Sitting Down with Mungion at Summer Camp 2017

Sitting Down with Mungion at Summer Camp 2017

Chicago has always been a hotbed of killer music. One of the most riveting new players on the scene is Mungion, with stellar chops, inventive song structure, and the ability to pay homage to their influences without sounding dull or repetitive. I sat down with the boys at Summer Camp to chat for a bit, and they had some interesting insights into their world.

Stylistically, Mungion is all over the place. But as guitarist/vocalist Justin Reckamp puts it: “We never really go out to emulate a certain style. That word for this group is kind of a loaded word, because music is music at the end of the day. If it’s good, it’s good. We all come from very different musical backgrounds, and we have very eclectic styles and interests. We love everything from bluegrass to jazz to funk, anything that’s good. We try and cherry pick what we like from ceratin styles and try and tap into those grooves and put that into our compositions in a lighthearted way. The improvisational aspect is also really important, because that’s when we have the most fun. It’s music that we love to make, and it’s always funny when people ask us what kind of music we play, because there’s not really a short answer to it. We just hope it’s good at the end of the day!”

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One of the big differences between a band like Mungion and bands of yesteryear is the way music is delivered to the fans. As bassist/vocalist Sean Carolan explains: “The internet is very helpful. It gives you so much more of a reach right off the bat. Our first big reach came from a Facebook/YouTube video which garnered a lot of response. It really helped people become aware of our name and our music. That’s a big deal to have your name out there, and I think if you’re not actively participating it, you’re not going to be as present as if you were to do so.”

Justin continued to elaborate on this: “The business model as you knew it even 5-10 years ago has changed dramatically. None of this is to say that you don’t still have to grind and play a bunch of shows, but now you can release material in a way that people can connect with easily, and they share it, and it spreads like wildfire sometimes. That’s what happened with us. We released a couple videos, and it directly influenced people coming out to our shows. People had never seen us live, or even heard about us, but then we had the YouTube videos, and that is huge. I would really encourage any upcoming band to do that. Also, we look at bands like Vulfpeck and Snarky Puppy, and we try to also do that theatrical thing and bridge the gap between us and the audience.”

Ah, the audience. That fickle beast. Justin expressed his gratitude for the crowds that come to see them: “Our fans are the only reason we’re able to play places like this (Summer Camp), because they’re the backbone. If we can ever reciprocate the love we feel from the fans, that’s the least we can do. Because without them we would be playing in our rehearsal space. We love to meet our fans and talk, because we are just as interested in them as they are in us.”

You may have heard of Mungion more and more in recent months. Justin describes how things have been building for them in a relatively short period of time: “We’ve been together for two years, and we are coming up on our 100th show. So we’re playing maybe 50 shows a year. It’s getting busier. We’ve been doing the weekend warrior thing around the Midwest, you know, coming for two nights, and we’re really into getting out good content that we believe in right now. We’re not touring tons at the moment, but we’re trying to keep busy.”

In terms of keeping busy, the music has been what’s kept these guys busy since before Mungion was even a dream, as Justin tells me: “To my knowledge, we’ve all been playing since we were 10 years old or earlier. My dad played piano for 45 years, so I grew up jamming with him in the basement. We all went to school for music, I was a jazz studies major, Joe (Re, keyboards/vocals) was a theory/composition and jazz studies major, and Sean was actually a  history major.”

Joe adds, “Me, Matt (Kellen, drums/vocals), and Sean all went to college together, and we all played in the jazz band at Elmhurst right outside Chicago.”

Justin put in some more detail, explaining, “We played for a year together in the jazz band there, went to Chile together, played some, had some crazy adventures, and now we’re here.”

As for the actual formation of the band, it’s already quite the story. Justin told me, “We were all kind of playing in different groups, and Sean and I had been playing together, so I called up Sean in 2014, and we were both just getting out of groups, the planets aligned, and we love playing together. Put together a jam session, Sean on bass, key player and a drummer, and they weren’t really the fit. Sean played with Joe earlier, but I knew them from jamming in college, and we had actually had two different drummers before Matt joined the crew. Now it feels like a perfectly cohesive unit.”

Matt chimed in with a startling revelation: “This Summer Camp is my one year anniversary with the band.” Justin described the circumstances that led up to Matt’s first performance with the band, and it sounds grueling: “So our drummer had to quit for personal reasons, about two days before Summer Camp last year, Tuesday night. Some of our music isn’t the easiest, but we went ahead and called up Matt, and I was freaking out. I told him the situation, asked if he wanted to do it, all or nothing. He stepped up to the challenge, and we did two 12-hour rehearsals and played the set.”

Matt went on to describe the process from his point of view: “You know I had known the band for a while, I had seen the YouTube videos, and I was so into what was happening. I wanted to play with these guys, but I didn’t see a way it was going to happen. All of a sudden Justin calls me, and we had jammed a couple weeks prior to that, just hanging out. Sean and I had talked about it for a while, and then it happened, and here we are!”

Justin also had some good words to say about the people who run things behind the scenes: “Our management company, Plexus Entertainment, is a great time, very glad to be with them. They also manage Aqueous and Organ Freeman. So they handle all of our booking and all that. We were super grateful for the opportunity to play with moe., a band that has been playing for so long. And we just got done touring with Spafford, and those guys are awesome.”

I asked them about the label industry and whether or not they found it helpful to not be on a label. Justin had an interesting take on it: “Something that comes to mind is Michael League from Snarky Puppy and GroundUP records. What I see that as nowadays is kind of an umbrella to unite artists under. It’s more of a community thing rather than ‘let’s put a label on your record’. Now it feels more like a community building tool with less emphasis on profit. Everybody and their brother has a studio in their basement. Matt does, a lot of our friends do. So that’s how we made the last record, and you can do it very cost effectively. It’s nice to be in good hands and the engineers know what they’re doing, but I don’t think a label is an important thing in terms of us, because that’s just not on our list. These days you’re not making money on record sales, you’re making money on touring, and that’s another big way the business model has changed. You can do okay making a record, but we don’t need to. Cars don’t even have CD players anymore. We still love to record in a studio setting, we really do, but we don’t need a label. That being said, Joe’s cousin runs an amazing record shop, Sugar Records in Chicago, and we did get some vinyl made, and we sold more of those than CDs.”

Mungion is a fresh voice in the music scene, a bold take on the classic genres we all love, taken to the next level. They will be a strong voice in the years to come, so be sure not to miss them when they’re playing near you! Check out their album Scary Blankets, available on their Facebook page, and don’t forget their numerous YouTube videos. Their newest album, Ferris Wheels’ Day Off, will be coming soon as well. I cannot recommend this band enough, and they were the nicest guys to boot. Hopefully I’ll see you out at a show!


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