Guitarist ALEX MUNK has recorded a debut album with his band Flying Machines. He has just launched a Kickstarter campaign, in order to get the latter stages of album production finished for an autumn 2016 release. He explained the background to Sebastian.
London Jazz News: Where are you from?
Alex Munk: My family moved from London to Buckinghamshire soon after I was born. I started out playing classical guitar before switching to electric during secondary school. At this point I was just teaching myself by ear, playing along with some pop/rock records and wailing away with pentatonic scales over the top.
LJN: Who were your early influences and teachers?
AM: I was lucky to have a really inspired music teacher at school, Ray Cook. He was the first significant musical influence aside from my brother. He particularly loved Bach chorales and getting really stuck into the harmony, he just had a way of making the material come alive. Then I started having lessons with Chris Montague (Troyka) when I was around 17. It’s impossible to overstate how significant these were for my development. I enrolled on the BA Jazz degree at Leeds College of Music in 2006, where I was lucky enough to carry on studying with Jez Franks and Mike Walker among others.
LJN: You studied at the RAM after Leeds, right? What have you done since leaving RAM?
AM: I’ve had some great sideman gigs! I play guitar in the Stan Sulzmann Big Band for instance, which is a dream of a band. I’ve also been playing alongside the likes of Gwilym Simcock, Iain Ballamy, Ivo Neame, Trish Clowes, Nick Smart and James Taylor. More recently I’ve been performing with the CBSO which has been a very different kind of an experience – really high pressure. We did this tour in Abu Dhabi playing all the songs from the James Bond films and everybody knows if you make a mistake playing those tunes! I’ve also recorded lots of albums as a sideman, with Dave Hamblett, Jack Davies, Joan Vidal, Matt Anderson, Stoop Quintet, Tom Millar Quartet, Sam Rapley and Reuben Fowler.
It’s only in the last couple of years though that I’ve decided to stick my own flag in the ground. It took some time to get the whole music college thing into perspective. Playing other people’s music also really helped me to figure out the kind of music I wanted to write.
LJN: Which is where Flying Machines comes in, right?
AM: I started Flying Machines in 2014 (see link below). By this point I was really itching to play music that resonated more with my own influences; there was no other choice but to start composing again and get a group of like-minded players together. The band actually started as an organ trio. I’d just done a gig with Dave Hamblett‘s band (which I’d been playing in for some years by this point) at the Con Cellar Bar in Camden and Dave had decided to do the gig without bass, so Matt Robinson filled out the bottom end on Rhodes instead. It was a blast! We started rehearsing some material that I was writing as a trio but it quickly became apparent that it was just going to work much better with electric bass. I asked Conor Chaplin to run some of the charts with us and he just nailed everything straight away.
LJN: What has influenced the writing?
AM: I think there was a part of all of us that wanted to get stuck into a more groove-based and rock-influenced project than the more straight ahead bands we’d been involved in up to this point. That’s certainly what I was thinking when I started to write the music. I wasn’t so interested in writing abstract melodies or loads of chords for us to negotiate as soloists, I was more concerned with writing music that was going to make my hair stand on end, music that combined our improvisatory passions with a head-thrashing kind of an energy. I certainly hear that same aesthetic when I listen to the Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan. We all started listening to him about the same time we formed this band too, and he’s been a huge inspiration. In terms of the rock energy thing I’d also have to cite Wayne Krantz, who just has this incredible time feel and rhythmic imagination.
LJN: Why the name Flying Machines?
AM: It refers to my late father, Roger Munk, and the Airships (now more commonly referred to as Hybrid Air Vehicles) that he dedicated his working life to. He was a renowned expert and world leader in the field of lighter-than-air technology and he was integral in creating and developing every aspect of these astounding vehicles. The company that he founded in 2007, HAV, is now flight testing the world’s largest air vehicle.
LJN: As “Flying Machines” you recently recorded a debut album…?
AM: After a pretty intensive period of rehearsing and gigging, we went into the studio last August to record nine original compositions of mine and I’m incredibly excited about what we captured in those three days. There’s something on the album for everyone, from rock-out guitar improv to epic soundscapes and lyrical ballads. We worked with a wonderful engineer called Tim Thomas who has brought these tunes to life in ways that I’d never have imagined.
LJN: You’ve just started a Kickstarter campaign to launch your debut album. How does this work?
AM: Kickstarter offers a platform from which we can reach out to new and existing fans to pre-order our album, with lots of other perks too, so that we can generate the necessary cash flow to get the album finished successfully. We’ve set ourselves 28 days to raise £3,500 and we won’t get a single penny from the campaign unless we raise all the money. I’m thrilled that we’ve got off to such a great start, now it’s just a race against the clock. I’m really pleased that we’ve taken the plunge and gone for it though; it has been heartening to see so many unfamiliar names signing up to pre-order CDs and downloads and we’ve had some extraordinarily generous donations. It’s a very exciting time for us!