free in Europe, they had their gear get delayed like crazy by the airline and they had all their samples. I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s a smart idea.”

That morning, we put together a police report with the San Francisco Police Department who were fucking useless about the whole thing, and then we went to a restaurant. There was like a Denny’s or something nearby. So we had all our bags and went to this Denny’s, and we were just day-drinking. We had that day off because right before, we were [expecting to] camp out and then go to fucking Disneyland [that day]. But then of course… [laughs]

We were sitting in the Denny’s and Matt was like, “Well. Do you guys wanna still do this? Should we end the band?” We have a good buddy at Fender, so he was like, “We’ll hook you guys up with guitars and whatever you guys need.” We were touring with this band Moaning, and they’re from LA and they were doing the rest of the tour with us, so they were like, “You can use whatever of our gear you need for the rest of the tour if you want to continue.” And then it was like, “Fuck you, crime. We’re gonna… not die from this shit.”

Oh yeah! And we’re at the Denny’s and we get a phone call from the venue [from the previous night] and they’re like, “Your one guitar player forgot his pedalboard here last night,” and Danny realized he had forgot his pedals at the venue and we were so stoked. [laughs] “Oh yeah! Danny’s pedals are still here!” That’s the kind of thing that would have been so annoying if we hadn’t been robbed but it suddenly flipped into this epic win. So he took a cab into San Francisco and got his pedals. Me and our sound lady went and got the rental van and carried on! It was only five more shows or something.

As far as how it would have influenced the record, I don’t know. It influenced our touring a lot. Now I’ve got two crazy road cases with all my shit in them that I just bring into the hotel every night. All the stuff that’s important; like if I lost my amps, that’d be fine. METZ got robbed on that tour that we did last year, they had the same thing, somebody just stole their entire trailer in the same spot. Theirs was outside of LA and San Francisco, but that stretch, down the I-5 in California is sketchy as shit.

RG: So I’m thinking back to the times I’ve seen you live—do you not have that plexiglass guitar anymore?

MM: Plexiglass was not on that tour, although that guitar I broke on the Protomartyr tour; it’s completely destroyed now, I broke the neck socket of it. Yeah, it’s gone. Although I will say, I got that body from my friend Lori, he had it in his studio forever and—I had another guitar stolen, my house got broken into years and years ago and had my Telecaster stolen—so I got some insurance money and bought that body off Lori and was like, “I’m gonna make a plexiglass guitar with this,” and I put a Telecaster neck on it that ended up getting broken. I don’t know when you saw us but it had a Tele neck for a while and then I broke that neck and it had this other neck. But that guitar never sounded that good. Those acrylic bodies are just too heavy, too dense or something. It was always a little bit kinda dead. It was an okay-sounding jazz guitar. One of my friends here makes a lot of music videos, so I think I’m going to make a guitar just for the purpose of being a prop in a music video. Not for us, for somebody else.

Danny had two beautiful American [Fender] Jaguars that he set up really well. So he lost those and I was actually moving a bunch of shit so I lost a lot of shit in that theft. I lost a bunch of drum machines and then like five or six amps, all the bass amps we were using were mine. We lost two really nice 60s Hagstroms, a six-string and a twelve-string. I also had a super, super nice American Telecaster that got stolen too.

RG: That twelve-string Hagstrom, you had taken to playing that when you did “Death” live, right?

MM: Yeah. I got it from Chad VanGaalen, our buddy. I traded him a bass for it, like an 80s G&L bass. He bought it being like, “I’m gonna rock this twelve-string,” but he never really liked it. He always plays in open C and it didn’t really hold his tuning that well. So him and I traded guitars. I remember taking it to one practice. I was playing one of those Fender Duo-Sonics—which I still play now, I love the Duo-Sonics. I remember rolling up to practice just [looking to] try it on a couple songs and it sounded so much better than all my other guitars so I just brought it only [on tour]. For those first two records, I pretty much just played twelve-string all the time. And then for the New Material record, I had to switch into playing six-string a little bit more but was still playing twelve-string for a few of the janglier ones like “Death” or “Bunker Buster”, some of that kind of shit. I still would play one of those again at some point if I found another one but I don’t know, it’s almost too heartbreaking.

The one thing I do since the theft now, all my gear I try to make as unsellable as possible. Spraypainting everything and routing out the body so I can move the pickups to different positions and switching all the necks around on the guitars. I’m just Frankensteining everything together into all these piles of garbage that are just worth nothing. “Oh yeah? You wanna steal my gear? Fuck you, it’s worthless.” I got a few guitars from Fender after that and then I was buying a few garbage guitars like, “Ah, fuck it. I’m gonna figure out how this all works,” so I started ripping them apart and putting them back together, which I actually do a little bit for a job now in Montreal, just fixing people’s gear.

RG: I feel like an artist is sometimes able to look at an album of theirs and describe its significance within the discography. Five years from now, if you can imagine, what would you say about Arrangements’ characterization among the other records?

MM: It felt like we were getting back into being a band, I guess? The Cassette EP was me and Matt making demos, but the Viet Cong record we had toured those songs and jammed them out on tour played them live off the [recording] floor, more or less. Preoccupations and New Material were full-on studio records where we were dicking around more, whereas this one, we made a bit of a conscious effort to be more… me and Danny were always thinking about how we might play the songs live. So I feel like it feels like a return to being a band. We were always a band but for a long time, the studio process and the live band were fully separate things. And while they still are on this record, they’re a little bit closer together. So it’s a little bit more of a band record to me.

RG: There’s a quick-witted, loose, even poppy delivery to the vocals that we haven’t seen before on your records.

MM: I would definitely agree. One thing that we had on this record as opposed to all of them except for a couple parts on the Viet Cong record is that Matt recorded all the vocals on this record because, like I said, we were sending all those stems back and forth. So I feel like that gave him a little bit more agency. When I’m sitting in the control room and it’s like, “Okay, let’s record the lead vocal on this song,” and then we set it up and Matt will do some stuff and I’m just there. Sometimes I would set him up and leave when we were doing the New Material record. I would leave and come back at the end of the day. This time around, he just had more of a chance to sit with the things he was working on and also experiment with his voice without having anybody around to hear him doing that. Experimenting with your voice is pretty awkward. I used to be a session musician and I got hired in Calgary a lot as a backup singer on people’s records, so I’m pretty comfy sitting in there like, “What about this way? What about this way?” Whereas I feel like Matt needs a little bit of space to try some different deliveries or see how the words fit in. That kind of thing. I feel like him recording the vocals on this record himself gave him the space and the opportunity to not have any time constraint put on him but also not have the constraint of me sitting there listening to him fuck around, essentially.

I know a bunch of the lyrics… that “Tearing Up the Grass” track, a bunch of the end of that track was improvised. The [final] take itself isn’t the improv take, but he would go in and drink some beers and play some bass for a bit and be like, “Alright, here it goes,” hit record and rip an improv take. And then go in the next day and be like, “Oh yeah, that was pretty good actually. Just gonna tighten up this line and tighten up this line…” That’s maybe why it flows nicer too, there were a bunch of times where he was just winging it and then tightening up the screws after, almost jamming with it a little bit more.

RG: It’s a much more synth-forward record than the previous.

MM: We were trying to get more into making guitar records again, on this one. We did bed track session in… whenever they were. December 2019. Danny played some keyboards in that session, all the keyboards that are lead-y. He played those keyboards in “Advisor” too, Danny wrote “Advisor”. We did the bass and drums and guitar, and usually I’ll go in and double up some shit on keys or whatever, but this time around—my friend Lori, same guy that gave me the clear guitar body—Lori just messaged me randomly one day and he had bought ten years before this an Ensoniq EPS. I didn’t realize what it was when he asked me if I wanted it. He was like, “I bought this EPS years ago, do you want it? I’d give it to you.” So I looked it up and realized it’s the sampler that RZA made 36 Chambers on. It’s a sick keyboard sampler from the mid-80s. So I was like, “Oh hell yeah, I’ll take that.” I brought it to my folks’ place where I was living over the lockdown and went on a deep, deep dive, where I ordered a bunch of parts from France where I modded out the floppy disk drive so it took USB. Went deep on it. Had to do all this weird programming shit in Terminal on my computer to convert WAV files into old proprietary 13-bit variable sample rate samples. So that was my mid-pandemic, I was just smoking lots of weed, taking lots of weed gummies, running like 25 kilometers a day, and working on this synthesizer all the time. For six months, that’s all I did basically.

Eventually I got it going and I was obsessively doubling all of the shit. This is what we would always do on the records before. Me and Matt would go through and go, “We got this part. Let’s try it on this synth, or maybe it’ll sound cool on the Rhodes, or maybe bass should play that, or maybe we try another tuning,” or whatever. Try all the riffs in a few different ways but always we were doubling the guitar parts with keyboards. On New Material and Preoccupations, we more often than not just left the keyboard part and didn’t use the guitars. On this record, I doubled everything up, with endless time [on my hands]. I don’t even know for sure what of any [mixer] Graham [Walsh] used in the mix. Me and Matt were so in a weird place in our minds about how we worked on the record, I just sent all the stems to Graham… some of the songs had more than 200 tracks of me just fucking around. Me, digging into those mid-80s Def Leppard records like crazy. All my background vocals are fifty tracks of singing just because, “Oh, the next five days I’m going to work on this one phrase of backing vocals,” just for fun, because I was just bored. We sent him all the stems like, “Do whatever you want. If you think it doesn’t need a guitar in this, get rid of it. Be ruthless about it.” Like Glyn Johns mixing Combat Rock -style.

I had another synth, I had one of those Elektron Digitones. I had a pretty limited synth rig compared to what I normally have. I’ve got a shitload of stuff in my studio, but I didn’t have any of that. Some of the stuff that sounds like synths on the record is actually Matt playing guitar. Matt uses this app called Patterning, it’s like a free drum machine app. You can sample whatever you want into Patterning, so Matt would sample a bunch of guitar chords into Patterning and have it arpeggiating these guitar chords and he would run that out of this Lexicon Reverb that he has and we would run that through stereo amps in his space. That’s some of the stuff at the end of “Recalibrate”, that drone. And then I resampled his recording and played a couple takes of it back on the sampler after the fact.

Sampler’s kind of the main instrument I play in this band, live too is a lot of me playing a [Roland] SP-404. Maybe not that much anymore, but that’s one of my main studio tools. So having this rad keyboard sampler, I was just going hog, making a mix of the full recording and going, “Maybe I’ll chop this in there for a second…” Again, I don’t know what if any of this got used though. I sent Graham so much insane shit. It sounds like it’s in there but I don’t even know.

RG: You guys employ a lot of off-kilter meters. One of my favorite songs of yours is “Stimulation” which gets nuts at the end—

MM: Oh my god, we fucked up that song live so many times, to the point where Matt won’t even play it anymore. [laughs]

RG: I last saw you at Rough Trade in Brooklyn and Matt had given some preamble to the song, hoping you guys wouldn’t fuck it up. There was definitely a tiny mistake made somewhere but it went well!

MM: I remember that show! Realistically, I think we’ve only played “Stimulation” live three times. It’s always the one where like, we jammed that song a lot, but we never quite got it together. We got it one time at a practice, let’s try it at a show. Then we’d play it at a show, fuck it up, and not play it anymore. That bass part at the end is weird enough that our solution was I’d sing the lead vocal, just for the last two-phrase thing. Matt was fully like, “I can’t sing this and play bass at the same time.”

RG: Well given your well-established knack for odd time signatures, it’s of note that apart from the second half of “Advisor” and maybe another moment somewhere on the record, you don’t get too in the weeds with meter this time.

MM: It’s never a conscious decision to put something in an odd time signature. It’s how the riff goes, or if you have a riff and this riff is… not quite cool yet. It’s almost cool. We have one good move for that which is to lop off the last sixteenth note of every second bar or whatever. That’s always the move. Matt and Mike did the same thing too in that Women song “Shaking Hand”, that has the same vibe. I find it’s a way, if the riff is almost boring, if you lop the end of it off it kinda excites it a little bit. On this record, it just wasn’t the vibe on the end of those songs. I mean, the end of “Advisor” and then “Recalibrate” has some weird shit where the verses have the bass and the drums in two different time signatures. I don’t know that that’s the kind of thing where just because I was thinking about it that way when we were working on it, doesn’t mean that’s how it translates. I don’t know if that matters in any sort of real way, it might just be how it is. There was a time where the drums were straighter in the verse, lined up with the bass more, and then we switched the drums to I think what the pattern was for the intro guitar… or maybe we switched it away from that, I can’t remember. Now it’s just a blur in my mind. I’d have to open the session and see what the edits look like to remember how the time signature went. Whenever we get into those time signatures, it takes us so long, it’s like a full day of us jamming on it before we’re like, “Oh, it’s that thing that we do.” You just need to internalize it.

RG: Do you feel like the band has moved onto the next thing?

MM: Yeah, we’re halfway through another record already. Me and Matt both wrote a bunch of shit over the pandemic. We might try to do a ten- or twelve-song [LP]. All the songs we’ve recorded so far are kinda short. We’ve got four songs done, so maybe we’re only a third done with the record. There’s definitely more in the works. We’re gonna do it as fast as we can.

You may purchase the new Preoccupations record here.


More in interviews