Frequency Response:
AV Talks with MjDawn aka Matthew McDonough

 

MjDawn aka
Matthew McDonough

Visit Matt's website

Visit AtmoWorks website
Visit Mudvayne's website
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Frequency Response
by MjDawn

 

Neutrino 2.1
by miKroNaught

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AV:  I've read that your iPod is filled with quite the variety and selection of tunes these days. What did you listen to growing up and how did that shape your attitude about how you wanted to be involved with music yourself? 

MM
:  Like most kids, I grew up listening to the music my parents listened to.  I was lucky since my dad was pretty hip.  I can remember him and I listening to David Bowie, Blondie and Van Halen.  When I started exploring music on my own, around the age of 12, I mainly listened to New Wave.  Bands such as The Talking Heads, Oingo Boingo and Devo were some of my favorites.  Around this time, I joined a drum and bugle corps called The Phantom Regiment.  My new friends from this social circle were all into hard rock or heavy metal.  I became exposed to Ozzy, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Judas Priest.  So from this point on I walked a fence through middle and high school.  I loved all the new electronic that was happening.  Depeche Mode, Ministry and Cabaret Voltaire would get played on my turntable right after spinning Metallica, Megadeth and Kreator.  I've always been eclectic in my musical tastes and I guess it started in my early adolescence.  Nowadays a typical playlist I'll be  listening to would be: Tina Turner, Autechre, Napalm Death, The Prodigy, Cheap Trick, Architect, Emperor, The Carpenters, Wendy Carlos and Notorious B.I.G.

AV:  Was it drums that drew you into music right from the beginning when it came to playing or did you start with something else?  

MM:  I initially took 4 years of piano lessons.  I have an uncle that is a drummer, so during this early period of my life I was also exposed to his drum kits.  That really began the transition to drumming.

AV:  Was there something in particular that you remember that triggered your interest in electronic music back in the 80's?

MM:  My father had a couple cassettes that really struck me before I was 10 years of age.  He had Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre and Tour de France by Kraftwerk.  I remember at this early age feeling very moved by this music and an attachment to it.

AV:  You literally live in two worlds when it comes to your music. The hard rock world of Mudvayne and your softer side which finds expression through the music that you create as MjDawn. Tell me about how you manage your output and performances between these two decidedly different genres. Do you find that you have to be in different mindsets to write music with Mudvayne as opposed to composing your MjDawn music?

MM:  This is an obvious question for most, but one that doesn't resonate with me so much.  The social worlds between hard rock and the ambient community are very different, but in many ways very similar also.  Navigating these landscapes requires personal awareness and sensitivity to the people I come in contact with.

On the other hand, my compositional techniques between drumming with Mudvayne and composing as MjDawn for my solo work or miKroNaught are inseparable.  

I don't experience any sense of separation.  I first and foremost compose from a conceptual perspective that is purely mental for me.  The medium is irrelevant and symptomatic of a later conscious decision in regard to the final output of the art.

AV:  Are the other members of Mudvayne supportive in your work in electronic music or is this something that you pursue on your own?  

MM:  This is really a two part question.  Yes my partners in Mudvayne are supportive of my work in electronic mediums.  I would hope they are, considering I compose as MjDawn for Mudvayne!  In another sense, this is a private pursuit for me that the other members of Mudvayne are not involved with.

AV:  Do you have fans who follow your work with Mudvayne and your electronic work as well? Were you expecting those fans of Mudvayne to be accepting of your work as MjDawn?

MM:  Yes, I do see a cross-fertilization of fan-bases.  Mudvayne has always taken pride in the sophistication of a large part of our listeners.  Many have expressed interests in art, spirituality and other philosophical areas that they relate back to my work with Mudvayne.  On the other hand, I have always naturally expected a challenge to many listeners.  It's not an easy transition for some.  And this operates in both directions.  Many listeners from the electronic community have mistaken or under-appreciated my work with Mudvayne and not become aware of a pervasive relation between the genres.

AV:  Tell me about some of the ambient/electronic artists who inspire you in regards to the creation of your music as MjDawn. 

MM:  Well, it probably goes without saying that my tastes are eclectic.  Anyone close to me gets tired of hearing about Autechre.  I deeply admire their work.  In general, I'd say my music has been informed by John Cage, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Wendy Carlos and Vladimir Ussachevsky.  Depending on types of electronica: I'm into Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, Haujobb and Architect.  Devo and Kraftwerk. Or Boards Of Canada, Plaid, Bola.  Tipper, The Prodigy and FSOL.  Or Steve Roach and my close personal friend Vir Unis.

Honestly, my creative process is more informed by artists such as Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Robert Smithson, Robert Mangold, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly 

AV:  What is it that you have learned from your work with Mudvayne composing, recording and performing that you carry over into your work as MjDawn? 

MM:  That's a great question and a hard one considering I don't really draw distinctions between the two.  But I'd say, Mudvayne's music has always been a celebration for me.  Musically, it's a very positive experience for me.  Ecstatic.  I think I've tried to bring that passion and energy to my electronic work.

AV:  What is it that you want to accomplish with your electronic music that you haven't already accomplished as a member of Mudvayne?

MM:  I believe that our work as electronic artists can elevate music into the realm of high art.  I strongly feel a separation between "art" and "entertainment".  I live this philosophy passionately.  At a certain point, my hands are tied in the case of Mudvayne when it comes to addressing issues of realizing artistic goals.  My opportunity to be a part of this electronic community is a privilege I'm grateful for and treat with respect.  I would love to see this dream realized in my work and association with the great artists in this community. 

AV:  I read an interview with you where you said you were still building your studio. Are you gearing it up to pursue your electronic music only or will you be doing Mudvayne related work in there as well? 

MM:  Yeah, I think any DIY artist/home studio owner would say the same thing, that their studio is an ongoing project.  And I also feel it's an organic entity; it grows, evolves and informs our work.  But yeah, I'm in process of using my studio for my electronic projects and also as simply a recording studio for standard rock applications.

AV:  You've worked with Mudvayne for years and now you are doing some work with John Strate-Hootman aka Vir Unis under the name of MikroNaught. How are the dynamics different for you to do collaborative work with your Mudvayne bandmates as opposed to the collaborative work that you are doing with Vir Unis?

 MM:  Well a band is a lot more complicated than having a single partner to collaborate with!  Something to take into account, is that John and I have been close friends since our early high school years.  Our collaborative efforts began in the mid-90's.  miKroNaught's first incarnation was a project called SubAtomicGod.  We spent several years producing material under this moniker.  I actually hope we someday release an "early years" album of this work.  It would be a lot of fun for John and I.

Anyway, there ultimately isn't much difference between working with John as opposed to Mudvayne other than the variables introduced by several additional personalities.  In both working environments, I deal with a cerebral aspect to composition that I find very exciting.  How I navigate it in different situations is the crux.

AV:  If Mudvayne ever comes to an end like most bands eventually do will you still work as a rock drummer in some other capacity or will you shift entirely over to your electronic music? Would you miss the drumming if it was not part of your musical journey going forward? 

MM:  Yeah, I'm certainly not getting any younger, and drumming becomes more of a challenge with age.  I think I will always drum in some capacity.  But honestly, drumming has ALWAYS been a cerebral and conceptual medium for me.  The idea comes before the execution.  I don't draw any distinctions between the work I do with Mudvayne and as MjDawn.

AV:  How much of a physical toll does drumming take on you and would that also be a reason that it might end someday? 

MM:  Yes drumming can be brutal.  I have serious lower back issues.  My right wrist is moderately deformed from a childhood accident, that has always been an issue for my playing.  I think the important thing, and this goes for anything in life, I need to adapt with the changes that I'm thrown.  Roll with those changes and grow with them.

AV:  Are you doing any live performances of your work as MjDawn? if not are you planning to at some point? If so what kind of mindset are you in for drumming with Mudvayne as opposed to getting yourself ready to perform as MjDawn or perhaps MikroNaught?

MM:  John has been pushing me to perform with him.  We've put on several concerts as "Gamma", and also with Paul Vnuk and Chris Short as "Dial Tone".  These have been recorded and will be released at some point.  My biggest issue is developing confidence.  I still have serious shortcomings regarding my feelings about my capacity to translate my electronic work to the stage.  John has been a big help with this and a great source of encouragement.  I really see some "touring" with him in the future.  Obviously in a much more restricted sense than Mudvayne.  But I'd like to investigate it.  And actually, it should be noted that the last track on our miKroNaught release "Neutrino_2.1" is a live track performed in-studio.

AV:  Do you find that the rock music that you create with Mudvayne and what you listen to on your iPod has any influence at all on the music that you compose for MjDawn? How so? 

MM:  Gosh I can't believe that anyone isn't influenced by the music they listen to.  I have to believe that the Tina Turner and Tom Jones phases I just went through last year have affected the music I make.  In a "tongue in cheek" sort of way, I first and foremost consider myself a Research Scientist.  The "research" I do couches my whole creative process inspirationally.

AV:  Tell me about some of your initial efforts at creating electronic music and what you learned about your music during that process? Did those first forays into electronic music come easy to you or was it something that you had to discipline yourself to create? 

MM:  I never really worked with tape machines.  I never experienced the "4 track" age.  I began in the '90's in the era of consumer accessible "sampling".  So Sonic Foundry products had a huge impact on my early work.  I simply had a copy of Propellorheads Rebirth and Sonic Foundry software.  And then what I could gather in live "field" style recordings.  John was a big help in this regard.  

This first exploration led to my composition of "L.D.50" for the same titled Mudvayne album.  It is the 18 minute long free-form abstraction that became the interludes for the album.  It has been released in it's original form on "The Beginning Of All Things To End".

Yes, I really had to discipline myself.  I had no recording experience.  I had no experience with this software.  Just a bunch of ideas.  I look back at these early efforts and cringe at what I thought EQ and Compression were supposed to do! 

AV:  John Strate-Hootman aka Vir Unis are current co-owners of the AtmoWorks electronic music label. How did you and John meet and what prompted you to take on the role of co-owner of AtmoWorks? 

MM:  John and I met in the mid-'80's in the Peoria, IL music scene.  Pretty much the underground new wave/punk scene.  We became friends, and as we entered our early adulthood John was already focused on recording.  I was pouring my energy into rock bands, and I saw what he was doing and wanted to experience that in my world.  He jump started me in the mid-90's.  Most of the rest of the story has been mentioned in earlier questions in this interview.

John and I fell out of touch when I got my record contract with Sony Music.  You can imagine my life spiraled into a completely different world and I was overwhelmed with these changes.  During this time, John excelled with his presence in the Ambient community and began AtmoWorks.  In 2007, John and I were able to reconnect.  I was ready to crack open the can of worms we left behind with SubAtomicGod and he had found himself operating AtmoWorks by himself.  It was pretty much a no-brainer that I should come aboard and work with our music projects in concert with developing AtmoWorks.  We're still in the early stages of realizing our dreams for AW.

AV:  What do your experiences in the mainstream music industry as a member of Mudvayne allow you to bring to AtmoWorks in terms of industry street smarts or marketing?

MM:  Yeah, I have a decade of experience in the "pop rock" music industry that I feel John has been able to draw from for some critical business guidance.  I also in that decade have worked in "A" list commercial studios all over North America and with producers, like David Bottrill and Dave Fortman, who are seriously on top of their game.  I think possibly that I bring this unusual experience to a sometimes insular electronic community that can benefit from it.  Likewise, the high level of integrity that the community operates with has been a great place for me to continue to experience the professionalism I've come to respect.

AV:  In your work as MjDawn do you ever use sampled drum sounds as part of the electronic mix? If so is that like have the best of both worlds?

MM:  I definitely try not to limit myself with the tools available.  I move between programming drum machines, editing live recorded samples and performances with a V Drum kit and acoustic kits.  I'm into all of it.  Just as I love outboard synthesizers and software-based synths.  I really can't say enough how exciting our technology is.  We have moved light-years beyond what was available a decade ago.  It's seriously intoxicating.

AV:  Tell me about the process you enter into when you start work on a new MjDawn project? (do you have any ideas as to what the project will sound like, have you recorded any sketches or are there things already bouncing around in your head that you want to start getting out etc.)

MM:  I'm interested in "discovering" a work.  I'm interested in process over content.  I approach composition and mixing like building a robot.  Or evoking an angel.  I initially like to "create" a "formula" with a source idea.  Whether it's using an arbitrary numerical sequence, or allowing a field recording to generate a melody, I like to allow the content to generate itself or be irrelevantly precise.

From there, I explore and try to acquaint myself as fully as possible with this entity.  I find it hard to let go of the experience.  Jackson Pollock once famously questioned back when asked how he knows a work is completed: "Well how do you know when you're done making love?"

AV:  Looking at 2010 and beyond what is it that you want to do with your music in the next couple of years? Will you be working on your electronic music, Mudvayne music or both? 

MM:  I'm not much of a backward looking type of person.  Right now I really want to execute a body of work.  I really want to WORK.  And I want to remain eclectic.  I want to drum and program synths and make soundtracks and produce rock bands and perform and A&R releases on my label.  I'm in a time where, as Aleister Crowley once commented on, I'm not exactly worried about what work I do, but just that I work. 

AV:  Are you doing an touring with Mudvayne right now? Does any of your electronic music make it into any of the sets that you play with Mudvayne like Golden Ratio from the L.D. 50 album?  If so are the fans aware that it is your electronic music that they are listening to and what did they think about it?

MM:  I'm not currently touring with Mudvayne.  We're enjoying a well earned break right now.  After years upon years of touring I'm glad to focus on my studio at home.

Yes Mudvayne has used the interludes from L.D.50 in live performances before.  We just recently used the album intro from our self-titled album, "Mudvayne" as a show intro.  So it informs the band in other ways than just the albums.

I honestly can't say how much fans are aware that I execute the audio manipulation on Mudvayne's albums.  I think it's safe to say that since I've started releasing as MjDawn and working with AtmoWorks that it's more publicly noticeable.  And yeah I occasionally have had fans come up to me and recognize my electronic work with Mudvayne and express their enjoyment.  I definitely appreciate it.

AV:   During the writing/composing process do your electronic music ideas or influences affect your input into Mudvayne's music? 

MM:  I guess it goes without saying that I have an unorthodox approach to composition whether it is in the world of rock music or electronica.  This seems to preclude an attachment to specifying one approach as "electronic" and another as "drummer".  And I'm a very collaborative writer.  Whether with Mudvayne or a project with John, I'm super down with feeding creatively off the people I'm working with.

AV:  Tell me about MikroNaught and what this joint effort is all about and what you would like to see come out of it? 

MM:  Well ultimately I love to make music with my friends.  As you've made mention of earlier, bands don't last forever.  I'm excited to continue to have a brother in arms I can make music with.  Otherwise, miKroNaught is an outlet for each of us to explore certain musical avenues we don't individually.  That's really exciting and valuable.  Also, miKroNaught is a growing blanket entity whereby we produce rock bands, master other artists albums or create their artwork.  Essentially it's our conglomerate creative outlet.

AV:  I found it interesting to read about you studying conceptual/minimal painters and sculptors of the 60's to help formulate your own musical art. Tell me about some of the more important things you learned from paintings and sculptures and how it relates to the music that you create?

MM:  Here is the first dictate from Sol Lewitt's manifesto on Conceptual Art, "Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach."  Just reading that peels my cap ever single time I think about it.

AV:  Where did the name MjDawn come from?

 

MM:  I've never actually made any public statements about this ;)  I will say that when I opened my first AOL account in the early '90's, it hadn't occurred to me that I needed a user name!  I was in the process of filling out the online form and suddenly had to come up with this "moniker".  So I intuitively and quickly drew from several personal things in my life to make the name.  I've often thought the name sounds cheesy, but it's been with me for 20 years now.  It's just me now.

I appreciate you asking.  It's a fun question!

AV:  Anything to make the interview process fun I'm happy to oblige. Any final thoughts for the fans of your work with Mudvayne/MjDawn?  

MM:  Well I always like to reiterate that an artist doesn't think for their audience.  I encourage fans to build their own relationship to a work, and respect their personal insight when experiencing this work.  Art is informed by the perception of the viewer/listener and reality ensues from this amalgamation.  Let our awareness enrich our lives and thereby feedback into the art we love!

AV: Well Matt I do thank you for the talking to me and taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview for Ambient Visions. I'm sure your fans whatever style they like to hear you playing in will be interested in giving this interview a read. Good luck with Mudvayne for as long as that ride lasts and glad to see you creating music in the ambient community as well.