Preoccupations’ Monty Munro Loves Cider and Wants to Sound Like Tears for FearsOctober 31, 2018
Above, Scott "Monty" Munro (left) and Matt Flegel. Photo by Matt Allen.
Nothing was going to stop Preoccupations’ guitarist and synth player Scott “Monty” Munro from having a great time at OctFest. Sure, there were some snags: a stolen backpack and missing passport, a drummer who went MIA since the band’s Fashion Week performance the previous evening, and now, all these wasps. As we chat on a misty Saturday afternoon following the band’s festival soundcheck, the treacherous stinging creatures swarm our chosen canned beverages—a Lord Hobo Boomsauce IPA for me and an Austin EastCiders Original Dry for him. Luckily, Munro knows a trick: trap the beasts in an half-empty can and give it a good shake.
Resilience is a key trait of Preoccupations. The Calgary-bred post-punk outfit formed as Viet Cong in 2012, merging members of the high-talent, high-tension Women (bassist and lead singer Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace) with Munro (formerly a guitarist for Chad VanGaalen) and guitarist Daniel Christiansen. Viet Cong garnered critical acclaim for its 2015 self-titled debut, but soon found itself under intense fan scrutiny over claims the band’s name was culturally insensitive. They decided to ditch the controversial name, but that process came with its own set of legal challenges.
“We were going through the legal department of our record label to make sure everything was OK, because we didn’t want to go through anything like that again,” Munro says. “Almost every name we came up with was written off by something. If you could find any reference anywhere to a band having called themselves something similar, then that name wasn’t usable.”
The band finally found its new identity as Preoccupations, releasing an eponymous album in 2016 and New Material this past March. Although the latest album is Preoccupations’ lushest, most melodic to date, New Material is also potentially its most lyrically paranoid. With swirling synth, driving drums, and surprisingly hooky choruses juxtaposing Flegel’s raw, disenchanted lyrics, New Material is a perfectly dichotomous release from a band that’s been through the ringer and lived to tell about it.
Showing no signs of slowing down, the band will spend the rest of the fall working on a new album, then hitting the road with Detroit post-punk band Protomartyr in late November. The two bands will also release a limited-release split 7” vinyl of mutual covers called Telemetry at Howe Bridge on November 16.
Monty and I meet up at OctFest, doing our best to swat away wasps while we discuss the best Canadian brews, drinking in Berlin, and trying to sound like Tears for Fears.
You guys are set to perform in a few hours. How are y’all feeling about your OctFest performance?
I’m feeling good. We got here really early to do a soundcheck, and I didn’t really sleep last night. We did a Fashion Week party, so that went kind of late. But this place [Governor’s Island] is really nice. Oh, and my backpack got stolen last night!
No way! From the show?
Yeah, when we were loading in. So I’m kind of bummed about that. But I’m feeling good. We haven’t seen our drummer since last night sometime. So maybe he’ll be here. And if he’s not, I don’t know what we’ll do.
Drumless set, I guess?
I could probably program the beats. Me and Danny are both competent drummers, so we could do something.
We’re kind of volume drinkers as opposed to quality drinkers.”
I know you guys have done an interview with October before, so I assume you’re at least slight beer fans.
Oh, yeah! We did an interview at Coachella. They asked us, “What kind of craft beer do you like?” And we were like, “Budweiser.”
So when you’re drinking beer, it’s usually a light lager?
Lagers, for sure. Although lately, I’ve been on the cider train. Cider and wine. But I still like beer. I’ll usually just get cheap beer. We’re kind of volume drinkers as opposed to quality drinkers. Plus, I used to drink IPAs a lot, but I think there’s something in the hops that bogs me down, like, psychologically and makes me deeply tired. Maybe I’m allergic.
As Canadians, do you have a favorite Canadian beer?
I don’t know if you guys get Lucky Lager. It’s from Victoria, B.C. It’s really cheap, so each case can be unbelievably good or kind of bad. It’s wildly inconsistent. Also, I just moved to Quebec, and there’s a brewery called Unibroue. I really like their stuff. We drink a lot of that La Fin du Monde. And Maudite. I used to like [Blanche de] Chambly a lot, but I can’t really drink white beer anymore. I got really bad food poisoning coinciding with drinking white beer, so those are out for me now.
You’re one of the only bands who’ve had to go through a name change after gaining a pretty big following. How did you settle on Preoccupations?
We literally had every person we know sending us band names. Our friend Chad VanGaalen sent us emails with hundreds of band names. He ultimately named the band. We narrowed them down to the ones we thought we kind of liked, and then we came down to our final five. Preoccupations was the only one that hadn’t been a band before.
When we called the band Viet Cong, even, there was a rapper from New York named Viet Cong from the early ‘90s. So we should have just changed the name then. I found a newspaper article where it mentioned a bill that was, like, Suicide with some other band name that we were thinking of using. We couldn’t find any other evidence that they’d ever existed, but then that name was unusable, too. The process of the second round was really crazy to deal with. I honestly can’t believe we found a name that was one word that hadn’t been used.
Do you feel like your naming protocol has changed now? I mean, your latest album is called New Material. Is everything just simplified now?
Well, honestly, we sent the album as New Material to our record label as a joke, and nobody called us on it. Plus, I think New Material, for me—I kind of get some sci-fi vibes from it. Like it’s some kind of substance.
It’s always been about making records. That’s the thing that I really like doing.”
New Material is lyrically pretty dark, but it’s got killer hooks. How do you explain that dichotomy?
Well, I don’t write any of the lyrics—that’s Matt’s jurisdiction. But it’s always kind of lyrically dark, and me and him for this last record were both in a bit of a zone. I feel like we spent a lot of time hanging in the studio and not talking to each other. But honestly, I feel like every record we make, we’re just trying to make a pop record. Like, we send it Jag [Jagjaguwar] and we’re like, “We made a pop record!” and they’re like, “Umm, I don’t know if this is a pop record.” I always just want it to sound like Tears for Fears or something, but it always ends up sounding weirder than that, somehow.
Tears for Fears—interesting. People seem to compare you guys to older post-punk bands like New Order or Echo and the Bunnymen. Do you have any musical influences that would surprise people?
For the last couple years, I’ve been listening to a lot of minimalist synth kind of stuff. I got really into this guy Bernard Fevre. He’s a French composer from the ‘70s who made these home recordings playing synthesizer with some drum machine. They got reissued pretty recently. But we all kind of like different stuff. I’ve also been really into jazz lately—like, ‘80’s jazz. Some fretless bass, synthesizers, saxophone jazz. To be totally honest, when we’re making records I don’t really listen to that much music. I’m just zoned in on the thing we’re working on.
As avid tour-ers, what are some of your favorite cities to drink in?
I like drinking in Berlin a lot. You can kind of go out as late as you want in that city. I feel like it’s probably a bad city for problem drinkers, because you could feasibly live there and it could just never end. Our friend Barry [Burns], who’s the keyboard and guitar player in Mogwai, and his wife have a bar there called Das Gift. I think it translates to “the poison,” which is pretty cool. It’s, like, a Scottish-themed bar where they serve haggis and Buckfast and all kinds of garbage like that. And they have a really nicely curated jukebox. Robert Smith did a playlist. But it’s all on, like, CD-Rs. It’s awesome. So that’s one of my favorite bars in the world.
What’s more fun after a few beers: writing, recording, or performing?
Record, always. That’s my favorite thing to do. Plus, our writing and recording process is kind of intertwined. I do like playing live music, but I got into music to make records. Even before I was producing and recording, I worked as a session musician for years playing bass on country records and stuff. So it’s always been about making records. That’s the thing that I really like doing.