Psyched: Victor Krummenacher Chats Up Monks of Doom
As the gloom lifts, so do such intriguing musical projects as Monks of Doom. You can practically sense them perking up, blinking, and crawling toward the light, ready to stretch your ears, your minds once more. The Bay Area psychedelic-prog/art rock band began life in the ‘90s as a loose but oh-so-creative side project to Camper Van Beethoven – the initial lineup included CBV guitarists Greg Lisher and Chris Molla, bassist Victor Krummenacher and drummer Chris Pedersen – and later added David Immerglück of the Ophelias and Counting Crows. After breaking up in 1998, the band re-formed in the same spirit it began -- with a 2003 album of cover songs. On the occasion of a rare performance at Café du Nord on Monday, Sept. 14, I checked in via email with Krummenacher (who also appears solo alongside American Music Club’s Mark Eitzel at Red Devil Lounge later this month on Sept. 24).
Q: What inspired the Monks of Doom reunion?
Victor Krummenacher: For the last five years, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker have hosted a festival in Pioneertown -- the Camp Out. This year is likely going to be the last year. The Monks played the first year -- we'd like to bookend it with them playing the last.
Also, conveniently, the Counting Crows have just finished their summer tour, and we playing in NY earlier this year. So for us, we'll almost be well rehearsed since we've at least seen and played with each other in the last year.
Q: Have things changed for you guys musically since you last played together
-- any new directions you want to explore?
VK: Thankfully the Monks have been a continuum. Every couple of years, usually when Chris can make it to the states from Australia, we dust if off and pick it up, and it seems to start just where it left off. We don't work a lot, but we seem to consistently be able to make space in our collective psyche for the Monks.
When we last played, we still had our intensity and our groove. It's a little slower, it's a little fatter, and it's a little meaner. And that's all a good thing.
Q: Are covers now a big part of the band? If so why?
VK: Covers were always an essential part of the Monks. We are fans at heart, and that's really what our common ground is. Our last release was in 2005, a covers CD called What's Left for Kicks, that we planned and started in 1992 and finished 13 years later. We did it when we had time, recording in odd living rooms, bedrooms, studios, mailing files back and forth. Who else could put Neu!, Steve Hillage, Nino Rota, Bert Jansch, the Blue Orchids, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Soft Machine and Pell Mell on one disk and have it sound natural?
Q: What made the band more than a Camper side project?
VK: The Monks had a specific chemistry that began the first gig we did with David Immerglück. It was the proverbial bull in a china shop. He hadn't rehearsed with us. He learned the songs off a cassette, came in cold and played like a maniac. I had been sick with a fever, and suddenly we're playing this extended instrumental jam, and an audience member was pole dancing while we played. This was at Club 9, where the offices for the Bar are now.
That kind of set the tone: essentially four music geeks who had the capacity to lock into one another and play incredibly hard. And even though we stopped playing, the level on animosity was always very low, and the respect very high. Monks of Doom more than any other band I've ever done is completely dependent on the four of us playing together. That's the band, period.
Q: What exactly is a Monk of Doom?
VK: You remember the Knights Who Say Ni? From Monty Python and the Holy Grail? The Monks of Doom are the cloistered religious order who provided religious guidance to them.
Q: And now a question in tribute to Barbara Walters -- if Monks of Doom could be any tree it wanted to be, what would it be?
VK: I think the Monks would have to be either and ancient cypress in the Greek Hills or something like an African fig tree, with all sorts of insects and parasites, birds, monkeys, snakes, etc., feeding off of us.
Q: Are the Monks of Doom planning to do any recording?
VK: We are -- we're booked into Fantasy Studios on the 15th. We're completely unrehearsed and we have about five to six skeletal pieces to try out -- which means we'll probably wind up with some magnum opus. I'm thinking it's going to be loosely conceptual and touch on themes of greed, corruption, obsession with power, and space flight.
Q: What are you planning for the Cafe du Nord show?
VK: We'll play everything we can until we are either exhausted or kicked off the stage –from every stage of the band, from the first album (which was on vinyl, kids) to the covers CD. And I will do my best not to drink too much bourbon and venture into long-winded absurdist monologues.
Q: What made you personally want to revisit Monks of Doom -- especially since you have your own solo recordings?
VK: My solo work, especially in the last several years, has really been leaning more and more idiomatically towards the music I grew up hearing around me -- folk and blues and classic rock ‘n’ roll and soul. That's what was on the radio and what was played by the family. I hit punk rock, then post-punk, and from there I just wanted to listen to the weirdest stuff I could find. My 20’s was about investigation from Henry Cow to Crimson to Ornette to the Pop Group, and that was what the Monks were built on.
As I got older, I got more into telling stories, which wasn't my strong point when I was younger. Stories often seem to work better for me in simpler musical modes. My last recording, Patriarch’s Blues, was basically a musical wake for my stepfather and father. It was recorded live in two kind of drunken, harrowing and ultimately healing days with some of my closest and best musician friends really bringing it home. It's kind of one part As I Lay Dying and one part Tonight's The Night, and it's the best thing I've ever done, but it was lightening in a bottle. You don't get that every time you hit the studio.
My work's pretty straight-shooting these days. The Monks are much more from my abstract expressionist side. It can be really straight at points, but then suddenly it'll get atonal, or shift into 5/4, and space aliens and circus freaks and lesser Egyptian goddesses and Edward Gorey all show up.
Q: What's happening solo-wise with you right now?
VK: I started a writing project with Alison Levy of the Sippy Cups. It's called McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and it's basically become a collision between our songwriting and my solo band. Our first recording, Time for Leaving, is just out. It's really kind of turning into a classic blues-rock band (albeit with some twists). It's epic minor-key blues, roadhouse romps, quiet ballads, soul... Just an effort to do something with almost no shred of indie-rock overtones in it.
After playing for 25 years and having come up through those pre-alternative ranks, I've avoided making anything that could really be seen as mainstream… I think the next thing we do will finally hint at so much of what I've avoided doing and try to fully embrace making a "classic" rock ‘n’ roll record. I'm hoping I've got the integrity to pull it off. I've never been too orthodox, so now I'm going to try it out and see where it lands me.
Monks of Doom perform Monday, Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., at Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market St., SF. Penelope Houston Band opens. $15.(415) 861-5016.